SKYE'S THE LIMIT.
IT WAS with some trepidation that my partner and I set off on our tour of the Highlands and the Isle of Skye.
We'd heard that the previous day the bridge connecting Skye to the mainland had been closed due to gale-force winds. As we turned up at the offices of Rabbie Trail Burners, the tour operator on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, we were thankful that we'd taken Rabbie's advice to heart and come prepared with suitable clothing and footwear as the weather in Scotland can be changeable. I had originally planned this trip on the very day last year that Iceland's Eyjafjallaj|kull volcano spewed its plume of aircraft grounding dust into the scuppering my travel plans, and I was beginning to wonder whether mother nature might again conspire to thwart us. Our fears were soon put to rest as we met tour guide and driver Kevin, and our fellow travellers, who had gathered from all corners of the world to experience first hand the dramatic scenery of Scotland's rugged Highland landscape.
Kevin quickly outlined our plans for the next three days and the route we would be taking on our way to Skye, with the first port of call being the imposing Stirling Castle, stronghold of the Stuart kings.
Our knowledgeable guide displayed a winning line in wry humour as he regaled us with historic and cultural tales and anecdotes along the way, from Burke and Hare to the origins of the Picts and the Celtic nation, and of course old Braveheart himself, William Wallace, dispelling a few myths appropriated in the film.
He gave us an entertaining and informative account of Wallace's demise and the tale of Robert the Bruce, and the Battle of Bannockburn's role in the Wars of Scottish Independence.
More tales from Scotland's bloody history follow as we head past Doune Castle, where the Python team filmed the Holy Grail, and on towards Callander in the foothills of the Highlands for refreshments.
Crossing into the Highlands we headed north towards Loch Luibnaig, through Breadalbane and up to the wild desolation of Rannoch Moor, where we were able to spot majestic deer.
We continued through the spectacular mountain pass of Glencoe, scene of the great massacre of the Macdonald Clan during the Jacobite Wars.
Following a lunch break at Fort William we passed by Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, and into the Great Glen. We forged on west on the 'Road to the Isles', through the striking scenery of the Five Sisters of Kintail, the mountains guarding the passage to the Isle of Skye, which legend has it were formed when the King's daughters had their wish for eternal beauty granted by the Witch of Skye turning them into these dramatic stone edifices.
We drove over the bridge to Skye and the Western Isles, heading up the coast to the picturesque harbour of Portree, where we had the evening to ourselves to explore the town, grab a bite to eat, and check out the local pub before getting a good night's rest ahead of a day to be spent exploring the island.
Refreshed, we set off in the morning towards the northern tip of the island, to the remote Fairy Glen and Uig Bay, Kevin again regaling us with tales of the mythical world of fairies and folklore to entertain us as we passed through the rugged landscape, with the dramatic snow-capped Cuillin Mountains looming ominously in the background. We arrived at the enchanting Fairy Glen, named after its magical and unique landscape of miniature conical hills and brooks, hewn from ice age glaciers, which legend has it was home to a fairy kingdom.
The Quiraing is a three-peak mountain range at the northernmost summit of the Trotternish Ridge. Following the winding road up to the mountain pass, we made the most of a break in the weather to take in the truly breathtaking scenery. Skye's name originates from the Nordic for 'misty isle', and it was evident where the name came from as we began our journey back towards Portree for lunch. We passed the Old Man of Storr on our way, one of the island's landmark geological features, but had to take Kevin's word for it as its craggy peaks were enshrouded in low lying cloud. Our final stop en route, Kilt Rock, was a 200ft high sea cliff, and home to a dramatic waterfall. Here in the windswept spray you can feel the full wild force of nature. The striking rock formation, composed of massive columns of dolerite, has been compared to the appearance of pleats in a tartan kilt.
After our lunch break back in Portree we set off to explore the Fairy Pools, a series of clear, cold pools and waterfalls formed as the Allt Coir a Mhadaidh stream tumbles down from the foothills of the Black Cuillins.
First port of call on leaving Skye the following morning was a visit to the much photographed Eilean Donan Castle, set at the junction of three lochs and completely surrounded by water.
Then it was on to Loch Ness for lunch and the possibility of spotting Nessie. From there we headed south through Monarch of the Glen country and the Cairngorms National Park.
After a final pit stop for tea and cake in the historic county town of Perth we commenced the last leg of our journey which took us past Blair Castle in the Kingdom of Fife, the 13th Century ancestral home of the Murrays of Athol, Kevin's clan as it happens, and finally over the Forth Road Bridge and back into Edinburgh, having experienced some of the most beautiful and remote parts of Scotland.
Travel FACTS? Flybe operates daily flights to Edinburgh, with fares available from pounds 30.99 each way including taxes and charges. www.flybe.com ? Rabbie's Trail Burners - from pounds 115 to pounds 135 for a three-day trip to the Isle of Skye (accommodation, food and entry to monuments excluded) www.rabbies.com STAYING IN EDINBURGH: ? The Knight Residence five-star serviced apartments cost from pounds 109 per night for a one bedroom apartment, pounds 139 for two bedrooms or pounds 179 for three bedrooms. ? To book contact The Knight Residence on 0131 622 8120, e-mail info@theknightresidence.
co.uk or visit www.theknightresidence.
co.uk STAYING IN SKYE: ? Marmalade, Home Farm Road, Portree, Isle of Skye IV51 9LX. Tel: 01478 611711. www.marmaladehotels.com.
* SERENE: Eilean Donan Castle at Loch Duich. Set at the junction of three lochs it's completely surrounded by water * TRANQUIL: The Storr at Isle of Skye, among the most beautiful and remote parts of Scotland