The capital of Skye during its winter sleep.
Although Portree is known as the capital of the Isle of Skye, a gorgeous Scottish island and the largest of the Inner Hebrides, it is essentially a small town and not much else. I don’t mean that in a bad way, because I loved my time on Skye and it remains one of my favourite destinations to date, but the word capital used all over the Internet in all the tourist guides really makes it sound much more important than it is and I’ve heard people were disappointed on arrival. I can’t really understand why if you look at the photos of all the beautiful views below, but it is what it is and I am here to tell it like it is.
The whole Isle of Skye has a population of about 13,000 people and the locals will tell you that it swells up to 60,000 due to all the tourists during the summer, but when I was there during winter 2018 I doubt that there were more than 500 visitors on the island. My experience of Portree was therefore one of a quaint, sleepy village with colourful, pretty houses on the main pier and a lot of friendly locals going about their business and always willing to offer you a place to get out of the perpetual rain. However, I can imagine that it is a bustling, crowded place during the annual Skye Highland games every summer and I would love to experience that as well someday.
Portree started out as a fishing village and its name comes from either “port on the slope” or “the King’s port” in Gaelic. In the 18th century, it was a popular departure point for Highlanders wanting to try their luck in North America and today it is the only place on Skye with a secondary school. In fact, the school bus routes turned out to be super useful for me to get around during the week.
I was travelling solo and staying in a hotel a bit out of town in Achachork, so when I first arrived to the bus station in Portree I wanted to explore a bit before dropping off my bags. Since there wasn’t all that much to do in winter besides checking out the harbour, the shops and the local pub, I ended up doing a trail walk, which was easy enough even with a full backpack. The Scorrybreac walk is a circuit trail of about 3 kilometres along the coast and up a small hill. As Potree is surrounded by hills and overlooks the bay, you can see the Isle of Raasay with its distinctive conical hill, Dun Caan, in the distance to the east and the whole place was simply magical with a bit of fog rolling around.
Impressions of Portree and the Scorrybreac trail
The other option for nice views is the Lump, which is a rather epic name of the local hill with a tower on top that I also visited, but I thought the views from the Scorrybreac trail were better. Even though the walk was a total mud fest and it started raining about halfway through (of course), I persisted and it was absolutely beautiful. My phone battery died when I made it back into town, so I can’t show you much from Portree, but I figured the photos from the Scorrybreac trail were still worth posting as they are amongst my favourite travel photos and the trail is a total must-do on Skye, at least for me. 😊
Portree is easy to reach by bus from the mainland (from Kyle of Lochalsh) and during the tourist season there are a lot of bus and boat tours connecting it with the other main points of interest on Skye. Even in wintertime you can somewhat get around the isle with the public transport options, if you are willing to adjust to the sparse bus schedules and splurge on a taxi or two. I wouldn’t call it easy though as I ended up hitch-hiking and walking around in the rain lot, which was a very unique and ultimately quite fun experience, but I would recommend renting a car instead unless you have a very patient, resilient mindset.