TRAVEL TO HEBRIDES

TRAVEL TO HEBRIDES

ISLE OF SKYE

Often described as the shining jewel in the Hebridean crown, Skye possesses unparalleled natural beauty, from the serrated peaks of the Cuillin Hills to the rugged northern tip of the Trottemish Peninsula.

TRANSPORTATION. The tradition of ferries carrying passengers “over the sea to Skye” ended with the Skye Bridge, which links Kyle of Lochalsh, on the mainland, to Kyleakin, on the Isle of Skye. Trains ( (08457) 484 950) arrive at Kyle of Lochalsh from Inverness (2!2hr. 2-4 per day, £15). Skye-Ways ( (01599) 534 328) runs buses from: Fort William (2hr. 3 per day, £11); Glasgow (o’An. 3 per day, £19); and Inverness (2Vshr. 2 per day, £11). Pedestrians can traverse the Skye Bridge’s 2.5km footpath or take the shuttle bus (2 per hr. £1.70). Buses on the island are infrequent and expensive; pick up the handy Public Transport Guide to Skye and the Western Isles (£1) at a tourist office.

KYLE OF LOCHALSH AND KYLEAKIN. Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin (Ky-LAACK-in) bookend the Skye Bridge. The former, on the mainland, has an ATM, tourist office, and train station, making it of practical value to travelers. Kyleakin, though short on amenities, boasts three hostels, countless tours, and a backpackers’ atmosphere. GMacBackpackers Skye Trekker Tour, departing from the hostel in Kyleakin, offers either a 1-day tour emphasizing the history and legends of the of the island and a 2-day eco-conscious hike into the Cuillin hills, with all necessary gear provided. ( (01599) 534 510. Call ahead. 1-day £15, 2-day £45.) Located between Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness, Eilean Donan Castle is the restored 13th-century seat of the MacKenzie family. If you don’t bring a camera, you’ll definitely stand out; Eilean Donan Castle is the most photographed monument in Scotland. ( (01599) 555 202. Open Apr.-Oct. daily 10am-5:30pm; Nov. and Mar. 10am-3pm. £4, students £3.20.) To enjoy the incredible sunset views from the quiet Kyleakin harbor, climb to the memorial on the hill behind the SYHA hostel. A slippery scramble to the west takes you to the small ruins of Castle Moil. Cross the bridge behind the hostel, turn left, follow the road to the pier, and take the gravel path. The Kyle of Lochalsh tourist office is on the hill above the train station. ( (01599) 534 276. Open May-Oct. M-Sa 9am-5:30pm.) The friendly owners of HDun Caan Hostel , in Kyleakin, have masterfully renovated a 200-year-old cottage. ( (01599) 534 087. Bikes £10 per day. Book ahead. Dorms £10)

SLIGACHAN. Renowned for their hiking and cloud and mist formations, the Cuil-iin Hills (COO-leen), the highest peaks in the Hebrides, are visible from nearly every part of Skye, beckoning hikers and climbers. Walks from Sligachan and Glen Brittle (£1), available at tourist offices, hotels, and campsites, suggests routes. West of Kyleakin, the smooth, conical Red Cuillin and the rough, craggy Black Cuillin Hills meet in Sligachan, a hiker’s hub in a jaw-dropping setting. Don’t be misled by the benign titles hills’; the Cuillins are great for experienced hikers, but can be risky for beginners. For accommodations, try the Sligachan Hotel , a classic hill-walker and climber’s haunt. ( (01478) 650 204. Breakfast included. Singles £30-40; doubles £60-80.) Camp at Glenbrittle Campsite , in Glenbrittle at the foot of the Black Cuillins. Take bus #53 (M-Sa 2 per day) from Portree or Sligachan to Glenbrittle. ((01478) 640 404. Open Apr.-Sept. £4 per person.)

PO RTREE. The island’s capital, Portree, has busy shops and an attractive harbor. Dunvegan Castle, the seat of the clan MacLeod, holds the record for the longest-inhabited Scottish castle, with continual residence since the 13th century. The castle holds the Fairy Flag, a 1,500-year-old silk, and Rory Mor’s Horn, capable of holding 2 liters of claret. Traditionally, the new MacLeod chief must drain the horn in one draught. Present lord John MacLeod emptied it in just under two minutes. Buses (1-3 per day) arrive from Portree. ((01478) 521 206. Open Apr.-Oct. daily 10am-5:30pm; Nov.-Mar. llam-4pm. £6. Gardens only £4.) Buses to Portree from Kyle of Lochalsh (5 per day, £7.80) stop at Somerled Sq. The tourist office is on Bayfield Rd. ((01478) 612 137. Open July-Aug. M-Sa 9am-7pm, Su 10am-4pm; Apr.-June and Sept.-Oct. M-F 9am-5pm, Su 10am-4pm; Nov.-Mar. M-Sa 9am-4pm.) The Portree Independent Hostel 0, The Green, has an enthusiastic staff and many amenities. ( (01478) 613 737. internet £1 per20min. Dorms £11; doubles £23.)

THE OUTER HEBRIDES

The landscape of the Outer Hebrides is extraordinarily beautiful and astoundingly ancient. Much of its rock is more than half as old as the Earth itself, and long-gone inhabitants have left a collection of tombs, standing stones, and other relics. The culture and customs of the Hebridean people seem equally storied, rooted in religion and a love of tradition. While tourism has diluted some old ways, you’re still more likely to get an earful of Gaelic here than anywhere else in Scotland.

TRANSPORTATION. Caledonian MacBrayne ((01475) 650 100) ferries serve the Western Isles, from Ullapool to Lewis and from Skye to Harris and North Uist. Find schedules in Discover Scotland’s Islands with Caledonian MacBrayne, free from tourist offices. You’ll also want to pick up the Lewis and Harris Bus Timetables (40p). Inexpensive car rental (from £20 per day) is possible throughout the isles. The terrain is hilly but excellent for cycling.

LEWIS AND HARRIS. Despite its 20,000 inhabitants, the island of Lewis is desolate; its landscape flat, treeless, and speckled with lochs. Mists shroud miles of moorland and fields of peat, nearly hiding Lewis’s many archaeological sites, most notably the UCailanish Stones, an extraordinary Bronze Age circle. ((01851) 621 422. Visitors center open Apr.-Sept, M-Sa 10am-7pm; Oct.-Mar. 10am-4pm. Exhibit £1.80. Stones free.) CalMac ferries sail from Ullapool, on the mainland, to Stornoway (pop. 8,000), the largest town in northwestern Scotland (M-Sa 2 per day; £14, round-trip £24). To get to the Stornoway tourist office, 26 Cromwell St. turn left from the ferry terminal, then right onto Cromwell St. ( (01851) 703 088. Open Apr.-Oct. M-Sa 9am-6pm or until the last ferry; Nov.-Mar. M-F 9am-5pm.) The best place to lay your head is Fair Haven Hostel 0, over the surf shop at the intersection of Francis St. and Keith St. From the pier, turn left onto Shell St. which becomes South Beach, then turn right on Kenneth St. and right again onto Francis St. The meals here are better than in town. ( (01851) 705 862. Dorms £10, with three meals £20; doubles £15 per person.)

Harris is technically the same island as Lewis, but they’re entirely different worlds. The deserted flatlands of Lewis, in the north, give way to another, more rugged and spectacular kind of desolation that of Harris’s steely gray peaks. Toward the west coast, the Forest of Harris (ironically, a treeless, heather-splotched mountain range) descends to yellow beaches bordered by indigo waters and machair sea meadows of soft grass and summertime flowers. Essential Ordnance Survey hiking maps can be found at the tourist office in Tarbert, the biggest town on Harris. Ferries arrive in Tarbert from Uig on Skye (M-Sa 2 per day; £9, round-trip £16). The tourist office is on Pier Rd. ( (01859) 502 011. Open Apr. to mid-Oct. M-Sa 9am-5pm and for late ferry arrivals; mid-Oct. to Mar. for arrivals only.) Rockview Bunkhouse O, on Main St. is less than 5min. west of the pier, on the north side of the street, (m (01859) 502 211. Dorms £9.)

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