There’s nothing more inviting at the end of a day sightseeing or walking in the mountains than a cosy pub with a roaring fire, good food and good beer. You know the kind of place – real ales on tap, great locally-produced food and a warm, friendly atmosphere.
There are plenty of pubs to choose from – over 5,150 at the last count. (Why did it take me so long to get around to a Top 10 on pubs, you may ask …). Alas, not every pub meets the criteria I’ve set:
- first, the Top 10 list is focused on pubs that walkers and climbers often frequent (so, ignore all those soulless city centre bars – these are all roadside or village pubs within walking distance of … a good walk … as well as some of Scotland’s top tourist destinations). I can assure you that staff wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you strolled in off the hills in your boots and waterproofs;
- secondly, they strive to provide high quality beer and grub that draw clientele from miles around (some of the local beef, game and seafood on offer, for example, is world class); and
- thirdly, they have real character. They enjoy a reputation that extends across Scotland and beyond, they’re often eccentric in their decor (and/or the ‘regulars’), and they often ooze tradition and history as pubs and coaching houses going back many, many decades.
Choosing a definitive Top 10 is no easy matter. There are at least another 10 I shortlisted but have left out – and probably countless more that I simply haven’t visited or know about (but please leave me a comment if you have any good suggestions you think should be included). So, here goes …..
10. Traquair Arms, Innerleithen
Well known in the Scottish Borders, where I used to live, as a traditional, good quality inn. It serves great food (Border lamb, Tweed vension..) and real ales – Traquair Bear ale – brewed at nearby Traquair House. There’s a beer garden in summer and cosy log fire in winter.
On the doorstep for … the world-class Glentress and 7 Stanes mountain biking downhill runs; Traquair House, a former hunting lodge for the kings and queens of Scotland dating back to 1107; good walks eg the 212 mile Southern Upland Way, Broad Law.
9. Moulin Hotel, Pitlochry
A traditional Highland inn dating from 1695 in the tiny hamlet of Moulin, just up the hill from Pitlochry and at the start of the popular walk up Ben Vrackie. Romantic rooms, good Scottish food and an award-winning pub … with its own microbrewery in the former coaching house behind the Hotel (serving Old Remedial, Ale of Atholl, Braveheart etc).
On the doorstep for … an afternoon’s walk up Ben Vrackie for some cracking views; a stroll around the holiday town of Pitlochry; nearby Blair Castle, home of the Dukes of Atholl; white water rafting, bungee jumping and other adventure sports in the heart of Highland Perthshire’s breathtaking scenery.
8. Invergarry Hotel
On the road to the Isle of Skye, this comfortable country inn is 22 miles north of Fort William. It boasts 12 rooms, excellent Scottish food and drink (Michelin recommended) and very well located for the sights in this stunning part of the world.
On the doorstep for … Loch Ness; Loch Garry (famously nicknamed the “map of Scotland” from its roadside viewpoint); Eilan Donan Castle en route for Skye; the Jacobite steam train (used in the Harry Potter film) between Fort William and Mallaig, one of the finest railway journeys in the world; the Great Glen long distance footpath, Ben Tee (Corbett) and countless munros in Glen Shiel and elsewhere.
7. Bridge of Orchy Hotel
Right on the A82 between Tyndrum and Glen Coe, the Bridge of Orchy Hotel has rooms, good Scottish food, real ales and (for walkers and backpackers) a 46-bed bunkhouse at the back.
On the doorstep for … the munro Beinn Dorain (literally, just across the road) and many great munros in Glen Coe and the Southern Highlands; the 96 mile West Highland Way between Milngavie and Fort William; the underground power station at Ben Cruachan.
6. Cluanie Inn, Glen Shiel
The Cluanie Inn is right on the A87 surrounded by mountains on the Road to Skye. It serves fresh Scottish food, has its own whisky bar (as well as a ‘normal’ bar serving bar meals) and has 12 rooms. It’s a little more upmarket than some of the other walkers’ pubs but is a magnet for climbers, walkers and fisherman after a hard day’s exercise.
On the doorstep for … 21 munros (Five Sisters, South Glen Shiel Ridge, The Saddle etc); Eilan Donan Castle, one of the most photographed Scottish castles, the Isle of Skye.
5. Sligachan Hotel, Skye
Moved from its original site in 1830 and frequented by “gentleman climbers”, the ‘Slig’ has since earned a reputation across the world for its location near the Cuillin mountains. It still has the character of a coaching inn and brews the Cuillin real ales in a microbrewery on site (the peaty waters from the river give the beers their distinctive taste and colour). The Slig has rooms, self catering cottages, a bunkhouse and a campsite just across the road. What more could you want ?
On the doorstep for … the Cuillin mountains (arguably the finest peaks in the UK and world-renowned); Dunvegan Castle; the Quirang; the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle.
4. Applecross Inn
After a hair-rising six mile journey over the Bealach na Ba (pass of the cattle), the highest mountain pass in Britain, you will be glad to arrive in Applecross. Once here, you won’t want to leave. The Inn is the centre of the community, serving local fresh food (salmon, lobster, crab, oysters, venison …) and with seven rooms. No wonder then that the Applecross Inn was voted the Scotland Pub of the Year in the 2012 Good Pub Guide.
On the doorstep for … eating, drinking and relaxing. And looking out over the hills in Skye. That’s about it.
3. Glenelg Inn
Just over the pass from Shiel Bridge (off the A87 to Skye), Glenelg nestles on the shoreline looking out to Skye. It’s a civilised place with great seafood, real ales and a cosy snug of a bar. The rooms are not cheap, mind you, but if you’re looking for a great pub this is about the only place for miles around.
On the doorstep for … the munro, Beinn Sgritheall; the munros in Glen Shiel; the Kylerhea car ferry to Skye (April to mid-October) or the more modern Skye Bridge.
2. The Old Forge, Inverie, Knoydart
Well known as the most remote pub in mainland Britain you need to make an effort to get here – either by boat from Mallaig or several long walking routes. Once here you can enjoy one of the best seafood platters available anywhere together with the occasional impromptu ceilidh. The picture at the top of the post shows the Old Forge on the “main street” in Inverie (ie the only road in Knoydart !).
On the doorstep for … unspoilt scenery and wildlife spotting in Knoydart; three munros including Ladhar Bheinn, one of the finest hills in Scotland; sea kayaking.
1. Clachaig Inn, Glen Coe
The Clachaig is a real magnet for walkers and climbers in Glen Coe and has offered beer and lodging for over 300 years. Don’t expect luxury – its rooms and food are not the main reason for coming. No, it’s all about the beer and the location, surrounded by stunning mountain scenery. Expect a great atmosphere, stone floors, wooden tables, open fires, over 200 whiskies and real ales.
On the doorstep for … Glen Coe and its mountains; Ben Nevis and Fort William nearby.
Now after writing this post I’m starting to feel more than a little peckish and thirsty for some good beer. So, if I head north via Bridge of Orchy and Glen Coe, up to Invergarry, turn left towards Glenelg, then up over the Skye Bridge to ….. yep, I reckon a week or two should do it.