The villiage of Kyleakin used to be the gateway to the island and best remembered for long ferry queues running past the filling station. When the bridge was built in 1996 there were well founded fears that the tourist trade would miss Kyleakin completely and it would be relegated to a sort of ghost town. I’m glad to report that these dire predictions have not come to pass. The filling station has closed but a selection of small shops and an Indian restaurant have developed in its place and Kyleakin itself has become a much nicer holiday destination without the ferry. It has a small marina, high quality hotels, a backpackers’ hostel, bars and restaurants. The bridge tolls, once the source of much controversy, were abolished in December 2004 and now people travel freely in both directions across the bridge, although it is occasionally closed in high winds.
The Castle Moil ruins still stand protectively over Kyleakin, despite estimates that it may have been built as early as the tenth century. It was once the home of the MacKinnon chief who married a Norwegian princess and the story goes that the princess had a chain stretched across the narrow strait and charged a toll to all who would pass. Thus she brought prosperity to her people and was well loved (although there are some more lewd stories about her conduct). It may be that the same princess was buried at the top of Beinn na Caillich, facing Norway so that she might feel the winds of home on her face for all time. The Norse influence was strong and the village is named after another Norwegian; Kyleakin translates as “King Haakan’s strait” after the Norse king who was based here before the battle of Largs in 1263.
Looming large behind Kyleakin is the hill of the red fox. It has a network of well-marked and maintained paths providing walks for different abilities. Another interesting and scenic walk is the Skye Bridge itself. The bridge touches down on Eilean Bàn, the island between Kyleakin and Kyle of Lochalsh where the author Gavin Maxwell once lived. Tours can be booked through The Brightwater Visitor Centre near the pier in Kyleakin.