The middle of nowhere: Scotland’s wildest guesthouse

by Rachel Hand

An hour and a half from the nearest train station, two hours from the nearest city, and not even accessible by road, Skiary lives up to the claim of being Britain’s most remote b&b

Nestled on the shore of Loch Hourn, the little cottage and the ruins of several crofts is all that remains of a hamlet called Skiary. This whole area around the Knoydart peninsula was devastated by the Highland clearances of the 19th century, and as a result, this is a wild and somewhat unforgiving landscape. There is simply nothing here, no civilization, no shops, no pylons, no road markings. Cottages, lodges and hamlets are dotted around the peninsula, which lies to the North-West of Scotland, near Skye. As for Skiary, it is inaccessible by road and surrounded by towering mountains on all sides, with a front garden sloping down into seaweed and cold water. It’s certainly a dramatic location for a holiday, and gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, 'getting away from it all'.


The interior, however, is extremely cosy - despite there being no electricity! The living room is awash with soft furnishings, and the log fire and a collection of board games and jig saws are better than a television any day. At night, paraffin lamps, gas lanterns and candles create a golden aura in all the rooms, illuminating family portraits and rustic furnishings. The water is heated by the kitchen stove, whilst sitting in the bath affords a lovely view of a mountainside. There are three twin bedrooms, with thick curtains and beautiful vintage furniture. It’s romantic to say the least.


Breakfast and dinner are served in the adjoining greenhouse, providing panoramic views across the loch. A family business, Skiary is now run by a friendly young couple who provide modern but hearty food, mouthwatering cakes and packed lunches, and lots of local knowledge. They cater for vegetarians (phew!) or any food requirements if they are told in advance, and welcome children and dogs. They also (luckily) pick up guests from the nearest road, load your luggage into the boat, and zip over the loch. The views from the boat are, needless to say, stunning.

Activities


But what does one do in the middle of nowhere, with no electricity, and no hope of mobile or internet connection? My more adventurous (and carnivorous) companions went climbing on a crag emerging from the sea, snorkelled for scallops, and went fishing. As Loch Hourn is a sea loch, there was barbecued mackerel for supper that night, and legend has it that occasionally there will be a langoustine or two in the lobster pots. We saw some passing sea kayakers once, and apparently the guesthouse is ideally situated for Beinn Sgritheall and Ladhar Bheinn if you’re a ‘Munro Bagger’. There is also a path over the mountain to beautiful Barisdale bay, which has a campsite if the weather is favourable (www.barisdale.com). Just a few miles east lies Loch Quoich, a rather desolate landscape, created in the 1950s by drowning a valley to form a hydroelectric dam.

If you’re less daring or energetic, a nice trip across the loch in a rowing boat, an hour or two of gentle walking on deer tracks or following a river, constructing campfires, or flying kites, will tire you out. As for people like me, who would see such a place as a retreat, and perhaps look to it for inspiration, Skiary doesn’t disappoint. Sitting by the fire doing patchwork, lounging on the lochside playing guitar, writing, or just having the time and peace to be alone with one’s thoughts is a really special experience here. I often wished wholeheartedly that I had brought an easel and paints, although I’m not much of an artist! Perhaps it seems strange to travel so far to somewhere which has the main selling point of being 'nowhere', where nothing is really within 'easy reach'. Seriously, even the nearest pub is 15 miles away! But when you really think about how isolated and alone you are there, you begin to feel incredibly free.


One of the most extraordinary aspects of the area has to be the wildlife. Bemused but completely unafraid of man, the seals did not seem fazed by our boat creeping up to their rock, and the herd of red deer that came down from the mountains each evening for some carrots just seemed like extra dinner guests. A walk around the garden might let you see voles or dormice, and the hillsides are full of wild orchids, butterflies and frogs. Seabirds are aplenty, whilst sea otters, buzzards and eagles have been spotted in the past. The only wildlife you’ll be sick of is the incessant midges, but a gust of wind soon gets rid of them.


This is really an unparalleled experience of wild, unspoilt Britain, where you really get to know yourself and learn to appreciate little things like light switches or local shops. Because it’s so remote, it is perhaps best seen during a trip to the area in general; Fort William, Oban, Mallaig, Inverness and Skye are all reasonably close by, all of which come with their own attractions and mountains to climb. But Skiary itself is best described as a sanctuary from the world, and an ideal destination for a photographer or artist. For just £89 pppn, you can see the British wilderness whilst still living luxuriously. If, however, you would prefer somewhere more convenient or mainstream, the area also boasts the opulent Tomdoun Sporting Lodge, a Highland lodge with all the trimmings between Loch Quoich and Loch Garry.


Useful information

The nearest town is Fort William, and if you decide to get the train there you can rent a car from www.fortwilliamcarhire.com for the last leg of the journey. From the A87 by Invergarry, follow signs for Kinlochourn.