Despite being a Scot, I have never made a trip to Skye before, the Scottish island famed for the beauty of its landscape. The October half term holidays therefore provided the perfect opportunity to spend some time exploring the largest of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. My home for the two days, accompanied by my wife and two young children, was the highly regarded Skeabost House Hotel, a 20 bedroom luxury retreat, nestled in 23 acres of woodland on the edge of one of Skye’s many lochs.
The white façade former hunting lodge, dating back to 1871, has been extensively refurbished following its acquisition by the Sonas Hotel Collection in 2015. The hotel has its own nine hole golf course and the River Snizort runs through the hotel’s grounds, providing salmon and trout fishing. Whilst the current building dates back to 1871, there has been a home of some kind at Skeabost, which means ‘The Sheltered House’, since Viking times.
The largest of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, the 50 mile long Isle of Skye provides some of Scotland’s most dramatic vistas and is a landscape rich in history. The island has become world renowned as a destination for walkers and climbers with its array of famed peaks. The Cuillin Range provides no less than twelve munros (peaks above 3,000 feet) to be conquered. The main ridge is known as the Black Cuillin and is considered one of the United Kingdom’s most challenging mountain ranges for climbing.
Formed 60 million years ago, the dramatic jagged mountains are the remains of an eroded magma chamber from a huge volcano. Glacial activity and other weathering over many thousands of years subsequently shaped the arresting landscape of today. The peaks of the Red Cuillin, mainly formed from granite and eroded more easily by the glaciers to deliver a more rounded shape, are popular with walkers due to their more gentle nature.
The island is also a great place to catch a glimpse of rare wildlife, including the white-tailed eagle, commonly known as the sea eagle and the largest bird of prey in the United Kingdom. Golden eagles can be spotted, too, as can red deer, otters, dolphins, basking sharks, whales, pine martins and puffins.
For food lovers, the island’s location means it is well known for its seafood and other local produce, which can be enjoyed at many great restaurants throughout the island, including at the award winning restaurant at Skeabost House Hotel itself. In addition to this you have the likes of the world renowned The Three Chimneys, which overlooks Loch Erghallan, and the Stein Inn, the oldest inn on Skye, overlooking Loch Bay which leads out to The Little Minch, the water that divides Skye from the Outer Hebrides. For whisky lovers, you can visit the famous distillery of Talisker single malt scotch whisky.
Skeabost House Hotel is located about a ten minute drive north-west from Portree, the island’s largest town and capital. We found it to be a great location to be based to explore the island.
Skeabost is part of the Sonas Hotel Collection which also includes the Duisdale and Toravaig House Hotels, which are also on the island.
The former hunting lodge that is now Skeabost is a touch weather beaten on the outside and has had a number of modern additions built on to the original building over the years, but don’t let the slightly faded glory of the exterior put you off, for what lies within is a treat of warm and luxurious Scottish hospitality.
All the staff at Skeabost are incredibly welcoming, friendly and attentive and it is, in no small part, the exceptional service that makes a stay at Skeabost such an enjoyable one.
The hotel décor is a combination of some contemporary styling and bright furniture, mixed and contrasted with more traditional elements – an original carved wooden staircase, an old wood panelled dining room, a decadent wood panelled private dining area and traditional mahogany bookcases and display cabinets. It’s got a very homely feel, and the main lounge, where we camped out with hot chocolates after our days spent out and about on the island, featured a roaring open fire and was a great place to relax.
Skeabost House Hotel has a range of bedroom types and styles ranging from the traditional Victorian grand bedrooms with high ceilings and period features in the original house, to more contemporary styled garden rooms which have been a more recent addition to the property.
We were fortunate to experience the hotel’s new Tower family room, a beautiful two bedroomed suite, right on the top floor of the hotel, perfect for families, which features a double bedroom and separate bunk bed room for children. This was ideal for our stay on Skye.
The suite, which has its bedrooms all off a small private corridor, has been recently tastefully and immaculately refurbished. The main double bedroom is spacious with a separate seating area and a large flatscreen television. The accompanying separate bunk bed room provided a great space for our two children. My only mild criticism would be the lack of wardrobe and drawer space for a family of four.
The Tower family room also features a huge bathroom with a deep roll top bath (ideal for soaking in after a long day out exploring the sights of the island), a large walk-in shower and his and hers bathroom sinks.
Skeabost has a large restaurant in a conservatory that looks out onto the gardens and Loch Snizort Beag. The restaurant hosts those staying in the hotel but is also a very popular dining venue for both locals and visitors to the area staying in other hotels on the island. That’s not a surprise, as the food showcases why Skye has such a great reputation for its cuisine.
We dined both nights at the hotel, both times we started our evening in the bar with a lovely Dark and Stormy cocktail, the traditional Bermudan drink, appropriately and correctly served at Skeabost with dark rum (versus a recent experience of another hotel’s attempt with Morgan’s Spice).
The first night, starters of delicious steamed Loch Eishort mussels and a simple, but wonderfully fresh heritage tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad were followed by succulent ribeye steaks with a three mustard and brandy sauce. The second night, we enjoyed a tender loin of Highland venison with dauphinoise potatoes, braised raised cabbage, a beautifully smooth parsnip puree and a redcurrant jus.
Both evenings we finished with a rich and indulgent chocolate and orange crème brûlée, which was an absolute delight.
Breakfast each morning was in an atmospheric wood panelled dining room and was a relaxed affair with an extensive menu. Both mornings porridge with cream was then followed by Scottish smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on the first day, pancakes, streaky bacon and maple syrup the following morning. The servings are generous and set you up well for a day in the outdoors.
On our first full day on the island, we travelled to the tiny village of Elgol, the final stretch along single track road with the most stunning scenery, and took a boat trip aboard the Misty Isle (captained by the affable Seamus and his son) across Loch Scavaig to Loch Coruisk, an isolated glacial loch, in the heart of the Cuillin hills and beneath their highest peaks.
There is the opportunity to spot basking sharks, minke whales, common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. Whilst we didn’t see any of these on our voyage, we did see plenty of seals. This is a fabulous boat trip, sailing directly from the small harbour at Elgol towards the towering and jagged peaks of the Cuillin hills. You pass the small islands of Rum and Eigg on the way before spending an hour walking along the side of Loch Coruisk.
On day two, we drove to The Fairy Glen (officially known as Glen Uig) and walked through a landscape of miniature hills centred around a basalt rock outcrop. Many describe it as a land of the Hobbits. Following this, we then we drove across to the Quiraing, part of the Trotternish Ridge, an escarpment formed many thousands of years ago by a series of landslips which created high cliffs, plateaus and pinnacles of rock. The Quirang is a part of the slip which is still slowly moving, the road at its base needing annual repairs as a consequence.
We continued on towards Staffin and stopped at Kilt Rock, an extraordinary and arresting rock formation at the water’s edge, the top half of which, made from basalt rock columns, looks like the pleats of a kilt. This hard rock sits atop a contrasting sandstone layer. At the viewing point, a huge waterfall cascades over the edge of the rocks, plummeting into the water beneath. It is a breath-taking sight, as is so much of Skye’s landscape, which is some of the most stunning I have ever seen and compares to scenery in the likes of New Zealand or along California’s coastal roads.
We headed further along the road towards The Old Man of Storr, the distinctive rock pinnacle which is one of the most photographed sites on Skye. This was once part of the Trotternish Ridge, where the harder volcanic rock on the top presses down on the softer sandstone underneath, making it collapse and move. The Old Man of Storr is hard basalt rock which was once part of the cliff. This whole area is the most dramatic and active landslip in Britain.
In the afternoon, we did an archery lesson at ACE Target Sports just outside Skye’s capital Portree. This was a fun and enjoyable hour and a half of lesson combined with a fun competition under the tutorage of Matt. You can also do axe throwing, air rifle shooting and clay target shooting, all under expert instruction. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon when it’s a wet and misty Isle of Skye day – all activities proceed whatever the weather.
Skeabost itself has a short nine hole golf course. As the hotel itself explains, it is tended by a gardener, not a greenkeeper – it is a fun affair for all the family. The first hole, called ‘Wee Andy’s’ at 103 yards is one of the best, the green hidden down a very tight avenue of trees, the top of the flag only just the visible from the tee box. Several of the holes run along the side of Loch Snizort Beag.
In a nutshell
This is my favourite hotel in a long time. It’s not flashy, it’s not pretentious, it’s just delightful warm Scottish hospitality at its very best in the most stunning surroundings. A homely luxury Scottish hotel with delightfully friendly staff, great accommodation and delicious food. For a trip to Skye, Skeabost is the perfect hotel.
Double rooms at Skeabost are available from £249 per night and the Tower family room is available from £359 per night.
Address: Skeabost House Hotel, Skeabost Bridge, Isle of Skye, IV51 9NP
Phone: 01470 532 202