From The Beach to The Peaks

National Geographic reader explores Skye in a Subaru SUV with National Geographic photographer and adventurer Charlie Hamilton James

By Chris Chilton
photographs by Holly Metcalf
Published 16 Aug 2018, 14:44 BST
The Subaru SUV on Skye
The Subaru SUV on Skye
Photograph by Holly Metcalf

From the desolate beauty of its beaches to the almost Martian-like majesty of its peaks the island of Skye in the Inner Hebrides features some of the UK’s most striking landscapes, helping make it one of Scotland’s greatest adventure destinations.

Subaru gave one National Geographic reader the chance to explore Skye for a weekend in the company of a rugged Subaru SUV and professional explorer and photographer Charlie Hamilton James. The winner was Holly Metcalf, originally from London, but now studying for an MSc in Social Policy at Oxford University.

‘Although I had spent some time in Scotland when I was younger attending an air cadet camp at RAF Lossiemouth I’d never explored the Highlands or visited Skye,’ explained Holly. ‘But it had definitely been on my list.’

National Geographic competition winners on Skye with Charlie Hamilton James (left)
Photograph by Holly Metcalf

Holly’s transport for the weekend was a Subaru XV, which offers the same blend of advanced safety technology, four-wheel drive go-anywhere capability and rugged reliability that underpins every Subaru SUV.

‘I’d never been in a Subaru before,’ noted Holly, ‘but I was impressed by how comfortable it felt and how easily the boot swallowed all our luggage.’

And thanks to the XV’s extra ground clearance and permanent Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, crossing a deep ford was no problem. ‘We wouldn’t have dared do that in a normal 4x4!’ Holly remarked.

Arriving on Skye via the bridge that spans Loch Alsh, Holly and her guide Rob spent the night at Portree before meeting with Charlie Hamilton James for a full day exploring some of Skye’s most famous sights, including the Fairy Glen, and the Old Man of Storr, a jagged pinnacle of rock that towers high above the island’s lowlands and can be seen from miles around.

‘Having Charlie there with us was such a bonus,’ Holly said. ‘Charlie spent some time living on Skye, meaning he had great insight into the island, but he also helped me improve my photographic skills. I was given a Canon DSLR camera as part of the prize and Charlie showed me how to pay attention to lighting and composition to improve my shots. He had this incredible ability to look into a cloudy sky and know that it would be perfectly sunny one minute later!’

Subaru SUV negotiates a waterway on Skye
Photograph by Holly Metcalf

The stunning four-mile Quiraing walk proved the perfect opportunity for Holly to try out some of Charlie’s tips then it was back to the XV for a short hop across the Kyle Rhea straits on the world’s oldest manual turntable ferry to the Scottish mainland and, reluctantly, home.

‘Finally getting the chance to explore Skye was an incredible experience,’ Holly said. ‘If I had to suggest a couple of must-see trips on the island I’d probably suggest the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing. But there’s so much to do I’ll certainly be going back to explore it further.’

That return will have to wait, however. As soon as she completes her master’s degree Holly is jetting off to New Zealand for three months where she’ll have ample opportunity to put that camera – and newly-honed photographic skills to good use.

Highland cattle on Skye
Photograph by Holly Metcalf
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