The route from Portree to Dunvegan is an easy, twenty-minute drive. As you gain distance, the closest town Skye has to a city shrinks away in the rear view mirror – and with it goes the tourists, shops, bustling atmosphere and town-like infrastructure.
Heading north-east, through rolling moorlands, the buildings are few and far between. Patches of woodland punctuate vast peat-bogs and fields of wiry heather. Soon you arrive in Dunvegan; a small crofting town perched on a sea loch running along the eastern ridge of Skye. Dunvegan is dotted with charming cafes, traditional pubs and an interesting array of shops (don’t miss out Dunvegan Sports and Fishing Tackle, for toys and hats you didn’t know you needed). Tucked away from the harsh conditions of the north sea, and peering up at MacLeod’s tables, Dunvegan high street is a relaxing alternative to the busier centres of Portree and Broadford.
From Dunvegan, you can venture a little further to Waternish, Dunvegan’s sleepy sea-side neighbour, for insanely good views of the Outer Hebrides. Just make sure you to stop off at the little yurt – hidden behind the SkyeSkyns tannery and showroom – for the best hot chocolate on the island in a truly unique setting.
Dunvegan sits in the shadow of three members of the famous MacLeod Clan: Dunvegan Castle – the ancestral home to the Maceod clan chief for over eight centuries – and Macleod’s Tables; two flat-topped hills resting side by side.
These curiously flat ‘tables’ are featured in a local legend, told of the clan chief, who when attending a state dinner in Edinburgh was boasting of his large, grand dining quarters in Skye. Doubt was cast by the lords and ladies in his company, and so the clan chief invited them to Skye to see for themselves. When they arrived in Dunvegan, the clever clan chief laid his banquet atop the flat mountains – using the twinkling stars above to light the feast. Those who were there agreed that the chief did indeed have the grandest dining room of them all!
The walk up to the tables is very boggy and very long but otherwise fairly accessible and not too arduous. The views across the northern peninsula are incredible, especially of Loch Dunvegan: fantastically blue and dotted with rugged little islands. Pack a picnic and recreate the great feast of the clan chief… but bear in mind, it’s likely to get pretty windy up there. As usual, www.walkhighlands.com provides excellent guidance for planning most walking routes on Skye.
Within the deep stone walls the interiors of this 19th century castle have been restored to their full, decadent glory. Opt for a tour of the castle to ensure that you don’t miss out on any of the many treasures on display: oil paintings with eyes that follow you around the room, the magical and mysterious Fairy Flag – used as a good luck charm in fierce clan battles – and there’s even a single lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hair on display!
The castle is still a functioning stately home for the MacLeod Clan and has been for over 800 years. There are pieces of history lie everywhere you look. Surrounding the castle itself, keen botanists will spot an eclectic mix of plant-life – brightly coloured flowers, monkey puzzle trees and the huge lily ponds living within in the well manicured gardens. With a landscaping style that favours waterfalls, magical woodlands and sculptures; one couldn’t feel further from the wild fields of bracken and rocky outcrops that characterise the landscape of Skye’s north-east.
The five-acre gardens make for a glorious afternoon stroll – and if that’s not exciting enough, boat trips run from the castle grounds so that visitors can meet cheeky members of extended MacLeod family: the Loch Dunvegan seal colony.
Drive ten minutes north of Dunvegan Castle and you will come across one of Skye’s most sought after spot for day-trippers, families and wild swimmers: Coral Beach. Rather than sand, the shoreline is made up of – nope, not coral – tiny fragments of crushed calcified seaweed. A small island – which can be seen from the beach – is the home of a rare type of seaweed called ‘Red Coralline’. Out on the reef, the seaweed sheds its former skin, which is then washed ashore to form a stunningly white beach.
The smooth white surface of the ‘coral’ means that when the sun hits the shallow water above, the shoreline turns tropically turquoise. An excellent spot to set up for a day of exploring, the water is also perfect if you’ve got the gear for sea-kayaking or paddle-boarding. Sheep weave in and out of the tourists here, so if you bring a dog make sure and keep your good boy or girl on the lead to avoid any issues.
Unique Accommodation in Dunvegan At Osdale Cottages
Although undoubtedly an excellent choice for human holidays – Skye is also a wonderful place to treat your canine companion. Osdale Cottages are two big, family and pet-friendly self catering cottages set in the perfect location for a break in Skye’s north end. Three miles outside of Dunvegan, these cottages are remote and peaceful – and dogs and humans will absolutely adore the walks around the area. Whether you choose to climb MacLeods tables (leaving straight from your front door), across boggy fields to get nice and mucky, or down to Dunvegan sea loch to visit the seals and sea otters.
Cozy Accommodation in Dunvegan At Millburn B&B
If you prefer to leave the animals in the fields, and the idea of cooking your own breakfast whilst on holiday fills you with dread: Catriona and Ian can help you out.
This friendly couple moved to Skye in 2017 to pursue their dream of opening a B&B, welcoming guests to an island that they have fallen in love with. They chose Millburn House due to its stunning views and peaceful, noiseless surroundings. The rooms are simple but comfortable – and the breakfasts are very, very good. In the afternoon, plates laden with home baking mysteriously appear in the guest lounge. It’s the perfect place to relax apres-hike – to kick off your boots, grab a book and recline into a squashy seat with strong Scottish cuppa and a biscuit slathered in homemade raspberry jam.