GLENELG'S PERFECT WEE PUB by Maggie O'Sullivan
Think a friendly Scottish inn serving top-quality food is as hard to find as Nessie herself? Then check out this little gem in the West Highlands
Scotland is our sort of place. But we have to admit it’s not always easy to eat well outside the big cities. So when the owners of our rented cottage on the West Highland coast recommended the local inn, we weren’t expecting much. We’ve spent too many evenings in depressing, Local Hero-style pubs, dining on crisps and peanuts because the kitchen has closed. But we should have had more faith. For this particular local was Glenelg Inn, once described by Bill Bryson as an ‘outpost of comfort and graciousness’.
Bill Bryson visited Glenelg Inn more than 20 years ago. Back then it was owned by a colourful local character called Christopher Main. Today, Sheila Condie – a cool blonde from Edinburgh – is at the helm, affectionately referring to it as her ‘wee pub’.
Glenelg Inn is everything a country pub should be, but so rarely is. Outside, a pretty beer garden with views across the Sound of Sleat to Skye. Inside, wood-paneled walls hung with a jumble of prints and paintings and tiled floors scattered with rugs. Barman Kevin dispenses pints and G&Ts with a generous measure of Irish bonhomie and encourages the locals and visitors to mix (this is not one of those pubs where regulars greet newcomers with stony silence). There’s a quiet corner lined with books, and half a dozen tables in front of the roaring fire.
On our first evening, the cosy fireside tables were all reserved so we ate in a rather less cosy annexe room. The menu, which changes daily, features mainly local produce, such as Loch Hourn langoustines, Arisaig mussels, Mallaig haddock and Moyle venison. We both chose a plate of fat, pink langoustines with bread and butter. Not cheap at £17.95, but certainly fresh, caught earlier that day by Brian. We know it was Brian because we had met him earlier in the bar.
Glenelg itself is also rather special. Hugging a tidal lagoon opposite Skye (there’s a six-car ferry linking it with the island), it’s surrounded by craggy peaks and forested glens streaked with flashes of golden broom. Apart from being fantastic walking country, it’s also home to two remarkably well-preserved Iron Age brochs and the ruins of an 18th-century barracks. Its splendid war memorial is one of the finest on Scotland’s west coast. Interesting fact #1: at the top of the memorial’s list of the fallen is Valentine Fleming, a local landowner and father of James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Interesting fact #2: the memorial is virtually the only place in Glenelg you’ll get a mobile signal.
After we’d polished off the langoustines, we abandoned all plans to self-cater and spent every evening but one in Glenelg Inn, making sure to reserve a table in front of the fire. On warmer evenings we sat in the garden and gazed across the water to the Cuillin Hills of Skye.
So, after years of looking, we’ve found the perfect wee pub. It has seven pretty bedrooms, too, so next time we might even stay.
Glenelg Inn, Glenelg, Kyle of Lochalsh, Ross-shire, IV40 8JR; 01599 522273; www.glenelg-inn.com B&B from £120 per night; single occupancy from £85 per night.
Photographer: Scott McDonald