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The Cuillin Mountains of Skye
Topographic map of Skye showing key locations

Gaelic: An t-Eilean Sgitheanach

OS grid reference: NG452319

Coordinates: 57.307°N 6.230°WCoordinates: 57.307°N 6.230°W

Area: 1,656 km2 (639 sq mi)

Highest elevation: Sgùrr Alasdair 993 metres (3,258 ft)

Skye or the Isle of Skye (/skaɪ/; Scottish Gaelic: An t-Eilean Sgitheanach or Eilean a' Cheò) is the largest and most northerly large island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. <ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref> In Gaelic it is normally referred to as An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, which translates as The Winged Isle - from the wing-like shape formed by the two northern peninsulas of Waternish and Trotternish.<ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

The island's peninsulas radiate from a mountainous centre dominated by the Cuillins, the rocky slopes of which provide some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the country. Although it has been suggested that the Gaelic Sgitheanach describes a winged shape there is no definitive agreement as to the name's origins.

The island has been occupied since the Mesolithic period and its history includes a time of Norse rule and a long period of domination by Clan Macleod and Clan Donald. The 18th-century Jacobite risings led to the breaking up of the clan system and subsequent Clearances that replaced entire communities with sheep farms, some of which also involved forced emigration.

Resident numbers declined from over 20,000 in the early 19th century to just under 9,000 by the closing decade of the 20th century. The island's population hit its lowest point in the mid-twentieth century.<ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref> Skye's population increased by 4 per cent between 1991 and 2001.<ref> "Scotland's Island Populations". The Scottish Islands Federation. Retrieved 29 September 2007.</ref> At the 2011 census it had increased to At the 2011 census it had increased to 10,008.<ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

About a third of the residents were Gaelic speakers in 2001, and although their numbers are in decline this aspect of island culture remains important.<ref> "Gaelic Culture". VisitScotland. Retrieved 5 January 2013.</ref>

The main industries are tourism, agriculture, fishing and whisky-distilling. Skye is part of the Highland Council local government area. The island's largest settlement is Portree, known for its picturesque harbour.<ref> Murray (1966) 155</ref> There are links to various nearby islands by ferry and, since 1995, to the mainland by a road bridge. The climate is mild, wet and windy. The wettest month is October while the hottest month is July with an average temperature of 13 degrees Celsius. <ref> (accessed 24th June 2014)</ref>

The abundant wildlife includes the golden eagle, red deer and Atlantic salmon. The local flora is dominated by heather moor, and there are nationally important invertebrate populations on the surrounding sea bed. Skye has provided the locations for various novels and feature films and is celebrated in poetry and song.


The first written references to the island are Roman sources such as the Ravenna Cosmography, which refers to Scitis and Scetis, which can be found on a map by Ptolemy. <ref> Strang, Alistair (1997) "Explaining Ptolemy's Roman Britain". Britannia. 28 1–30</ref> One possible derivation comes from skitis, an early Celtic word for winged, which may describe how the island's peninsulas radiate out from a mountainous centre.<ref>Haswell-Smith (2004) 173–79</ref>

Subsequent Gaelic-, Norse- and English-speaking peoples have influenced the history of Skye; the relationships between their names for the island are not straightforward. Various etymologies have been proposed, such as the "winged isle" or "the notched isle" but no definitive solution has been found to date and the placename may be from an earlier, non-Gaelic language.<ref>Mac an Tàilleir, Iain (2003) Ainmean-àite/Placenames. (pdf) Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 105</ref><ref>Jennings and Kruse (2009) 79–80</ref>

In the Norse sagas Skye is called Skíð, for example in the Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar<ref> "Haakon Haakonsøns Saga". Norwegian translation: P. A. Munch. Retrieved 3 June 2008</ref> and a skaldic poem in the Heimskringla from c. 1230 contains a line that translates as "the hunger battle-birds were filled in Skye with blood of foemen killed".<ref> "Magnus Barefoot's Saga". English translation: Wikisource. Retrieved 4 June 2008</ref>

The island was also referred to by the Norse as Skuy (misty isle), Skýey or Skuyö (isle of cloud).<ref>Murray (1966) 146</ref>The traditional Gaelic name is An t-Eilean Sgitheanach (the island of Skye), An t-Eilean Sgiathanach being a more recent and less common spelling. In 1549 Donald Munro, High Dean of the Isles, wrote of "Sky": 'This Ile is callit Ellan Skiannach in Irish, that is to say in Inglish the wyngit Ile, be reason it has mony wyngis and pointis lyand furth fra it, throw the dividing of thir foirsaid Lochis', but the meaning of this Gaelic name is unclear.<ref>Murray (1966) 146</ref>


The Cuillins from the A863
The Quiraing
The Black Cuillin from the Red Cuillins

At 1,656 square kilometres (639 sq mi), Skye is the second-largest island in Scotland after Lewis and Harris. The coastline of Skye is a series of peninsulas and bays radiating out from a centre dominated by the Cuillin hills (Gaelic: An Cuiltheann). Malcolm Slesser suggested that its shape "sticks out of the west coast of northern Scotland like a lobster's claw ready to snap at the fish bone of Harris and Lewis"<ref>Malcolm Slesser, The Island of Skye, 19</ref> and W. H. Murray, commenting on its irregular coastline, stated that "Skye is sixty miles long, but what might be its breadth is beyond the ingenuity of man to state".<ref>W.H. Murray, The Hebrides, (London: Heinemann, 1966) 146</ref>

More recently, Angus and Patricia Macdonald observed that Skye contains some of the most famous scenery in the Hebrides, due to its varied and dramatic geology.<ref>Angus and Patricia Macdonald, the Hebrides, an Arial View of a Cultural Landscape, 209</ref>Its igneous geology is similar to Mull.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 209</ref>The island is most renowned for the two Cuillin mountain ranges, the Black Cuillin and the Red Cuillin, which can be likened to Scotland's version of the Alps.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 209</ref>

The Black Cuillin, are mainly composed of basalt and gabbro, include twelve Munros and provide some of the most dramatic and challenging mountain terrain in Scotland.<ref>Slesser (1981) 19</ref> The ascent of Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh is one of the longest rock climbs in Britain and the Inaccessible Pinnacle is the only peak in Scotland that requires technical climbing skills to reach the summit.<ref> (accessed 9th July 2014)</ref> These hills make demands of the hill walker that exceed any others found in Scotland and a full traverse of the Cuillin ridge may take 15–20 hours.<ref> Johnstone et al. (1990) 234–40</ref>

The Red Cuillin are located to the north-east of Blaven and consist of granite weathered into rounded forms.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 211</ref> The highest point of these hills is Glamaig, one of only two Corbetts on Skye.<ref> Johnstone et al. (1990) 234–40</ref> The northern peninsula of Trotternish is underlain by basalt, which provides relatively rich soils and a variety of unusual rock features.

Two mountains are prominent on Duirinish, to the west of the island. These are Macleod's tables, supposedly so-named after a wager between the eighth chief of Clan Macleod and King James V over who had the most magnificent settling for a feast.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 212</ref>

The Kilt Rock is named after the tartan-like patterns in the 105 metres (344 ft) cliffs. The Quiraing is a spectacular series of rock pinnacles on the eastern side of the main spine of the peninsula and further south is the rock pillar of the Old Man of Storr.<ref>Murray (1966) 149</ref>

Beyond Loch Snizort to the west of Trotternish is the Waternish peninsula, which ends in Ardmore Point's double rock arch. Duirinish is separated from Waternish by Loch Dunvegan, which contains the island of Isay. The loch is ringed by sea cliffs that reach 295 metres (967 ft) at Waterstein Head. Oolitic loam provides good arable land in the main valley. Lochs Bracadale and Harport and the island of Wiay lie between Duirinish and Minginish, which includes the narrower defiles of Talisker and Glen Brittle and whose beaches are formed from black basaltic sands.<ref>Murray (1966) 156–61</ref>

Strathaird is a relatively small peninsula close to the Cuillin hills with only a few crofting communities. The island of Soay lies offshore. The bedrock of Sleat in the south is Torridonian sandstone, which produces poor soils and boggy ground, although its lower elevations and relatively sheltered eastern shores enable a lush growth of hedgerows and crops.<ref> Murray (1966) 147, 165</ref> The islands of Raasay, Rona, Scalpay and Pabay all lie to the north and east between Skye and the mainland.<ref>Hamish Haswell Smith, The Scottish Islands (Edinburgh, Canongate, 2004) 173-79</ref>

Towns and Villages


Portree in the north at the base of Trotternish is the largest settlement (estimated population 2,264 in 2011) and is the main service centre on the island.<ref> (accessed 9th July 2014)</ref> It was developed as a fishing port in the late eighteenth century.<ref> (accessed 9th July 2014)</ref> Today it is the site of many of the island's facilities including a new secondary school and the Skye Heritage Centre.<ref> (accessed 9th July 2014)</ref> Broadford, the location of the island's only airstrip, is on the east side of the island and Dunvegan in the north-west is well known for its castle and the nearby Three Chimneys restaurant. The 18th-century Stein Inn on the Waternish coast is the oldest pub on Skye.<ref> (accessed 9th July 2014)</ref>

Kyleakin is linked to Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland by the Skye Bridge, which spans the narrows of Loch Alsh. When built it controversially charged crossing tolls but these were finally abolished in 2004.<ref> (accessed 9th July 2014)</ref>Uig, the port for ferries to the Outer Hebrides, is on the west of the Trotternish peninsula and Edinbane is between Dunvegan and Portree. Much of the rest of the population lives in crofting townships scattered around the coastline.<ref>McGoodwin (2001) 250</ref>


The influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream create a mild oceanic climate. Temperatures are generally cool, averaging 6.5 °C (43.7 °F) in January and 15.4 °C (59.7 °F) in July at Duntulm in Trotternish.<ref>Cooper (1983) 33–35</ref> Snow seldom lies at sea level and frosts are less frequent than on the mainland. Winds are a limiting factor for vegetation. South-westerlies are the most common and speeds of 128 km/h (80 mph) have been recorded. High winds are especially likely on the exposed coasts of Trotternish and Waternish.<ref>Murray (1966) 147</ref>

In common with most islands of the west coast of Scotland, rainfall is generally high at 1,500–2,000 mm (59–79 in) per annum and the elevated Cuillin are wetter still. According to Macdonald and Macdonald, their peaks are rarely without cloud cover, although occasionally high atmospheric pressure results in sunshine.<ref>Macdonald and Macdonald, Hebrides, 209</ref>

Variations can be considerable, with the north tending to be drier than the south. Broadford, for example, averages more than 2,870 mm (113 in) of rain per annum.<ref>Slesser (1981) 27–31</ref>Trotternish typically has 200 hours of bright sunshine in May, the sunniest month.<ref> Murray (1973) 79</ref>

History of Skye