Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Isle of Skye and the Scottish Highlands

Bealach na Ba pass selfie Selfie stop on the Bealach na Ba pass © Tom Hall

Tom Hall, Editorial and Brand Director for Lonely Planet, recently returned from a trip to the Isle of Skye and the northwest Scottish Highlands.

In a nutshell… I spent four wonderful days exploring some of Scotland’s most beautiful places – Torridon, the Applecross peninsula and the Isle of Skye – by bicycle.

How did you get there? It’s surprisingly easy to escape from London to the wilds of northwest Scotland for a cycling adventure. In fact you can travel while you sleep. Six nights a week the Caledonian Sleeper heads from London to a variety of Scottish destinations, including Inverness, with fares starting at £40 one-way for a seat – bikes travel for free with a reservation.

At Inverness there’s an easy connection with the beautiful Kyle of Lochalsh line. I jumped off at Achnasheen and started pedalling.

Defining moment? The ascent of the fearsome Bealach na Ba road pass from Applecross was something I shall never forget. It is the highest road pass in the UK. Climbing from sea level to 626m involved an hour of grinding the pedals uphill into an ever-stiffening wind which eventually knocked me over. I made it over after a little pushing and much swearing. The descent was equally jaw-dropping, with swooping switchback turns and sympathetic smiles at those struggling up the other side.

Cycling over a stone bridge overlooking the Cuillin Hills Tom's trusty steed overlooking the Cuillin Hills © Tom Hall

Good grub? The Oyster Shed, up a steep hill from the village of Carbost on Skye, might just be the best seafood joint in the country. I queued for fifteen minutes trying to decide between the super-fresh oysters and the scallops fried in garlic and butter. Having gone for the latter I was very, very happy tucking into my lunch sitting in the sunshine overlooking Loch Harport.

You’d be a muppet to miss… After four days of battling the wind on two wheels I decided to let the Jacobite steam train carry me from Mallaig to Fort William through Glenfinnan. Crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct (immortalised in the Harry Potter films) is an essential experience for anyone visiting Scotland.

Quintessential experience? Skye is connected to the mainland by the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh but arriving or departing by ferry will give you a flavour of the greater isolation the island once enjoyed – and is simply a beautiful way to approach and leave the island.

Near Fairy Pools Glen Brittle Not a bad spot to cool down, eh? © Tom Hall

Fave activity? Glen Brittle in the south of Skye is increasingly known as the home of the Fairy Pools as well as being the starting point for many walks and climbs into the brooding Black Cuillin mountains. The pools’ reputation means big crowds head here when the weather is fine. Rather than join them, I continued down the valley and found a deserted spot fed by a waterfall and there cooled off after a long day’s cycling. If you simply have to see the Fairy Pools, come very early or very late on a long summer’s day.

Any packing tips? Skye and the north-west Highlands get a lot of rain, so a waterproof is a must. Much is also made of midges in the summer, but the same lively breeze that made for challenging cycling also whisked the little critters away. In fact sitting outside even until late in the evening was very pleasant indeed, so I was glad to have packed a cap and sun cream.

Bizarre encounter? The spectacular coast road to Applecross was totally deserted except for me and a large population of highland cattle. They eyed me suspiciously as I puffed past cursing the wind. The cows generally decided they were more interested in the grass, and me with not falling off my bike.

Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Find out what Sales Director for Lonely Planet Italia Angelo Pittro got up to on his recent trip to Vietnam.