One of the highlights of our three-week trip to Scotland in May was our three-day bus trip to the Isle of Skye. It took a day to get there through the Scottish highlands and a day to get back to Glasgow. In the middle of the trip we spent a whole day on Skye and two nights at a B & B in Portree, the island’s largest town.
Skye is the second largest of more than 700 islands that surround Scotland (Lewis and Harris is the largest). With the number of people living on the island hovering at around 10,000, Skye is the 4th largest island in population (the 1st is Lewis and Harris, the 2nd is Shetland mainland, and the 3rd is Orkney mainland).
About 2500 people — 25% of the island’s population — live in Portree on the island’s east coast and that’s where we found ourselves at the end of our long bus trip on our first day. John, our Rabbie’s tour guide and bus driver, drove us to Somerled Square in the center of town and let us walk around for awhile before herding us back in the bus to be delivered to our respective hotel, hostel or bed and breakfast.
John dropped my wife and I off along with another couple at a B & B called Kiltaraglen House which is located near the main road and about a ten minute walk from Somerled Square. Our hostess Pam Simmister welcomed us to her house and made us feel at home. She also served up a couple of delicious breakfasts and recommended shortly after we arrived that we dine at the Granary restaurant on Somerled Square. We liked our meal so much that we ate there again the next night.
Portree’s original name was Kiltaraglen named after the church of St. Talarican. In the 16th century the town changed its name to Portree. Some people think it means King’s Port after James V who stayed there once. Others think that the name comes from Port Ruighe, an older name which means “slope harbor.”
They play a hockey-like game in the highlands called shinty, similar to the Irish hurling and the Welsh bando. Skye’s shinty club, Skye Camanachd, operates out of Portree. In the world of Harry Potter Portree fields a Quidditch team called the Pride of Portree.
Portree is also the home of the island’s only high school.
Portree is the gateway for all activities on the Trotternish Peninsula in the northern portion of Skye. Highway A855 (Staffin Road) is the main road in town and then goes north along the coast to the tip of the peninsula and then around to Skye’s west coast. At Uig the A855 road meets the Highway A87 which takes you back to Portree. Our tour of Skye on our second day was primarily of places in the Trotternish. Some of the most scenic spots on Skye can be found in the red and black Cuillan mountains southwest of Portree. We visited the Cuillans on our third day before heading back to Glasgow.
Portree is also a stop on some of the big cruise lines that offer tours of the North and Baltic Seas. Some of these ships stop at the Shetlands and then sail over to Portree on the west coast of Scotland before dropping down to visit Belfast and / or Dublin (Portree is about 200 miles directly north of Belfast). There was a cruise ship anchored just outside the harbor on the day we arrived in town.
If you’re going to visit Skye in the middle of summer don’t forget to bring along a green bottle of Avon Skin So Soft. The experts say that’s the best midge repellent around. Midges don’t like wind and rain. We didn’t see any midges during our stay on Skye. Guess why.
Remember that old cowboy classic by Vaughn Monroe called Riders in the Sky? Well, the Corries recorded a parody of that song which they called “The Portree Kid.” There’s a line in the song about the teuchter (lowland Scots call highland Scots teuchters) who came from Skye. You can listen to it here. The lyrics to the song are printed out under the Youtube video.
In my next posting I’ll show you some of the photos I took on our northern Skye tour on Day Two of our trip.