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Skye, Island of, is the most northerly of the Inner Hebrides. It is the largest of Scotland's Western Isles, and the nearest to the mainland. It combines other superlatives; it is at once on the grandest scale the most arrestingly beautiful of all Scottish islands and, in conjunction with its distant and far smaller sister of the Inner Hebrides, Iona, the most famous.

Nearly 50 miles in direct length, South South East to North North West, Skye is 23 miles across East to West. At Kyleakin, near its South East corner, it is only a few hundred yards from the mainland, with which it is connected by a ferry that carries motor-cars. These figures give but little idea of its indented, leaping, winged shape. Even on a map, particularly if it is a relief or contour map, it is an exciting island to look at. From its brief salutation (it is no more than that) of the mainland at Kyleakin, it seems to be in the act of jumping or flying away from Scotland into the Atlantic. This cartographical impression is reinforced when you see the island itself, if you approach it from the South by sea or from the East by land and take a view of it from the uplands by Loch Hourn or Glenelg. The famous Cuillin hills, as they toss the clouds away from their formidable peaks, seem to give a positively muscular effect of taking off from Scotland into the ocean.

On its western side, Skye is indented by many sea-lochs; and, save by the coast and at the North East of the Trotternish portion of it, the island is mountainous. Its most celebrated ranges are the Cuillins in the South West centre (some of their rocky peaks were scaled only at the end of the the 19th century) and the Trotternish ridge in the North, culminating in Storr and the extraordinary Old Man of Storr. Skye offers to mountaineers, and in particular to intrepid rock-climbers, opportunities unsurpassed in Britain; and the reward they get upon reaching these apparently inaccessible peaks in the way of views is unrivalled. The salmon, the sea-trout, the brown-trout anglers will find good sport here too, though it is not the equal of that in the Outer Hebrides or in the Northern Isles.

The capital of the island, in a bay sheltered from the mainland by the neighbouring island of Raasay, is Portree (the port of the King), so named after James V's visit to Skye. (Broadford and other townships have their own entries in the gazetteer.)

Skye was early inhabited by Gaels, but soon, as its place-names bear evidence, was taken over by the Norsemen. It entered the history of the Kingdom of Scotland by providing the casus belli that provoked King Haakon's attack on the Scotland of Alexander III. This led to the Norse defeat at the Battle of Largs and the cession of all the Hebrides to Scotland. Since then the ruling families in Skye have been the Macleods of Dunvegan, whose imposing castle still stands inhabited at the North, and the Macdonalds of Sleat in the South.

Skye remained upon the periphery of Scottish history until the Jacobite rising of 1745. Officially, the island, under the cautious leadership of its chiefs, kept out of that affair, but was in fable, and in song bundled into it as the scene of some of the most dramatic adventures of Prince Charles Edward Stuart when he was in hiding and in flight. It was to Skye that Flora Macdonald took him from the outer isles, disguising him as her serving woman. It was in Skye that Flora married her clansman Macdonald of Kingsburgh. It is in Skye that this heroic, modest little woman is buried.

In common with the rest of Celtic Scotland, Skye suffered from the emigration enforced by the Clearances in the latter half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th. Both Johnson and Boswell had something to say on the melancholy subject during their memorable tour of the island in 1773. Skye, though much ravaged, did not, however, endure the full rigour of clearances, and indeed it was as a result of the vigorous action of some crofters in the 1880s that the attention of Great Britain was drawn to this question.

In 1882, in the district of Braes in the North, various crofters resisted the Sheriff's officers. Since many of the menfolk were away at the fishing, some Amazonian Celtic women, armed with stockings filled with stones, succeeded in holding up the infamous proceeding of eviction. An absurdly nervous Government at Westminster sent up a man-o'-war to deal with the situation. The happier outcome of this grotesque situation was that, under the great-hearted Gladstone a commission of enquiry was set up. This resulted in the Crofters' Holding Act of 1886, which was the beginning of the amelioration of the native Highlanders' lot all over the Highlands and Islands. This was perhaps the last occasion on which the island of Skye effectively touched Scottish history.

Skye people, as visitors before and after Johnson and Boswell have testified, are famous for their hospitality. Even in these days of universal and commercial tourism, gleams of the amiable virtue may be perceived in the remoter parts of the island. “What is it to live and not to love?” exclaimed Mistress Mackinnon at Corriechatacan when, in a spirit of pure friendliness, she embraced the venerable Dr Samuel Johnson.

Nearby islands: Isle of Barra, Isle of Benbecula, Isle of Eriskay, Isle of Harris, Isle of Lewis

Nearby towns: Broadford, Castlebay, Kyle of Lochalsh, Kyleakin, Mallaig, Portree, Tarbert

Nearby villages: Dornie, Dunvegan, Elgol, Leverburgh, Raasay, Sconser, Sleat, Uig

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