I first visited the Isle of Skye on a camping holiday in the early 1970s and, despite the ubiquitous biting midgies, the single track roads (full of potholes) and the lack of all but the most basic of shops, I was drawn to returning a few years later. I had intended to stay for just the one summer but, as so often happens, that one summer turned into winter and then another summer and somehow I just never got round to leaving. For anyone who has yet to visit Skye it is a most beautiful island with stunning and diverse scenery, a slower pace of life and what I can only describe as “interesting” weather (experiencing all four seasons in one day is not unheard of!). It does tend to rain a lot but a few days of glorious sunshine and we forget all about the rain until the next deluge.
Skye has always been a popular tourist destination. As well as the scenery and the romance of going “over the sea to Skye” on a ferry (now replaced by a bridge, though it is still possible to cross using a smaller ferry or by boat from Mallaig) it is a magnet for walkers and climbers. Gradually the island has changed beyond recognition from my first visit. The roads have been improved (more on that later!), an incredible number of houses have been built and there are more shops, though these are nearly all catering for tourists rather than locals. You can buy souvenirs galore but, sadly, not anything as basic as underwear or a pair of shoes and, other than a few very good small local shops, the Co-op has the monopoly as far as supermarkets are concerned! Skye depends heavily on tourism and over the years more and more people have been supplementing their income by doing Bed & Breakfast and the hotels and restaurants provide a great deal of seasonal employment. One of the big changes has been the opening of more high end restaurants. I may be wrong but I think that probably, even though there were very good restaurants here already, The Three Chimneys in Colbost led the way in this trend, gaining more and more accolades and eventually becoming one of the foremost restaurants on everyone and his wife’s bucket list. Since then more and more really good restaurants have opened and Skye is turning into a foodie’s delight with many visitors wanting to come to eat here as their uppermost reason for visiting. Another big pull for tourists has been the number of times Skye has been used as a location for tv adverts (especially car adverts) and for films (think MacBeth, Stardust, The BFG, Breaking the Waves).
In 2008 we decided to go along the tourist route ourselves and let out two cottages for self catering holidays. Despite a slow start trade has picked up and we have been doing well and really enjoying it (most of the time at least). It’s funny how it’s always the 1% of “difficult” visitors that are the most memorable rather than the 99% of lovely ones! We have met some lovely families and groups of friends who have stayed in the cottages. Over the past year or so though there has been a great change. Although we still have bookings, as was the norm in the past, for a full week or even two, we now have a great deal of visitors wanting to stay on Skye just for either one or two nights and then leave. Considering how time consuming it is to get to Skye (the nearest airport is in Inverness and it’s 3 hours by road from Inverness and 5 from Glasgow!) I am at a loss to understand how anyone would have the energy after such a journey to spend a day going from one tourist hotspot to another, ticking them off their lists as they go. It may be just me but I need at least three days to unwind once I arrive at my holiday destination just to unwind and get used to the feeling of being on holiday. Although the roads have improved since my first visit, the problem now is that there is just too much traffic heading to the main tourist attractions (Neist Point, The Quiraing, Fairy Glen, Fairy Pools and the Old Man of Storr) with a high percentage being motor homes and camper vans and the condition of some of these roads is deteriorating daily. Trying to park at the more popular spots is proving more and more of a challenge for visitors as well as local people who are sometimes having trouble getting to and from their own homes because of the high volume of traffic. Add to this problems with the higher volume of litter and the overflowing bins this is creating and the lack of sufficient public toilet facilities, not to mention the small number of campers who are not abiding by the “leave nothing behind but your footprints” rule, and we have a serious problem.
AND THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY!
Don’t get me wrong, the majority of Skye residents welcome tourists. It is an essential part of the economy and we do enjoy having them here but something drastic needs to be done about the infrastructure to deal with the added numbers of visitors and the lack of suitable facilities. Some work has already been carried out and there are plans afoot for improving the parking situation but there is still a lot to be done. Hopefully this will be addressed before those who have been coming to Skye for years decide that it is just too busy and go elsewhere. It looks as though I am shooting myself in the foot by showing the “not so nice” side of Skye but there are already numerous reports in the press and some very negative reports appearing on the likes of Trip Advisor.