Last summer, we took Legend’s mom on an epic road trip around Scotland. The highlight of the trip for me was our days on the Isle of Skye. We were a bit nervous from a dietary perspective, as I’m obviously gluten free and both Legend and his mom are vegetarian. We managed fairly well, though we all had meals where we wished for better options. Here’s how we traveled through gluten free Skye.
Arriving at the Sleat peninsula
We arrived at the Isle of Skye after a visit to Loch Lomond and a night spent near Fort William. We made a quick stop at Eilean Donan Castle (decent vegetarian options, allergen information readily available by asking staff) before crossing the bridge onto Skye in the afternoon.
We planned to spend two nights on Skye, but because we booked our trip so late, we couldn’t get two nights in one place. We decided to book rooms on opposite sides of the island, so we’d get to see more. Our first night was spent on the southeast side of the island in Ardvasar, a village near the southern end of the Sleat peninsula. We stayed at the Ardvasar Hotel, which had a restaurant on site and offered a full Scottish/vegetarian breakfast in the morning. There is very little in Ardvasar, so we ate dinner at the hotel. They were pretty helpful in identifying gluten free food for me, though our meal overall wasn’t amazing. It was really the only option we were aware of beside a small grocery store, so it did the job. The hotel was great, with very helpful service, free WiFi in the lobby area and a decent breakfast in the morning.
The hotel had given us a tip about a rural road that took you across the Sleat peninsula and was quite picturesque, so we started with that. It was a bit terrifying to me – narrow roads with enough room for only one car in places, and lots of unfenced grazing land for sheep and cows. In fact, at one point we had to stop due to a herd of cows in the road. Honking at them had no effect – they just gave us a dirty look. We had a good laugh and then proceeded to drive, very VERY slowly, towards the cows, who grudgingly stepped aside and allowed us to pass. The drive was very pretty, if a bit scary.
Across Skye to the Trotternish Peninsula
From Ardvasar, we got back on the nicer road (A851) and took it north to reach A87, the “main” road across Skye. We headed east via Broadford and headed for the northwest side of Skye. We stopped at the Seumas Bar, next to the Sligachan Hotel, for lunch. This place was great – a full selection of whisky and a menu that was clearly labeled with allergen information. I had a great smoked haddock and potato soup called Cullen Skink, with gluten free bread. It’s also right next to a view point for looking at, or hiking into, the Cuillin mountains. After a short stroll a little way up the hill at the view point, we got back in the car and headed for Portree.
From Portree we decided to do the ring road (A855) around the entire northern peninsula, called Trotternish. One of the first stops was the Old Man of Storr, a big tall rock on the mountainside. There’s apparently a nice hiking path here, but it was very foggy and wet and we skipped it. Back in the car, we continued north along the east side of the peninsula, stopping several times for photos.
A couple nice places on the east side of the peninsula were Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock. We went the long way around the top of the peninsula, passing up the tiny road that cuts across the peninsula that offers views of the Quiraing rock formations. On the north side, we passed by a lonely red phone booth in the middle of nowhere, and the crumbled remains of Duntulm Castle. Continuing south down the west side of the peninsula, we were all getting tired of being in the car. We stopped in Uig at the Uig Hotel for a break and a drink before heading back around to Portree for the night.
After checking in to a very weird and unusual “bed and breakfast” we headed out on foot to find dinner. We had arrived in Portree on a Friday night in June and found that it was nearly impossible to get a table in any of the restaurants in town without a reservation. We finally found the Caledonia Café, and got a table after a 45-minute wait. The food was nothing special (I had grilled fish and chips) but we were starving by then and didn’t really have any options.
After a night in our weird B&B that was full of students from a Scottish tour/party bus, we had our breakfast and hit the road again. We were headed off the island and to Inverness for the night via Loch Ness.
On our way back through Broadford we stopped for coffee at Café Sia. This is home to Skye Roastery and a pretty good coffee. They had good allergen labeling on their menu as I recall, but there wasn’t a whole lot of gluten free (breakfast items, sweet potato chips, salads, and not much else.) In the same strip mall there’s a post office with a gift shop and a pharmacy.
After topping up our caffeine levels, we left the island and headed east towards Loch Ness and Inverness.
What we didn’t do on Skye (but you can)
See the aurora
Skye is home to a couple of “dark sky” places known for good aurora borealis viewing. The best of these is on the far western side of the island in and around Waternish. The second is just north of Ardvasar (though really, I think you’d be fine even from Ardvasar as there’s not much light pollution.)
We didn’t get to see the aurora because it was June, and it stays light until about 10:30 pm in the summer. The best times of year for aurora viewing are March-April and September-October.
Skye is home to Talisker, the only whisky distillery on the island. We opted to skip this as our return route was right through the heart of Speyside, which is chock full of distilleries.
Another famous landmark on Skye is the fairy pools, a picturesque collection of clear blue pools near the foot of the Black Cuillins. We didn’t make it to this side of the island at all, as it took way longer to negotiate the narrow roads than we’d anticipated.
Hiking in the Cuillins
There are beautiful mountains running through Skye with lots of hiking trails. We didn’t do any hiking due to the crummy conditions (and that we are city people and weren’t really dressed for it either.)
Visit the Outer Hebrides
From Skye, you can take ferries out to some of the further Western Isles (the Outer Hebrides) like Harris and North Uist. They are easiest to access with a car, but there are some areas with buses and a few of the islands have car rental places on them.
Tips for gluten free Skye travel
(and rural Scotland in general):
- Drive! While train and bus services in Scotland are pretty good, to really see places like Skye, you’ll want to have access to a car.
Stay at bed and breakfasts or hotels that include full Scottish/vegetarian breakfasts. You’ll have eggs and bacon or mushrooms and tomatoes at a minimum. Sometimes you can get gluten free toast if you ask ahead of time.
- When in doubt, stick to meat or fish and vegetables to avoid gluten. Cullen Skink soup is usually gluten free as well.
- Dress in layers (and make sure one is waterproof) – the temperature never topped 50F (10C) during our trip in mid-June, and it was cloudy and misty almost the entire time. The ground was muddy, so wear appropriate shoes too.
- If you see a bathroom, use it – most of the small “towns” on Skye are really, really tiny places – if you see a café or restaurant, stop and use the toilet! Trying to find one when you’re desperate is a really bad time.
Have you ever been to the Isle of Skye? Do you have any tips for eating gluten free in rural places? Tell me in the comments!
A map of gluten free Skye