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Skye – Away from the Madding Crowds

A Bank Holiday on Skye? Are we mad?!

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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Living as we do in Ballachulish, we often hear news from the Isles, and particularly Skye, that they are overcrowded with tourists. It reached a fever pitch last year with CNN Travel listing Skye as one of their places to “avoid” and the police “advised visitors to stay away unless they had already booked places to stay”.

So when we were approached by Jakub Bors, landscape photographer and operations manager of the Skeabost hotel on Skye, about possibly working together on an article we asked if he could show us a few locations that would give a quiet time even on a busy day. Never one to turn down the offer of being spoiled for a couple of days, we arranged a date and it just happened to coincide with the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. What a time to test Jakub’s choices!

Now the Skeabost Hotel itself is in a pretty handy location, sitting just a few miles outside of Portree and we arrived and immediately decamped into Jakub’s car and started our lightning tour.

The first thing we did was to drive up toward the North of the island and this meant passing Portree and driving up past the Old Man of Storr and the Quiaraing. I decided to count how many cars were parked below the Storr but I when I got to about fifty and so I’d guess there were possibly another ten or twenty. It looked like a trail of ants making their way up past the clearfell toward the viewpoint. I’m not sure how the area copes with all of that traffic and no facilities of any sort (eww!!).

We were heading further North though and we skipped the Quiraing turn off and finally stopped at Duntulm castle, but not to visit it. Instead, we stopped a bit further round for a nice viewpoint. Unfortunately, photographically speaking, it was a gloriously sunny and blue sky day and closer to midday than sunrise or sunset. You might get some nice late evening light if you got the chance but considering the conditions, we decided black and white mode would make the most sense.

Still only seeing tourists from afar, we moved around the coast toward Uig and visited the Cave of Gold a Kilmuir. A bit more of a walk but the destination was a delightful Staffa’esque cave with basalt columns, lichen and solitude!

Managing contrast was an issue here but the A7R3 handled the conditions nicely and with a bit of dodging a burning produced something illustrative if not artistic.

Driving down to Uig took us past some lovely long distance views of Harris basking in the sunshine. We opted to park up and visit Uig Woods which were replete with Wild Garlic and almost budding bluebells. It’s a wonderful atmosphere if a little tough for photography but the falls and plunge pool at the end gave me a few minutes distraction. Still not having seen a soul we walked back to the car.

Up above Uig, we took a walk around the old cemetery which had a fabulous view of Uig bay and had some amazing moss and lichen covered gravestones - my only colour moment of the day!

We then encountered our first tourists as we tried to find a place for coffee. Talisker distillery and bay were heaving and we had our quick caffeine fix and ran away again. Jakub then said “We’re now off the Sligachan!” and I thought he’d gone mad!

I’d seen the crowds over there as we’d passed at 9am and heaven knows what it was going to be like at 3pm. Well, it was just as expected and we only just got a space in the car park. A quick wander around the old bridge and then Jakub led us upriver to a fantastic little waterfall which is probably known to photographers but is obviously just a few yards too far for tourists.

The water level was incredibly low and, with the possibility to get something a little original, I dropped myself into the middle of what would normally be a massive waterfall and found some nice eroded rock shapes with the opportunity to position a small cascade and a few mountains in the background. After a twenty-minute pseudo yoga session, contorting my tripod into the optimum position, I think I created my photo of the day. Time for gin and tonic back at the Skeabost!!

We continued our conversation at the bar and Jakub assured us that there are many more secluded places than he had shown us but he just wanted to show how you can get a quiet time as long as you avoid the icons (Fairy Pools, Fairy Glen, Old Man of Storr, Quiraing, Neist, Elgol, Kilt Rock and Talisker Bay). The difficulty with Skye is mostly to do with road access. So many people all using the same roads, so that even if you want to go somewhere quiet, you still get stuck. If anybody has been to the Lake District on a bank holiday weekend, they’ll know that this isn’t restricted to Skye though and I think the Lake District is a LOT worse in many ways. The win for the Lake District is the plethora of parking and facilities at most locations.

The following day, Jakub had put us in touch with a couple of friends, Janice and Ewen who run Seaflower, a boat making trips out to the Isle of Rona. They have an exclusive contract with the family that own Rona and this guarantee there would be no other sightseers island and it would be the ideal way to get away from the crowds. We boarded a very modern looking catamaran in the morning and then took a leisurely journey up the side of Raasay up to a bay at the bottom of Rona where some of the old sheilings were.

It was another glorious blue sky day so great for exploring. We spent a while exploring the area around the main bay which had some lovely rocky shoreline and wooded inlets. After a wonderful buffet dinner on board the boat, all locally caught by Ewen’s father, we then spent a couple of hours exploring the island. It’s not huge but there is a track across the whole length. You could easily spend a few days exploring here though, which is good as the owners of the island rent out a couple of cottages for a special getaway (£600-£700 for a week out of season).

We just had a wander around the bay where the cottages were and took a couple of photographs as we crossed the top of the island. Amazing views in all directions and the chance to see all sorts of birds like sea eagle and golden eagles. We saw a golden eagle, a bunch of oystercatchers and a curlew and loads of sandpipers. Pretty soon we had to return though although on the way back we hugged the coast of Skye and enjoyed an uncommon view of the Old Man of Storr.

So Is Skye ‘Closed for Business?’

From what you read in the newspapers and online, it would seem like Skye is ‘closed for business’ due to the overwhelming numbers of tourists and photographers. However, the truth is that, just like many other locations, the iconic viewpoints are getting more and more overcrowded. If you want a quiet time in Fairy Pools, you’d best do it mid-week in late winter / early spring and get in location for sunrise. Otherwise, go and explore for yourself and just avoid the few tourist traps and you’ll have a great time.

A big thanks to Jakub Bors and the Skeabost Hotel for acting as our hosts for the day and to Janice and Ewen of the Seaflower for a wonderful trip to Rona. The hotel is excellent and we can highly recommend it as a base for exploring the top end of the island. Likewise the Seaflower trip to Rona will please any non-photographers travelling with you and still give you some unique photographic opportunities.

Jakub’s Comments

The Isle of Skye is a legendary location for landscape photographers, and I am lucky enough to call this incredible Scottish island home. My four years on the island were filled with joy full of amazing moments with my camera, but also moments of concern when being able to see how much busier some of the favourite spots got over the past few years. There are several movements on the island trying to figure out how to control and redirect the thousands of visitors arriving at the island and all heading to the same locations.

As a photographer and someone who keep capturing the locations in their current state, I've decided to help by sharing photos from more unusual and hidden spots around the island. It's been over two years since I started this "project" and since then I shared hundreds of photos, guided two photography groups around those "rare" locations, and I am currently starting to work on my new YouTube project (keep an eye out here) with the Isle of Skye Landscape Photography series including over 40 secret landscape photography locations. I genuinely hope that all of this will help my fellow photographers and other visitors to discover more than just the five iconic places around this beautiful Scottish island.

Do you have any images of Skye?

A call out to our readers - if you have any images from off the beaten locations on Skye then please submit them to us and we’ll set up a gallery in the next issue of On Landscape.

Submit to: submissions@onlandscape.co.uk
Details: Image to be 2048px long edge. Please include a caption of location and title for your image (and don't forget your name too!)
Closing date: 1st June 2019



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