Scottish Highlands | Corrupt Uncorrupted Lands of Scotland

RootlessRoutes 2018

Scotland is a beautiful country. The Scottish Highlands, magnificent to behold. To revel in the grandeur of its ethereal terrain is a privilege I hold dear.

Scotland draws thousands of visitors each year. Most are now drawn to the fetching scenery of Scotland’s northern wilds. The Scottish Highlands are now Scotland’s largest tourism draw after Edinburgh.

As we hike, bike, drive and enjoy the breathtaking landscape and exhilarating roads, the wonder of this place is undeniable.

Yet a dark narrative lurks behind its stark allure.

How did such a magical landscape become a domain for mostly sheep?

RootlessRoutes Scotland 2018
Sheep in a treeless vista. Bealach Na BA Scottish Highlands 2018

Although never highly populated, the uncultivated land we see today and subsequently the sparse population of the Scottish Highlands is not a completely natural occurrence.

Centuries of clear cutting helped to deforest an already receding woodland. Regrowth, suppressed to make room for sheep.

The populace, cleared by force… much like the trees. Ripped from their roots, to also make room for sheep.

By the 1850s the Highland culture, demonized and disregarded for centuries had been virtually eradicated.

The insidious nature of centuries of repression, maintains its steely grasp on much of Scotland’s countryside today.

RootlessRoutes Northwest Highlands 2017
Northwest Highlands. RootlessRoutes Scotland 2017

The caustic relationship between England and Scotland runs long and deep.

For centuries a Brit marrying a Scot, was a crime punishable by death. The borderland between England and Scotland, a bloody no man’s land.

In time, Britons melded a bit with the lowland Scots, albeit with a wary eye. But the rogue nature of clan culture made it hard to tame the Highlands.

The dividing line between the Highlands and Lowlands has never been distinctly clear. The negative view of the natives of these Highlands have remained crystal clear

The Stuarts / Stewarts 

The House of Stuart (Stewart), started with Robert II. The Stuarts bared Kings and Queens of Scotland from the late 14th Century. When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 the true reign of the Stuarts began with James I.

It was a Renaissancian time for Scotland.

Except for the brief time that England was a Commonwealth (1649  1660), the Stuarts remained monarchs until the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

In 1707 the independent Kingdom of Scotland merged with England. The Act of Union created the Kingdom of Great Britain. In many ways this benefitted both nations. Scotland needed money and Britain needed a way to control their feral neighbor to the North.

The Jacobites of the Scottish Highlands

Although flawed, James I of England VI of Scotland, was highly regarded by his people, having experienced long standing peace and fairly low taxation.

Upon his death his son Charles I ruled with a steady hand, yet at a turbulent time. His unyielding disagreements with Parliament and the rise of Cromwell as a Commonwealth leader, led to the loss his head.

Portrait of King James
James I of England & Ireland VI of Scotland.

Nine years later, with the monarchy restored, Charles II became another much beloved King who reigned true. He died young. 

His arrogant and disagreeable brother James II succeeded him. With the blessing of Parliament, James II was quickly deposed by William and Mary (James II son in law and daughter). The Convention of Estates in Scotland, recognized William and Mary as legitimate monarchs over James II.

Death & The Divine Right of Kings

But Jacobite leanings in the Highlands stemmed mostly from the supportive treatment of the Highland clans by James I, and their continued belief in the “Divine Right of Kings”. Because of this, numerous Jacobite attempts were made to restore James and his descendants to the throne.

On April 16, 1746, the Jacobites met their most devastating defeat at Culloden Moor. 

Culloden Battlefield Rootless Routes Inverness Scotland 2017 by Elizabeth Whitener
Culloden battlefield

Thousands of men died in the name of Charles Edward Stuart. (The Bonnie Prince).  An ominous sense of foreboding still permeates that boggy hill in Inverness.

Cause & Effect

In the hope of suppressing any possibility of future Jacobite uprisings. The Duke of Cumberland (King George II’s son), did everything he could to end the Highland way life.

Kilts and Tartans were banned. Clans forbidden. Anyone suspected of Jacobite connections were imprisoned, executed or forcibly transported to the Americas. Scottish Gaelic was discouraged and suppressed.

Sadly, this is not where this tragic decimation of the Highland culture ends.

The Clearances

Most Highlanders were monetarily poor and living off the land. At the time of the final Jacobite rebellion, they mostly lived as tenant farmers. This meant paying rent (aka tax) to clan chiefs and land owners for land that had been passed down through their families for centuries.

The process of clearing out people began prior to 1745, but sped up quickly after the final Jacobite rebellion.

The deconstruction of clan society created a detachment between clan chiefs and their kinsman. In a short time, many of the chiefs grew to closely resemble British aristocracy, and saw their kinsmen a disposable commodity.

Shocked Scottish sheep. Rootless Routes Scotland 2017 photo by Elizabeth Whitener
Sheep shocked by the dreadful driving skills of tourists driving on Skye. Scotland 2017 Arnisdale / Glenelg by Elizabeth Whitener Rootless routes

In the name of agricultural improvement, tenant farmers were forcibly relocated to make room for the more profitable sheep.

With no laws to protect these farmers, most moved to coastal areas to fish for kelp. Many Highland Scots had no choice but to emigrate. Entire ancient communities were completely wiped out.

In the 1820s the fishing and kelp industry died. To prohibit people from moving back inland, owners raised rents to unreasonable levels.

Then 1844 saw a devastating potato famine and more Scots were forced to emigrate or die.

Landowners continued to clear people from their lands until the 1850s.

Today there are more full blood Highlands descendents living in North Carolina than in Scotland.

Who the Hell owns Scotland?

Recent studies show that 432 people own half of all privately-owned land in Scotland, making this one of the highest concentrations of private land ownership in all of Europe. There is no way for the public to discover who owns what in Scotland. Nor how that land got into their hands.

The Scottish Land Commission (SLC) was formed to analyze the situation and make recommendations which could lead to significant changes in land law. It is their job to establish whether so few people holding so much land is detrimental to society.

Until something is decided, the vast open tracts of stunningly remarkable landscapes shall continue to draw visitors. As will the lochs and mountains dotted with rotting ancient brochs, farms, estates and castles on the horizon.

Winding single track roads will continue to curve through baaing sheep, and the tourists will keep coming.

Now What?

A sad irony in this grim history is the accidental but prudent result of this mass misappropriation of land. If more land goes into the hands of more Scots, what does that mean for the landscape?

The uncommercialized and undeveloped land of the Highlands, undoubtedly is one of the reasons why it remains so unique. The uncorrupted vistas are the crux of Scotland’s tourism boom. Subsequently supplying a new found wealth to Scotland. Albeit, who is most gaining from the monetary insurgence in Scotland remains to be clear.

With the indubitable right for more Scottish citizens to own land, build homes and live their lives, comes the need for more roads, more shops and more commercialization. In order to progress, the things that make this land so very remarkable may also be the most vulnerable.

How does a country offer fair opportunity to regain some of the losses of a people long repressed, without destroying the best parts of itself in the process? I simply do not know.

What I do know, is that when experiencing this awe inspiring environment, as it stands today or as it may be in the future, it is important to understand its history and contemplate the depths of the loss that got them here.

When you gaze upon the huge swaths of stunning vacant land, you should also appreciate the lives that once called this place home. The harsh realities of a culture so thoroughly washed away, that its remnants have become as natural a part of the environment, as the sheep.

A836 Tongue to Tain | Scotland Road Trip | Scottish Highlands

2018 RootlessRoutes A836 Scotland road trip Scottish Highlands

The A836 in the Scottish Highlands. Made up of steep gradients and sharp turns, that wind through a bleakly stunning and starkly remote landscape. One of Scotland’s most stunning drives, the A836 is a distinctly Highland route. An awe inspiring journey, this “must do” Scotland road trip culminates and ends within the farthest reaches of the Scottish Highlands. It is the northernmost A-class road on mainland Great Britain. Truly off the beaten path!

A formidable drive, the A836 consists of 122 miles of variable types of roadway. The mainly coastal route runs 58 East West miles along the North Coast from John O’Groats to Tongue, making up part of the NC500. The other 64 miles run North to South-ish from Tongue to Tain. You cannot get much further off the beaten path, than driving the Tongue to Tain section of the A836, unless going off road. This isolated length of stimulating road, cuts through some of the most secluded and foreboding bits of the Scottish Highlands, offering one Hell of a ride.

RootlessRoutes A836 Tongue Scotland 2018
A836 Kyle of Tongue. Scotland road trip 2018 The Scottish Highlands

If the A836 is so remote, why drive it?

If you read my blog or know anything about me, I am driven. Seriously driven by my passions. One of my favourite things to do (obviously) is to travel. Right close to travel is my love for driving (or riding, but that’s another post). If something is going on over a thousand miles away. I’m just as happy to hop into my car and drive to it than to fly (although I quite enjoy flying too).

A Scotland road trip, is a challenge for the driver. Regardless of which side of the road to which you are accustomed. The excitement of driving 60 MPH, on an unfamiliar (for me) side of the road, on a curvy, hilly, crazy narrow, one track sounds spectacular to me. Add up all of that wonder, put it in Scotland and I’m in. I am so very very in! Are you?

A836 Scotland road trip RootlessRoutes 2018
There are a few trees in the Scottish Highlands. Section of the A836 in Lairg. BTW that is a 2 way road.

Drive the Scottish Highlands

“Life is a journey”

What an utter load of crap. Why people find this saying so meaningful when on literal terms, it means nothing at all, is beyond me. Life is a journey! Duh! Thats a definition, not some deep and meaningful metaphor.

 “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson never said or wrote that. It was some preacher in the 1920s. Of course Emerson didn’t, it’s insipid. The only end destination we all share is death. If your journey is focused on getting to your destination, then… I don’t know. Maybe you’re reading this blog for a greater reason than you realized.  Perhaps it’s time to experience “the journey” with more intensity, so you can stop worrying so much about the destination. Why don’t you start by taking your first Scotland road trip?

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.”

That’s what Emerson did write. It’s neither the journey nor the destination. It’s the drive… it’s reveling in the damned drive. Enjoying the shit around you, or if you are not, finding the things that bring you joy  and doing them.

How to get to the A836

From the NC500

If already driving the NC500, you can hit the A836 from various locations. A838 heads East at Durness and turns into A836 at Tongue, heading east to John O’ Groats. If on this route, once you cross that awesome bridge that takes you over the Kyle of Tongue, follow the signs to head South on A836 at Tongue.

The route in total on the A836 from tongue to Tain is about 1 hour 35 minutes, without stops. Follow the route all the way over the Bonar Bridge. A836 will end at just about Tain. From there you can either return on the A836 , or take A9 North to hit the East West part of A836. A9 turns a bit at Latheron and meets with the A836 road at Thurso. Here you can either head west back towards Tongue or East towards John O’Groats. You can also take the A9 to A99 which will land you at John O’Groats.

From Inverness

The drive along A9 from Inverness to A836 is also a commendable Scotland road trip. If you are tentative about driving in Scotland, it is a good route on which to get your ‘feet wet’. It isn’t as winding as some but it still can be fast and a busy route. The roadway itself is wider, well marked and I’m pretty sure none of it is single track. It even has dual carriageway sections. Take A82 to A9. Cross the Moray Firth, then the Cromarty Firth then follow the signs for for the A836 that appear just around Tain. This route, without stops takes about 2 and 1/2 hours.

From Ullapool or Skye

Follow the NC500 Instructions

From Edinburgh

Take the A9 to Inverness. It’s a Hell of a drive. Far more challenging than the A836. I shall write about it soon. See the Inverness route for further instructions

I will write about the NC500 portion of the A836 soon. It is also a lovely drive, remote but not as remote as the tongue to Tain portion. Challenging, yet again, not quite as challenging as the other. It is far my picturesque.

 

Isle of Skye | Scotland Road Trip | Scottish Highlands | NC500 | I

Isle of Skye road trip rootless routes 2018

Scotland Road Trip | Isle of Skye | Part I

Isle of Skye road trip itinerary. Total trip time is about 8 hours. Included in this itinerary are calculations on estimated spent time at each location, time to park, a quick bite and toilet breaks. Below are the locations included on the itinerary. You can check out Part 2 here, once it is posted.

Isle of Skye Road Trip Itinerary Part 1 / Flora and The Old Man

  1. Portree
  2. Old Man of Storr (Storr)
  3. Tobhta Uachdrach
  4. Kilt Rock
  5. Mealt Falls
    1. Staffin Dinosaur Museum
  6. Quiraing
  7. Duntulm Castle
  8. Skye Museum of Life
  9. Kilmuir Cemetery (Flora MacDonald)
  10. Portree
  11. Skye Bridge

A Quick Note

I suggest you read Driving On Skye – What To Know Before You Go prior to planning your Isle of Skye road trip.  Splendor on The Isle of Skye Scotland shares general information about the Island.

The approximate estimate on timing, is just that… approximate. Time spent on this journey will vary greatly based on individual likes and desires. Both Isle of Skye road trip itineraries can be completed within a day if you stick with the general timetable offered.

A map is included at the end of this post. The letters indicated on each location description, correspond to those on the map and the written directions.

Although I did not travel Skye on my own, I am regularly a solo traveler. Everything on the Isle of Skye road trip itinerary is totally appropriate for solo travelers. The Island is friendly and safe (crime wise). It is not a good place to hike along the public roads. You should have some sort of transportation planned.

GPS can be dodgy in the Scottish Highlands and even more so on Skye. It really is important to read the above mentioned “Driving On Skye” to help you best prepare and understand the key challenges to visiting and driving on the Island.


13 Magical Stops on the Isle of Skye

A] The Skye Bridge / Drochaid an Eilein Sgitheanaich / A87

Take the Skye Bridge from Lochalsh. Once you’ve crossed the bridge onto the Isle of Skye, remain on A87 by taking the third (3) exit on the roundabout. After 32 miles you take a right onto Bridge Rd / A855.

Photo Alert: The lighthouse on the wee island of Eilean Bàn (White Island) below, is a particularly nice shot, as is the bridge itself. Best time for Skye Bridge photo opportunities is before you get onto the bridge.

Kid Alert: Check out the lighthouse on Eilean Ban as you cross the bridge.

Approximate time: 3 minutes

Toilet Alert: Main Rd, Broadford, Skye (about 10 minutes after the bridge) on A87 after the Cooperative, across from parking lot, next to church on right

Next Destination: Portree – Drive Time: 45 minutes


B] Village of Portree / Port Righ

Portree is a lovely spot for photographs, in addition there is a Visit Scotland visitor center too. This adorable fishing village claims to be the ‘Capital’ of Skye. It also claims to have everything you might need. That being said, everyone is likely going there for the same reason as you. It can get busy REALLY busy. It is usually quite difficult to find a sit down meal if you have not booked ahead. But there are supermarkets, shops, petrol stations and restaurants.

Don’t dawdle. Enjoy it, but be on your way. You can come back later if you wish, it is not a huge detour on your way back after the Fairy Pools.

Photo Alert: About 15 minutes after Portree is where you will find some of the best views  (and shots) of the ‘Old Man’. Once past that point, you may not be able to see it well until you have hiked up to it.

Toilet Alert: 1) Bridge Road behind Somerland Square, across from courthouse 2) Off A87 at the Aros Center

Approximate Time: 30 minutes – Total Trip Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Next Destination: Old Man of Storr – Drive Time: 10 Minutes


C] Old Man of Storr / Bodach an Stòr – The Storr / An Stòr

(not to be confused with The Old Man of Stoer in Sutherland)

Likely the most iconic location on the Isle of Skye, The Storr is a large pinnacle of jagged rocks precariously jutting from the mountain face including the “Old Man” of Storr. You will see it in the distance on your left when coming from Portree. The best place to take pictures of this unusual geological display is before you get there.

The path up to the The Storr is invigorating yet pretty easy, well marked with an obvious trail. It takes about 45 minutes up and 40 minutes down for adults in decent shape, if not lugging kids. I’d give it an hour if you are taking pictures, for you may need to stop and rest often or if you’ve got kids in tow.

Just go through the wooden gate at the end of the carpark. Click here for the Isle of Skye trail guide.

After hiking The Storr, perhaps it is time for a little snack and some photo opportunities. Please leave the Old Man of Storr parking lot to make room for others.

Parking Alert: The carpark fills up fast. (I told you to head out early and not to dawdle in Portree). Luckily, there are laybys along the road designed for overflow parking if need be.

Note: It takes almost exactly an hour to get to the Old Man of Storr car park from the Skye Bridge (if you decided to forgo Portree) and about 10 minutes from Portree. (6.6 miles)

Next Destination: Tobhta Uachdrach – Drive Time: 5 minutes

Approximate Time: 3 hours – Total Trip Time: 4 hours 30 minutes


D] Tobhta Uachdrach / Upper Ruins

Just about 3 miles up the road on the right is an amazing viewpoint. There are green areas on which to picnic, while viewing the breathtaking scenery before you. This location offers only a view, but it really should not be missed.

A couple of things to note. Many people camp here so it can be crowded. The parking lot can be riddled with holes and sharp stones jutting up.

Photo Alert: Endless photo opportunities, look all around and down, not just across the water. The sheep gate on the cliff is not locked. Be careful if you head out there. Make sure to close the gate behind you and when you leave.

Kid Alert: Good place for a picnic or snack.

Kid Warning: As mentioned above. the sheep gate that blocks entrance to the cliff is NOT locked. Keep an eye on your kids.

Parking Alert: Parking is plentiful

Pothole Alert: The parking lot is a nightmare, big holes, sharp protruding rocks, puddles.

Approximate Time: 15 Minutes – Total Trip Time: 4 hours 40 minutes

Next Destination: Kilt Rock – Drive Time: 7 minutes


E] Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls / Creag an Fheilidh & Eas Mealt

Keep heading North (right turn) on A855 for five (5) miles until you come to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls on the right. The parking lot is ample but it fills up quickly.

You will see hear then see Mealt Falls  to your left. The magnificent sea cliff known as Kilt Rock is beyond the Falls in the distance. The vertical basalt columns that make up this unique cliff, looks like the pleats on a kilt.

Photo Alert: The views are truly lovely here. Make sure to walk all the way over to the right and circle about as well. If you face back towards the road from which you came, there are lovely shots of lonely houses in rolling hills

Sheep Alert: There are often sheep close to the fence here. They tend to be less camera shy than others.

Kid Alert: If you are traveling with small kids or are limited for time, this is the place I’d skip.

The Staffin Dinosaur Museum  <– (check their site on the link given) is open Easter to October and although small supposedly has a significant collection of dinosaur bones.

Approximate Time: 20 minutes – Total Trip Time: 5 hours 20 minutes

Next Destination: Quiraing – Drive Time: 10 minutes

Alternate Next Destination: Staffin Dinosaur Museum Drive Time: 1 minute

  1. Staffin Dinosaur Museum

     Staffin Dinosaur Museum was established by Dugald Ross over 40 years ago and he is       still there today. The museum includes specimens from Stegosaurus, Megalosaurus,   Cetiosaurus, Hadrosaurus, and Ceolophysis. They also offer tours of the infamously hard to find Staffin dinosaur footprints.

Mealt Rootless Routes Elizabeth Whitener Isle of Skye 2018
Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock Isle of Skye 2018 photo by Elizabeth Whitener Isle of Skye 2018 Rootless Routes

F] The Quiraing / A’ Chuith-Raing / Kví Rand / Round Fold

Continue north on A855 for 3 to 5 minutes to bring you upon the entrance to the Quiraing Road. It is a fairly hard left at a little white house. There was no Quiraing sign when I was there, just a sign warning that the road may not be accessible in bad weather. But yeah, that is it. There should be a Chuith-Rang sign, but I did not see it.

The Quiraing was created by Tertiary age lava rock crushing Jurassic age sedimentary rock below it for millenia, resulting in a massive and ongoing landslide. This alien landscape is jaw droppingly stunning. The most dramatic vistas of the Quiraing  are the Table, Needle, Prison, Dùn Dubh and the Old Man of Storr.

I found the drive disappointing and drab. The roads are not in good condition. Many of those driving it are really poor drivers. It was in no way the thrill many blogs claim it to be. The views are spectacular from the carpark and the many hiking points. The drive, not so much.

You enter near Staffin and exit near Uig, (NG386643) Lat : 57.593464 Lon : -6.373546) It can be steep and curvy and filled with sheep, but the biggest challenge for me was the huge holes in the road. It is nothing like the exhilarating Bealach Na Ba.

Photo Alert: Most of the best photo ops occur once you hit the car park or the other viewing points along the Quiraing Rd. Once you walk out to the viewing area, you will be awestruck. There are a few unmarked stopping points that will be obvious when you come upon them. They are usually there due to a good view of something or for a hiking point entrance.

Sheep Alert: Sheep roam freely on this road and during lambing season April – June. little sheep inexperienced with roads and frightened by cars are unpredictable.

Parking Alert: The carpark often gets jammed packed early and stays that way throughout the day. There is an obvious wide layby to the side of the lot for overflow, but that often fills up as well. Please park courteously and with other people in mind.

Kid Alert: Your kids may or may not appreciate the views. It’s already been a bit of some time in the car. Maybe a wee hike is in order? I am unsure driving the entire Quiraing route would be worth it if your kid/s are already edgy. I am not sure it is actually ever worth it.

Pothole Alert: The roads suck on the Quiraing. The potholes are deep enough to cause injury to your vehicle.

Approximate Time: 45 minutes (per stop) – Total Trip Time: 5 hours 35 minutes

Next Destination: Duntulm Castle – Drive Time: 25 minutes


G] Duntulm Castle / Dun Dhaibhidh

You cannot enter this absolute ruin of a castle. Without a lot of imagination it isn’t much to see. Yet it is a dramatic location rich with ancient history. Fortified in the Iron Age. 

Clan Douglas, the McLeods and the MacDonalds fought over the damned thing for hundreds of years. The MacDonalds abandoned it in the 1730s and built a new house using stone taken from the castle.  Untended in such an exposed location  for nearly 300 years has taken its toll. The main tower collapsed into the sea in the 1990’s.

Gorgeous location, fantastic drive.

Photo Alert: Endless photo opportunities. About 3 miles up the road on the right is another viewpoint, with grassy areas for a picnic. View from the Minch to the Isle of Lewis is breathtaking.

Kid Alert: Good place for a picnic or snack.

Kid Warning: The castle is very unstable. The cliff rocks are as well. Keep an eye on your kids.

Parking Alert: Keep your eye out for the small parking area before the castle.

Pothole Alert: Parking area is ok The walk to the castle is often wet and muddy.

Toilet Alert: There are no facilities until you get the the next stop

Approximate Time: 45 hour – Total Trip Time: 7 hours

Next Destination: Skye Museum of Island Life – Drive Time: 7 minutes


H] Skye Museum of Island Life

The museum offers visitors a unique experience and true insight into island life a 100 years ago. This award winning attraction is a must for all visitors to the beautiful Isle of Skye. A perfect place to end this day long journey.

Photo Alert: Beautiful location with wonderful views.

Kid Alert: Kids may enjoy this, even more than you

Approximate Time: 45 minutes – Total Trip Time: 8 hours

Next Destination: Portree Harbour – Drive Time: 40 minutes


I) Village of Portree / Port Righ

Since you’ve already been here, it is time to take a break. Now you have time to take in the view you missed while rushing to get to the Old Man of Storr earlier. It is another 45 minutes to the Skye Bridge.

Photo Alert: There are many lovely spots to take pictures of the colorful houses along the harbour as well as the harbour itself

Toilet Alert: 1) Bridge Road behind Somerland Square, across from courthouse 2) Off A87 at the Aros Center

Approximate Time: 15 minutes – Total Trip Time: 8 hours

Next Destination: Skye Bridge – Drive Time: 45 minutes


J] The Skye Bridge / Drochaid an Eilein Sgitheanaich / A87

So you are back where you started. This road trip is complete.

Next Destination: Done – Drive Time: 8 hours 45 minutes

Splendor on The Isle of Skye Scotland

Waterfall at the Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye 2018 Rootless Routes by Elizabeth Whitener

Isle of Skye Scotland 

An t-Eilean Sgitheanach / Eilean a’ Cheò

The Isle of Skye. Awash with astonishing scenery, enchanting locations and otherworldly landscapes. Skye also holds historic significance in the tumultuous story of the Highlands of Scotland.

Brimming with pure splendor. Packed into a mere 650 square miles of immutable space. Skye is quite simply a wonder.

Driving the magical island is truly a one of a kind experience. Staying there is simply brilliant.

Looking back on the Old Man of Storr
The Storr, taken from Tobhta Uachdrach view point. Isle of Skye Scotland Rootless Routes photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2018

The Island may be compact, but it is filled with resplendence.

And… don’t forget the fairies.

The Fairy Glen near Uig, Isle of Skye Scotland / Scottish Highlands Rootless Routes 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener
The Fairy Glen near Uig, Isle of Skye Scotland / Scottish Highlands Rootless Routes 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener
NC500 Fairy Pools Isle of Skye Scottish Highlands Scotland 2018 Rootless routes by Elizabeth Whitener
Fairy Pools / Glen Brittle / Carbost / Isle of Skye Scottish Highlands Scotland 2018 Rootless routes by Elizabeth Whitener

Skye’s deep connection to fairies, prehistoric archeology and geological anomalies is as entrenched in its heritage and lore, as is its formidable terrain. With such mystical vistas, it is no surprise that Skye is rich in ancient Norse, Celtic and Pagan lore.

Skye’s distinctive topographies are both lush and barren, contained and wild. A perfect analogy for much of Scotland and the Scottish Highlands. Historically, environmentally and geologically.

Abundant in wildlife, including Red Deer, Golden Eagles, Sea Eagles, Gannets, Seals, Whales, Puffins, Otters, Pine Marten and a large variety of birds. The Island offers much to do and see.

It is not difficult to imagine a fairy choosing the Isle of Skye as their home.

Dunvegan Castle Gardens holds the precious Fairy Flag Isle of Skye Rootless Routes 2018
Gorgeous falls at Dunvegan Castle Gardens. Isle of Skye Scotland Rootless Routes 2018 Elizabeth Whitener

Everybody Wants a Piece of Skye

Since the Norse stepped foot on this ethereal land thousands of years ago, the magic of the Island has been a fairly well kept secret. First savoured by the Brits, then by parts of Europe. This is no longer the case.

More than 600,000 vehicles cross the Sky Bridge / Crossing every year. Scotland’s boom in tourism is indeed taking its toll. Its effects can be seen on the environment as well as on the infrastructure. A common plight with which all of Scotland is now attempting to cope.

Isle of Skye puzzle piece like coastline. NC500 route. 2018 Rootless Routes
Water view from Tabhta Uachbrach view point. Rootless Routes 2018 Elizabeth Whitener Isle of Skye

An Enduring Skye

Yet unlike the ever unstable and inimical Quiraing, created by ancient rock crumbling beneath the weight of the invading rock above. The people of here remain warm, welcoming and unremitting. I imagine it is difficult to feel overcrowded with views like this.

The largest, northernmost, major island in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. Skye has been inhabited since the Mesolithic period. Much like the Orkneys, Skye’s ties run deep with early Norse occupation.

Fairy Glen NC500 Rootes of the Routless
The Fairy Glen near Uig, Isle of Skye Scotland / Scottish Highlands Rootless Routes 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener
Dunvegan Castle NC500 Isle of Skye Rootless Routes 2018
Dunvegan Castle Home of the MacLeods Isle of Skye 2018 Rootless Routes

The Powerful Clans of Skye

Skye’s legacy includes a lengthy ascendancy with Clan MacLeod and Clan MacDonald  and was greatly impacted by the final Jacobite uprising.  You can find Flora MacDonald’s grave site here, as well as fascinating relics of her history in Dunvegan Castle . This ancient fortress and home to Clan MacLeod, is a fantastic visit. I should know, I’ve visited a lot of Scottish Castles. And within the walls of antiquity, this formidable castle, that remains inhabited by MacLeods yet to this day is the prized Fairy Flag

Jacobite Connections

After the the failed rising and the tragic end at Culloden. Flora, dressed the Bonnie Prince in women’s clothing and helped to secret him away and out of Scotland. She is seen by many as a brave Jacobite heroine. Ironically she was not likely a jacobite at all, just a very sweet, nurturing woman who liked to help people. But regardless, she likely saved Prince Charles life and her connection to the Island of Skye runs deep.

Portrait of the Bonnie Prince

The resulting clearances that continued for over 100 years after the uprisings tragic end, resulted in a huge population decline on Skye, the effects of which are still keenly felt today.

Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye NC500 route
Fairy Glen sheep with an attitude problem Rootless Routes Isle of Skye 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener

Most of the land is still owned by those that do not live on the Island. The sheep farms are mostly (if not all) tenant run with little rights over the whims of the land owners. And although the island is teeming with tourists, much of that money does not find its way to the crumbling infrastructure, nor to the people that live there.

Wages on the island are lower than average and rents are much higher (so tip… yes you should indeed tip). Long term rentals are nearly non existent. Nonetheless, the people of Skye seem to maintain an indubitable spirit. As do their sheep.

Visit The Isle of Skye

It is well worth a full day, if not two, to explore this magical place. In fact, you certainly would not run out of things to do or see, if you spent an entire week there. Sky offers endless attractions for young and old alike.

If you are planning to visit Scotland, do not miss out on this stunning place. I suggest you do it soon. For even the most enduring of communities can only bare the weight of such a severely overburdened infrastructure and countryside, for just so long.

Routes for traveling this gorgeous little island will be added to RootlessRoutes very soon and then linked here.

And then the English…

Dunnottar Castle and the Jacobite rising
Dunnottar Castle 2017 by Rootless Routes

Scotland lays claim to some of the most magnificent castles in all of Britain. Due to the Jacobite rising ‘s Scotland today bears some of the most magnificent castle ruins.

The evocative remains of Dunnottar Castle, command the seas from a massive rock promontory. For more than 2000 years man has inhabited this redoubt.

In the 5th century, Picts built a church on the rock from which Dunnottar now rises, that grew into a fort and then a settlement. It took 300 years before vikings successfully invaded the subsequent castle, killing King Donald II.

More than one hundred years of sieges plagued the Rock of Dunnottar until the Keiths took hold of the land. Dunnottar then maintained its steely stronghold for the Keith’s for centuries.

Dunnottar Castle grew with time becoming a regal and impenetrable fortress. Valiantly aiding its inhabitants in winning wars, warding off attacks, even saving Scotland’s Crown Jewels.

As the Keith family rose in rank and stature, Dunnottar Castle grew in might and grace.

Dunnottar Castle and the Jacobite rising
Dunnottar Castle today 2017 by Rootless Routes

And then the English… found George Keith, the 10th Earl of Marischal (and the last), guilty of treason for his part in the Jacobite rising. In 1715 Dunnottar Castle was seized by the British Government and left to fall to ruin.

Kildrummy Castle and the Jacobite rising
Kildrummy Castle Today

Built in the early 13th century, Kildrummy Castle (Caisteal Cheann Droma) was one of the most extensive castles in the area. For hundreds of years the castle was considered “the noblest of the north”. Long dominating the Strathdon for the earls of Mar.

Kildrummy Castle survived numerous seizes, gallantly defending the family of Robert the Bruce . In 1374 the castle’s heiress Isobel was seized and married by Alexander Stewart, who laid claim to Kildrummy and the title of Earl of Mar.

In 1435 James I took control, making the already regal Kildrummy, a truly royal castle. The castle passed on through clan hands for more than 200 years growing in elegance, size and repute.

And then the English… forced out clan Erskine after the 1716 Jacobite rebellion and the mighty castle was left to fall to ruin.

Kildrummy Castle ruins
Kildrummy Castle 2017 Rootless Routes

Pictures of Edinburgh

scottish breakfast
Scottish Breakfast
edinburgh passage
Edinburgh Passageway
scottish dinner and ale
Scottish Dinner and Ale
edinburgh street
Edinburgh Street
edinburgh bag piper
Edinburgh Bag Piper
Edinburgh church and statuary
Edinburgh Church and Statuary
Edinburgh Church Stained Glass
Edinburgh Church Stained Glass
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle passage
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle turrets
Edinburgh Castle turrets
Stained Glass, Edinburgh Scotland
Edinburgh Castle tourists, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle tourists, Scotland
Edinburgh Scotland, Stack
Edinburgh Scotland, Stack
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland street scene
Edinburgh, Scotland street scene
The new and the old, Edinburgh, Scotland
The New and the Old, Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh Castle from afar
Edinburgh Castle from afar
Image

Planning My Road Trip Scotlands North Coast East Coast & more…

When I originally planned my UK road trip, as an American driving my way through England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (basically the U.K. plus 1), and including the entire Scottish coast, I figured the hardest part of it would be driving on the other side of the road and travel blogging my way along, without killing myself (or someone else for that matter). I had no idea that driving ‘Scotlands North Coast’ was not only a “thing”, but a popular “thing”. I also did not realize the sheer extent of planning such a trip.

Highland Cow
Highland Cow

Two years ago I spent 3 weeks driving three of Italy’s coasts. Planning and booking the trip including only AirBnB for stays, was pretty straight forward and in the end, I only came short on one date and only had to move one reservation.

In Italy I drove for an easy 6 1/2 hours at one point, from the Amalfi Coast to Ravenna, and I managed it like champ. I was driving between lanes on the white lines of the highways, speeding around cliff hung, death curves at fearless speeds, and flipping people off like a true Italian driver, happily, in no time and enjoying it!

But… because I had a deadline for landing in Ravenna, I missed a great deal of the ‘spur of the moment’ site seeing, I so very much like to do.

For me road trips, be they European road trips, across the US, or anywhere for that matter, are all about being able to see something interesting, turn off and seek it out.

Although I knew this trip was to be much larger, I did not realise the sheer immensity of the endeavour, and the vast amount of things to see and do.

Even for someone who has travelled the U.K. more than once in the past, it is quite remarkable to realise the vast scope of what is crammed into 4 countries, whose landmass could all fit into the state of Texas.

Bluebells in Austin Texas
Bluebells in Austin Texas 2015 (this park is likely the size of London)

I could live in the Scottish Highlands for a full year, spending each waking moment exploring, and I’d still feel swindled at the end of the year. Add England, Ireland and Wales into the mix and holy sh*t.

If you’re from Australia, parts of Asia or from the US, the land mass of these four (4) countries is diminutive at best. But the immense depth of history, variation of cultures and landscape, architecture, museums, pubs, wilderness, historic sites, people, food, pubs, beaches, cities, farmland, did I say pubs?… it’s just astounding to say the least.

Because of my experience of feeling as if perhaps I missed out on too much on the Italian trip, even if I saw and experienced far more than most do on one such trip, I planned this trip with many more stops, hoping to broaden my chances for more exploration. I’m just not exactly sure how this rigid timeline, in one of my favorite places on the planet, the Scottish Highlands, is going to pan out.

I’ve crammed a Hell of a lot of places to see and things to do, along the rugged trail of the NC 500, no matter how short the actual drive might be. So much, that I am unsure if it is even remotely reasonable, let alone doable, in the sort of stress free and freewheeling style, in which I like to travel.

I realize now, (only one month prior to the trip) it’s quite a stringent timetable for such a tempestuous traveler as myself, so keep your fingers crossed and as usual, I’ll just play it by ear.