Hebrides: Islands 8, 9 & 10: Eilean Donan, Eilean Ban and Isle of Skye (1)

Eilean Donan: Population: 1 (2011), Inner Hebrides
Eilean Ban: Population: 2 (2011) now uninhabited, Inner Hebrides
Isle of Skye: Population: 10,008 (2011), Inner Hebrides

Location-map

This trip began with an early morning drive north from Glasgow along the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, over the Great Moor of Rannoch, through Glencoe, Fort William, Glen Shiel and finally along the shores of Loch Duich to reach the first island of the trip, Eilean Donan.

A small tidal island sitting at the meeting point of three lochs (Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh), the name “Eilean Donan” is probably now more associated with the famous castle which dominates the island rather than the island itself.

INSTA_3W2A3548(above: the castle taken during a previous visit, 2016)

I’ve stopped to photograph the castle and island many times before but I have to confess that I’d never actually set foot on the island before now.  Access is via a bridge which is strictly controlled by a ticketing system from the visitor centre.

So, armed with tickets, we set out over the bridge and onto the island.

There is a “no photography” policy in the castle, so I’m afraid I can’t show you the interior, but, as I was here primarily to photograph the island this restriction didn’t really cause me any problems.

After a tour of the castle, I set off down to the shoreline to photograph the views out across the loch.

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The view back along Loch Duich is particularly nice (see above) and is probably worth the entrance fee on its own!  After spending some time exploring the shoreline and photographing the castle from every conceivable angle (it’s difficult to capture unique images of what must be one of the most photographed buildings in Scotland…) we headed back over the bridge towards the car park.
As we reached the car park I noticed a gap in the steady stream of tourists so I couldn’t resist the temptation to take one last shot of the castle and the island from the mainland.

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From Eilean Donan it’s a short drive towards the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh and the location of my second island of the trip, Eilean Ban (White Island).

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Quite easy to miss if, like most people in a rush to get to Skye, you simply drive straight over the bridge, but, if you look closely at the Skye Bridge, you will note that it doesn’t span the Kyle Akin in a single bound, instead it crosses first to a small isle before the final arch over to Skye.

This small isle is Eilean Ban.  Once owned by “Ring of Bright Water” author Gavin Maxwell and home to a now decommissioned lighthouse.  I stopped at the small gate on the bridge which gives access to the island, but, it was locked.  I later discovered that the island can now only be accessed as part of a daily tour from the nearby “Bright Water Centre” in Kyleakin on Skye.
Disappointing, but I grabbed a leaflet detailing the tours and contact information and may try again on my next visit to Skye.

Technically the island is now uninhabited, so doesn’t really fall into my plans for this project, but, as it was one of my original “to-do” list of 51 islands, I’ll try to revisit again soon.

From the bridge it was a brief drive over to Skye for what is likely to be one of many visits during this project.

I love visiting Skye.  It was the first Hebridean island I ever visited (way back before they’d even built the bridge!) and so I know the island well.  I’ve walked, cycled, driven, camped and even sailed around most of the island over the years.

On this occasion we decided to limit our excursions to the lower 3rd of the island. Luib on the banks of Loch Ainort was pretty much the furthest north we ventured on this brief visit.

After a quick stop at Luib, we set off south again back through Broadford and Breakish before turning off onto the small road to Kylerhea.

I usually describe the road to Kylerhea as the scariest drive on the isle of Skye – it’s a winding single track road which climbs to just over 915 feet as it clings to the side of Sgurr na Coinnich.   As the road nears the coast it loses some altitude but a steep drop of almost 400 feet to the river off to the right makes it feel much higher!  If your timing is off, you can sometimes meet a procession of cars climbing over from the summer ferry crossing at Glenelg on the mainland and this can give some interesting moments as cars crawl past each other at the narrow passing places with drivers trying to keep one eye on the road, and the other on the steep drop!

So, it’s usually with some relief that I eventually reach Kylerhea…

We parked at the Otter Haven car park above the village and made our way down to the viewpoint and wildlife hide.
Kyle Rhea is a narrow strait which separates Skye from the mainland.  It’s one of the best places in the UK to see a range of sea mammals, including dolphins, whales, otters, seals and porpoises.  It’s also a popular spot for bird-watchers as it’s home to Golden Eagles and White Tailed Sea Eagles (the UK’s largest bird of prey)

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before but my knowledge of wildlife is fairly limited.  Generic terms such as bird, or deer, are about as good as you’ll get from me when I’m out and about!
Thankfully there was an RSPB guide at the hide and he explained that below in the waters there were over 140 common seals, some grey seals further up the coast, a huge number and variety of birds, AND, most importantly for the assembled visitors – a White Tailed Sea Eagle in the trees below where we stood.

We didn’t have to wait very long before the eagle made a crossing to the mainland and we all started snapping away!  After a brief spell in a tree on the opposite shore it returned to the island and disappeared once more into the treetops.

After a short wait, and with an impressive level of knowledge normally only displayed by the likes of Sir David Attenborough, I saw something out of the corner of my eye and uttered the immortal line… “What’s that big brown thing?”
Yeh, you’ve guessed… it was a White Tailed Sea Eagle… the thing we were all supposed to be looking out for!  I should probably stick to my day job, eh?!

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After a while we decided to brave the return trip along the narrow road and on to our next destination.  Initially we were planning to visit some beaches on the Sleat peninsula but the weather was beautiful so we decided instead to travel to Elgol.

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The view across Loch Scavaig to the Cuillin mountains was stunning.  I’ve been to Elgol many times (last visit was just six months ago) but today was probably the best weather I’ve ever had at Elgol.

insta_3W2A3438(above: the same location, dawn, December 2016)

From Elgol, we returned to Broadford for some food, then on to Luib again.
We had a walk on the shore at Luib and watched the sun dip behind the hills.

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All in all, this was a lovely trip to Skye.  I have a few of the smaller isles to visit, plus at least 2/3rds of the island to re-visit and document, so I’ll be back to Skye in the very near future.

I should have another blog in the next few days as I hope to visit one, possibly two, more islands tomorrow.

Plans are in place – and tickets bought – for another 5 islands in the coming weeks and so i’m hopeful that I’ll reach the half-way point of 25 islands before the end of July.

Stay tuned!
I hope you’re enjoying this tour as much as I am!

 

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