Everything you’ve ever heard about the Isle of Skye is true. It is beautiful. For a cyclist, it is paradise. Minus the sun perhaps. It is not called the Island of the Mist or the Isle of Cloud for nothing. Oh no. The romance of ‘cloud riding’ may die by the third hour of riding in the rain, but hey, you are waterproof, non? Besides, the scenery and roads are so amazing you’ll quickly forget about the weather.
Isle of Skye weather and when to go
OK, let’s get this out of the way. Yes it can be wet. Mostly wet. I had one dry day and one wet day on my circumnavigation of Skye. Showers, lots of showers, some light, some worthy of galoshes. Expect wind too, a south westerly with gusts that kick. Bring gritted teeth and a rain jacket basically. And many layers. You’ll be cold one minute, hot the next.
On average, the Isle of Sky has rain on 223 days a year. So 60%. This varies slightly by month. May and June are your best bets for a dry day, with rain on ‘just’ 13-14 days a month and temperatures peaking at a balmy 14°C. Scorchio! This is as good as it gets. You’ll also avoid the midges in May, the tourists too, who usually come a little later in the year. A good thing when you consider sharing a single track road with nervous drivers distracted by stunning views.
Day 2: Plockton – Isle of Skye
Day two of my Scotland cycling tour. Is a full English breakfast and a bowl of porridge and toast and yoghurt a good way to start the day? Why yes sir. How about a good way to fuel a day cycling around the Isle of Skye. Hmmm, you’ve not been reading all of those nutrition books have you sir?
Sausage, bacon and eggs still settling in my stomach, I climbed on the bike and tried to pretend the wind wasn’t howling in my face. Again. The day’s route covered the ups and downs of the north-west peninsula of the isle towards Waternish and Duirinish. First, I crossed the hump-backed Skye Bridge to reach the island, my windswept wheels flipping left and right like the fin of a fish out of water. Damn you wind. Howls of laughter.
The isle awaited. The magnificent lumps and bumps of the Cuillin mountains (those of Danny Macaskill video fame – see end of blog) shrouded in clouds, the colour of the sky what Dulux might call ‘Ominous Onyx’. Cue the rain. Sheets of the stuff. Windswept and thoroughly soaked I cursed the heavens and wondered what the hell I was doing.
Feet wet, hands freezing, heart pounding, spirit broken. Get off the bike, reason shouted at me. I tried to imagine sitting at my desk at work. Warm. Or bored, refreshing my Twitter feed whilst drinking hot tea. Better to be alive and uncomfortable than comfortable and bored. I put my head down and carried on pedalling and cursing.
Damn you cycling. I looked up at the view and instantly fell back in love with my ride.
The suffering was, fortunately, temporary. The rain stopped at mile 30 and by mile 50 I finally turned out of the bloody headwind. Fist pump. Thankfully the scenery was more pleasant than the weather. Not that I saw much in the aero tuck! The Isle of Skye really does live up to the hype, even in miserable conditions.
Another soaking finished my day but my legs were strong as the roads climbed and climbed and climbed. Once again, I was cycling within the shadow of Bealach na Bá, my legs doing as little as possible, not easy in a headwind. This day would be remembered for the weather. Never a sign of a good day’s ride.
The stats: 76 miles in almost six long hours with 1,740 metres climbed. Gallons of rain water. Another dead rotting sheep carcass (of course!).
GPX file and route on Strava
Day 3: The Trotternish peninsula of Skye
Wow. If there’s a better road cycling route in the UK I’m eager to hear about it. Skye’s northern Trotternish peninsula from Portree to Uig and back again. I rode clockwise, which avoids the tourists who generally tackle this loop anti-clockwise. Better to see nervous drivers approaching than have them behind you on single track roads.
Blue skies and a tailwind, I climbed out of Uig with a huge smile on my face. The single track road from Uig to Staffin is a dream ride along the coast, the island’s scenery constantly changing, always amazing.
Heading back south, I took a detour to climb the magical Quiraing. Just take a look at this Google Street view! A steep single track road, moorland, islands and mountains everywhere. After the hardship of yesterday this was a welcome trip to a lush green heaven on earth.
The Quiraing climb is a 15% challenge, the road cleaved into the rock. Think Winnats Pass in the Peak District but with much better views at the summit. Once again I remained seated, churning out a low cadence, low heart rate climb, legs taking all of the strain.
Taking on a challenging hill climb is like sex. Ooh err, missus. You can splurge everything you’ve got in search of the prize or you can grind out a slow rhythm. Either way you’re f*cked when you summit. Job done, I enjoyed the view before a sudden storm of wind and rain drove me back down through the grass carpeted crevasse. My legs still yearn for this climb. I could ride it for all eternity.
A third of my ride done, I should have stopped here and finished on a high. Instead I continued south towards the Old Man of Storr, a rock that always greets me with a thunderous storm. So it was again, stinging rain driving so hard into my face I thought I’d taken a wrong turn into a jet wash. Next followed mile upon mile of a block 20 mph headwind, the gusts trying to lift me from my bike.
I decided early on not to fight the wind as I would on any other ride. I stayed low and did my best to spin my way to Portree. Eventually I made it and turned out of the wind, the silence jarring after a day of howling wind rasping though my (covered!) ears. What a ride.
Tomorrow, the beast of Bealach na Bá. Good bye luck legs.
The stats: 78 miles and 1,615 metres of up and up. A lot of wind of the in your face variety. Average heart rate down to 111. Almost asleep. Not forgetting the day’s roadkill, er, highlight. One dead ferret.
Route and GPX file on Strava
More from my cycle tour of Scotland
- Scotland cycle tour part 1: Coast to Coast, Inverness to Plockton
- Scotland cycle tour part 3: The beast: Bealach na Bá plus the Applecross peninsula and the Torridon mountains
And finally, Danny Macaskill, in THAT Isle of Skye video. Rider and land, amazing.
Images – Quairaing 1: Fred Adams, Quairaing 2: Rough Guide