Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye. Before ever setting foot in Scotland, those were the two places topping my list of “must-sees”. And now, after journeying around much of Scotland with my kids, not only do they remain my favorite places in Scotland, I’ve learned they are also fantastic locations to visit with young kids. Experiencing the Isle of Skye with kids was half the fun. It’s hard not to like waterfalls and majestic, rugged landscapes calling out to be explored.
First Stop: Mallaig
My husband had opted out of our epic train journey around Scotland, but he was not about to let us explore the Isle of Skye with out him. He joined us on day three of our journey and together we drove from Loch Ness to Mallaig. From Mallaig we would catch a ferry to Skye the next morning.
Magical sunsets enticed us as we drove towards Mallaig that first afternoon. But our first night in Mallaig was everything a parent dreads when sharing a hotel room with their kids. My teething, still-getting-over-a-cold baby fought sleep until hours after his father and siblings had passed out. As I finally washed up for bed, I heard someone moving in the room. I peered out to see my daughter fumbling around by a chair attempting to put her jeans on over her pajama pants. She was sound asleep. A couple repeat performances ensured there would be no restful sleep for mommy that night.
My oldest two arose before the sun a few hours later. I’d had maybe three hours of sleep and was not getting out of bed. Soon they’d woken their baby brother and their noise could no longer be ignored. Still I refused to budge.
My husband dutifully got up and went through the motions. Retrieve the baby from his cot. Calm the crazy kids. Open the blinds.
Open the blinds. His timing was perfect. It had been pitch black when we arrived the previous evening. That darkness was just starting to lift as the blinds were opened. A magnificent view unfolded before our eyes. Our room faced the sea. I sat mesmerized as the sky lightened and revealed orange and purple mountains rising from the sea. I soaked in the glorious morning. I didn’t hear the sounds of squabbling siblings in tight confines.
We missed the early ferry to the Isle of Skye. I had enjoyed the view from the comfort of my bed for a little too long. We sauntered down to breakfast and relaxed until the next ferry was ready to depart.
Skye at Last
The ferry was a breeze. Drive on, sit on the ship’s top deck, enjoy the view for half an hour, drive off.
Two waterfalls, dozens of breathtaking landscapes, and too many narrow, windy roads later we arrived at the Fairy Pools.
An hour had passed since we departed the ferry. The instant we parked, my daughter announced the inevitable. The three glasses of milk at breakfast and unregulated amounts of water in the hotel room had gone through her. And suddenly, it wasn’t just her who had to go. Now her mother felt a similar urgency.
It had never even crossed my mind to have a forced potty-break in the pristine bathrooms on the ferry. The Fairy Pools are a popular tourist destination—THE thing to see on the Isle of Skye. In my mind, I had pictured a cute little welcome center or at least an information booth. Surely I hadn’t needed to plan out my children’s potty breaks in advance.
But alas, there is only a sign and a meager parking lot at the entrance to the Fairy Pool path. There are no bathrooms at the Fairy Pools.
I assured myself people hike across Scotland and the Highlands all the time. They too must need to pee eventually so it shouldn’t be frowned upon to just go… So my daughter and I bonded that day. A few days later a proud five-year-old would giddily describe to her grandma how her mommy taught her to pee outside “the girl way” in Skye. That’s right. She may not remember anything else, but now she’ll always fondly remember it as the place where she learned to discreetly pee outdoors.
The Fairy Pools
Bladder emptied, she was a rockstar. She led our trek up the mountain. And while the ascent wasn’t difficult or steep, I wasn’t prepared for all the stream crossings that required an adult-sized stride or lengthy leaps. My daughter had to be convinced that swinging from mom’s hands to dad’s hands was a better idea than attempting a running jump. And in reality, swinging from a mom balanced on a rock with a baby strapped to her chest to a dad balanced on another rock with 40-pounds of child on his back may not have been the wisest idea either.
We reached multiple places that could have been ideal stopping points or good enough, but she was determined to go further. So we did. And it was worth it.
The kids and I decided we had to put our feet in the crystal clear pools we’d hiked so far to see. We tip-toed out onto large rocks in one of the bigger pools and off came the shoes and socks. Ignoring my warnings about the frigid water, the three-year-old was up to his ankles within seconds. Despite the freezing water and his soaked pant legs, he was determined to take full advantage of being allowed to play in the water. And then he began to splash us. His sister was ready to return fire but their mean parents decided that a soaked family hiking back down the mountain might be ill-advised.
With unexpected enthusiasm, the splashing child allowed me to put his shoes and socks back on him and then ran off with his sister. Enjoying the spectacular views, I shrugged off the silly boy jumping in every puddle and soaking his shoes as he made his way back to the trail. Turning my contented one-year-old around to face me, we breathed in the perfect autumn air and relaxed.
And then my wet-footed child announced he had to pee. I’d taught my daughter to pee outdoors that day. I had no worries about my son who already prefers peeing outside. I instructed him to wait until his daddy came back and could help him. I should have explained that by “help” I meant find a discreet location away from the dozen other tourists loitering around.
He obviously missed the point, because I was interrupted from my peaceful perch on the rocks to my daughter screaming, “MOM, HE’S PEEINGGG!” And peeing he was. Twenty feet away my son stood tall and proud. Pants and underwear at his ankles, hands on his hips admiring the lengthy stream splashing against the rocky trail. The initial relief that he wasn’t peeing ON himself or INTO the fairy pools faded as I realized he’d drawn the attention of every hiker within ear shot.
The trek back was anti-climatic. We found easier ways to cross the ravines that required less throwing of the girl-child and most of the walk was downhill. The final quarter mile to reach the parking lot, though—that was another story. My five-year-old had hiked close to two miles without a single complaint. But the incline at the very end almost broke us all. Daddy, weighted down with a child in the back carrier, had trudged on ahead making it look effortless. But I must have had agony written across my face as I panted encouragement to my little girl. Tourists just beginning their trek looked on sympathetically and assured us we were almost done.
When we finally reached the parking lot my exhausted kids happily climbed into the car and chugged all the water we’d forgotten to take on our hike.
Skye without a Plan
We knew we would only have a day to explore Skye. And a day is not nearly enough. The Fairy Pools were the only “must” on my list and we had accomplished it much faster and easier than I had anticipated. We now had hours to kill before the ferry returned to Mallaig in the evening. I hadn’t planned for that. Our options were limited as most of the remaining sights were nowhere near the Fairy Pools. We quickly selected Dunvegan Castle as the next item on our itinerary.
More breathtaking landscapes accompanied our drive to Dunvegan. We arrived to find a completely deserted parking lot outside the closed gates of Dunvegan Castle. The sign posted on the gates explained the castle was now only open for viewing by appointment on weekdays. It was Saturday. And the off season was now underway.
Without enough time to hike the Fairy Glen or see the rock formations or cliffs on the far coasts, we settled on driving to Portree to find a late lunch and allowing the kids a good nap along the way. Our GPS routed us off the beaten path through narrow winding roads across mountainous terrain to Portree.
Even without a plan, just wandering across the Isle of Skye was worth it. Every view was majestic. We didn’t have to search for awe. It was everywhere. Enchanting and rugged, the Isle of Skye is home to fairy lore for a reason. And we will be back—with more time and a better plan next time around.
In case you weren’t convinced that our day on the Isle of Skye was pretty close to perfect, here’s a little video we put together to prove it!