Our hiking shoes got a lot of use in Scotland. But the most memorable hike, the one that had our legs trembling with fatigue and our eyes wide open with amazement, was the Kintail Saddle.
Before flying to Scotland, I did a lot of research looking for that perfect Scottish hike. For us, the perfect hike involves summiting a mountain and being rewarded by spectacular views. We love lots of changes in scenery, some rock scrambling, and sections just challenging enough to keep things interesting. The Kintail Saddle ticked all of the boxes on our list.
Of course, this is Scotland. Rain is almost ever-present, especially during the summer months. It’s one thing planning to do the hike. It’s another to get lucky enough to have clear weather. The three days prior to the Kintail Saddle hike was spent in the rain on the Isle of Skye. One of our big hikes (Bla Bheinn) was already disrupted due to the rain.
Fortunately, mother nature was cooperating. The sky was overcast with a threat of rain, but conditions actually improved during our hike. We had a fabulous day, we were able to see those epic high altitude Scottish views, and we completed another very memorable hike. This was a tough one but one we will not soon forget.
Hiking the Kintail Saddle
The Saddle is described as one of the most magnificent mountains in the Highlands of Scotland. It is located near Shiel Bridge and Invershiel and is just a short drive from the Isle of Skye.
This is a challenging hike. Over 8 miles in length with 1300 meters of climbing, this hike involves summiting two Munros. What is a Munro? A Munro is any mountain in Scotland over 3,000 ft. There are 282 Munros in Scotland. So far, over 5,000 people have bagged all of the Munros.
Most people hike up the Kintail Saddle (Munro #1 for the day) then cross over to Sgurr na Sgine (Munro #2 for the day) before descending back down to Glen Shiel. Prior to the hike, numerous people warned us not to take Tyler and Kara on the Forcan Ridge, a knifelike ridge leading up to the summit. It was beginning to sound like this would be one of the most challenging hikes we have ever attempted!
Start of the Hike
The hike starts just south of Shiel Bridge. Park at the lay-by (narrow car park) on the side of A87 (GPS coordinates: 57.175749, -5.363888). When driving southeast from Glen Shiel, the lay-by is about a ¼ mile past the Achnagart Farm.
From the lay-by, continue to walk southeast down A87 (away from Shiel Bridge). Cross the road and enter the trailhead. There is a wide, gravel path leading through a gate and up the hillside in front of you.
In this photo, the darker green ridge in the background is Faochag, the final ridge you will walk before descending back down to A87:
A steady climb winds its way up the hillside, taking you to the col (a ridge or saddle between two peaks, acting as a bridge between the peaks) between Biod an Fhithich and Meallan Odhar. The path is very easy to follow and it does not take long until you are high above the valley.
Once at the col, turn left and begin the climb up Meallan Odhar. It’s a gradual climb and not very strenuous. We took a break here to enjoy the views, have a snack, and fly our drone. Meanwhile, we were pestered by those very annoying midges!!
Meanwhile, we kept looking over at the next stage of the hike, the Forcan Ridge. Even though we were warned to keep Tyler and Kara off of this section of the hike, still, we were tempted to do it. However, the cloud cover obscuring the knifelike ridge was changing our mind. We wanted adventure but we did not want to endanger our kids.
The Forcan Ridge
The Forcan Ridge is a knifelike ridge leading up to the summit of The Saddle. This is the most common path to The Saddle. During bad weather, for those with limited hiking experience, or for those hiking with kids, there is an alternate, safer path. Very soon we had a decision to make.
The path leading up to the Forcan Ridge
Thinking we were unstoppable, we decided to give the Forcan Ridge a try. It gets steep rather quickly, so it would not take us long to find out if we could handle it.
The ascent up Forcan Ridge is challenging! Too challenging for Kara and Tyler. A few years from now…sure, they’d be able to handle it. But today, it was not worth risking their safety to bag a Munro. We turned around, deciding to continue on with the safer option.
Finding Our Way
Just before the Forcan Ridge the path splits. The trail to the right leads up the Ridge and the trail to the left follows the contour of the slope. We walked across a rocky hillside, ending at another col. And this is where staying on the trail got a little tricky.
Looking back at the Forcan Ridge and the alternate path lower down on the mountain
We were using printed directions from the Walk Highlands website. Their instructions were good, but the landmarks they listed used Gaelic names for the mountains. This was our first time here and we had no idea what we were looking at. I had also made the assumption that we would be able to use Google Maps to help identify landmarks. Wrong. We had zero cell service here. Tim and I were left deciphering written words from a Scottish website that assumed you already knew the names of the mountain peaks towering around you.
We were in no danger. During the entire hike we could see A87 and in the worst case scenario we would just retrace our steps to our car. But we wanted to get as high as possible, bag at least one Munro, and be rewarded with awesome views over Scotland.
Bealach Coire Mhalagain
Bealach Coire Mhalagain is another col. This one connects The Saddle with Sgurr na Sgine. The path down from the summit of The Saddle and alternate, safer path both connect here.
There are rusted metal poles sticking up from the ground here. They are placed in the ground every 15 to 20 feet. If you follow them, they climb up the next slope.
Sgurr na Sgine and Faochag
Climb the hillside on the faint, hard to follow path. Basically, just head straight up the hill the safest way possible. Another awesome view awaits.
At the top of this hill, you can see down Faochag, the ridge heading towards A87. The peak looming over you to your right is Sgurr na Sgine.
Again, we had a difficult time following the Walk Highlands instructions. What we thought was Sgurr na Sgine was really Faochag. So nope, we never climbed the official peak of Sgurr na Sgine, which means we never officially bagged a Munro today. Sure, I am a wee bit disappointed, but we were about to be rewarded with some phenomenal views. And to be honest, at this point, Kara was running out of steam. The thought of climbing even higher sounded like torture to her.
So, to climb Sgurr na Sgine, turn right on the ridge (walking away from A87) and head up the summit. Enjoy the view, retrace your steps, and then begin the walk out onto Faochag.
Another view of the Forcan Ridge (and the alternate path)
Tim and Tyler flying the drone as Kara and I walk along the ridge
View from Faochag.
Continue along Faochag. The path rapidly descends, and yes, at times, it looks as though you will slide right off the side of the mountain.
Way down there is A87.
Don’t forget to enjoy the view
The descent is difficult. Maybe the most difficult part of the day (unless you did the Forcan Ridge). It’s a slippery, rocky, muddy drop back down to sea level.
Once at the bottom, the last step is to cross the stream (Allt Mhalagain). Usually this is easy as there is a path of stones crossing the stream. However, if it has recently rained, which it had in our case, the stream becomes a river. The water is much too high for the bridge of stones to be sufficient. It took us 10 minutes of hiking upstream to find a narrower, safer place to cross. With two tired kids, the last thing we wanted to do at this point was to walk farther than necessary.
Since we crossed the stream at a different point, we lost the trail. The four of us trudged through boggy, wet ground to A87. A climb over the fence and a short walk to our car and our journey was over.
About the Kintail Saddle Hike
Length: 8.25 miles, 1350 meters of climbing
Allow 6 to 8 hours for the hike.
There are no signs or markers on the trail. In most places, the trail itself is easy to follow. Print out a copy of the map on the Walk Highlands website for reference.
Do not expect your cell phone to work!
Wear waterproof hiking shoes. This hike takes you through very wet, boggy marshes and your feet will get soaked.
Do not attempt the Forcan Ridge in the rain, snow, or even when it is very cloudy. Do not underestimate the danger of this ridge.
For more details on the hike, visit the Walk Highlands website. Print out this post as a PDF so you can reference it while hiking.
Even during the peak summer month of August, we had this trail almost to ourselves. We saw just two other hikers during the entire hike.
Hiking with Kids: Tyler was 13 and Kara was 11 when we did this hike. Even with Kara’s rock climbing experience we did not think it was safe for her to attempt the Forcan Ridge. If your child is 14 years or older with lots of hiking experience, the Forcan Ridge is possible. If you are in doubt, climb a short distance up and if it seems too challenging, turn around and take the alternate path along the hillside.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Grianan Guest House, located in Inverinate of Kintail, just a 10 minute drive from The Saddle hike. This small B&B has only four rooms and has a beautiful setting overlooking Loch Duich. We loved it here!! Plus, it is just 15 minutes away from Eilean Donan Castle.
Where to Eat: The Glenelg Inn. It’s a half an hour away from Kintail but the food is awesome here. This pub serves excellent Scottish food and ale. Just make sure you made a reservation in advance.
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