Visitors en route from the Skye Bridge to Broadford will notice a sign on the left on entering Broadford, advertising the Skye Serpentarium. Snakes may not be everyone's idea of a good time, but even those of us with a phobia about them can learn a huge amount from - and enjoy - a visit to one of the best all weather attractions Skye has to offer.
The Skye Serpentarium was opened in 1991 by Catherine and Alex Shearer as an exhibition and educational centre. Since opening, they have cared for over 500 abandoned or rescued reptiles and amphibians, and of these around 50 are on display in the Serpentarium at any one time.
All the funds raised by the Serpentarium go toward the care of the animals housed here or others like them. Sponsorship is encouraged for the rescued animals, and the centre supports a captive breeding programme, especially in endangered species. The centre also helps provide advice on responsible pet ownership: find out here exactly why that cute little baby reptile in the pet shop back home won't seem quite so attractive when it turns into a metre-long living dragon with no discernible sense of humour.
The first thing that strikes you when you park in front of the Old Mill housing the Serpentarium (or in the overspill car park along the road behind it) is that it doesn't seem very large. Don't let that put you off: this is a real-life Tardis that packs a huge amount of value into its modest dimensions.
Inside, you pass through the reception and shop area to be faced by the beautifully built ranks of glass fronted areas housing the animals on display. These range from White's Tree Frogs, looking for all the world like shiny green plastic imitations (until they move) to Large Green Iguanas showing why they are such strong contenders for the "world's most laid-back animal" competition. Plus, of course, given this is a Serpentarium, an interesting collection of snakes.
Many visitors will be more than happy that the residents are kept safely the other side of solid glass: unless you believe that Harry Potter is real. However some of the snakes do take part in the frequent snake handling sessions that are an integral and important part of the Serpentarium experience.
For most visitors this will be the highlight of any visit. Here you can find out for yourself that all the usual preconceptions about snakes are wrong. Expectations of "cold and slimy" are replaced by a reality that is more "warm and silky". And its also worth bearing in mind that these handling sessions reflect far more of a leap of faith by the snakes being held than by the people doing the holding.
Reptiles in general, and snakes in particular, tend to get a very bad press. As a result they are amongst the most misunderstood of creatures, and too many of us have unjustified phobias about them. So while Skye may be about the last place on Earth where you would expect to find a Serpentarium, it exists, and it is most certainly worth a visit.
And for those looking for somewhere to stay in Broadford, bed & breakfast is also available at Catherine and Alex's nearby home "The Sheiling". Phone 01471 822533 for more information.