Abroad

A Long Weekend in Mallaig and the Isle of Skye!

Going to the Isle of Skye was an unforgettable trip from start to finish for so many reasons. Scotland, you never disappoint.
The Sligachan Old Bridge on the Isle of Skye.

Wowza.

It’s been nearly eight months since I visited Isle of Skye on a romantic little getaway with my Scottish bae, Kyle, but it’s better late than never to add the trip to the archives. It was an unforgettable trip from start to finish for so many reasons, both good and…testing. But mostly good, given how absolutely magnificent the views were. Scotland, you never disappoint.

Here’s the recap:

Living in Glasgow, close to Glasgow Central Station, our journey began with a 7:30 a.m. departure from the train station. A quick stop for snacks for our 5-hour journey (à la Greggs and Tesco), and then we were settled into our window seats on the West Highland Line. Little did I know then, the train ride of the coast would be the highlight of the entire trip.

As we rolled out of Glasgow, we were greeted with stunning views along the River Clyde and typical green Scottish rolling hills. Kyle was a proper gentleman and allowed me the forward-facing window seat (though he wanted to switch on the way back! Still bitter… 😘) The rows of homes and infrastructure slowly faded away as we worked our way through Helensburgh and Crianlarich, towards Fort William and the mountains (bens) of Glen Coe.

the West Highland Line.
Image via westhighlandline.org.uk

The views were marvelous going through the bens and glens. Humbling and awe-inspiring. We picked up a gaggle of senior-aged tourists in Fort William and were stimulated by their excitement and camera flashes as we rode along the lochs and valleys of West Scotland. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any prettier, we hit Glenfinnan.

I’d been there before on a day trip but never like this. Remember the bridge from Harry Potter? Yeah, well, it’s called the Glenfinnan Viaduct and we rode right on over it. I’m just inserting the video here since, despite having a Master’s in Communication, I lack the vocabulary to describe it.

That life-altering moment (shut up, it was) was only a few hours into the trip. I genuinely did not know, when booking our trains, that this route is one of the top-rated train routes in the world. For us, it was a Thursday morning commute! How very blessed we were.

The entire train ride was spectacular. When a trip starts out that well, you know it’s going to be a great time. And it was, but Kyle and I quickly realized we had different travel styles. For example, I planned out our entire trip in a Google Doc with timestamps to ensure we’d have time to accomplish all of the “must-dos” on our list. I planned busses and ferries in advance and even had Kyle book a few. Having a plan makes me feel so much more relaxed on a trip. So when arrived in Mallaig, I knew exactly what we were to do, where everything was, and how much time we’d spend on each activity (of course I planned in “leisure” time and “Kyle gets to choose what we do today” time. I’m not crazy). But within minutes, our plans were derailed.

It became clear that we were not on the same page when it came to most of the things on the itinerary. And we would only visit each other’s pages briefly for the duration of the trip. For the most part, we were crafting an active flipbook. But, alas, you get the point, so let me not fixate a moment longer on the negatives and rather set my narrative attention on the beautiful things we did do. Thankfully, there were several.

Our hotel room in Mallaig was stunning with a view over the Loch (Loch Nevis, I think? All the lochs seemed to flow into one another) and an outline of the Isle of Eigg in the distance. It was the West Highland Hotel, an absolute gem in the Hebrides. We had agreed to splurge for a loch-view room and the moment we slid the key into the door lock and swung open the door, we knew was well worth it.

We dined that night at the hotel’s Terrace Restaurant, overlooking the loch as the sunset. Kyle had a seafood feast, and I a caesar salad. We settled our differences over dinner and had a nice nightcap drink on the terrace afterward. Mind you, this was during COVID times, so there was a curfew on alcohol, which meant, thankfully, we couldn’t get carried away and have a late night. It was for the better. Stuffed and tired from the day’s journey, we headed to bed.

The next day was the Isle of Skye!!

Friday morning, we took the CalMac Ferry from Mallaig to the Isle of Skye. On arrival, we took a quick jaunt to the exterior of Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum while waiting for our bus to the next stop. On the way, we took stopped to take photos with the channel we’d just ferried through in the background, and they are some of my favorite photos of the trip. I mean, look at that view!!

I’m a little sad we didn’t have the chance to go into the castle, but it did have an adjoining public bathroom that we used to freshen up and that came in CLUTCH.

Back at the ferry port, we took a bus to the Island’s main city, Portree. Portree is a beautiful little capital city that serves as the hub for all excursions around Skye. On arrival, we walked around briefly, then sat down for a darling little pub lunch in an outdoor, enclosed, private patio (for social distancing) and had some local whisky.

Then we boarded our bus to the Old Man of Storr — “a rocky hill on the Trotternish peninsula,” according to Wikipedia, and a must-see on the Isle. The journey there was another stunning bus ride over the hills and glens of Skye. Finally, we arrived at the foot of the mountain range. Had we moved briskly, we could have made the hike to the top and back, but I was too trigger-happy with my camera and slowed us down (plus Kyle has ridiculously long legs and I couldn’t keep up) — so we ended up making it halfway up the hill and then pausing for a photo shoot before heading back down. Uh…. #NoRegrets.

This hike was the peak of the trip geographically, emotionally, and narratively. After we climbed down, we took the bus back to Portree, then another bus back to the ferry port, then the ferry back to Mallaig, then walked back to our hotel. I think at that point, we were both so busy brimming with the magic of the day and everything we’d seen that we had no energy left for tiffs or disagreements. We were just happy. It was glorious. And luckily Kyle gave me the reigns on navigating the whole day so I was both in my element and my happy place.

Exhausted, we grabbed some pizza and wine that night and feasted in our hotel room while watching the Simpsons on the hotel TV. It was a good day.

The next day, Saturday, was Kyle’s day. He was in charge of the itinerary for the day and we settled on visiting the White Sands of Morar. It was a beautiful white beach, surrounded by cliffs, opening up into a loch that made you feel like you were standing on the edge of the world. After a lazy Sunday brunch at The Tea Garden, we caught a bus to Morar and enjoyed an hour-long walk to get to the beach. The walk there and back was well worth it. The landscape was breathtaking. We settled in for a lazy day of reading and walking around and taking photos. A perfect Sunday.

Feeling spontaneous, we decided to walk all the way home from Morar back to Mallaig, taking more photos along the way. Mostly of Kyle and benches.

For our last night in Mallaig, we indulged in more drinks and small plates on the terrace at the hotel before retiring up to our room to pack up.

Sunday morning, we rose early for one last little hike around Mallaig. Then, on a whim, we signed up for a one-hour wildlife boat tour from the Mallaig harbor operated by Western Isle Cruises. While we waited for our boarding time, we popped into a gift shop and Kyle surprised me with the cutest souvenirs. Finally boarding the boat, the wildlife cruise took us around Lochaber to see seals, dolphins, birds, and various sea creatures. Noticing I was cold, the first mate (IDK what to call her; she was the only person to work on the boat who wasn’t the captain) took Kyle and me into a secret room below deck and gave us shots of whisky. We took them as we looked over the water toward an island of seals splashing about on their rocks. The ordeal was so preciously Scottish. And a great end to the weekend.

After the tour, we picked up our bags headed to the train station, and finally, unwillingly, made our way back to Glasgow.

To reflect on the trip now is to remember all of the fabulous sights we saw, photos we took, and meals we shared. The weekend tested us but did not break us, and for that I’m grateful. Our time on the Isle of Skye itself was entirely too short and it will be one of my first stops on my grand tour of Scotland once I return to the U.K. I will note that Mallaig is often overlooked when travelers set their sights on Skye, but I would highly recommend a day or two there for anyone who is making the journey. Hands down, the highlight of the trip was still the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a.k.a. Harry Potter Bridge. Potter forever.

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