The opening of the Skye Bridge in 1995 did much to open up access to the Isle of Skye: and the removal of the bridge tolls at the end of 2004 helped further. But in some people's eyes the bridge means that Skye is no longer an island. This route is designed to show you that Skye is indeed still an island by using the Mallaig to Armadale ferry to take you "over the sea to Skye".
At 132 miles this is a fairly long route which, because it entails a ferry crossing, requires a little planning: but it is do-able within a day if your time is limited. The route is planned to be driven clockwise. There are three reasons for this. The first is that it maximises the degree to which you will be driving away from the sun. The second is that "over the sea FROM Skye" just doesn't have the same ring to it. And the third is that if you missed your ferry having driven all the way round to Armadale you would have a major problem: while if you missed it having driven only to Mallaig you would still have a superb day out.
Having said that, we'd recommend you have a clear idea which ferry you are aiming to catch from Mallaig to Armadale and allow a good couple of hours (more if you can) to get to Mallaig from Fort William. Booking in advance is a good idea at busy periods.
Only one short excursion from the route is suggested on the map, the six miles each way from Kyle of Lochalsh to Plockton. A look at a map can reduce the added mileage this involves if you cut across from Plockton to the main A87 east of Kyle of Lochalsh.
From Fort William you follow the "Road to the Isles", the A830, to Mallaig. There was a time when this was a twisting and tortuous road. Not any more, over the past thirty years, bit by bit, it has been improved, and the final new stretch opened in early 2009.
Despite the attractions of Glenfinnan and its Monument, you'll probably want to get within easy reach of Mallaig before thinking about doing much exploring. That's no hardship because the stretch of coast north from Arisaig to Mallaig - "The Silver Sands of Morar" - is one of the most attractive in the country. The main road linking the two now travels well inland, but if you have time in hand you really should travel along the old single track coast road north from Arisaig.
The ferry from Mallaig lands you at Armadale, on Skye's Sleat Peninsula. If you have the time and inclination, taking the single track road south west from Armadale through Ardvasar to the Aird of Sleat gives beautiful views back over the mainland. Another possible excursion is to take the narrow single track road across the Sleat Peninsula to Tarskavaig, with its magnificent views of the Cuillins.
Near Armadale is Armadale Castle and the Museum of the Isles. The A851 from Armadale north to the A87 near Broadford has been significantly upgraded in recent years. En route you pass close to the lovely village of Isleornsay and to the ruin of Knock Castle. Broadford itself lies only a mile or two west of the point at which you meet the A87, but the direct route lies the other way, back towards the mainland.
Just before you reach the Skye Bridge you have the option of a side visit to Kyleakin, the terminus of the old ferries that linked Skye to Kyle of Lochalsh. Whether you take it will depend on inclination, but Kyleakin is a place that has improved considerably with the removal of the ferry queues. The Skye Bridge itself has been a topic of great controversy because of the tolls that were charged for the first decade of its life (it is now toll free): but we've yet to meet anyone who doesn't agree that it is a beautiful bridge. An alternative to the bridge is provided during the summer months by the Glenelg Ferry, a small community-owned car ferry connecting Skye with Glenelg.
The best place from which to appreciate the bridge is the harbour area at Kyle of Lochalsh, another village whose fortunes and appearance have improved with the removal of ferry queues. There is also a superb viewpoint at Am Ploc, above the town. Kyle is well worth exploring in its own right, but it also serves as the start of our suggested excursion via Duirinish to Plockton, a beautiful village which, apart from its magnificent and distinctly highland scenery, might feel as much at home around a bay in Cornwall.
East of Kyle of Lochalsh the A87 follows the north shore of Loch Alsh before crossing the arm of Loch Long and following the shore of Loch Duich. On the shore of Loch Long you find the tiny settlement of Dornie with, nearby, Eilean Donan Castle: one of Scotland's three most photographed castles (with Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle). It comes as a surprise to discover that today's castle was largely rebuilt in the early 1900s on the ruins that had been left after bombardment by the Royal Navy to dislodge Spanish troops in a little known engagement in 1719.
West of the head of Loch Duich the road climbs steadily up Glen Shiel and the scenery includes some of the most magnificent mountains in the western highlands. On your left are the Five Sisters of Kintail, while to your right is the South Glen Shiel Ridge. Further on you pass the Cluanie Inn then travel along the north shore of Loch Cluanie. Not far beyond the east end of Loch Cluanie look out for the right turn that leads the A87 through more wonderful scenery to Invergarry. Here you rejoin the A82 and head south along Loch Lochy to Spean Bridge, then around the base of Aonach Mor and Ben Nevis back to your starting point of Fort William.