Great British Escapes’ Review of the Torridon Hotel and tips for a short break in the Scottish Highlands
For those that enjoy serious mountain scenery, the Scottish Highlands are hard to beat and, even here, the mountains of Torridon stand out as some of the most impressive scenery in Britain. Whilst not able to compete with the height of some of the world’s highest ranges, the mountains are huge and dominating, with rocky peaks dropping sharply to the edge of sparkling lochs or leading onto the valley floor, cut through by a meandering river. These mountains are also old - the red sandstone of Torridon makes up some of the oldest rocks in the world, thought to date back around 2500 million years ago – and the experience of exploring this ancient landscape, almost untouched by human development, is worth travelling out of your way for.
Getting there is half the fun
Whichever way you approach Torridon, the views are gorgeous. Head in from the south on the A896 all the way from Glen Coe and past Eilean Donan castle, west via the Applecross peninsula, or north via the Beinn Eighe nature reserve and through the heart of Glen Torridon. The Applecross route is particularly dramatic as you will need to drive over ‘Bealach na Ba’ – the pass of the cattle - an alpine style pass which has plenty of hairpin bends and gradients of 1 in 5. The views from the road are tremendous and, on a clear day, you can see the rugged peaks of the Cuillin hills across the Sound of Raasay on the Isle of Skye. This route also has the benefit of passing the Applecross Inn, a lovely pub on the edge of the loch, again with views towards Skye. Local lobsters, beef and lamb are all regulars on the menu, with real ales on tap and a good selection of wine. A worthy place to celebrate making it over the Bealach na Ba pass!
After the village, the roads hugs the coast around the peninsula, offering more sublime views out to sea and, eventually, across Loch Torridon to the mountains which are your ultimate destination.
On nearing Torridon, if approaching via Applecross or the south, make sure to take the short detour off the main road into the pretty little village of Shieldaig. Now a sleepy fishing village, Shieldaig was originally built in around 1800 to provide and train sailors for the Royal Navy fighting in the Napoleonic wars. While there, follow the signs from the main street to the Loch Torridon Smokehouse. It’s a small family affair and the fresh salmon which is hot and cold smoked in the smokehouse (set up in their back garden) is worth making the trip for in itself!
Getting into the hills
The scenery is unmistakably the main draw here. The mountains of Liathach, Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg are mesmerising. The road through the Glen is dwarfed by the hills around and there’s a good chance of spotting Scotland’s famous wildlife – deer are often seen and this is one of the best places to try to spot the elusive Golden Eagle.
If you have time to explore the area, a great walk is up to the rock buttress at Coire Mhic Fhearchair. This is a reasonably challenging hike (taking about 4 hours) which takes you right into the centre of the Torridon mountains and up through a gap between Liathach and Beinn Eighe. The walk skirts the lower slopes of Beinn Eighe and the views of Torridon’s northern mountains then really open up in front of you. The end point is a beautiful small lake sitting in a hollow carved out of the rocks – a perfect place to enjoy your smoked salmon picked up in Shieldaig! – before retracing your steps back into Glen Torridon.
Spend the night
After your walk (or if the weather isn’t with you and the hills are shrouded in a blanked of cloud!) or if a bit of relaxation is called for, thankfully you can head to the peaceful confines of the Torridon Hotel and Inn. These two options are both fantastic places to stay and eat, all rolled up in the Torridon Hotel’s 58 acres of private grounds.
One of Scotland’s most appealing luxury hotels, the Torridon Hotel was built in 1887 as a hunting lodge and enjoys a prime spot at the head of Loch Torridon. Next to the hotel, the Torridon Inn is a more informal offering which also makes an excellent stop with its reasonably priced rooms and cosy pub on site.
At the Hotel, as with the Torridon scenery, everything is on a grand scale. The setting on the edge of the loch is hard to beat and the exterior of the imposing red stone turreted lodge is more than matched by the impressive décor inside. The entrance hall, dining room and lounge all ooze character and fit the aristocratic feel of the building. Best of all, the oak-panelled whisky lounge with its roaring log fire, soft leather armchairs and traditional hunting design (think mounted Stag heads…) – and with over 350 different malt whiskys to choose from – is not an experience to be forgotten in a hurry.
One of the many benefits of being a guest of the hotel is that you get a complimentary activities programme, which could include archery, kayaking or guided walks. This is a welcome option as, unless you have experience of mountain walking, the hills around here can seem pretty foreboding and it’s useful to have a guide who knows their way around up here.
Having worked up a suitable appetite, you can settle into canapés in the library before enjoying some top class food. The hotel’s 3 AA rosette restaurant serving up plenty of local treats, including veg from the on-site kitchen garden and meat from the estate.
Upstairs, the rooms are spacious and comfortable (leaving a hot water bottle in the bed is a particularly nice touch!) with many having views over the loch and gardens. A good night’s sleep is guaranteed - you certainly won’t be disturbed by any road noise up here! - and, painful though it may be to tear yourself out of the plush bed and thick duvet, it’s worth setting the alarm clock to watch the sun rise and the morning light gradually creep down the mountains across the loch.
Although it takes a bit of effort to get this far north (and the chances of rain are pretty high!), the journey is a great adventure in itself and leads you straight into the winning combination of top class accommodation set within one of Britain’s last great wildernesses.
If you would like some help planning your trip to Scotland or the rest of Britain, please do get in touch.