Dizzying mountain peaks, intoxicating views and secluded wild swimming: at the very heart of Skye lies the magical Sligachan Glen: a wonderland for the intrepid holidaymaker. A deep valley nestled in the shadow of the dramatic Cuillin range, Sligachan during the summer months is a place to spend bright sunny days hiking, climbing and swimming – and cold, cloudless nights eating hearty meals, drinking local beers and story-swapping with fellow explorers. We’ve put together a few tips on where to wander, when to stop, and what to eat.
Spend A Night In The Historic Sligachan Hotel
Sligachan Hotel was built in 1830 as a drover’s inn, and has since attracted climbers and visitors from all over the world due to its prime location for hiking and climbing the formidable black Cuillin peaks. The hotel has always been an essential resting place for those looking to tackle the hills, yet nowadays it also attracts families, backpackers, walkers and photographers due to its stunning, rugged landscape and easy accessibility from the mainland. Steeped in mountaineering history, the hotel even has wee museum where you can find sepia photographs of Collie and Mackenzie – two friends who chartered the Cuillin range over 130 years ago. The pair make scaling intimidating peaks such as Sgurr Nan Gillian look like a breeze as they scramble up the craggy pinnacles wearing heavy tweed suits and puffing away on fat tobacco pipes.
The atmosphere in the hotel itself is warm, upbeat and trendy – perhaps surprisingly so – forget the threadbare tartan decor and dull menus of traditional highland hospitality – this place was built to serve the brave and the bold; expect a modern aesthetic which blends in perfectly with the mountainous surroundings – the geometric shapes which decorate the walls are cleverly based on ordnance survey maps from the Cuillin range and the colour palate echos soft shades of dusk and dawn.
From the outside, the building itself appears like every other house on Skye: white-washed stone walls and higgledy-piggledy architecture. However, there is a modern, trendy feel about the place: quirky little touches such as an old phone-box transformed into a ‘little library’ for swapping books, weekend brunch pop-ups run by Cafe Cuil – a London based Scottish eatery – and imaginative events such as comedy nights and drive-in cinema screenings. Many of the hotel staff are born and bred locals, who can give you indispensable advice on exploring the island – and help you with your dodgy Gaelic pronunciations. In the whisky bar next door, the team appears to be a melting pot of students, locals, and backpackers from all over the world – many of whom came for a pint and ended up staying for the summer.
Whether you opt for the top-end ‘Pinnacle Suite’ – a decadent and spacious hide-away with stunning mountain views – or one of the more affordable single rooms, every space is a perfect sanctuary to sneak back to post-hike: somewhere you can indulge in a (slightly too long) hot shower and pop on a pair of clean socks before heading down to the Seumas’ Bar for a sleepy fireside dram.
Walk For Miles In The Magnificent Sligachan Glen
In the centre of Sligachan Glen, a valley which runs from a sea-loch to a shelly beach, a 10-mile-path snakes through a deep crevice in the mountain range. Set off early – and take plenty of snacks – this walk is so enchanting, you might keep wandering right to the end – where you will come across Camasunary Bay, an expanse of beach with views to the outer Hebrides. The path itself is well maintained by the John Muir trust and although uneven and boggy in places, it is fairly flat, making it easy to walk for hours. The Red Cuillin hills (think of them as the cuddlier, friendlier cousins of the Black Cuillin) sit on your left hand side for the first few miles, and it is here that sightings of the elusive golden eagle are fairly common. As the glen is a breeding area for these magnificent birds, they are often spotted two together, ‘tumbling’ in the sky.
Brave An Icy Dip In The Sligachan Pools
Wild swimming in Skye seems to have taken off recently – and the island is dotted with secret pools ready for the intrepid visitor to discover and enjoy. In summer, the ‘Fairy Pools’, a plethora of cool turquoise rock-pools, are jam packed with tourists. However, there are equally beautiful – and remarkably less busy – pools which trickle down on the other side of the mountain, just a short walk from the Sligachan hotel. You may have to sweet-talk a bartender for directions, but once on the right path, these pools are easy to find and make the perfect setting for a secluded picnic and swim. Birch, a trendy little cafe in Portree, sell sandwiches and salads to takeaway – so pack some of these along with a couple of Cuillin Brewery ales, and spend the day exploring! After a sweaty hike uphill through the spiky heather, leaping into one of the still, glistening pools has a restorative effect on the body and the mind – the shockingly cold water boosts circulation and stimulates our lymphatic system, and more often than not, the dopamine hit leaves you giggling like a lunatic before you leap in for more.
Sligachan is Just 15 Minutes From Talisker Distillery
End Your Day With A Great Meal And A Dram
In summer, daylight lingers until close to midnight. The beer garden, nestled in the valley of the vast Sligachan glen, stays busy until last orders. Updated to suit pandemic-friendly al-fresco dining, there are plenty of tables, umbrellas for sun (or rain) and fire pits to gather around. The aptly named Red Cuillin hills are glowing reflections of the summer sun as it begins to dip, and the beer is cold and well-earned after an arduous day of hiking. The wobbly legs and sunburnt noses are long forgotten, and weary complaints from the mountainside have turned into tipsy boasts of dizzying heights and daring scrambles – just make sure you can still pronounce ‘Sgùrr nan Gillean’ after your third dram!
Opt for a plate of freshly caught Skye langoustines with garlicky butter and crunchy home-made chips, washed down with a pint of Cuillin Brewery ale – made with water from the mountains that surround you – as the adrenaline from a day in the mountains eases into a warm fuzzy blanket of alcohol and carbohydrates. Make sure you drink plenty of water too – this helps muscles recover properly from long hikes, and will replace the fluids that are lost throughout the day. The menu is a crowd-pleaser, designed for hungry hikers, and has a modern feel about it: exciting seafood specials, gastro-pub style burgers and plenty of vegan options.
The bar staff are fun and energetic, as they finish their shifts they reappear in the bar, drinking and laughing, sometimes dancing, with visitors and locals. The uniform is relaxed, the music is good (no ceilidh music unless it’s live, thanks), there are craft beers and plenty of single malt whisky – over 400 different bottles to try – and with some extremely rare releases on offer, it’s unsurprising that the staff are keen to share their expert knowledge and recommendations with tourists and whisky connoisseurs alike.
Seumus’ Bar attracts climbers, photographers, backpackers and adventurers due to its stunning geographical location, but they stay for the hearty home cooking, eclectic drinks selection and upbeat atmosphere.