Skye, the largest and most northerly of the Inner Hebrides islands of Scotland, is also arguably the most famous of the Hebridean Islands. Known for its rugged landscapes, shimmering lochs and culture infused with folklore, Skye is worthy of its world-renown.
Dotted amongst its stunning landscape are also a number of historic sites which attest to its fascinating history, with characters such as St Columba and Flora MacDonald alike leaving behind their mark on the Isle in the form of St Columba’s Isle and Flora MacDonald’s grave. One of the most famous landmarks on Skye is Dunvegan Castle, the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland, which forms part of the Clan MacLeod’s 42,000-acre estate and is well worth a visit.
For those with an interest in more ancient history, Dun Beag Broch, perched atop a rocky outcrop, is well worth the scenic walk.
Here’s our pick of 10 of the best historic sites in Skye.
1. Dunscaith Castle
Dunscaith Castle, also known as Dun Scaich, Tokavaig or the ‘Fortress of Shadows’, is a ruined castle in the Parish of Sleat, Skye. In Ulster myth, the castle was home of the Scottish warrior woman and martial arts teacher Scáthach, and is protected as a scheduled monument.
Originally, the castle belonged to the Clan MacDonald of Sleat, and was taken but later recaptured from Clan MacLeod over the course of the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 15th century, the castle was captured by King James IV of Scotland, and the MacDonald clan were allowed to keep the castle. In the early 17th century, the MacDonalds abandoned the castle, and it fell to ruin.
The Old Man of Storr is part of the Trotternish ridge. It was formed following the erosion of The Storr, a peak on the Isle of Skye, because of an ancient landslide. The rocky peak dominates the area and its summit is a touchpoint along The Skye Trail, a popular walking route that can take anything from 5-10 days by foot. The name ‘Old Man of Storr’ is a toponym which literally translates to ‘old man of the Storr’ in French. In Scottish Gaelic, which is spoken in parts of Skye, it is known as ‘Bodach an Stòrr’.
Standing at 55 metres high, the ‘old man’ component of the name derives from the fact that when seen from the front, the rocky pinnacle and The Storr behind it create the face of a haggard and craggy old man. As a focal point of one of the most photographed landscapes in the world, the Old Man of Storr is one of the Isle of Skye’s most famous sites.
3. Dunvegan Castle
Situated a mile outside of Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye and overlooking Loch Dunvegan, Dunvegan Castle is the seat of the chief of Clan MacLeod, has been owned by the MacLeod clan for over 800 years and is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. Likely a fortified site from ancient times, the castle itself was first built in the 13th century and developed piecemeal over the centuries.
Over the coming centuries, features such as the Fairy Tower were added, and in the 19th century, the whole castle was remodelled in a mock-medieval style. Today, the castle is a famous landmark in Skye and is a Category-A listed building.
4. St Columba's Isle
St Columba’s Isle is a sacred burial ground, was once a major ecclesiastical centre on the Isle of Skye and was a seat of the Bishop of the Isles from the 10th to the 16th centuries. It is said that Columba, a missionary from Ireland, made two trips to Skye and established five different monastic communities there, of which St Columba was the most significant. A cathedral and abbey were once on the island, with archaeology revealing the church once featured an 80 foot transept.
Today, St Columba’s is a burial ground to many of the former residents of Skye, as well as the burial place of Bishops who served the cathedral right up until the Reformation in the 1400s.
5. Dun Beag Broch
Situated overlooking Loch Bracadale and the Cuillin Hills, Dun Beag Broch is a fantastic example of an Iron Age broch.
It would have been built some 2,000-2,500 years ago, and excavations indicate that it was occupied for a significant amount of time: medieval and later coins were reportedly found at the site in the early 1900s.
6. Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum
Armadale Castle is a ruined country house in Armadale, and was once the home of the MacDonald Clan. A mansion house was first built there in 1790, and in 1815, a Scottish baronial style mock castle, designed by the famed architect James Gillespie Graham, was built next to the house. After 1855, part of the house was destroyed by fire and subsequently replaced by a central wing.
Since 1925, the castle, abandoned by the MacDonald family, has fallen into ruin, and is now a scenic attraction. The gardens have been maintained, however, and are now home to a purpose-built Museum of the Isles, which features documents, relics, plaques and weapons that tell the history of the Dalriada Isles. Make sure to look out for information about the famed Flora MacDonald, who aided Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape.
7. Fairy Bridge
Dating from the early 19th century, the Fairy Bridge is an arched stone bridge that once carried the Waternish Peninsula road across a tributary of the Bay River, north of Dunvegan. Though the bridge dates from the 18th or 19th centuries, it is thought to stand on the same point as previous bridge which is part of a famous myth.
The story goes that the chief of the MacLeod clan wanted to marry a Faerie princess, and Oberon, King of the Fairies, Oberon, agreed to the match on the condition that after a year and a day had lapsed, the princess return to her own people. The couple had a son, but after a year and a day, the faerie returned to her people, leaving her child behind. The story goes that she left behind a faerie shawl, which has magical powers that grant humans three wishes. Two have been used thus far. The famous shawl can be seen today at Dunvegan Castle.
8. Duntulm Castle
Most of the remains of a fortification on this rocky headland date from the 15th century. However, there is thought to have been a dun or broch on the site beforehand. It was likely the MacDonald clan who built the castle, of which the ruins are all that remains today. The steep cliffs would have provided defence on three sides, while an entrance, likely a drawbridge, would have provided access.
In the 17th century, a small tower was added, but this collapsed in the late 20th century. Today, it makes for a scenic visit, with the surrounding stunning landscape and view towards the Minch making it well worth the journey.
9. Cill Chroisd
Cill Chriosd, or Kilchrist (Christ’s Church) is a ruined 15th or 16th century church that served as the parish church for Strathaird for over 300 years. It is known that in the 7th century, St Mael Ruba preached atop the nearby Cnoc na-Aifhreann, also known as the Hill of the Mass. A holy site, the new parish church was relocated to Cill Chriosd in the late Middle Ages, with records showing that there was activity there from 1505 until 1840.
Though ruined today, Cill Chriosd and its surrounding graveyard are full of fascinating gems, and make for an essential visit for any history enthusiast. The stunning landscape is a bonus, too.
10. Flora MacDonald's Grave, Kilmuir Cemetery
Situated within the striking Kilmuir Cemetery, near the tip of the Trotternish Peninsula, is Flora MacDonald’s grave. Her grave, which towers above all the others, is dedicated to the ‘Preserver of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’, with an epigraph written by noted author Samuel Johnson, which reads: ‘Her name will be mentioned in history and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.’
Indeed, it is said that her funeral in 1790 was attended by some 3,000 mourners, who between them drank some 300 gallons of whiskey. The cross that marks her funeral today was paid for by public subscription and erected in 1880.