Waternish is the central of the three most prominent peninsulas to project north-west into the Minch from the Isle of Skye. Its base can be thought of as the line between Loch Greshornish to the east and Loch Bay to the west or, to look at it another way, a spur of land up to four miles wide extending north from the main road between Dunvegan and Portree. It is an easily overlooked but fascinating area, offering a range of magnificent sea views.
Much of the settlement on Waternish lies along or close to the line of the road that runs up its west coast. This is the B886 as far as the village of Stein, and and unclassified road beyond it to Trumpan. A series of scattered settlements lie along or above this coast, including Bay, Lusta, Stein, Hallin, Upper and Lower Halistra and Trumpan. From Lower Halistra a minor road crosses to the eastern side of the peninsula, giving access to the dispersed crofting settlements of Gillen, Knockbreck and Geary.
The starting point for any exploration of Waternish is the junction where the single track B886 turns off the main road a little over three miles north-east of Dunvegan. A short distance along the road you pass the now disused "Fairy Bridge", built in the early 1800s and apparently named because it was believed to be the haunt of fairies.
The bridge crosses the Bay River, and you follow the river's right bank as it descends towards the head of Loch Bay which, confusingly, is a loch and not a bay. As you do so the views open out to reveal the whole of the west side of the peninsula and the islands of Isay, Mingay and Clett which help divide the outer reaches of Loch Bay from those of Loch Dunvegan.
Having passed the end of the track to the settlement of Bay, you pass through Camuslusta and Lusta. Look out for Croft 10, Lusta, which was converted from a pair of crofthouses into a single house in 1995, but which retained its thatched roof. The views from Lusta are very good, especially the views of the village of Stein on the coast below. The "main" road turns towards the coast before approaching Stein from the north, passing Lochbay House en route.
Stein is an extremely pretty village of white painted stone buildings. In the 1790s the British Fisheries Society commissioned Thomas Telford to build a fishing port on Loch Bay. Delays in construction were compounded by the remote location and a lack of enthusiasm from local crofters and potential incomers alike. The BFS cut their losses and sold their lands in the area to the MacLeods in 1837 for £3,000. But while Stein never quite became another Ullapool, it has probably benefitted as a result. It is quiet, picturesque, and home to the Stein Inn and the Loch Bay Seafood Restaurant, both of which are excellent.
As its origins suggest, Stein is also the main harbour on the Waternish Peninsula. Telford's original pier stood a little to the north of the village. The one in use today, which is at the south end of Stein, was built late in the 1800s.
As you continue up the peninsula from Stein, you pass Skyeskins, a tannery and one of the area's main visitor attraction. Hallin is home to the Waternish Hall, while on rising ground to the east you can see the remains of Dun Hallin, a broch. The war memorial at the southern end of Hallin is on top of a rocky outcrop that affords excellent views over this part of the peninsula. In nearby Halistra you find the Waternish Free Church of Scotland.
A little further and you come to a junction There is a sense in which it doesn't matter which way you turn, as the two roads heading away form two sides of a triangle, and you will probably end up travelling both (one on the return trip) anyway. There is another sense in which the direction of travel does matter. If you keep left, you find yourself looking with the sun over magnificent views that extend out across the Minch to the Western Isles.
The base of the triangle is formed by a short length of road which passes the evocative ruin of Trumpan Church. Almost the entire local population were massacred in the church on the first Sunday in May 1578 as a result of clan warfare between the MacLeods and the MacDonalds. The parking area opposite allows you to explore the church and the graveyard which surrounds it, or to enjoy the superb views from the picnic area.
The car park at Trumpan is about as far north-west as you can reach by public road, yet you are still four miles short of the end of the peninsula. A nearby information board gives details of the walk to Waternish Point, which is an eight miles return trip if you simply head out and back by the shortest route, or an eleven mile walk if you want to do a circuit of the whole of the north end of the peninsula.
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