“Skyewalker?” The bus driver immediately asked when we told him we were going to Portnalong. That he could guess where we were putting down our backpacks for the next few days was not a surprise; there are few options for accommodations in Portnalong. In fact, my sister and I were going to Portnalong precisely because we were staying where we were staying.
The Skyewalker Hostel has been voted Best in Scotland by Hostelworld users for 3 out of the last 4 years, and when you get there, it’s not hard to see why. The main building looks modest enough on the outside — it used to be the Junior Secondary School for the area and the walls are made of wrought iron — but Skyewalker’s owners, Brian and Lisa, have managed to turn the inside into a home. Comfortable couches line the common areas; musical instruments and old pictures adorn the walls alongside inspiring and sometimes quirky quotes. For those inspired by a spell of rain to curl up in a corner and read, there’s a shelf full of books; I spotted Dick Francis’ To The Hilt in one of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and immediately forced it on my sister. (To The Hilt is partly set in Scotland and you could tell the late Mr. Francis — a former champion jockey who rode for the Queen Mother, turned award-winning, bestselling author of deceptively simple thrillers that are actually perceptive studies of human nature — was deeply moved by the country’s landscapes and heritage. I recommend it.)
Not that reading is the only thing you will want to do in Portnalong. There’s a good-sized hill literally across the road from the hostel that you can climb for sweeping views of the Minginish peninsula. The fairy pools and mountains of Sligachan are only a short bus ride or drive away, making Skyewalker a great base for climbing the Cuillins. The hillsides of Portnalong itself are dotted with gorgeous flowers and polite sheep — one was ambling down the road to the harbor when he saw us approaching and he stopped to let us pass, I swear to God — and they’re perfect for a casual, soul-refreshing walk.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t remembered to take photos of our room, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s clean, the beds comfy, and more than spacious enough for 8 people. There are also dorms for anywhere from 4 to 10 people, and if you don’t fancy sharing, there are private rooms as well, some with en suite bathrooms. Brian, spotting my name on his records when we checked in, said with some amazement, “You booked us back in February.” (It was September.) “In February, you could have booked anything! You should have booked a private room.” But the dorms were actually quite good and the price — £18 per person per night, in our 8-bunk case — appealed to the cheapskate in me.
Those without similar monetary constraints might splurge on these:
Jedi huts, they’re called — you get the feeling there are at least two people in Portnalong eagerly awaiting the 18th of December — but they’re really more like wood cabins, cozy, private, and with patriotic pillows to boot. The two huts are located in Skyewalker’s immensely spacious backyard, along with a giant chess set, a couple of picnic tables, a tattered blue-and-white saltire, and the hostel’s iconic Solardome.
Which brings us to why I was so eager to stay in Skyewalker: I was secretly hoping to see aurora. There are sometimes sightings of the northern lights in the Isle of Skye, even in September, and Portnalong has less light pollution than, say, Portree. I figured Skyewalker’s Solardome would be the perfect place from which to train a hopeful eye on the night sky. Alas, it was not to be — Mr. Sun didn’t oblige — but I discovered an alternate use for the glass enclosure.
On our second day in Portnalong, while my sister visited the nearby Talisker Distillery and the other guests went out to pursue their own pleasures, I decided I would take advantage of the rain as an excuse to be lazy. I took a book, some food, and my laptop out to the Solardome and just read, wrote, and did nothing. It was a perfect day.
Stuff you should know if you’re thinking of staying at Skyewalker Hostel:
- The bus only comes by the hostel 3x a day, once on Saturday, and not at all on Sunday, so if you’re taking public transport, plan accordingly.
- If you’re coming from Kyle of Localsh, see the How to get to Portnalong section of this article.
- The hostel is closed for cleaning from 1100h to 1500h and guests must vacate the premises then (but I stayed at the Solardome during those times and no one ever said I couldn’t, so that seems to be okay).
- They don’t accept children under 5. Guests with children between 5 to 12 are accepted but must book exclusive use of a room.
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