CNN recently caused a stir by claiming that the Isle of Skye should be a place to avoid in 2018 due to tourism problems. Reports about the Isle of Skye’s tourism problems on the BBC have also highlighted similar concerns, with exaggerated claims that instead of speeding over the sea to the island “like a bird on the wing”, you will likely crawl behind a queue of caravans, motorhomes and cars, packed with kids and luggage.
While it is no secret that Skye has grown hugely in popularity over the last few years thanks to social media (and rightly so given just how beautiful it is!), this bucket list destination is still well worth visiting at anytime of year. You just need to be savvy and know what you are doing. That way you will be part of the solution and not part of the problem!
Here are our 10 ten tips to avoiding Skye tourism problems!
1.Leave the car behind
In reality when CNN is referring to ‘tourism problems on Skye’ it is really referring to there being many more cars at the popular locations than there are car parking spaces. An increase in tourism is hugely beneficial to the local economy, which is why the people of Skye are working on improving the infrastructure; recent initiatives include improving parking at the Old Man of Storr, and there are also plans afoot to upgrade facilities at the Fairy Pools. So if you leave your car at home, you certainly won’t be part of the problem, in fact you’d be very much part of the solution.
Using public transport requires a bit of planning, but by using the local bus service, and by walking, it is possible to visit many of the Islands top sites. Skye is world-class destination for hiking, so by doing it this way you will get a lot more out of your day. Another great way to experience the magic of Skye without your car is to take a tour, and we talk a bit more about that below, so keep on reading.
If you do have to drive, by parking responsibly you can again be part of the solution. If there is no parking where you’d like to visit park a little further away and use those two things at the end of your body called legs!
- Don’t park in passing places, they are only for passing!
- Don’t park on the grass verges – it not only destroys them but you’ve a good chance of getting stuck too giving how wet and muddy Skye is.
- Don’t block other vehicles and remember bigger vehicles such as local buses, HGVs (trucks), ambulances and fire engines may need to get past, so wherever you park leave plenty of spaces.
3.Learn how to drive
Ok – so this may be a bit tongue in cheek, but if you are used to driving in the city (or are coming from another country) acquainting yourself with how to drive on Skye would definitely be a worthy exercise and avoid you causing traffic to build up on our narrow single track roads.
The use of passing places is probably the most important thing to master. Whoever is closest to the passing place is required to stop (if the passing place is behind you will need to reverse). You only go into the passing place if it’s on your left hand side, if it’s on your right hand side you simply wait opposite the passing place and let the other vehicles go around you.
It’s also VERY important to use your mirrors. If there is traffic behind you are required to use the next passing place to let them past you. It’s no problem to drive slowly on these roads, although the locals will want to drive faster than you so let them past and you’ll keep everyone happy!
4.Take a tour
Tour companies can definitely be part of the solution, and at WOW Scotland we have gone out of our way to do everything we can to minimise our impact. Part of this was our £150,000 investment in a new luxury mini-coach. At 8 metres long, it’s 1 metre longer than the 16 seater minivans going around but unlike these vehicles it has space for 28 passengers, a driver and a guide. This means that where places are busy with vehicles, we can drop our passengers off and pick them back up again later, thus not adding to the congestion problems. When our coach is full this is the equivalent to taking an average of 14 rental cars off the road everyday we run, that’s equates to 2366 less cars on the road this year!
Now it is true that some locals on Skye are unhappy about the surge in tourism. And whilst everyone likes a grumble now again the vast majority of people on Skye are very much pro-tourism. It brings in so much money to the local economy, even the local florist commented last year on how important it was to her business. Tourism is the lifeblood of the Isle of Skye (and the Scottish Highlands in general) and without it, the island would really struggle to survive.
A study of our Isle of Skye day tours last year showed that our customers contributed over £100,000 to the Skye economy, and that’s just our one small company! We actively encourage our customers to shop local and we work with great local business such as the Castle Moil Restaurant, the Little Cake Shop, Skye Batiks and the Isle of Skye brewery. So instead of bringing your own with you, why not shop local and spread the love!
6.Book your accommodation in advance
There is an urban legend here on Skye that surfaces every few years that the police have stopped tourists on the Skye bridge and told them to turn back because Skye is full! Amazingly, it is believed by the vast majority of people, but here’s the thing, it has never happened. Ever! It is, however, true that the police advised last year to,‘Drive and park sensibly, think about where you are going to stay, and leave the area as clean and tidy as you found it. Enjoy Skye – we do!’ That’s great advice that we like to stick to.
7.Visit outside of peak times
Yes – CNN did get one thing right. Visiting outside of the main tourist months of July and August is going to mean that there are less people. However, what it didn’t suggest was change the way you look at exploring. 9-5 is the time for working, not exploring! In mid summer the sun rises at 4.26am (it starts getting light about 3am!) and sets at 10.26pm (although doesn’t get properly dark until 11.30pm!). So set your alarm clock early and go to the Fairy Pools before breakfast, enjoy some of the lesser visited sites during the day, then take in a sunset at Elgol late at night (we are almost certain that the only traffic you will encounter at 11pm at night will be the usual sheep running havoc!)
8.Plan your toilet breaks and take your rubbish home with you.
Although there are not currently public toilets at many of the main tourist attractions on Skye, there are plenty of public toilets. Also, cafes, restaurants and some visitor attractions will also have toilet facilities too and as long as you are buying something there is no problem to use them – a great excuse to stop and sample some Scottish culinary delights.
Some businesses are part of the comfort break scheme, meaning that they receive funding from the Highland Council to allow you to use their toilet facilities.
Don’t put your rubbish in overflowing bins, it will simply blow away and end up in the sea. Also think about your impact on the environment. The water on Skye (and in the Scottish Highlands in general!) is great so bring a refillable water bottle and do your bit to save the planet!
9.Get off the beaten track
This always seems like a no-brainer to me but for some reason everyone seems to go to the exactly the same spot at exactly the same time to get exactly the same picture! Do a little bit of research and work out alternatives ways of visiting your chosen destination. For example, you can do a great hike from Sligachan to the Fairy Pools which will be so much more rewarding than just driving there. Even in places like the Fairy Glen where it can get pretty busy, you can always get away from everyone by taking a slightly different route. At WOW Scotland we practise what we preach and where possible we always try to get off the beaten track on our tours where possible!
Tourists and businesses alike can give back by supporting local businesses and charities. For example, in places such as the Sligachan Hotel, if you use the toilet and don’t buy a drink they ask for a donation to the Skye mountain rescue.
At WOW Scotland we donated money to a very non-sexy cause this year, namely toilets. We shared £500 between Staffin Village Hall and Dornie Village hall to help pay for the upkeep of their toilets. It’s something that we’d actively encourage other tour operators using these facilities to do, as without them Skye and Lochalsh could struggle in the future.
If you use our guide above you will be part of the solution and help improve the perceived tourism problems on Skye. You will also get a much better experience as well and will get memories to last a lifetime. Skye is a certainly a ‘must visit’ place and the reality is that there is plenty of room for everyone, it’s just that we are bit short on parking places and public toilets at the moment! So please ignore CNN and make the Isle of Skye your must visit location in 2018!