The Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s premier destinations. Offering travellers a fascinating fusion of jaw-dropping landscapes, rich cultural heritage and exciting cuisine to boot, it is a must-visit on any Scottish itinerary. If you’re still undecided about heading to the Misty Isle, these fun facts about the Isle of Skye are sure to persuade you!
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- Wildlife on the Isle of Skye, Scotland
- Visiting the Torrin Pools on the Isle of Skye
- Best Day Trips from the Isle of Skye, Scotland
21 Fascinating Facts About the Isle of Skye
1. Legend says that the Cuillin Hills got their name from an Irish warrior
The Isle of Skye is a hotbed of myth and legend. Perhaps the most famous of these folktales is that the epic Cuillin Hills (made up of the Red Cuillin and the Black Cuillin) got their name from the Irish warrior Cuchulainn.
Believed to have trained at Dunscaith Castle alongside the warrior maiden Scáthach, legend has it that Cuchulainn came to Skye from Ireland in just two strides!
These days, the Cuillin mountains are very popular with hillwalkers and offer some of the finest mountaineering in the UK!
2. The Isle of Skye was once joined to America
For a significant chunk of the last billion years, the Isle of Skye and wider Scotland would have been joined to Greenland and America. The countries only began to separate into what we know today when the North Atlantic began to form.
3. Skye is nicknamed ‘The Misty Isle’
Much like other Hebridean islands, Skye has a rich history which was considerably influenced by Vikings. The Norse called Skye ‘Skuy’, ‘Skýey’ and ‘Skuyö’. These roughly translate to cloud isle.
In Gaelic, the Isle of Skye is sometimes referred to as Eilean a’ Cheò which means ‘island of the mist’. This is where the Misty Isle nickname is believed to have come from – this and the moody weather of course!
4. The island is a Hollywood favourite
Famous internationally for its epic landscapes and sweeping vistas, Skye has carved out its space in Hollywood. This Scottish island has featured in several blockbusters including Stardust, The BFG, Prometheus and The Wickerman.
5. The speed record for traversing the Cuillin Ridge stands at less than 3 hours
The Cuillin Ridge is one of the most challenging Alpine-style traverses in the whole of the UK. It comprises 11 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet) and the infamous Inaccessible Pinnacle (also known as the In-Pinn). It takes most people two days, with one night spent camping on the ridge.
In 2013, a new record was set by Scottish GP Finlay Wild, who managed to run the entire thing in just 2 hours 59 minutes. My legs ache just thinking about it!
6. Skye is home to Scotland’s oldest continually-inhabited castle
Dunvegan Castle is probably the most iconic castle on the island. The seat of Clan Macleod has served as the family home for over 800 years! Undoubtedly the most intact of all the castles on Skye, Dunvegan is also a highly popular tourist attraction.
7. Fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s ashes were scattered on the Isle of Skye
Lee Alexander McQueen’s father was born on the Isle of Skye and for the duration of his life, he considered the Misty Isle to be his ancestral home. He was fiercely proud of his heritage and routinely incorporated Scottish culture into his designs.
One of his most notable collections, titled ‘Highland Rape’ paid homage to the bloody history of the Highland Clearances. You can see his headstone in Kilmuir Cemetery on the north of the island, on the Trotternish Loop.
8. There has been a settlement in Portree since the Bronze Age
Portree is the capital of the Isle of Skye, most famous for its colourful harbourfront. Despite its small size, it has been culturally important ever since the early Bronze Age, estimated to be around 2,500 BC.
Its modern name, Portree, stems from the Gaelic ‘Port Ruighe’ which translates to ‘King’s Port’. Historians think this potentially stems from a visit to the island by King James V back in 1540.
9. Skye is the second largest island in the Scottish Highlands
Lewis and Harris is the largest island in Scotland, with Skye coming in second place. Clocking in at 639 square miles (1,656 km²) and stretching 50 miles long and 25 miles wide, there is plenty to explore on Skye. To get the best out of this island, you’ll definitely want to spend a few days here!
10. Dinosaur enthusiasts should head to the Isle of Skye
Home to a myriad of fossils from the Middle Jurassic period, it is possible to see dinosaur footprints on the Isle of Skye! There are a few spots to spot these prehistoric footprints on Skye but the most popular place to see them is An Corran Beach in Staffin. Speak to the guys over at Staffin Dinosaur Museum if you want some help finding them!
11. Tourists outnumber locals on Skye 65:1
The Isle of Skye attracts around 650,000 visitors a year. Considering that the island is home to fewer than 10,000 year-round residents, this is a pretty big shock to the system! The vast majority of these tourists visit during peak season, which falls in the summer months.
If you want a less congested visit to Skye, consider visiting the island in winter or during the shoulder seasons.
12. Fairy folklore is all over Skye
As you would expect from the destination home to the Fairy Pools and the Fairy Glen, Skye has long held a sort of magic. While a lot of these tales seem fantastical at first, the proof hangs proudly in Dunvegan Castle.
Folklore says that hundreds of years ago, a Clan Macleod chief fell in love with a fairy. Eventually, they were wed, on the condition that she would one day be required to return to the fairy realm. Parting ways at the Fairy Bridge, legend has it that her silken shawl became the fairy flag which can still be seen inside Dunvegan Castle today.
13. Talisker Bay is a Site of Special Scientific Interest
This dramatic beach on the Isle of Skye hides a rare species of insect, leading it to have been christened a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI). Home to the Talisker burnet moth, Skye is the only place in the world where it is possible to find this beautiful creature. This moth is dark in colour, famous for the crimson spots on its wings.
14. The island is home to a challenging long-distance hiking trail
One of the best treks on the Isle of Skye, the Skye Trail is a multi-day adventure beginning in the north of Skye and finishing in the south. Much of the 128 km route follows the epic Trotternish Ridge, taking in the views of iconic Skye landmarks such as the Quiraing, Old Man of Storr and Loch Coruisk along the way.
It is only recommended for experienced hikers as the parts of the trail are very exposed and hard to follow. Only attempt the detour over the Bad Step if you don’t mind heights and make sure you carry a map and prepare for all four seasons!
15. The Skye Bridge once had the most expensive tolls in Europe
Connecting Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin, the Skye Bridge opened in 1995. Prior to the installation of the bridge, the only way to access the island was via ferry. It is estimated that a ferry service has been in operation since the 1600s!
When the bridge opened, a toll was introduced to cover the cost of its construction. This was eye-wateringly expensive, costing 14 times more to cross than Forth Bridge in Edinburgh! In 2004, the bridge eventually became free to use after a sustained campaign.
16. Bonnie Prince Charlie is one of the island’s most famous visitors
If you’ve ever watched the Scottish time travel romance Outlander, you’ve likely already heard of the Skye Boat Song. This Scottish folk song has come to retell the story of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, also affectionately known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, who had to flee Scotland after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden.
Aided by Flora MacDonald, he was smuggled from South Uist to Skye before eventually leaving the country for France. It’s one of Scotland’s most iconic snippets of history. You can see Flora MacDonald’s grave in Kilmuir Cemetery on a trip to Skye.
17. Robert Louis Stevenson’s favourite drink is made on Skye
Two distilleries called the Isle of Skye home, Talisker and Torabhaig. The first of these to open was Talisker in 1830. Perched on the shores of Loch Harport, it has long been a leader in the whisky market.
When writer Robert Louis Stevenson of ‘Treasure Island’ fame visited Skye in 1880, he proclaimed Talisker his favourite tipple – spreading the word about the drink far and wide.
18. You can get to Skye on the last manually-operated turntable ferry in the world
The MV Glenachulish ferry operates a summer service between Kylerhea on the Isle of Skye and Glenelg. It is the last of its kind in use. Head to the Kylerhea otter hide to see it in action.
19. The Isle of Skye was the original home of the Skye Terrier
According to the Kennel Club, the Skye Terrier is ‘one of the most endangered native dog breeds in the UK’. They are small dogs with a soft undercoat and rough topcoat. Skye Terriers have fringes to make even the most devout emo kid jealous, often obscuring their eyes. The most famous Skye Terrier is Greyfriars Bobby and it is possible to see his statue in Edinburgh.
20. You can dip your face into the waters that flow under Sligachan Bridge for eternal beauty
The picturesque Sligachan Bridge is a popular tourist attraction for those heading to Skye but few know the story behind it. According to old folk legend, those brave enough to submerge their face into the river will be granted eternal beauty and youth by the fairies. Does it really work I hear you ask? Well, I’ve done it so I’ll let you be the judge…! 😉
21. Skye was once home to the world’s most tattooed man
The most tattooed man in the world once lived in a small house in Broadford on the Isle of Skye. Born Tom Wooldridge but better known as Tom Leppard, Mr Leppard had an incredible 99.9% of his body tattooed! Recognised as the world’s most tattooed man by Guinness World Records, Mr Leppard had altered his appearance to look like his favourite animal. 10 points if you can guess was it was!
And there you have it! 21 amazing Isle of Skye facts. Which one is your favourite? Let me know in the comments!