What’s on Skye in winter?
Everybody knows that the fourth most beautiful island in the world, Skye, is an increasingly busy and bustling place to be from Spring to the crisp and colourful cusp of Autumn.
What many might assume is that the Misty Isle retreats into hibernation during the lengthy winter of short days and long, dark nights.
But they would be wrong.
Photo – Russ Sherwood
Historic houses and castles
While many of the historic buildings are shut down for the winter, it is worth noting that the UK’s most photographed castle, Eilean Donan just over on the mainland, remains open and now has a visitors’ centre.
There is also a self-catering holiday cottage available for weekly lets Saturday to Saturday and which sits on its own headland overlooking the point where three great lochs meet, with wonderful uninterrupted views from almost every window across the water to Eilean Donan Castle. What’s more, although heated throughout, there is also a custom-designed wood-burning stove to add that cosy winter’s evening warmth.
Many souvenir and arts and crafts shops as well as galleries are not sitting out the winter, either.
Portree has a number to visit, most especially Tippecanoe in the high street (actually known as Wentworth Street), open Monday – Saturday. Across the island in the North West, Skysecape Gallery, the home and studio of Russell Sherwood Photography at Altvaid on the road from Dunvegan to Harlosh, displays a collection of uniquely captivating images of the constantly shifting sea, sky and landscapes of Skye.
Authentic, traditional crafts
Artisan crafts thrive on the island and working throughout the winter are, notably, Skye Weavers at Glendale, again in the North West beyond Dunvegan. A small weaving and sewing business, you can watch tweed, throws, scarves, wraps and more being woven on their bicycle pedal-powered loom.
Also unique to Skye is Skye Skyns out on the Waternish peninsula, with stunning panoramic views across Loch Bay and beyond to the Outer Hebrides. A family run business that has been going now for 30 years, Skye Skyns’s hand fleshing and tanning process (which you can watch) demonstrates traditional techniques almost unique in the UK and redolent of the distinctive remoteness of Skye and its crofting community. A self-catering cottage with breathtaking views and globally famous sunsets is also available to let throughout the year.
For thousands of years, man has managed the practical potential of wood, whether as fuel for warmth, malleable material for building a home and its accessories, or, indeed, for the furniture that adds comfort to necessity. Skye Woodcraft at Orbost outside Dunvegan started out as a hobby and is now a full-time business. They work with a small local mill who source sustainable hardwoods from all over Scotland. It is this close working relationship that ensures that the provenance of every single plank is known and recorded. The result is a range of unique, beautiful, practical pieces ranging from boards, to candle holders, boxes and, of course furniture.
Eating and sleeping
It’s not all about lazing in front of a log fire, mesmerised by the vast and changing skies, the dappled blues, greys, greens and purples that form a kaleidoscopic light show from dawn to dusk or the swelling, sighing sea. It’s not even just about shopping and sightseeing (perhaps with one of the excellent Tour operators at your disposal) or staying in world-class luxury accommodation – be it self-catering or the height of hotel service and fine dining. You have a choice of pubs, cafés and small restaurants too, such as the Arriba overlooking the harbour at Portree or the Mòr Books and Windrush Café Studio at Struan which combines an eclectic second-hand bookshop, vintage and modern textiles as well as excellent coffees, teas and home-made food with a spectacular view over to the Cuillin Hills.
Of course, there are also pubs, many with rooms to let all year round such as The Isles Inn in the central square at Portree. With a roaring fire in the hearth, a restaurant section serving top Scottish pub grub lunch times and evenings, washed down with a range of cask Real Ales and selected bottled Isle of Skye Brewery (Uig) beers and a tempting selection of malt whiskies.
There is an abundance of self-catering accommodation in stunning locations – many with spectacular views – that are available at advantageous off-peak prices. These include the sublime Lyndale House with its three luxury self-catering cottages between Portree and Dunvegan; the architectural award-winning The Black Shed at Skinidin on the Duirinish peninsula and delightful Rowan Tree Cottage at Achnahannaid outside the island’s ‘capital’, Portree.
Or perhaps you prefer some preferential pampering combined with fine dining, in which case a number of unique, luxury hotels with wonderful restaurants remain open throughout the winter with credit card friendly off-peak prices to add to the temptation. Two that we have picked are: Kinloch Lodge, the highland home of Claire and Godfrey Macdonald on the tranquil shoreline of the sea-loch Na Dal in Sleat on the southern tip of the island. With its Michelin starred restaurant it has been cited among the top 25 small hotels in the world and yet the welcome is as warm as the log fires ablaze in every hearth.
Nearby, there is also The Duisdale Country House Hotel with its fine-dining 3AA Rosette award restaurant. Good Bed and Breakfast deals can be obtained during the winter too.
At the northernmost tip of the island there is The Flodigarry Hotel, incorporating the former home of Scottish heroine Flora MacDonald who famously rescued Bonnie Prince Charlie. Located in ancient woodlands up on the Quirang in north east Skye, it is a traditional, non-trendy warm and friendly hotel with spectacular views and great deals throughout the winter.
Outdoors on the moors, hills, coastline and sea
While it can be chilly, and certainly changeable, the weather is not as relentlessly cold and wet as popular myth suggests. The hills, moors and coastline are of a constant, changing beauty that you will most certainly want to get actively out and about to experience.
Apart from setting your own itinerary, you might prefer to join in organised walks, rambles, hikes and climbs. The Highland Rangers, for Skye and Lochalsh and based in Broadford have a programme of professionally guided activities throughout the winter. A full guide book is available in Tourist Information offices or just contact Tom Hall on 01471 820526 .
If the water is your thing then you can take part in sea kayaking from Breakish with professional courses available throughout the winter, run by Skyak Adventures.
Whatever you choose to do outdoors, you do need to be safety-aware and ensure that you are appropriately clothed and shod. The weather can turn on a sixpence so always assume the worst and do not be deceived by bright, sunny days. For the best in all outdoor clothing, footwear, camping, climbing or walking accessories you have Inside Out in Portree and Cioch Outdoor Clothing at Struan.
Skye is open to you for a wonderful winter welcome
Wherever you want to go, whatever you want to do on Skye, the range of options available through the winter months is suitably varied to cater for all tastes and bank accounts. From hotel hospitality to self-catering privacy or B&B; from fine dining to more modest pubs, cafés or restaurants, Skye can accommodate you and your friends or family in welcoming warmth and comfort.
There is a wide choice of shopping from supermarkets to souvenir shops, art galleries to craft shops, and unique experiences of traditional artisan craftsmanship. Outdoors offers you climbing to kayaking, walking, hiking and sightseeing.
Hibernate for winter?
No! Skye remains open for business and pleasure.
What are your favourite things to do on Skye in the Winter?
What activities do you recommend and what are the places you like to shop in or visit during the winter months? Get involved – leave your comments below.