Whenever I write about the Isle of Skye, I try to encourage visitors to look beyond the usual iconic landmarks as the island has so much more to offer. Although joining one of the Bella Jane boat trips from Elgol to Loch Coruisk is undoubtedly popular, the remote geography of the area means you can easily find a quiet spot to enjoy Skye's wild and dramatic landscape once you arrive at your destination.
On my Scottish west coast road-trip with Red Kite Campers, I wanted to explore a part of the island I'd never visited before so I opted to join a cruise with Bella Jane, one of the local tour companies that run Elgol boat trips.
The road to Elgol
It's really hard not to fall in love with the scenery of Skye and the views along the road to Elgol are up there with the best in Scotland. Despite having my Loch Coruisk boat trip booked and a tight schedule to keep, it was impossible for me to drive more than a few miles without a photo stop, much to the annoyance of Mr Adventures Around Scotland. I mean just look at that backdrop, I defy anyone to resist getting their camera out every 5 minutes!
This did mean that we pulled up to the car park in Elgol with 5 minutes to spare and I was slightly panicked to find it packed full. The relatively quiet roads on my journey that morning had made me complacent and I had already forgotten how busy some parts of Skye can be. Learn from my mistake and give yourself plenty of time! Thankfully I managed to get a space sorted, checked in and joined my fellow passengers on the pier as the boat prepared to set sail.
Sailing on the Bella Jane
As we motored our way to our destination, one of the crew provided some entertaining and informative live commentary as we navigated our way across Loch Scavaig. The crossing may be short but there is still plenty to see from the open deck. On one side you pass the neighbouring Isle of Soay, home to only a handful of residents. Just beyond that lies the Small Isles, with the rugged peaks of Rum and the distinctive form of An Sgùrr on the Isle of Eigg, easy to pick out on the near horizon. On the opposite side, the remote southwestern coast of Skye rises up to meet you.
Despite opting to live on Scottish islands, I'm not a huge fan of travelling on wee boats and I'll admit to being a bit apprehensive before the journey. However, it was a surprisingly pleasant crossing and the humerous anecdotes from the crew and dazzling scenery kept everyone entertained and distracted.
Arriving at Loch na Cuilce
If someone had taken my photo as we neared our stopping point, I'm pretty sure my mouth would have been hanging open and my eyes popping out my head! Sailing in to the inlet of Loch na Cuilce is about as close as you will get in Scotland to feeling like you are entering the belly of Mordor.
Even on a relatively bright day, the towering jagged black peaks were gloomy and foreboding and the water was an otherworldly shade of verdant green. The occasional seal popped its head out to greet us, while more of the resident colony basked lazily on lumps of rock. With so much vying for my attention, it was hard to know where to look.
Breathtaking can be a cliché when it comes to depicting Scotland's scenery but in this case it is the only word that really does it justice. I recently read an article on Scottish Anchorages describing this spot as "...without doubt the most dramatic anchorage in the Hebrides" which pretty much sums it up.
Exploring around Loch Coruisk
I'm so glad I had booked the trip that included 90 minutes to get off the boat and explore the area rather than the option to return straight back to Elgol without disembarking. I understand some people are short on time but this is one excursion that is worth making space for in your itinerary. Although I would add that once you leave the boat you are exposed to the elements during your time ashore as there is no shelter, in other words make sure you are prepared for the ever-changing and unpredictable Scottish weather!
Personally I would find it impossible to feel miserable in such stunning surroundings, but I did notice some of our group looking a bit dispirited by the time we returned to the pier and I have a feeling it may have something to do with having soggy sandal feet and a chill from not bringing enough layers. Another tip is to use the on board toilet before you disembark as there are no facilities other than those provided by Mother Nature once you arrive.
Can you spot mini-me?
Even though there were quite a few passengers getting off, it didn't take long for the group to disperse and get swallowed up by the monumental landscape. I can understand why this area is a mecca for mountaineers and although I definitely don't possess the skills to tackle such challenging peaks, I couldn't help but wish I had the expertise and fitness to reach the tantalising summits and experience the feeling of conquering such a primitive and hostile environment.
Although I'm no mountaineer, I am a bit of a mountain goat when it comes to scrambling so along with Mr Adventures Around Scotland, I made my way up some steep rocks and settled on a tranquil, panoramic spot overlooking Loch na Cuilce to enjoy our packed lunch. If it wasn't for the tiny boat below, I could easily have convinced myself we were the last people on earth and I can honestly say that moment, surrounded by brooding natural drama and ancient wilderness, has been one of the highlights of my Scottish travels so far.
After emptying our flasks of hot tea, we made our way back down the chunky black slabs and wandered along the Scavaig River to Loch Coruisk. With limited time we didn't get far along the trail but I did manage to get a glimpse of what is reckoned to be one of Scotland's most isolated and beautiful lochs.
Loch Coruisk sits in the heart of the Cuillin hills and can only be reached on foot by an arduous walking trail or by the much easier sailing option. It is possible to have the best of both worlds by purchasing a single boat journey and combining it with a walk to or from the loch if you are looking for a more challenging excursion.
It is also possible to return on a later cruise if you want more than 90 minutes ashore. I personally found the Bella Jane staff extremely helpful (they even let me use their landline when I had no mobile phone signal and needed to make an important call) and if booked in advance they are quite flexible about journey options.
As the Bella Jane arrived to take us back to Elgol, fellow passengers started to reemerge from behind various rocks and make their way down to the boat. I couldn't help but think how small and insignificant everyone seemed in comparison to the surrounding mountains.
A complimentary hot chocolate on the return journey was a welcome way to round off an extraordinarily memorable day and I felt pretty sure that this wouldn't be the last time I would cruise these waters on The Bella Jane.
If you want to get away from the crowds at the more popular attractions and still experience the beauty and magic of the Isle of Skye, this is a must do trip.
Little tiny people!
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