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Isle of Skye, Scotland

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The Isle of Skye, or simply Skye, is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The island’s peninsulas radiate from a mountainous hub dominated by the Cuillin, the rocky slopes of which provide some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the country. Although Sgitheanach has been suggested to describe a winged shape, no definitive agreement exists as to the name’s origins.

The island has been occupied since the Mesolithic period, and over its history has been occupied at various times by Celtic tribes including the Picts and the Gaels, Scandinavian Vikings, and most notably the powerful integrated Norse-Gaels clans of MacLeod and MacDonald. The island was considered to be under Norwegian suzerainty until the 1266 Treaty of Perth, which transferred control over to Scotland. The 18th-century Jacobite risings led to the breaking-up of the clan system and later clearances that replaced entire communities with sheep farms, some of which involved forced emigrations to distant lands. Resident numbers declined from over 20,000 in the early 19th century to just under 9,000 by the closing decade of the 20th century. Skye’s population increased by 4% between 1991 and 2001. About a third of the residents were Gaelic speakers in 2001, and although their numbers are in decline, this aspect of island culture remains important.

The main industries are tourism, agriculture, fishing, and forestry. Skye is part of the Highland Council local government area. The island’s largest settlement is Portree, which is also its capital, known for its picturesque harbor. Links to various nearby islands by ferry are available, and since 1995, to the mainland by a road bridge. The climate is mild, wet, and windy. The abundant wildlife includes the golden eagle, red deer, and Atlantic salmon. The local flora is dominated by heather moor, and nationally important invertebrate populations live on the surrounding sea bed. Skye has provided the locations for various novels and feature films and is celebrated in poetry and song.

The first written references to the island are Roman sources such as the Ravenna Cosmography, which refers to Scitis, and Scetis, which can be found on a map by Ptolemy. One possible derivation comes from skitis, an early Celtic word for “winged”, which may describe how the island’s peninsulas radiate out from a mountainous center. Subsequent Gaelic-, Norse- and English-speaking peoples have influenced the history of Skye; the relationships between their names for the island are not straightforward. Various etymologies have been proposed, such as the “winged isle” or “the notched isle”, but no definitive solution has been found to date; the place name may be from an earlier, non-Gaelic language. Wikipedia

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An image from Isle of Skye, Scotland

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