The main reason I started this travel blog was to inspire people to explore beyond the typical tourist attractions and uncover Scotland's hidden gems that without doubt deserve more attention. After a lifetime spent travelling around my home country, I have built up a pretty good knowledge of amazing places that often get missed out in the usual guide books and remain largely undiscovered.
One of those hidden gems is Glenelg, a small village on the west coast, overlooking the Kyle Rhea, a strait which separates the mainland from Skye. Just a 30 minute detour from the hoards of sightseers at Eilean Donan Castle and you will find an area bursting with rich scenery and history, yet largely devoid of tourists.
If you are planning to head along the north west coast towards Skye between Easter and October, I highly recommend avoiding the road bridge and diverting along the more stunning but lesser known route to the island and taking the ferry from the 'Original Gateway to Skye'.
If you need more convincing than just my word to abandon the typical tourist trail, here are 6 reasons that might persuade you...
p.s please excuse any raindrops on the photos as the day I visited it would have been drier standing under a waterfall!
1. The Mam Ratagan Pass
Leave the tourist route behind and follow the Mam Ratagen Pass from Sheil Bridge to Glenelg and you are immediately rewarded with one of the most stunning drives in the country. Climbing to a height of over 1100ft and navigating a few hairpin bends along the way only add to the experience and your prize for taking the road less travelled is superb vistas towards the Five Sisters of Kintail and Loch Duich.
It would be easy to dismiss this as just a scenic drive, however you are following an important historic pass which was the original route to Skye, used firstly by drovers heading south with their cattle which they swam across the Kyle Rhea strait, then a military road was built by General Caulfield to reach the barracks at Glenelg before being rebuilt by Thomas Telford in the early 19th Century and upgraded again in the 1980s.
With most people now reaching Skye by the main road bridge, relatively few people travel over the pass and many are unaware or have forgotten it's previous historical importance as the main highway connecting the island and the mainland.
2. The Glenelg Inn
To celebrate your arrival in the village or to grab a refreshment between your explorations, you should head to the cosy Glenelg Inn for some traditional Highland hospitality. I love the quirky decor in the bar area and it has a great reputation for locally sourced food.
if you time it right you can also catch some live music and in the winter you can sit by the roaring fire.
I would personally love to stay the night here at some point and spend more time exploring the area and relaxing with a whisky while admiring the views to Skye.
3. Iron-Age Brochs
Follow the road from the village to the twin Iron-Age broch towers, Dun Telve and Dun Troddan. Standing over 10m high and over 2000 years old, they are the best preserved brochs on the mainland.
Many of the original features including internal staircases still exist and it is fascinating to stand inside and imagine the life of the people that occupied them thousands of years before when the area would have been a more hostile place.
Brochs are circular drystone towers, found mainly in the north and western coastal regions of Scotland. They are thought to have been fortified dwellings with some defensive function and built as a display of status and wealth.
Whenever I visit places like this I always wonder how many modern structures will still be standing in hundreds never mind thousands of years time and can't help but be impressed at the skill of the builders who created such simple yet sturdy constructions that have lasted many, many lifetimes.
4, The Bernera Barracks
The Bernera Barracks were the last of four Highland forts built at strategic points by the Hanoverian Government to garrison soldiers after the Jacobite risings of the early 1700s. Able to house up to 200 soldiers it was positioned to control the crossing from Skye at Kyle Rhea.
Construction began in 1719 and It is thought that stone from the nearby brochs was used in the building of the barracks which continued to be utilised as a military base until 1797 by which time it was already falling in to ruin. By 1800 the rooms were available to rent for a pound per year and by 1830 it was used as a poorhouse and subsequently by victims of the Highland Clearances.
Although a substantial part of this atmospheric structure still stands, it is currently fenced off for safety reasons.
5. The original Skye Ferry
The Kyle Rhea strait is the narrowest point between the mainland and Skye and was previously used as the main crossing point to and from the island. A regular ferry service was already established by 1773 and a car ferry service has been making the crossing since 1934. From Easter to October you can still make the short journey with your vehicle on the last manually operated turntable ferry in the world. If you're lucky you might also spot some of the local wildlife as you cross, including sea eagles, porpoise and otters.
Driving over the Skye bridge might be convenient, however 'going over the sea to Skye' is undeniably more romantic and makes it feel much more like an authentic island experience.
6. It is twinned with Glenelg on Mars
Glenelg has a unique claim to fame as the only place on Earth to be twinned with a namesake on another planet. It all started in 2012 when Nasa's robotic rover, Curiosity, was sent on a mission to reach a geological feature on Mars named Glenelg. The feature was named after a rock formation found in north-west Canada although the roots of the name come from the Scottish Highlands. Another reason Glenelg was chosen by the Nasa science team was because if Curiosity travelled there, it would visit the area twice -- both coming and going -- and the word Glenelg is a palindrome, some space geek humour for you!
Residents in Glenelg, Scotland, decided to celebrate the mission, which included a twinning ceremony and ceilidh with a special space themed guest, Dr Bonnie Dunbar, a former Nasa astronaut.
The story about the seed of an idea in a small village in Scotland to it's development as a full on space event would make a great film. Never mind the fascinating history and stunning scenery, personally this cool space fact would be reason enough for me to visit Glenelg!
A historic drive, Highland hospitality, Iron-Age brochs, Hanoverian barracks, the last manually operated turntable in the world and a Martian connection are just 6 reasons why you should visit Glenelg. The original gateway to Skye and in my opinion by far the best!
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