Trains and Automobiles: Our Journey to the Isle of Skye

(A continuation from my previous post entitled “Planes”.)

My previous post saw us exploring Edinburgh castle, the Scotch Whiskey Experience and the city via hop-on, hop-off.

Our third day is hard to write about. It was the day I stressed about the most while planning – the day we had to get from Edinburgh to Portree on the Isle of Skye.
The plan was to take the 6:30am train to Inverness, pick up our rental car around 10:40am, and head down the A82 towards Portree, reaching our hotel before dark. But plans never work out, right?

We started our day at 4:30 am, giving us time to get somewhat ready for the day ahead. I was worried about our train tickets because I had left the card I had bought them with back at home and there was a strict policy that you needed the card to retrieve your tickets. We walked through the dark, empty streets to Edinburgh Waverly Station and arrived around 5:30. Thank goodness we got there early because I can never find my head in a train station. 

We talked to an employee about our tickets and the only thing we could do in so short of time was buy new ones. Because it was the day of the journey, our £16.20 tickets became £86.90 – and we lost our original payment. After buying the new tickets we were told to go to Platform 13… which we couldn’t find. It was the disappearing platform, the number that never showed up on any signs, that was hidden behind walls and construction and shops. Eventually we found the mysterious Platform 13, and then we were told we needed Platform 16. So we ran to 16. And there we read the sign that clearly did not contain our destination, so back we ran to 13. Guys, taking the train is NOT fun.

About 6:33, after settling onto the correct train, we started on our way to Stirling, where we would change trains for Inverness. It was nice to leave the city, especially knowing we would soon be in the deep countryside of Scotland. Watching the hills roll out through the Cairngorms National Park reminded me of our visit to Wyoming. Green and brown mountains topped with snowy garnish. Bob was falling asleep beside me and I so badly wanted to sleep for the next 3 hours but it is ridiculously hard to tear your eyes away from the scenery. I also knew that Bob needed his sleep before we picked up the rental car and it was better for me to be awake to make sure we didn’t miss our stop.

Once we alighted at Inverness, we hailed a taxi to get to the Enterprise Rent A Car. We were so awkward – neither of us have taken a taxi before, surprisingly. Mohammad, the employee at Enterprise, was such a kind and warm welcome -and he made sure we had everything we needed before we left. He upgraded our car to one with a GPS and explained who to call if something happened with the car. His good humor was comforting during the beginning of a nerve wracking experience for us.

So, driving out of Inverness was pretty easy. I admit, I was extremely terrified about driving – but mostly I was terrified about Bob hitting something or someone. We got around the first roundabout nicely, though the second one threw us for a loop (haha). However, we made it out of the city and found ourselves on the way to Skye via A82. I remarked on the good time we were making. Bob said he felt pretty boss.

Our first stop was the Loch Ness Exhibition and Visitor Center. This stop was definitely interesting and gave you a unique insight into the area but for those thinking about paying to enter this exhibit – it’s not worth it. And surprisingly, they seemed to try to convince you that Nessie isn’t real! Of course, we true believers will never admit the Loch Ness monster doesn’t exist! 

After lunch at Cobb’s Cafe – where we tried Irn-Bru, which apparently is “orange soda”, though it tasted more like liquid Smarties – we started again towards Skye. I once again remarked on the good time we were making. We accidentally passed Uruqhart Castle but decided to keep going instead of turning back to see it.

So on we continued, heading on down the A82, excited that we would have time that day to see a little extra on Skye – maybe Neist Point Lighthouse, or Kilt Rock, or maybe we would have time to enjoy Portree before evening set. Now this is the part where I’m not sure how to feel.

We’re driving along just fine, when all of a sudden it’s raining and there’s people flying past us and lorries are crossing the lines and our tires brush off the road and there’s a loud SMACK. 

A couple miles down the road and it’s clear from the sound of rubber scratching against pavement that we’ve got a flat tire – and it’s a bad one. We pull off into an empty parking lot and call Enterprise. It’ll be an hour for roadside assistance to get there, they say. We can’t find an address for the place and they don’t know where Glenmoriston is and we have an American number so they can’t call us and there’s no spare tire in the car.

At this point I was doing fine. It was clear Bob was upset about the flat, but I looked for the positives. There’s a garage 6 miles in the direction we were going, hopefully we’ll be towed there. At least we stopped in a pretty place, we could spend the hour exploring that area. It’s only an hour wait, it could be worse. Of course we couldn’t leave the car though, in case they came while we were gone. I really had to use the bathroom though, so I ran across the street to the little store on the corner before realizing we had parked in the parking lot for the public toilets. I did get the chance to walk through the woods a little while we waited. Apparently we had stopped near a waterfall – boy how I wish Bob and I could’ve spent that hour walking around that instead of sitting by the car.

Finally AA appeared – we would have to drive all the way back to Inverness. I was crushed. There was no way to know if they would even be able to fix it that day as it was close to 4 already and it would be an hour drive. I started panicking, what if we couldn’t get it fixed? How could I change our plans? How do I convince our hotel to not charge us for canceling? What sights will I have to forget seeing?

We headed back to Inverness, me worried about what to do now, and Bob terrified about driving carefully.

Luckily the garage was able to take us and it only took about 20 minutes and we were out again. We had lost over two hours and we would have an hour of backtracking. By this rate, it appeared that we would have to brace driving in the dark, something I was trying desperately to avoid.

Driving through Inverness the second time didn’t go as easy with rush hour – I don’t think we followed the rules correctly with the roundabouts but we didn’t die so I’m not going to dwell on that – we were just so panicked to get moving on. This second time driving to Skye, we had time to stop and glance at the Uruqhat Castle (closed) – oh the irony. We still managed to get half the way with daylight, and we were able to enjoy some of the pretty mountain ranges we passed through. However, it did get dark pretty fast and it was pitch black when we reached Eileen Donna Castle. I tried and failed at taking a photo of the lit up castle – can anyone show me how to take good photos at night?! Actually, can anyone time travel and show me?

Driving through Skye to Portree was kind of heartbreaking because it was so dark. We had no idea what we were driving through or what we could be seeing. My only consolation was that I knew we would be driving through this area again on the way back. I was just crushed knowing we lost so much time that could have been spent on Skye.

We made it to our accommodation, the Cuillin Hills Hotel and we were beyond relieved to get out of the car. The staff there is so nice, showing us to our room and keeping the dining room open for us hungry travelers. In fact, the restaurant closes at 8:30 and it was 8:25 when we arrived and the first thing the lady at the front desk asked was if we had eaten dinner! We graciously said no we hadn’t, and were lucky to sit down to some haddock and roasted swede and vegetables as we looked out onto the pitch black of the harbor outside. I cannot recommend this hotel enough – the room was big, the bathroom very nice, the food delicious and the staff amazingly friendly and helpful!

And so ends day three. At the end, I was so glad that we were able to get the tire fixed in time to still make it to Portree for our reservation, so glad that our flat happened “close” enough to Inverness, so glad that our AA guy was young and friendly (and bonded with us over Monster Trucks) and so glad that our day wasn’t all for nothing – we still got to seen a good amount and we survived our first day of driving!


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