WHILE cruising through some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery it’s almost impossible to keep your eyes on the road, writes Martyn McLaughlin
There is a sharp dip in the B8083 as it skirts round the eastern shores of Loch Scavaig that asserts Skye’s natural majesty. As the road winds its way down the Strathaird peninsula, the vista up opens to reveal the Cuillin range in all its imposing wonder.
It is a spellbinding vision, but such is the island’s beauty, no consensus exists as to its most scenic nook. They are scattered all around, from the jagged, antler-shaped promontories in the north to the fertile woodland fringes in the south. What better place in all of Britain for a driving holiday?
If the ultimate destination is intoxicating, the journey to this cherished isle is just as revered, held up as one of Scotland’s great road routes. From the central belt, it spears up the western banks of Loch Lomond before gliding into Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe. The drive through this gateway to the Highlands demands to be made in comfort as well as style.
With a choice of seven vehicles in its Select Series, spanning manufacturers including Mercedes and Audi, the car hire company, Avis, is well placed to provide a suitable set of wheels.
Looking for something with a bit of nip, our family plumped for the BMW 1 Series, a five-door, rear-wheel-drive hatchback. With the firm’s trademark iDrive infotainment system in the cabin, it proved the ideal ride to while away the winding three-and-a-half-hour journey from Glasgow.
The BMW navigated it with aplomb; on long open straights, the 1.5 litre turbocharged model offered kick, while on the snaking bends around Ballachulish, its light steering and supple suspension ensured the drive remained refined.
Yet it was only after taking the scenic ferry crossing from Mallaig that the car truly came into its own. Arriving in Armadale, the weather illuminated the russet-toned valley west of Isleornsay as we soared along the Sleat road.
It is a lovely drive but venture further north and Skye gives up her best known delights. Taking the A855 as it hugs the north-east coast is a journey into a Jurassic past. The Storr gives way to the supernatural vista of the Quiraing as you venture into the Trotternish peninsula, and it is easy to lose an entire day embarking on walks or simply gaping in awe from the roadside.
After looping back over the Quiraing, we headed south for our first stopover, the handsome Toravaig House Hotel. With its whitewashed 1930s exterior looking out over the Sound of Sleat towards the Knoydart peninsula, it is a staple of Skye’s well heeled tourism market.
Stepping inside reveals why. With a palette of earthy tones and fixtures and fittings that strike a contemporary note, the feel is of a modern country home from home with attentive and friendly staff.
Our room, the Colonsay suite, was finished in copper and nutmeg hues with luxurious touches, such as Temple Spa toiletries. With a bay window looking out over a rolling hillside as it meets the water, the prospect of ever leaving seemed absurd.
Temptation, however, came in the form of the hotel’s Iona restaurant, home to two AA rosettes. Its evening tasting menu makes clear why, with a range of imaginative dishes – such as confit duck on spiced risotto rice – combining classical combinations with flair.
Coupled with a delectable breakfast of Eggs Benedict the next morning, Toravaig provided ample fuel on which to get back behind the wheel and explore a few more of Skye’s delights, this time on the west coast.
The car’s reliable satnav informed us that the drive to our first destination – the village of Elgol – was 45 minutes away, but as it was another sun-kissed morning, with the light playing wondrous tricks on the crowns of Skye’s mountains, we took our time.
Along the way, the Blue Shed Café in Torrin, which offers fine hearty chunks of homemade tiffin, made for a natural stopping off point at the foothills of Bla Bheinn. After surveying the beauty of Elgol, with its primary school hunched by the water’s edge, it was time for a Skye must-do, a trip to the celebrated Three Chimneys. Its five-course lunch taster menu is testament to the three AA red rosettes, held continuously for 16 years, and fine value at £55 a head.
The starter of Sconser scallop served with ham hock and samphire in a langoustine tea was hard to beat, though the Soay ewe and lamb, glazed in miso and served with courgette and sweetbreads, was a delectably rich highlight.
With a leisurely drive back east, taking in Dunvegan Castle and the marvellously quirky Giant Angus MacAskill Museum, it was time for our second hotel, the Cuillin Hills, which made a striking first impression.
Boasting an elevated position overlooking Portree harbour, it commands marvellous views of the cluster of fishing boats bobbing in the Sound of Raasay, a scene framed by the bare rock summits of Sgùrr na Banachdaich and Sgùrr Dearg in the distance.
When we checked into our room, the view of the car park proved distinctly underwhelming by way of comparison and we decided to head back downstairs to the fittingly named View restaurant, where grand windows reconnected us with Skye’s enchanting geology.
It is a shame that the food and service was nowhere near as enjoyable. Over a two-course dinner, we were served by no fewer than five members of staff and the food seemed inspired by Brewers Fayre – a rib-eye steak was poorly trimmed and the plate came laden with enough chips to feed the Atholl Highlanders.
The next morning’s breakfast, however, was the nadir. An appetising-sounding porridge with apple compote promised a sweet start to the day. The reality was a dish made with a fistful of salt. After deciding to swap it for cereal, the waiter wiped the oat-clogged spoon on a towel, noting: “You’ll be needing that.”
It was a sour – or salty – note to end on, but what better to cleanse the palate than the drive back over the Skye bridge and down through the Kyle of Lochalsh?
Skye is a bewitching place to visit, and with four wheels, you can enjoy the very best it has to offer.