What makes a top walkersâ€™ pub? location, great beer and good company all play their part
Many love the Clachaigâ€™s awesome setting in Glencoe, the Tibbie Shiels Innâ€™s warm Borders hospitality, or the Creagan Innâ€™s views over Loch Creran. But after much thought we raise a glass to these five, in no particular order.
1 The Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore
Handily placed where the Speyside Way and the East Highland Way converge, and the first proper pub reached on the road west from Cairngorm and the northern end of the Lairig Ghru, this riverside hostelry is a welcome sight for many. Thankfully, thereâ€™s no TV or fruit machine, but there are board games galore, a log fire, beer garden, bunkhouse and, often, live music. Itâ€™s not quite a hidden gem, but it is tucked away down a quiet lane and so is spared the attentions of random passing motorists. Landlord Owen Caldwell says bedraggled walkers and their paraphernalia are all part of the fun: â€œWe want to be part of a walkerâ€™s experience, and how else can we achieve that without welcoming them straight in off the mountains? The muddy boots and soaked jackets are as much a part of what we do as the Cairngorm ales and the wild mountain hare we serve.â€
2 Ben Nevis Inn,Â Lochaber
This one really is all about the location. Itâ€™s the first building you come to after coming down off the UKâ€™s highest mountain, so the passing trade tends to be thirsty, hungry and in need of a sit-down. A high proportion of customers have bagged the Ben, often in large, fund-raising groups, while others have just about finished the West Highland Way, so thereâ€™s often a cheery atmosphere. The food is tasty and substantial â€“ chicken and haggis rumbledethumps, ale-battered haddock and the like â€“ and thereâ€™s no need to stress about muddying the stone walls and bare floorboards. There a bunkhouse, regular live music and plenty of outside tables from which to enjoy the view.
3 The Haven,Â Cellardyke, Fife
Walkers 62 miles into the Fife Coastal Path are often glad of this welcoming establishment beside the harbour, with fantastic views across the Firth of Forth. Landlady Wendy Mitchell serves hearty food majoring on seafood and fish but also featuring such energy-boosting delights as slow-roasted Black Isle lamb shank and homemade lemon cheesecake with ginger nut base. Beers include those of the Eden Brewery at St Andrews. Thereâ€™s a fine beer garden, with barbecues in summer, and walkers heading eastwards, as most do, may find it hard to get going again as the next stretch, to Crail, is lonely and uneven. One for the road?
4 Crask Inn,Â Sutherland
Half way along the single-track road between Lairg and Altnaharra, this splendid pub is a working croft and the kind of place that, once discovered, will not be forgotten. Thereâ€™s no website and no internet, but plenty of home-cooked food making the most of the local beef, lamb and venison. No need to dress for dinner â€“ in fact you may end up helping hosts Mike and Kai Geldard wash the dishes. Itâ€™s well placed for some of the northâ€™s finest hills, such as Ben Klibreck (3,156ft) and the most northerly Munro of them all, Ben Hope (3,041ft), as well as lovely lower peaks such as Ben Hee (2,864ft) and Ben Loyal (2,507ft). Itâ€™s also a stopping point for cyclists doing the End to End route devised by Nick Mitchell.
Crask Inn on TripAdvisor
5 Sligachan Hotel,Â Skye
Walkers, climbers, hill runners â€“ if theyâ€™re out in the Cuillin thereâ€™s a better than even chance that theyâ€™ll end up here for refreshments afterwards. This place has long been part of the history of adventure in Scotland â€“ and it has its own museum, telling the stories of characters such as Norman Collie, who helped convince his fellow Victorians that Skye was every bit as good as the Alps. These days itâ€™s called a hotel, rather than an inn as it was then, but the atmosphere is still informal and one bar in particular, Seumas Bar, feels pleasantly pubby, with its exposed beams, 300 whiskies and Cuillin beer, brewed on site. Itâ€™s right on the unofficial Skye Trail, from Rubha Hunish to Broadford, which is growing in popularity, and has a campsite and bunkhouse. Licensee Sandy Coghill says: â€œWe have a long tradition and we are in a unique location â€“ like a wee oasis.â€
This article first appeared in issue 23 of Scotland Outdoors magazine