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Five minute fun activities for busy people to do with little kids

Advice + Tips

Our Trip to The Highlands of Scotland (and outdoor holiday tips)

Last autumn we took our first trip as a family of four up to the Highlands and Islands of beautiful Scotland - the homeland of my husband. Although my husband and I have been to the Isle of Skye several times before to visit his mum, this was the first time we had taken the kids.

Why wait so long?

The kids are now 7 and 9 so you might wonder why we haven’t taken them before. Well, their Granny lives in a remote part of the Isle of Skye, and with two children who have previously been prone to car sickness (see more on this below) it wasn’t a journey we wanted to tackle. Plus having been before as adults we knew there wasn’t a lot to do for little kids/toddlers on the Isle and so we decided to wait until they could fully appreciate it.

How did we get there?

When we lived in Manchester we used to travel up by car, stopping at Loch Lomond and enjoying the beautiful views through Glencoe as we meandered through the countryside up past Eilean Donan Castle and onto the Skye bridge. It used to take us around 8/9 hours. As we now live in the south east of England we decided to fly to Inverness where we hired a car at the airport and then drove the couple of hours past Loch Ness across to Skye. The flight was straight forward and because Inverness airport is very small it makes organising the baggage claim, kids and car hire simpler because there isn’t really anywhere to get lost! We were out and in our little car in a jiffy. We flew Easyjet and hired a car with Avis.

Where did we stay?

We stayed in this Air B&B property in a town on the Isle of Skye called Broadford which is the first main town you arrive at after you’ve crossed the bridge onto the isle. It has a small supermarket and other shops, pubs and restaurants. We like Air B&B houses with the kids because you get more space and they can stick to their usual routine of getting up and getting themselves cereal for breakfast in the morning.

How did we decide what to do?

We were in the fortunate position of having Granny (who knows the island very well having lived there for over a decade now), guide us around whilst we were there. We went during the autumn half term week - 24th-27th October. I had researched a few things to do with the kids, as having been before I had a little idea, but the isle is bigger than I remembered so I wanted to see what else there was to explore. I read this blog post which I found really helpful.

Day 1

We were up and out early to catch the flight, pick up the car and then onwards to the highlands. It took us about 2 hours to drive and the kids mostly slept, looked at the views or watched a bit of ipad. (You can always find car journey tips and advice in my ON THE GO book!) Upon arrival in Skye, it was 5pm so we went to a pub called the King Haakon Bar in Kyleakin for fish and chips and watched the sunset over the Skye bridge. After a long travel day we all really enjoyed this and I’d recommend this little spot. We did a quick trip to Granny’s house to say hello, before heading back to our home for the next few days to settle in.

Day 2

We were up bright and early to views of the mountains. The weather in Skye is very changeable. I am going to write a packing list below but basically you want to prepare for all eventualities! Someone once said to me “if you don’t like the weather on Skye, wait five minutes.” as it changes so often. Our plan was to drive from Broadford to Staffin but we decided to stop off in Portree to visit MacKenzie’s bakery in Portree Square where we got the best doughnuts ever, some fuel for the adults (coffees) and sausage rolls for later. We also stopped again on the journey to Staffin because as we drove past Loch Fada, the incredible stillness of the day meant the the sky was perfectly reflected in the loch. So along with a few others, we jumped out of the car to take some photos. It was, as all of Skye is, breathtakingly beautiful. And this is why I felt glad we waited until the kids were older because they massively appreciated the views and enjoyed taking these photos and staring at the mirror like reflection as much as we did.

We got to Staffin, and now it was time to search for dinosaur footprints! An Corran beach has some megalosaurus footprints in the rock that you can find at low tide. The lovely thing about this experience is that it is so untouched. There is a single sign that gives you an example of a footprint and tells you how many there are, but otherwise it is up to you to explore and try to find them or what you think might be them. A lovely way to spend an hour or two. Just makes sure you check the tide times before you head there.

We then drove over to another part of the island about 40 minutes away . The drive seemed to fly past because there is just so much scenery to look at and with some of the best Scottish musicians blaring out from the radio, it was a joyous way to travel.

We headed over to Uig to see Castle Ewen and the fairy glen. You park a wee walk away and then get out to follow the pathways up towards the fairy glen. There are no facilities here so snacks and drinks in rucksacks are essential. Basically in Skye every time you see a shop, stop and stock up - because you don’t know when you’ll next see one again! The walk was about 20 minutes and we found Castle Ewen which is a piece of rock which looks like a castle ruin but actually isn’t. My Ewan though obviously claimed it as a castle in his name and we didn’t dare tell him otherwise. Just next to the castle are some mounds and a circular patterns in the grass known as the fairy glen. It’s lovely to explore with kids and the more adventurous can climb onto the top of the ‘castle’ for knockout views. It would have been a perfect spot for a picnic and it was somewhere I would have happily taken the kids when they were littler.

That evening we headed back to Granny’s house on a croft to watch the sheep as the sun set and have spaghetti bolognese and a banoffee pie - the perks of knowing a local!

Day 3

On our final day in Skye we headed over to Elgol, which is the area we know best because it is where Granny used to live, a place we visited several times before kids. Here we went on a boat trip with the Misty Isle boat company which I have done a few times before and yet never gets old. We were wrapped up warmly because the idea is you go out on the boat which takes about 30 minutes to cross over to the Cuillens, another part of the island, with a loch (loch Coruisk) only accessible by sea (I think). They drop you off for 1.5 hours (although you can choose longer or shorter trips) and then pick you up again later and take you back.

Before you set off in Elgol, there is a wee van selling lots of yummy things so stock up or else bring a picnic to have later. We packed a picnic and Granny even took a little cooking stove to make us all hot cups of tea.

On the trip you will see a wild colony of seals, and if you’re very lucky, whales too. I also once saw sea otters here and a stag, high up in the hills. There’s all kinds of wildlife on this untouched little corner of our beautiful planet, if you look closely enough. Take binoculars. It has rocky stepping stones through the water and viewpoints for days. Lots of large flat rocks to climb and scramble up. Quite frankly, the kids thought it was the best playground they had ever been to. We could barely keep up with them. Magic.

As it turned out, despite being wrapped up, the weather stayed fair and it wasn’t as cold as we thought it might have been but it’s always best to be very well prepared. An example being, we all wore waterproofs and even though it didn’t rain during our trip out, on the return ride back on the boat we were bouncing into the wind and the spray meant everyone sitting in the ‘wrong’ spot got rather wet, and obviously the kids wanted this to be them!

Fortunately when you return to the Misty Isle boat you are greeted not only with warm friendly smiles from the crew but also a warm drink of your choice too. A lovely way to spend a day. Special thanks to skipper Seumas for allowing the kids to be captains for a wee while!

The finished off with a pub dinner at Bar Am Praban in Sleat and then back to our B&B for a final peaceful night up in the highlands.

Day 4

After a hearty breakfast of square slice (a type of sausage - delicious in a white roll!) we hopped into the car and decided to stop off at Eilean Donan castle (pronounced ee-lan, not as in ‘Come On Eileen’ as I insisted on singing!) in our way back to the airport. This castle was made famous by the movie Highlander (and James Bond) and is a great spot to look around - it had a little treasure hunt for the kids to do and they really enjoyed being shown the spy hole by the kind volunteers on site.

We also stopped briefly for a pub lunch in Loch Ness to see if we could spot Nessie in the grey waters. Alas the beast was hiding that day. We avoided Nessie Land though because after I saw the reviews I thought better of it, however the thoughts of previous visitors alone are entertainment enough on a long car journey!

Finally we returned our hire car and headed to airport to fly home. A perfect first trip up to Skye with the kiddos. We will, of course, be back!

Below are the answers to some questions I was asked about our trip and also FAQ’s for outdoor adventures:

What did you do about car seats for the kids?

This is another reason we waited until they were the ages they are to go. The logistics. You can hire child car seats from car hire companies but they are often very expensive. We took two booster seats for the kids, based on their height and weight, which we packed into our hold luggage. Because it wasn’t a long trip we were able to easily pack our clothing into one suitcase which meant the other one was for the car seats. Previously on trips to Scotland though we have bought car seats from Argos with click and collect - my husband has then driven the hire car to a nearby store to collect them while I waited at the airport with the kids. We have then left the seats with relatives who live up there for next time or for them to use with their grandkids. It was much cheaper to actually buy them than to hire them from the car company, so worth checking.

Was there more to do?

Yes, absolutely. We didn’t get to do the fairy pools this time which we would love to visit another time. We’ve previously visited Plockton and kayaked there which I’d be keen to do again. Also, now knowing how keen the kids were to climb and explore we would absolutely climb the Old Man of Storr. There’s plenty to discover on the island, and surrounding areas. We will be back again soon to visit granny so we want to take our time.

Were the midges bad?

Midges are these little fly things that pop out of the ground in Scotland at certain times and swarm all around you.They are really annoying. This trip was in October and although the weather was great we didn’t experience any midges. I have also been at Easter time and didn’t experience any. But when I went in August they swelled up a few times. Luckily we had booked a trip on a speedy boat called AquaXplore (which we intend to take the kids on next time) so we could escape them out on the water, and by the time we returned to land they had gone again. There are certain times of year they are more prevalent and you can find info here.

Was travel sickness an issue?

We drove a lot on the island as that is the only way to get about. The roads are narrow, often single track lanes, and windy. I was really worried about travel sickness as our kids have been prone to it before. However, we didn’t have one sickness incident despite being prepared with bags, wipes, towels and a change of clothes. I put this down to a few things:

  1. They are older now and perhaps have started to grow out of it
  2. They have an obsession with chewing gum, so this, along with sweets from time to time, seems to help
  3. We have a family playlist of songs - this is my best tip. We are all allowed to contribute to the playlist - so it is now a large eclectic mix of songs we all love and know the words to. We play this on nearly every car journey on shuffle - the kids are excited to hear what is next and belt out the songs they chose. It’s joyous. Make a family playlist!
  4. The scenery - there was just so much to see and look at, it meant they were nearly always gazing out of the window, distracted by the views

What did you pack?

I have created an Amazon Shop List here for some of the item I recommend having for outdoor holidays. I’ve also listed other brands and linked small businesses so you can choose.

Walking boots

You need sturdy, decent boots for the terrain we went on. Even the beaches were very rocky in areas. I have these Tresspass snow boots for the kids which are brilliant because they are warm, waterproof and easy to get on and off. My own walking boots I’ve had for over a decade. Invest in a decent pair and you’re set for all weathers and terrains.

Waterproof trousers

Kids - Regatta and Spotty Otter are my favourites

Adults - Acai are the trousers I wear. They are an investment but I wear them solidly throughout the winter months and have done for a few years now. I have the fleece lined ones.

Waterproof jackets

We used the kids ski jackets from Decathlon (or Vinted) mostly to get use of of them. Regatta (which have fantastic sales at certain points in the year) and Spotty Otter do brilliant ones.

Snoods - my kids love a snood. Ours are from Decathlon but find similar on the Amazon shop link.

Waterproof gloves

It’s amazing how often we put kids in woolly gloves and yet the first hing they do is touch water or mud. It’s worth having waterproof ones - especially as they will last a few winters as hands don’t seem to grow like feet do!

Base layers

I packed thermal under layers / base layers, plus t shirts to wear over and a jumper over that. Then coats. So they could easily strip off layers which I could then chuck in a backpack. I love the DinoSki cotton base layers as they are so soft but Regatta do reasonable ones. I tend to stick to cotton and avoid wool and wool seems itchy on sensitive skinned kiddos. Again they seem to last quite a few years.

Socks

Get proper thermal ski socks - again a couple of pairs will do because kids don’t seem to get sweaty smelly feet like adults. Also pack spare socks wherever you go in case you get wet feet!

We didn’t take fancy items. Just leggings, joggers and jumpers. The island is full of explorers and walkers so you can feel at home with your outdoor gear on wherever you go.

Do you wish you still had the motorhome to take up there?

Ahhh…I really miss Winnie our motorhome. For those that don’t know, my parents bought a motorhome in lockdown for the family to use and I really loved holidaying in it. However, as much as I love the thought of taking it up to the Isle of Skye, driving it from the south east of England to the north west of Scotland isn’t something I think we could manage in a week without some serious fall outs! But I would be very happy in future to hire a similar motorhome at Inverness, for example, and venture out into the highlands on it. Driving would be tricky on those narrow roads but the views out the window from where you parked up would be spectacular. One for the future…!

Just a wee reminder that we had plenty of downtime too - with ipads and Nintendo switches and of course the kids bickered! Because that’s the reality of holidays with kids - as wonderful as they are, there is also an element of SSDL - same shit, different location! Never forget that 😉

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