ALASTAIR HUMPHREYS’ TRAVEL BLACK BOOK

Stay in a bothy for a real slice of Isle of Sky

Alastair Humphreys goes to the Isle of Skye at least once a year, where he will spend nights in the mountains at wilderness refuges called bothies.
Alastair Humphreys goes to the Isle of Skye at least once a year, where he will spend nights in the mountains at wilderness refuges called bothies. PHOTOS: ALASTAIR HUMPHREYS

The British author and adventurer loves the remote beauty of Scotland's Isle of Skye

Who: British adventurer and author Alastair Humphreys, 39, has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, spent more than four years cycling round the world, run six marathons through the Sahara desert and was named one of National Geographic's Adventurers of the Year in 2012.

He has written nine books about his travels and the latest, titled Grand Adventures, was released in March. He lives in a village outside London with his wife and two young children.

Favourite destination: Isle of Skye, Scotland 

Why: I love the scenery with its mix of mountains and ocean. I go about once a year and always feel myself relax and unwind as soon as I cross the beautiful bridge from the mainland to the island. It feels a million miles away from London. I wish I lived there.

Favourite place to stay

My favourite place to spend the night is a bothy, a bare hut or cottage used as a refuge in the wilderness, often without electricity, running water, toilets or beds. You have to take your own sleeping bag, fuel and food.

They are found around the wilds of the UK and there is no booking system - you just turn up and stay for free. There are about 100 bothies in Scotland, and the best way to find one is through the Mountain Bothies website, www.mountainbothies.org.uk.

If someone is already in the bothy you planned on spending the night in, don't worry, there's always room for one more. That's part of the fun, sharing it with interesting people sometimes. Be nice to other people too, welcome newcomers and take all of your trash out with you. Nobody looks after the bothies.

My favourite bothy is one perched on the northern cliffs of Skye. The views of the surrounding landscape and sea are incredible, and you can sometimes see whales. It is very beautiful yet very simple.

The bothy at Camasunary on Skye has some of the best sunset views.

 Favourite restaurant

The Edinbane Inn (www.edinbane inn.co.uk) in the village of Edinbane has superb food, good beer, and live traditional music playing three nights a week.

I enjoy their Cullen skink (£5.95, S$11.76), a traditional Scottish soup with smoked haddock, potato and cream, with a beer from the Skye brewery.

Best breakfast

If you can wait till 11am, the Red Roof Cafe & Gallery (www.redroofskye.co.uk) in Glendale is the place to go. It's a beautiful red-roofed building with walls that serve as a gallery for local artists. The cafe's owners are yoga instructors (www.yogacraft.co.uk) too.

The cafe serves home-baked, seasonal, local and organic produce where possible. Their main dishes are fresh seafood, cheese and meat platters which are served with salad, homemade bread and oat cakes.

For breakfast, I love their giant cheese scones, which are homemade with Scottish cheddar and served with their homemade red onion marmalade or apple and ginger chutney and organic connage crowdie, a traditional Scottish fresh, creamy cheese with a mousse-like texture.

Must try

When on the Isle of Skye, you have to visit the Talisker distillery (www.discovering-distilleries.com/talisker) to try their award-winning single malt Scotch whisky.

Located on the shores of Loch Harport, with views of the Cuillin mountains, Talisker is the oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye, and on the tour, one can see their five copper pot stills, the traditional worm tubs where the whisky matures and oak casks which give the whisky its unique flavour.

Favourite activity

My favourite thing to do in Skye is to get out into the mountains. In Skye, the mountains - dark and rocky and brooding - are never far from you. The small winding roads and little villages enhance the landscape rather than hinder it and offer a thousand different views of the ocean.

There are a number of walks which are very accessible for first- time visitors, including the 3.8km Old Man of Storr walk and the 6.8km Quiraing walk which takes you through some of Skye's most memorable landscapes. Climbing the Cuillin Ridge, then hitting the hikers bar at the Sligachan Hotel pub, is the best way to experience the local culture.

You can find out more about Skye's walks at the Isle of Skye website (www.isleofskye.com/skye-guide/top-ten-skye-walks).

Favourite spot

The Fairy Pools near the town of Glenbrittle. The River Brittle flows down from the Cuillin mountains and forms crystal clear, freezing cold pools which are beautiful to swim in.

Best hidden find

Loch Coruisk - an inland fresh- water loch lying at the foot of the Black Cuillin mountain range - is accessible only by boat or by a long hike, which includes walking down the precipitous "bad step", a narrow ledge above the sea.

Loch Coruisk feels incredibly isolated, wild and far away from the world, but Misty Isle Boat Trips (mistyisleboattrips.co.uk) will get you there. 

Favourite bookshop

Mor Books & The Windrush Cafe Studio (morbooks.co.uk) in Struan is a quirky, eccentric bookstore which serves excellent coffee. The cafe often has 20 or more Fair Trade or single origin roasts available, each ground to order.

They also sell vintage textiles and handspun wool from the owner's flock of Jacobs sheep, a rare breed known for their piebald, black and white colouring and four horns.

Event to bookmark

In early August every year, the Isle of Skye's Highland Games are held in Portree to celebrate Scottish and Celtic culture - with bagpipes, dance competitions and track and field events.

Recommended reads

Space Below My Feet by Gwen Moffat. She writes eloquently about the mountains of Skye and makes you want to have an adventure there.

Tips for travellers

You can take three days to explore, but a week is better. I prefer to visit in spring or autumn. The midges are bad in the summer. Also,you will not have any phone reception in most places. 

Getting there

The quickest way is to fly to Glasgow or Inverness and then hire a car. Skye is a four-hour drive from Glasgow and a two-hour drive from Inverness.

The best and most scenic way to get there from London is to take the Sleeper Train (www.sleeper.scot) to a city in Scotland and then hire a car.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'Where mountains meet the Skye'. Print Edition | Subscribe