Dunvegan To Tarbert, Harris By St Columba’s Isle, Portree, And Uig

Western Edge

ROUTE LENGTH: 61 MILES

By Road

From Dunvegan take A850 north. To go to Annait, take left turn onto B886. Then return to A850, and carry east to Skeabost. Then follow road, joining A87, to Portree.

At Portree, turn left onto A855, and drive to north of island at Kilmaluig and then SW to Kilmuir. Follow road south, passing St Columba’s Loch, then Kingsburgh and Kensalyre – both of these are past Uig. Return to Uig for the ferry to Tarbert.

By Cycle

From Dunvegan take A850 north. To go to Annait, take left turn onto B886. Then return to A850, and carry east to Skeabost. Then follow road, joining A87, to Portree.

At Portree, turn left onto A855, and drive to north of island at Kilmaluig and then SW to Kilmuir.Follow road south, passing St Columba’s Loch, then Kingsburgh and Kensalyre – both of these are past Uig. Return to Uig for the ferry to Tarbert.

By Public Transport

Take the 56 from Dunvegan to Portree. Before Portree, at a Road End, take 57C north to Uig, for the ferry to Tarbert.

To check times go to Traveline Scotland and click on Plan your Journey on left side of page.

Although St Mary’s Church in Dunvegan is an early Celtic Christian site, it may not have been the main church settlement in this area. At Annait, which means ‘Mother Church’, a mile north of the Fairy Bridge at the foot of the Vaternish peninsula, there was a substantial early settlement, which is worth the short detour from our road to Portree. The monastery was built on a promontory between two deep gulleys through which the burns cascade. The cashel or enclosing wall is quite distinct along with the foundations of a chapel and several beehive cells. The site, like many in Skye, has not been excavated and we do not know with which of the early saints it is associated. At Trumpan near the north end of Vaternish a ruined church is the site of a notorious clan massacre when Clanranald MacDonalds burnt a MacLeod congregation alive. However a fierce battle followed as the Macleods raced to the scene. The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan was unfurled, and the MacDonalds were driven off with great loss of life.

We do however know that the next of our major sites, at Skeabost at the head of Loch Snizort, is named for Columba. St Columba’s Isle is formed by two branches of the beautiful tumbling Snizort as it finds it way in to the sea. It is a perfect location with shelter, abundant fish and clean water, as well as excellent sea links. Peace reigns on this green inward isle with its chapels, old carvings, and burial ground. However in early times this may have been a busy location, and for a time in the mediaeval era it was the centre of the Bishopric of the Isles. Our route swings again southeast to Portree, the capital of Skye. It owes its prominence to a fine natural harbour. On a tidal island in the bay is the ruined chapel of St Columba, while a number of churches lend the town part of its pleasant character.

From Portree we go north to circle the Trotternish peninsula. The coastal views are very fine over to Rona and the mainland, and as we pass the Old Man of Storr on our left, the vistas over to Wester Ross become breathtaking. Kilmaluig is at the north end but there is little evidence of visible remains other than the rocky fragments of Duntulm Castle on the cliffs round the headland. The church here was moved to Kilmuir. The road turns south to Kilmuir where the ruined church and its burial ground are on a slope above the bay. Also here is the Skye Museum of Island Life. South of Kilmuir, on the right hand side of the road, lies Loch Chaluim Cille- St Columba’s Loch- now drained. A stony mound marks the former island, and the foundations of the enclosing wall, beehive cells, and two chapels can be seen.

Coming down towards Uig, we pass Kingsburgh which is associated with Flora MacDonald, the woman who saved Bonnie Prince Charlie from capture. There is a monument to her at Kilmuir. This is one of the few Gaelic speaking parts of Skye remaining. Though the area is rich in prehistoric remains the old church is no longer visible, but the present denominations are well represented. The traditional parish church at Kensalyre has been handsomely restored. Uig is our gateway to the Outer Hebrides, with a car ferry sailing regularly to Tarbert on Harris, which is a fine bracing voyage with island vistas when visibility is good.

O Son of the living God,
Ancient ruler of days,
My desire is a hut hidden in the wilderness-
Making it my home-
A narrow blue stream beside,
And a clear pool for the washing
Away of sin by grace of the Holy Spirit,
Surrounded by lovely trees nursing
The birds with their different voices
Sheltering them with green foliage,
Looking south for warmth, watered
Well for plants of every sort to grow.
A beautiful chapel hung with veils
A home for God from heaven
And bright lamps above the white gospels.
Enough of food and clothing to live
Sitting for a time and meditating
On God in every place.

Pilgrim Journeys

PARTNER FEATURE

NCT logoAs a trusted partner of the National Churches Trust, we have access to a number of additional grants for projects as part of the Partnership Grants Programme. The Programme has provided over £1 million in grant funding towards repairs at churches and chapels over the last five years, and can now support some installation of facilities. Applications should be made directly to us following our usual application procedure.

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