Back again with yet another travel post to end off the extremely transnational week I’ve had – because why stop when you’re on a roll right? If you’ve been following me on instagram and snapchat you’ll know that the previous weekends were spent shooting for Laneige in Seoul and then getting my dive certification in Tioman, both fantastic experiences that left me spent. In some ways the exact opposite but equally amazing trip I did recently was a self-drive one around the incredible, incredible Isle of Skye, five days which left me feeling refreshed down to my soul like never before. And there is no visiting Skye without penning a post about it, amazing as it is, and so here we are. And here I go.
The Isle of Skye has been on my bucket list ever since I saw the Fairy Pools of Scotland online. For about three years now one of my bucket list items has been jumping into the freezing fairy pools, and I was going to do it by hook or by crook, dammit! This year is my 10th year anniversary with my best friend, and so we decided it was a great chance (excuse) to romp off on a great epic road trip together. Onward, to Skye!
Another reason why this trip to London was the perfect time for me to plan my Skye trip was because I now can drive, which is a new development. I spoke to several other people who’d been to Skye before, and after their gushing about the place (magical, heaven, will change your life, etc), they also clarified that it was nearly impossible to get around without driving since public transport was basically nonexistent and following a tour bus wasn’t ideal. So voila! A self-drive trip it was.
You can drive from London to Skye but it is expensive because fuel, and it is also exhausting. It’s a twelve hour drive!!! A much more economical option, we found, in terms of both time and money, was to either fly or train to Edinburgh/Glasgow, then pick up the car from the airport/station and go. Trains were ridiculously expensive – almost eighty pounds one way – but surprisingly it only cost us about 50pounds each for a return flight to Edinburgh on RyanAir, found on Skyscanner.
The great thing about this was that RyanAir is one of the few flight carriers that accepts Paypal as a mode of payment. If you recall my Paypal shopping guide post a couple of weeks ago, you’ll know that this means their buyer protection scheme protects you if anything goes wrong – which is perfect, because budget flights can really be quite flaky at times so this added layer of protection is pretty sweet!
Because I was in the UK for a total of three weeks, it was easy for us to toggle the Skyscanner website around to find the cheapest combination of dates for the flight. Yet another reason to love using the flight search engine! We picked up the car from the Edinburgh airport – Hertz Singapore, one of Skyscanner’s partners, very kindly jumped in on our trip for this. You can compare prices of cars (much like the fight search function on Skyscanner) on the SS website as well, here. For convenient planning on the go, you can actually use the Skyscanner mobile app to search both flight and car options pre-trip. I really like the smiley-ratings function on the app too – they rate each option a number rating and a smiley or frowny face to give you an idea of what other customers thought. It’s all super, super convenient.
PS. There IS cheaper way to do the london-edin journey – bus tickets on Megabus are about ten to twenty pounds one way. But the total difference of price amounts to less than thirty pounds return, and you’re stuck on a stuffy overnight bus for hours and hours. I’ve done this before, on a London to Inverness bus ride, and it was personally an awful experience. Now that I’m older and supposedly wiser I made the executive decision to save the time and pain, and just take an hour’s flight. But I’m just putting the bus option out there for the broke students who wanna know the absolute cheapest way to do this journey!
So a look at how we did the entire trip in order to maximise the amount of places we could see while still having ample time to gander around without too strict an itinerary:
Fly from London to Edinburgh -> Spend a night in Edin -> drive to Skye -> spend three nights in Skye -> Drive to Glasgow and spend a night there -> Drive to edin airport from Glasgow (45 mins!) and fly back to London!
A great thing about renting a car is that you can literally set the pick up location to be just at the airport where you land, so theres no need to figure out how to get to the bus station or whatever meeting point designated if you decide to follow a tour group. Convenience, my friends! Another hack I thought was super useful was that if you sign up for the Hertz Gold Membership, which is by the way FREE, you get to skip the queue and just pick up your car and go. I can tell you that the feeling of doing this is excellent. It was summer so the queues were mad long to get the car, and when we strolled up to the Gold counter and left with our keys you could tell that everyone else was really annoyed with us. Ha!
I dont know why more people dont do this. I suppose they are put off by the hassle of doing the sign up online.. but then isn’t it more hassle to stand in line for half an hour while being jostled around by other people trying to get their cars? You decide.
Because it was my first time renting a car there were actually a TON of things that fascinated me about the process. Firstly! This skipping the queue thing. Secondly! With some car rental companies, like Hertz, you can actually gain airline miles by renting a car! What!!! I have no idea how the mileage is calculated but how cool is that? It all went to my krisflyer account, obviously. Thirdly – I didn’t know you could just pay at the counter for the car. I thought it had to be pre-paid for with a credit card or something. I suppose only selected car companies did this, but Hertz is one of them, so there’s no cancellation charge if and when you rent with Hertz. Fourthly! You can pick up your rental car at one place and drop it at another if you rent with a company that has enough location options. We didn’t do this since we flew in and out of Edinburgh, but we were considering it when we were still deciding how to get to and fro Skye. I imagine it’ll be very useful as an option for people driving across Europe or America!
We decided to stay a night in Edinburgh before continuing on to Skye because I hadnt been to Edinburgh before, so killing two birds and all that. We stayed in the most incredible Airbnb apartment which i blogged about here, and drove to the city centre where we spent the day roaming around Edinburgh on foot.
Edinburgh to me was like Boston is to New York – an architecturally classical city juxtaposed against the backdrop of the metropolitan. Very old English, very beautiful. Lots of interesting Pokemon (I was going through a PoGo phase). And full of wonderful finds! We popped into an unassuming cafe looking for a coffee fix and it was the best thing that happened to us in Edin. If I had one recommendation for Edinburgh..
The Milkman, Edinburgh.
Toddle In, 7 Cockburn St, Edinburgh EH1 1BP, United Kingdom
It is a brilliant, brilliant little place. Sitting slanted upon a curved slope, it barely has a signboard announcing itself. From the outside in it looks dim and kind of unnoticeable, but oh boy – it smelt of soup. So we walked in and OH MY WORD. It was amazing. The place seats barely ten people along little windows, on overturned crates, and tucked in literal holes in the walls, but it was packed with hippie locals the entire time. We got a coffee and a homemade soup (tomato and basil for that day, with homemade bread), and it blew our minds. The soup tasted like we were being hugged by a big, scottish man who just wanted to welcome us home. If it sounds funny, dont knock it. That was exactly what it tasted like. It was so good we wanted to cry.
After inhaling our soup we wanted another, but they were sold out – we bought the last bowl of the day. Lucky us. Apparently they get a local girl to make soup for the cafe everyday, someone from their neighbourhood, and so the soup is different each day, but always good. We nearly cancelled our glasgow plans to come back to Edinburgh after Skye just for this place, but we’d already booked our Glasgow accommodation, and so onward to new discoveries! The Milkman remains till this day a treasured discovery and a bit of a precious memory to take out and look upon with nostalgia. I recommend it so hard.
The one other iconic thing we did was to climb up Arthur’s Seat. Honestly it was a bit of an emotional moment for me because it’s such an anchor scene in David Nicholl’s One Day, you know, the start and the end of everything that happened in that book which is one of my all time favourites, but I never thought I’d make it there because 1. I hate hiking and 2. Edinburgh just wasnt prominently on my radar for places to go up till now.
But I am so glad I did it! The view was incredible and the sense of achievement was insane. Also, I was the only person who hiked up in completely inappropriate gear, which drew a lot of concern from random tourists. I mean, who climbs a mini mountain in a dress and heeled boots? ME, THAT’S WHO. boom. It was awesome.
The great thing about doing a self-drive road trip is that you can stop wherever you want, whenever you see something vaguely interesting. Of course this meant that we wanted to stop everywhere.. scotland is so beautiful! We made a stop at the random little village of Luss for lunch where we discovered the Steak and Ale pie and promptly fell in love with it, subsequently attributing all our holiday weight gain to it retrospectively. Ah, hindsight. It is 20/20. Still, no regrets! We had a great trip 😀
Luss sits on the bank of Loch Lomond, so it gets a nice bit of cold breeze as well as the gorgeous scenery that characterises most of Scotland. The thing about our drive was that the scenery kept getting better and better as we went along, so we were increasingly blown away by the scenery, and never underwhelmed by our expectations. Remember to look out for places with free parking – there are plenty – because you dont wanna be slapped with a parking ticket!
Note: If you’re driving to Skye, you will pass Fort Williams where you can refuel. Please take note that there are two ways up – driving up through the Kyle of Lochalsh, or driving to Mallaig, where your car can board a ferry that will take you to Skye. Google maps will automatically route you via the ferry because it is shorter. If you don’t take note of this and either book a ferry ticket beforehand or re-route the other way, you will end up stuck in Mallaig with nowhere to go. This happened to us and we had to drive back down to Fort Williams and go the long way around, which was a 2 hour detour, so please take note!
The detour was mildly frustrating but not an overall dampener because we got to see the Harry Potter train that was docked at the Mallaig station 😀 For those of you driving up to Skye, look out for the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which is the iconic bridge that the Hogwarts Express chugs through in the movies. Most people miss it because they dont realise it’s on the way up, so take note!
When we finally reached Skye it was too late to do anything except settle in for a movie night and rest up for the day ahead. We booked this incredible self-catering apartment on Airbnb which advertised itself as a private room but which was actually a whole double storied apartment joined to the main house by a tiny door, which was a nice surprise.
We were also careful to book a place which offered free parking. But honestly, Skye is so huge that most places you book automatically come with free parking because you cant get to most places without a car. You can’t even get to our accommodation without driving – it’s just not possible to take a bus or train there. I dont think we realised this before coming to Skye because neither of us had been and we’re so used to getting around on buses and trains in the gridlock of the city. But the countryside is totally different. So that’s another benefit to renting a car – your accommodation options are much more varied. If we hadn’t gotten a car, we’d be limited to picking from places in the little villages and cities like Portree, which were lots smaller, and to be honest – more expensive.
Instead, we got a huge house, a view over the mountains, and two giant stories with two beds + two bathrooms, one on each floor! Fab. Would recommend for sure. In fact, I would recommend this place to anyone headed up to Skye. We really loved this place so much – it was the PERFECT base from which to explore Skye. It took about an hour to drive to other points of interest on Skye, which sounds like a lot because we’re so used to zoom zoom metros, but which in reality feels like about FIVE MINUTES because it’s SUCH a gorgeous drive. And I suppose the good company helps – you end up talking so much you dont even realise that time has flown by 🙂
One last note on accommodation: Please pre-book. Some people like to quote unquote wing it, which means that they turn up wherever and try to get accommodation on the spot from hostels or airbnbs or what not. This will not work for Skye. Skye is so popular that it is perpetually overbooked. We heard so many horror stories from our host and from friends of people turning up in the middle of the night having driven from place to place trying to get room and board, and failing. Our host said that one this woman turned up with a car full of crying kids wanting to stay the night, but he had to turn her away because they were overcapacity. THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS IN SKYE. I dont know why on earth you wouldnt prebook accommodation if you have children with you especially, but who knows. If you want to wing it you will end up sleeping homeless in your car. You have been warned!
The Isle of Skye is a place spouting wonders at every corner. I felt like we could have just driven anywhere, in any random direction, and we would have had a great time nonetheless! As it happened we just randomly picked places on a map and drove there, which always worked out well for us. Here are some of the most memorable places we visited:
Like I said.. the main thing for me, my bucket list item for Skye, was jumping into the freezing depths of the Fairy Pools in only a swimsuit. Because Yolo!
How you get to the Glencoe fairy pools: drive through Carbost to Glenbrittle, where you can find multiple carparks along the way to the entrance. The nearest is the Forestry Commision gravel carpark signposted ‘Glumagan Na Sithichean’, right opposite the start of the walk to the pools. It’s about an hour’s hike to the pools, but it’s quite an enjoyable walk because it’s GORGEOUS the entire way. I suppose you could get here if you follow a tour bus, but then you’d be stuck to a certain time frame, which is pretty annoying.
The fairy pools were all i’d ever dreamed of and more. I feel like i spent the entire trip to scotland on the verge of tears because everything was so emotional for me. I got SO excited when i climbed down to the pools that i was jumping everywhere even though it was freezing! And all these random hikers passing by were yelling YOURE CRAZY! at us because it was so damned cold but yolo, am i right.
Totally would recommend. Bucket list item: checked!!
On the way up to the fairy pools you can stop in Carbost, which we actually did on a different day from our Fairy Pools Expedition. We turned into Carbost randomly because we saw a roadsign announcing the TALISKER WHISKEY TOUR – the only distillery on the Isle of Skye. As the bestie and I are both huge whiskey nuts we knew we just had to do at least one whiskey tour in Scotland. The tour was only 8 pounds per person, but there was a bit of a wait for it so we ended up randomly walking around the area, which led us to discover the MOST AMAZING PLACE IN THE WORLD: the Oyster Shack!
But before that, a but more on the whiskey tour. It’s a short tour, about 45 minutes, and super interesting if you have no idea how whiskey is made but just like drinking it. Basically, like me. You only do a mild tasting at the end with a tiny glass, just to show you how whiskey is meant to be appreciated and how the taste changes with water or ice added, but it’s not enough to knock you over so you’re well and legally able to drive after, no worries. They bring you through the entire process of how whiskey is made, so it’s really a must-see if you’re a whiskey lover!
Carbost, Isle of Skye IV47 8SR, United Kingdom
Behind the Distillery, there’s a small hill where you can walk upwards at about a literal 45 degree angle, which is pretty annoying and tiring. We saw people biking up with giant backpacks, which was insane! But that random romp led us to one of the best hidden gems of our trip: the Oyster Shed.
The Oyster Shed is literally just a shack that sells seafood. But oh boy – what seafood! The oysters are homegrown and shucked daily by the owner and they are the FRESHEST AND CREAMIEST OYSTERS I’ve ever had in my life! They only cost a pound per oyster, can you believe it? I expired on the spot. I initially only had two because the bestie doesn’t take oysters (is it just me, or do most guys not like oysters?), but i went back and got another six after the whiskey tour. That’s how you know it was good – in a new place, where everything is fresh and exciting, how often do you go back to the same place twice? When it’s this good, that’s when. We were dreaming about this place for weeks after our trip ended.
They sell other things besides oysters, so don’t worry if youre reading this and can’t take oysters either. We had the lobster tail, which was fab, and the scallops, which were heavenly. Scallops! Yet another thing i’ve fallen hopelessly in love with. So, so good. Pan fried in garlic butter and herbs like they do in the Oyster Shed – they’re nearly a religious experience.
The entire meal cost less than twenty bucks each for us – which was so, so worth it for such an outstanding meal. This was the first place I actually hesitated to recommend because I don’t want it to get overrun by tourists and get all commercial, but honestly it’s too good not to share. So please be responsible if and when you go, and don’t be a spoilt tourist! You know, throw away your trash, be nice to the people there, etcetera etcetera.
The Oyster Shed
Carbost Beag, Isle of Skye IV47 8SE, United Kingdom
Why would you drive hours just to go for a walk? When you’re in Skye you’ll understand. The walk to Trig point on Waterstein head is about two to three miles depending on how far you go, and takes about two hours. Even though it sounds like a long time to be randomly walking, it’s actually a very calming walk that yields incredible views. We only wished we could have stayed till sunset, but alas! We were there in the middle of the afternoon and the sun sets about nine in the summer, which meant we would have had to stay there for a good five hours or more. Still, it was a really pleasant walk, made better only by the company. If you’ve never gone on a two hour long random scenic walk with your best friend I totally recommend it. We only broke off from heart to heart conversations to chase sheep. Obviously.
Like I said at the start of the post, a big part of the magic of self-drive trips is the ability to just randomly stumble on new places and stop for however long you’d like – the freedom to dictate your own trip, basically. A huge part of our best memories on the trip involved really random stops at places we completely didn’t plan to go to, places which aren’t even marked out on the map. Below, a series of photos and scribbles from our miscellaneous stops:
– We accidentally drove into someone’s property when trying to figure out a good vantage point from which to watch the sunset. Instead of yelling at us for TRESPASSING PRIVATE PROPERTY, the old man who lived there invited us to park, catch the sunset from his bench that he built himself, then showed us around his shed where he was in the process of making a huge double deck bed for his granddaughter! It turned out he owned nearly all the land on that side of Skye and was spending his retirement days tinkering around with wood. HAHA.
– A random stop along the road. We saw cars from all over stopping and clustering at the hill as well, so we drove into the little ditch by the road to check it out.. and it was gorgeous. There were dudes experimenting with drones there, which was quite an eye opener for me because it was my first time actually seeing a drone in action!! One of them crashed his drone. lol. So I guess it wasn’t that fun for them.
– Again, we stopped on the side of a slightly wider road where you could see in between several mountains. I suspect it’s some sort of off-the-beaten-track hiking path because we could see some brave souls trying to clamber over rocks in the distance. Total sound of music moment here.
– I have no idea where this was except it was by the sea. We got a nice coffee here and sat by the jetty for a bit, chatting till it got dark.
– Roadside stop for lunch. In Scotland i discovered what onion rings were meant to taste like. I thought I hated onion rings but that’s because now i realise Burger king has been selling me a chiong version all these years!
– Accidentally drove into some private property AGAIN. This time we didn’t run into anyone, but we did get a breathtaking view of a random lake. Spent some time there trying to skip stones. I failed miserably, but the best friend is pretty good.
By the way, if you’re wondering why there are so many photos of my bestie when no one is here on jemmawei.com to look at him it is because O M G i finally understand the pain of all those instagrammers when they say their boyfriends cant take nice pictures of them. This whole time I was just like, aiyah, just tell them what you want then ask them to take lah. And they’re always like, cannot, it doesn’t work. And i thought they were just fronting.
But the time has come for me to admit that maybe Shane is just naturally a good photographer because O M G my best friend sucks. And I can say that because he admits it with quite a lot of shameless glee. Our conversations would go like this:
Me: Omg help me take a picture here please! I wanna take a nice photo with the car because Hertz kindly lent it to us and I wanna instagram it.
Fred: Ok sure. *takes picture* nah.
Me: Dude it sucks. Take from this angle please. *shows him the EXACT angle, I even take a test shot to demonstrate EXACTLY what i mean*
Fred: Ok i got it!!!! *Takes picture*
Me: OMG it sucks dude can u please look at the photo i took of you and do the EXACT SAME THING?
Fred: *looking at both pictures* they look the same.
Me: They are two completely different pictures.
Fred: Oh. Yeah. HA HA HA it’s so sad that you actually need these pictures but I suck so you just end up taking really good pictures of me and all the ones of you are kind of bad.
SO IRRITATING! But nevermind, my workaround was to get him to just stand wherever I wanted, then remote control shutter that shit.
Fred: Wait, so do I press the button now?
Me: NO. I will press the button with my remote control. You just STAND THERE AND DONT MOVE.
Fred: .. So I’m a portable tripod?
Me: YES. Now shut up and stand still.
After four wonderful days in Isle, we mournfully left around midday for Glasgow, where we’d booked one night in a Glasgow Airbnb before flying off the next morning just to give us buffer time. Glasgow is only a forty five minute drive to Edinburgh airport, give or take, so it was a pretty comfortable amount of time we had to work with. An update from my PoGo phase: there are NO cool pokemon in Glasgow. So there’s that.
Since it was our last night of our road trip, we wanted to take it easy and just have a really nice dinner somewhere. We drove to the city centre and had a seafood and steak dinner at this place called Browns, which was FANTASTIC. Actually when we told some of our Londoner friends, they said Browns sucked (it’s a chain), but we had a really really good experience there, so I guess it differs from branch to branch. A two hour long dinner spent reminiscing the trip and our ten years together – we really have had a good run 🙂
The next morning we had to get up and go to the airport, and that meant returning the car…
Which obviously I was very reluctant to do. This car was my total baby!!! It’s a dream to drive because Audi, I suppose, and we had some of the most scenic drives of our lives there. Admittedly my driving life is rather short because I havent had my license for long but STILL, one of the most scenic drives EVER. Don’t believe me? Here’s a short video that BroPro put together for me (more on BroPro next time).
The audi also ran megasmoothly because Hertz’s cars are all a year old or under, which is a great reassurance for new drivers like me. I’m a total roadtrip convert!!!! Previously all I could do on roadtrips was make myself very quiet and not a nuisance because I couldn’t contribute by taking a turn at driving, but now i am actually OF USE, which is a great feeling. More road trips to come for sure.
So there – my Isle of Skye trip and itinerary. One of the most memorable trips of my life, and one that’s always going to be special to me. For anyone headed the UK way, I definitely recommend trying to head to the Isle. I’d recommend at least a week for it – there really is an abundance of things to see, and if you have any less time than that you’re sure to experience extreme FOMO when you leave!
Thank you Skyscanner and Hertz for loaning us the car and for your eternal support – It’s been over a year since I’ve first started my relationship with Skyscanner Singapore and it has been a joy every time – both as a collaborator and consumer. Still my favourite tool when it comes to planning a trip, and boy, was this one great.