Glenelg, Highland

Glenelg (Scottish Gaelic: Glinn Eilg,[1] also Gleann Eilg[2]) is a scattered community area and civil parish in the Lochalsh area of Highland in western Scotland. Despite the local government reorganisation the area is considered by many still to be in Inverness-shire, the boundary with Ross-shire (where the post town of Kyle of Lochalsh is situated) being at the top of Mam Ratagan ("Ratagan Gap" or "pass") the single track road entry into Glenelg.


Glenelg with village shop at left
Location within the Ross and Cromarty area
Population1,507 (2001)
OS grid referenceNG8119
Civil parish
  • Glenelg
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townKYLE
Postcode districtIV40
Dialling code01599
EU ParliamentScotland
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament

The main village is called Kirkton of Glenelg and commonly referred to as "Glenelg". There is a smaller hamlet less than a mile to the south by the jetty and skirting Glenelg Bay known as Quarry. There are several other clusters of houses scattered over Glenelg including up Glen Beag and Glen More and on the road leading to the ferry at Kyle Rhea. The parish covers a large area including Knoydart, North Morar and the ferry port of Mallaig.[3] At the 2001 census it had a population of 1,507.[4] The smaller "settlement zone" around Kirkton had a population of 283.[5] In 2011 Highland Council estimated that the community of Glenelg and Arnisdale had a population of 291.[6]


Glenelg is located south of Loch Alsh, by the fiercely tidal Kyle Rhea narrows, where the Isle of Skye is closest to the mainland. Between November and February, the only access to Glenelg is by road over the 339 metres (1,112 ft) Mam Ratagan (known loosely as "the Bealach" (pass)) from Shiel Bridge on the main road from Inverness to Skye. From the summit of Mam Ratagan the road runs gently into Glenelg down Glen More (Gleann Mhòr, "big valley"), which is otherwise isolated from Loch Duich by Beinn a Chuirn, and from Loch Alsh by Glas Beinn. There is a second valley, approximately parallel to Glen More and to the south known as Glen Beag (Gleann Beag, "small valley"), separated from Glen More by Beinn a' Chaonich. On reaching the coast, the road continues southwards, following the shore of Loch Hourn, where it abruptly terminates at Arnisdale; Loch Hourn is separated from Glen Beag by Beinn a' Chapuill and Beinn Sgritheall.

Its proximity to Skye meant that Glenelg was formerly of more strategic importance and had a significantly larger population. It appears on the relevant map of the first atlas of Scotland, published by Joan Blaeu in Amsterdam in 1662, for instance. Cattle from the outer islands were taken to Uig in the north of Skye to join with those reared on Skye and other nearby islands, driven south to the village of Kylerhea, and, tied together in dozens, nose ring to tail and guided by a rowing boat, swum the 534 metres[7] to the mainland before being herded to market along the drovers' road through Glen Beag, on to Kinlochhourn and then to the markets at Stirling and Falkirk and elsewhere in the Scottish Lowlands. Between March and October, there is the option to cross the Kyle Rhea strait by ferry (see below).

Following the Jacobite rising of 1715, Glenelg was chosen along with Fort George, Fort Augustus and Fort William as one of four sites in the Highlands for a military barracks. These were completed in 1725 and a military road soon linked Glenelg to the rest of General George Wade's road network. Ultimately unsuccessful in preventing the 1745 uprising and not needed after the Highland Clearances, the Bernera Barracks are now ruined.

The war memorial in Glenelg was erected in 1920 to a design by Sir Robert Lorimer.[8]

A person from Glenelg is known in Gaelic as an Eilgeach.


Between March and October, a small vehicle ferry connects to Kylerhea on Skye across the powerful currents of the narrows. The ferry used on the crossing since 1982 is the MV Glenachulish, the last hand operated turntable ferry in operation in the world.[9] Built in 1969 for the Ballachulish crossing by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company in Troon, it is now operated by a local Community Interest Company. The ferry can transport six cars plus foot passengers on the open deck. It is unusual in that the ferry ties up alongside the slipway and the crew manually turn the deck, which is built on a turntable, for cars and passengers to embark and disembark.[10] When the Ballachulish Bridge opened in 1975, it became the relief vessel for Corran, Kylesku and Kessock near Inverness.[9]

The Genelg Ferry slipway was designed by Thomas Telford in 1818 and is Category B listed. [11]


The ferry is a tourist attraction in itself. Another attraction in recent years are a pair of resident sea eagles During the summer, sightings are almost daily as they fish by the ferry crossing trying to feed their young. Glenelg attracts tourists to the remains of two of the best-preserved brochs (Dun Telve and Dun Troddan) on mainland Scotland, located in Glen Beag.


The community's only pub is the Glenelg Inn. This stands on the site of the earlier Glenelg Hotel, a fine highland hotel with marble flooring which caught fire in 1946 and had to be demolished. There is also a village shop, an organic market garden/croft and associated cafe, in Glen Beag. There is also a seasonal cafe in the Glenelg Village Hall in Kirkton and local businesses offering local services including bicycle hire and repair.

Glenelg Parish Church of Scotland has an 18th century core; repairs 1821-30, interior remodelled in 1863 and 1929. 18th century bird-cage bellcote to west gable.

Glenelg Amateur Football Club

Glenelg Amateur Football Club is known to locals by their nickname of "The Duffers", were re-formed in 2011 by Grant MacLeod.


Although the name nowadays refers to the whole district, it is likely that it originally referred only to the glen containing the brochs. The specific element of the name (Eilg) is found elsewhere, such as in Elgin (Gaelic Eilginn) and is generally accepted as being a kenning for Ireland. Other such names include Banavie, Banff, Atholl, Lochearn, Auldearn, and show Gaelic settlers using the same migrant naming practice as gives us placenames such as New Caledonia and New York.

The name is unusual in that it is a palindrome.

Twinning with Mars

Glenelg was officially twinned with Glenelg, Mars on 20 October 2012.[12] A palindromic name was chosen by NASA because the Curiosity rover would visit the site twice.[13]

Sandaig and Camusfeàrna

The author Gavin Maxwell's retreat at Sandaig (which he called Camusfeàrna, "the bay of the alders", in his book Ring of Bright Water) is within the Glenelg community area around six miles south of Kirkton of Glenelg. The house had previously been a smallholding and home for the part-time lighthouse keeper of the Sandaig Lighthouse.

The Sandaig Light formerly on Little Sandaig was built in 1910 by Charles Alexander Stevenson, ( cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson), for the Northern Lighthouse Board. In 2002 the tower was restored and moved to the community-owned Glenelg Ferry Terminal where it is now a feature.[14]

The eponymous Sandaig Islands are a small group of islets just off the point in the Sound of Sleat and are known for their fine silvery shell sand beaches.

Notable people

  • Terry Nutkins, (1946-2012) naturalist, television presenter and author, and in his youth was one of Gavin Maxwell's otter keepers.
  • Neil M Gunn, novelist, spent holidays with his sister Mary and her husband Dr Keillor who was the local GP, and regarded it as his second home. [15]
  • Gavin Maxwell FRSL, FIAL, FZS (Sc.), FRGS (15 July 1914 – 7 September 1969) was a Scottish naturalist and author, best known for Ring of Bright Water (1960), his account of his life at Sandaig with his pet otter Mijbil. [16]
  • (Frederick) Anthony Hamilton Wills, 2nd Baron Dulverton (1915–1992) owner of Eilanreach Estate on which Sandaig is situated.
  • Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell stayed at the inn here, now known as Ferry House, on their tour of the Highlands in 1773 later published as Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland (1775). [16]


  1. "Gaelic Place-Names of Scotland database". Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  2. "Scottish Parliament: Placenames collected by Iain Mac an Tailleir" (PDF).
  3. "Map of Parishes in the County of Inverness". Scotlands Family.
  4. "Usual Resident Population: Glenelg". Scotland's Census Results Online. General Register Office for Scotland. Archived from the original on 6 September 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  5. "2001 Census Profile for Glenelg". Highland Council. Archived from the original on 30 May 2012. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  6. "Community Councils: Total Population" (PDF). Highland Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 September 2012. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  7. Width of Kyle Rhea narrows Wikimapia. Retrieved: 2012-10-27.
  8. Dictionary of Scottish Architects: Robert Lorimer
  9. "Glenelg Ferry". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
  12. "Glenelg celebrates twinning with Mars". The Scotsman. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  13. "Glenelg Intrigue". NASA. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
  15. Pick, J. B. (1 December 2003). Neil Gunn. Northcote House Publishers Ltd. ISBN 9781786946621.
  16. Maxwell, Gavin, 1914-1969. (2001). The ring of bright water trilogy. Puffin. ISBN 0141308079. OCLC 59549648.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Glenelg Scotland The Glenelg and Arnisdale tourist information guide that promotes the wildlife and scenery of the area to visitors.
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