The weather in England and Scotland was incredible for the week I traveled the region: sunny and blue skies. Now, it was also cold, and I have a limited life-span in cold weather, but I encountered little rain for days on end.
The United Kingdom was lulling me into complacency.
The rain came for me with a vengeance and I learned that using public transportation in rainy countries makes the entire travel process a lot less comfortable. Now, to be fair, the trains and buses are a step up from some transportation this past year on the road. I bumped around in the back of tuk-tuks in Thailand, passed entire days on the rickety trains of India, took interminably long rides on Greyhound Australia, and generally felt every mile of this long journey. But heavy rains take a toll on the fun of backpacking, it’s just a fact.
During my second week in the UK, the dark gray sky opened up into a steady downpour for days on end. That first day, I was slated to leave Stirling, Scotland and move to the Isle of Skye. All of this would be well and fine except for two things: 1) my beloved backpack’s rain cover had mysteriously disappeared when I picked up my bag from the conveyer belt in Mumbai airport, and I have never purchased another, and 2) my jacket is a knock-off North Face that I bought in Nepal for a whopping US $11 right before my trek in the Himalayas.
Lesson learned: you get what you paid for when you buy knockoff in Nepal. My raincoat had worked perfectly well in the light misting rains I encountered while exploring Slovenia and Czech Republic. It did not fare quite so well when solid, pelting raindrops penetrated the faux-Gortex shell, seeping into my clothes. When I head to Central America next year, I will pack a real rain coat!
Anyhow, there I am standing at the door to my hostel (Willy Wallace Backpackers) and dreading the short to the bus station. With the 50 pounds strapped to my back I had no choice but to trot-skip there, and even at that semi-clipped pace, I arrived soaked to the bone and shivering.
Blech. Not a great start to an all-day bus-ride—roughly seven hours—to the largest city on the Isle of Skye, Portree, where I had to peel several my wet layers from my wrinkled skin and allow the clothes to air-dry for hours.
I will also take this opportunity to expound on just why I stayed in Portree out of all of the gorgeous little towns on the Isle of Skye—Scotland, in August, is tourist-tastic. Seriously and insanely touristy. I had planned to mosey my way up through Scotland booking hostels as I went and luxuriating in towns that struck my fancy.
In actuality, once I arrived in London I was slapped in the face with the harsh reality that I would be lucky to even find a bed some nights.
All of the Scotland hostels in the classic backpacker cities (Oban, Fort William, etc) were fully booked on the weekends. Like totally booked up, no options left on the weekends. That’s actually why I ended up in Stirling for three days—it was the only hostel I could find over the weekend on short notice.
The same mostly held true for the Isle of Skye, all of the hostels were booked up. I ran into a bit of luck at the Portree Independent Hostel—I phoned and they had some cancellations during the week.
I’m so thankful that I was able to stay on Skye for several days—if you move too fast while traveling Scotland then you miss the chance to catch the cities in good weather! It was steadily raining on Skye when I arrived but it cleared up for parts of the subsequent days, so I was able to bus around the Isle and get in some good hiking!
Quick Tips: Traveling Scotland in the Summer
Accommodation: I cannot emphasize this enough, book your Isle of Skye accommodation in advance if you are visiting the England and Scotland during the summer high season. Now that things like Airbnb exist, you might get a bit luckier if you wait, but I wouldn’t count on it. Also, as bonus for ALA readers, use this link to receive a discount on your first booking at Booking.com.
Rain: If you’re backpacking, invest in a backpack cover—they don’t cost much and you will need it. Then you need to keep yourself dry. Some people go the poncho route, but I am more a fan of a travel umbrella and a high quality rain jacket these days.
Transport: Some bus stops in the Scottish highlands are nothing more than a sign on the side of the road, no actual cover. These buses will get you where you you need to go, but it will be rough on cold, wet days. If you plan to hitchhike around the country, be doubly prepared for rain.