WHEN it opened 25 years ago this week, the Skye Bridge was mired in controversy. For decades islanders had called for a road bridge from the mainland as growing visitor numbers put a strain on the ferry that ran between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin.

Yet the cost of the bridge’s tolls sparked outrage. Car drivers were charged up to £5.20 each way, compared to 40p on the Forth Road Bridge. Protesters claimed this made the Skye crossing the most expensive road toll in Europe.

If ever there was a sure-fire sign that the island community wouldn’t take this lying down, it came when the tolls were introduced at midnight on October 17, 1995.

The first cars began arriving at the booth and the drivers refused to pay. Then through the rain came a pipe band, walking across the bridge, followed by dozens of vehicles. One after another, people refused to pay the toll.

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From “grazing” sheep around the bridge to paying in pennies, the protesters were nothing if not inventive and their efforts soon gained international attention.

Fierce opposition to the charges was led by Skye and Kyle Against Tolls (SKAT) and veteran campaigner Robbie the Pict, who became a household name in Scotland as he sought to prove the tolls were imposed unlawfully.

Among the hundreds of non-payment cases, 130 people ended up with criminal convictions and one man – SKAT secretary Andy Anderson – served 11 days in prison. Today, campaigners are still fighting to repeal those convictions.

The toll was finally abolished on December 21, 2004, when the then Scottish Executive made a £27 million deal to buy the Skye bridge from its US-based owners. The toll took in £33.3m during the nine years it was in place.

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Crossing the bridge may not live up to the same romantic lyricism of the Skye Boat Song, but it is a majestic gateway to the island, soaring high above Loch Alsh. Last year, Skye welcomed some 650,000 visitors lured by attractions such as the Fairy Pools and the Quiraing.

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Beneath the Skye Bridge is the island of Eilean Ban. Its former lighthouse keeper cottages were bought by author and naturalist Gavin Maxwell, best known for his love of otters and for The Ring of Bright Water, in 1963.

The island is a nature reserve managed by the Bright Water Trust, with one of the cottages converted into a museum celebrating the life of Maxwell. Visit eileanban.org