“ West Highlands of Scotland. „
For the New Year 2000-2001, I went to Scotland for my first time and spent a week in Glen Shiel for some serious walking. For a first time in the country, it wasn't a bad place to start. Glen Shiel is a valley in the Highlands, not far from the Isle of Skye. It's fairly isolated by itself, but if you've got a car, there's loads of other places to explore, or to take on expeditions.<p> Going eastwards, it's just over an hours' drive to Fort William, one of the Highlands' largest towns, and also the starting point to climb Ben Nevis. Or, going in the other direction, it takes about half an hour to get across to the Isle of Skye - but watch out for the infamous bridge from the mainland. It looks nice, but the tolls don't. Luckily for us, at new year, the toll booths weren't open so we got through for free. Anyway, not letting that put you off, once on Skye, the main attraction is the Cuillin Ridge. The Cuillins are one of the grandest mountain ranges in Scotland, but not for the wary - don't venture on to them if you're not well equipped! If that's not for you, there's an excellent pub at Sligachan overlooking the hills! And if you want to go northwards, it's not long until you reach Torridon, another base for high-quality walking. Since this opinion is in the Glen Shiel category, maybe I should stop travelling and tell you something about the place. If it's mountains you want to climb, Glen Shiel is fantastic. On the north side is the well-known Five Sisters Of Kintail, with an extra few Munros on their east. The southern side offers the South Glenshiel Ridge, a 10-mile length of peaks giving you 7 Munros in one day! Although most guidebooks advise splitting it into two walks. Also on the south side is The Saddle and the Forcan Ridge - a short but sharp rocky ridge with sheer drops. Andrenaline junkies this way, please. (I'
;ll go the other way then...) Back on flat ground, there's a few places to stay. They're all on the same strech of road, so they're all easy enough to find. At the eastern end is the Cluanie Inn, which is the recommended base for starting walks in Glen Shiel and the neighbouring areas. I didn't stay there, so I can't tell you the prices or details. It's easy to spot though - travelling into the valley, it's on the left when you come to the end of Loch Cluanie. At the western end you've got a choice of two. Just around the head of Loch Duich is the Kintail Lodge Hotel - also offerring a great pub! There's not a great selection of drinks there, but what do you expect for a remote area. Also on offer at the Kintail Lodge are postcards, posters, pool tables, and real Scotch Whisky! Oh, and a very friendly cat and two dumb dogs ;o) The other option at this end of the valley is Ratagan Youth Hostel, about two miles off the main road when you reach Loch Duich. Very reasonable prices - £9.25 per person per night, SYHA membership is £6 per person per year. All you have to take is your own food - bedsheets and kitchen equipment are all provided. The thing I liked most about Glen Shiel was the scenery - the valley is near sea-level, and the mountains on both sides are above 1000 metres. This does mean though that it takes a lot of effort to get going on a walk! But once the first climb's over, it's well worth it. If you've got your own transport, then picking a base for walks is no problem - the main road through the valley has laybys on each side every mile or so. The only problem I found was that most of the walks were "one way" - you didn't end the walk at the same place you started, and a few times it was a 2 or 3 mile walk back along tarmac which didn't do my knees much good! There is some public transport in the valley though - long di
stance coach trips might give you a lift, but there's also the Post Bus services. Basically, no matter how remote a place is, they still need mail - meaning long distance journeys. So as a part of the deal, the Royal Mail vans will give you a lift if you need one! If you're staying at Ratagan YH, the warden can also give you a lift, if you get your name down early enough. I don't know about what distance he'd take you, but it would be worth asking if you're there. All this talk about climbing mountains is useless if you're just there for a tourist break. Fear not, Glen Shiel isn't all hiking. About 10 miles westwards along the A87 from Shiel Bridge is Eilean Donan Castle, the place featured in the BBC hot-air balloon trailers. And it's also where parts of the film Highlander were filmed. The castle is open for tours during the summer months, but at any time of year you can walk around the grounds. Even if it's just sightseeing, there's plenty of areas which are good enough even from the car. The road up to Torridon is a good one. And Loch Ness isn't all that far away either - about 70 miles, so it would make a day trip. Now some more serious stuff... Shops ===== There is an everyday items (bread, milk, newspapers) shop at Shiel Bridge, but it wasn't open at New Year while I was there. At the other end of the valley, at the Cluanie Inn, there is a fuel station so I presume there's a shop there as well. At Kyle of Lochalsh, about 20 miles from Shiel Bridge, there are some larger shops (Sainsbury's) and a bank. If you don't mind travelling further, Fort William (50 miles away) has the typical town centre shops. Access ====== The northern side of the valley is all National Trust for Scotland land, so access isn't much of an issue there. On the south side, large areas are private. It's
normally fine to walk in these areas, but check before you go - most of it is closed off during deer stalking seasons. How To Get There ================ Nearest railway stations - Inverness (60 miles), Kyle of Lochalsh (20 miles), Fort William (50 miles) Nearest airport - Inverness (60 miles), Aberdeen (170 miles), Glasgow (180 miles), Edinburgh (180 miles) Maps ==== OS Landranger 33 : Loch Alsh, Glen Shiel & Loch Hourn (scale 1:50,000) Harvey's Superwalker : Kintail (scale 1:25,000) Website ======= I don't know if Glen Shiel has its own website, but for walks and photos I recommend Manchester University's pages: http://www.umu.man.ac.uk/hiking/hikedest/shiel/