The ‘capital’ of Skye, Portree is an attractive little town and harbour that is an essential part of most visitors’ experience of the island.
Portree – centre for excursions around ‘the Misty Isle’
Meaning ‘the king’s port’ in Gaelic, the settlement clusters above a natural harbour, visited by King James V (hence the name). The other Stuart associated with Portree is Bonnie Prince Charlie, who said his last farewell to Flora Macdonald here.
As an important island harbour, Portree was the last departure point for many emigrants in the latter half of the 18th century. The local Macdonald laird attempted to help the islanders’ plight by investing in Portree as a fishing harbour. By the 19th century, harbour developments here had allowed Portree to play its part in the western seaboard’s steamer network, with mainland and Outer Hebrides links, including a sailing to Glasgow.
The town today has a good – and scenic - road link with the Skye Bridge and also makes a good centre for Skye touring. It also features an interesting selection of shops, including galleries and craftshops.
Accommodation in Portree:
As a busy tourist centre, Portree has plenty of accommodation, including hotels with harbour and mountain views. The bed and breakfast and guest house choice is also excellent in and around Portree, with many set in very attractive locations. Self catering properties can also be found in Portree, often modern bungalow style, with a good choice of traditional cottages round the town. There is a caravan and camping park very close to Portree and also a choice of hostel and bunkhouse accommodation.
Apart from the shops, the setting and the views (attractions in themselves) most of Portree’s tourist attractions lie around the town at varying distances. The main attraction is the Aros Centre, with its own events programme, shop and restaurant, plus exhibition on the environment of Skye as well as lots of information on the local sea eagles. Popular excursions from Portree include a visit to the Talisker Distillery – Skye’s unique malt whisky – and also to Dunvegan Castle, seat of the Clan MacLeod and the oldest continually occupied Scottish Castle.
Riding and trekking is available within easy reach of Portree, as is golf on a choice of 9-hole courses. For anglers there is an excellent choice of hill lochs and also short, spate rivers close by. Boat trips to see the local wildlife are also easily found. (These are especially good for sea eagle spotting.) For walkers and climbers – or just admirers of rugged scenery – the Cuillin Hills are a magnet, though challenging for the casual walker. Excursions from Portree to Elgol and/or to Glen Brittle allow magnificent views.
The Cuillin Hills are impressive but there is spectacular geology elsewhere on Skye. North of Portree, the edge of an ancient lava sheet, the Trotternish Ridge, is a line of continuous cliffs west of the road for about 20 miles (32km). Landslips long ago have created weird rock-forms and pinnacles. The first is the Old Man of Storr, seen against the skyline from the main road. Next is Kilt Rock on the coast. Alternate bandings of two rock types resemble the pleats in a kilt. The Quiraing lies a few minutes further on. The formations here are extraordinary and Britain’s best example of ‘rotational slippage’! Take care on the paths.
Sea eagles were persecuted and vanished from Scotland by 1916, with Skye their very last stronghold. Reintroductions started from 1975 onwards, on Rum, from where these spectacular birds have recolonised their old haunts on Skye. Breeding here started in 1987. Now 20% of Scotland’s sea eagle population breed on the island. They can be seen from headlands near Portree, sometimes following fishing vessels (or even local cruises boats). Get up-to-date sighting reports and good tips at the Aros Centre, Portree.
The Aros Centre has an ongoing year-round events programme. There is a range of local events with musical themes, such as the music tuition festival Fèis an Earraich in the spring and the Skye Accordion and Fiddle Festival on the last weekend in May. The famous Glamaig Hill Race is in July, with the Isle of Skye Highland Games in early August. Full information from www.isbuc.co.uk