This traditional old family holiday home welcomes you to the Highlands - ceud mìle fàilte dhut. Looking straight down the Sound of Sleat and to the Isle of Skye, Bac na beàrn is an old Highland family home, a former manse, owned by our family for 70 years. Solidly stone built, slate roofed, with garden, full central heating and double glazing where it matters, warm, comfortable, unfussy and relaxed, and with many original features and quirks. It's sound and welcoming, if not perfect - but then who is? With four bedrooms, bathroom, well equipped kitchen, dining and living rooms, it's a great base for up to seven guests to explore and experience the seas, mountains and wildlife of this unique and outstandingly beautiful part of Scotland.
Note the phrase “family house”. Yes, it’s available for holiday lets but it’s not been tarted up with stuff like wet rooms, hot tubs in the heather or a pool to lounge by - FGS, the sea of Glenelg Bay is only a few hundred yards from the house while a short distance away by sea at the mouth of Loch Hourn are the marvellous soft white shell-sand beaches of the Sandaig Islands. Sandaig is the real name of what Gavin Maxwell called Camus feàrna (Bay of the Alders) and where he lived and wrote Ring of Bright Water about his life with otters.
There’s no decking - and why would there be when you can simply haul out sturdy deck chairs from the hall on to the grass and sit in your oilskins and sou’wester in the horizontal rain and force eight winds enjoying your morning coffee and the wonderful views of Skye and the small islands such as Eigg or even Coll if the dreich permits?
In short, if you’re looking for an aseptic, soulless, tarted up and squeaky clean holiday unit with fully matching cutlery this is not for you. To paraphrase Shirley Conran, there’s more to life than stuffing mushrooms so if the character and feel and history of a house appeals to you you’ll enjoy being part of that here. Centenarian plus though she now is, Bac na beàrn is a living family holiday home, comfortably part of the natural landscape. Not perfect, but then who is?
There are four bedrooms, two double, one with ziplock divan beds, and a single, thereby sleeping up to seven. There’s also a cot which can be used. There’s a comfortable sitting room with non-matching furniture and a carpet which we’ll get round to replacing shortly. There’s a flat screen TV running from a Sky satellite dish (non-subscription, equivalent to Freeview in its range) and a DVD player. In the cupboard there’s any number of DVDs, including some incredibly tacky titles, and plenty of board games and some outdoor ones. There’s a handsome piano which is seriously out of tune – feel free to use it to conduct vendettas against other family members, especially tuneful ones.
There’s at least one bookcase with a miscellaneous range of fiction and non-fiction titles and a number of books, booklets, pamphlets, leaflets and maps relevant to the immediate area and, more generally, the the west Highlands and beyond.
There’s much handsome wood panelling throughout the house, some of it a bit chewed, and including almost the entire surface of the bathroom where you’ll also find an ancient cast iron bath with its original ingenious pillar plug, deep and where almost anyone will be able to lie full length, a glass of whisky comfortably within reach. Or even whiskey, if you prefer. A quaich isn’t mandatory. There’s currently only one lavatory. There’s also a dense patch of rhododendrons by the gate which flowers beautifully in the spring.
The dining room complements the living room, shares the wonderful light and view down the Sound of Sleat and to Skye (as do two bedrooms above), and is light and airy – the latter perhaps partly on account of the gaps between the floor and the skirting board in places, an issue next in line to be addressed when things are quieter. There’s a handsome Victorian oak table and matching mirrored sideboard and six chairs so that in parties of seven each member can take a turn over a week to act as butler. The matching Victorian chairs are upholstered in golden velvet and designed to accommodate a range of bottom characteristics, the seats being a mix of convex, flat and concave, the last a webbing-related matter. The carpet is worn but quite functional, another replacement issue in the process of being addressed.
If you prefer to eat in the kitchen next door, there’s a long, plain refectory-style oiled yew table, again with seating for six or more. Of course there’s plenty of crockery, a quantity of miscellaneous glasses, pans and cutlery and plenty of those items and devices beloved of weekend colour mag reading chefs manqués such as fridge freezer, ceramic-hobbed cooker with two ovens, food processor, slow cooker, and so on. There’s even a mandolin so that you can easily slice the tip of a finger incautiously, and a microplane to allow you to remove part of a knuckle while cheapskatedly getting at the last bit of parmesan. The kitchen scales are solar powered, the implication being that, yes, the sun does shine in Glenelg from time to time.
In the kitchen there’s also a free-standing cupboard, a press, which holds a store of dry goods – salts, peppers, spices, vinegars, oils, flour, rolled oats, oatmeal and other grains and pulses, teas of various kinds, perhaps cocoa, ovaltine and the like, maybe some marmalade, jams, pickles or chutneys and miscellaneous tins of things like tomatoes and baked beans. There’s a plethora of pasta of various kinds. You’re welcome to use these as you need to, simply replacing for later guests any items that run out or that you use excessively.
There is no dishwasher other than yourselves but there’s a decent two-drainer sink, J-cloths, Brillo pads and a mop, and Ecover washing up liquid to go with them. Next door to the scullery there’s an automatic washing machine and a tumble dyer, and the heart of the house’s heat, a powerful oil-fired boiler driving the eleven radiators scattered around the house as well as the capacious and efficient hot water system. There is a broadband connection, currently very slow but apparently shortly to be ugraded – or so OpenReach claims but as anyone who has had dealings with OpenReach will understand, believe that when it happens.
Glenelg and round about
Less striking than the view on the other side, looking out from the kitchen or scullery windows is nevertheless charming and restful with hills, trees and general vegetation, the very decrepit ancient caravan to the north east acting as a counterpoint, memento mori, to wild nature.
Glenelg is a small community on the north west coast of Scotland with Skye on the other side of Glenelg Bay and coming to within 500m of the mainland at its nearest point. This stretch of water was where the cattle, gathered on Skye from the various Hebrides, used to be swum, tied nose to tail and following a rowing boat, before setting off on the long, long walk to the markets of Falkirk and Stirling. Now a six car ferry crosses several times daily between Easter and the late autumn setting off at around 45 degrees to the opposite shore to allow for the drift from the fierce current of the Kyle Rhea narrows. The ferry, now community owned and managed, is the last manually operated turntable ferry in the world. The now privately owned Ferry House was where Johnson and Boswell stayed on their tour of Scotland in 1773 and which then inn Johnson complained of being mean and unsanitary and the publican rapacious and greedy. This is emphatically not the situation with the present-day Glenelg Inn, on the edge of Kirkton, where owner Sheila and chef Verity offer an extremely hospitable house and excellent food.
Kyle of Lochalsh, the nearest town of any size, is about 25 miles away (though only five miles by sea) and Inverness is approaching 70. There is, however, a village shop, the Inn, and a newish village hall where ceilidhs and other events take place. There’s quite commonly live music whether in the Inn or the hall and both the Church of Scotland (where my grandfather ministered for some 40 years) and the Free Church are active.
"What's the equivalent Gaelic word for mañana?" someone once asked the minister. There was a long pause while he considered the matter. "Ach!" he said finally, slowly "There's nothing with chust that sense of urchency!"
Bac na beàrn is a typical stone-built slate-roofed west Highland house built in 1909/10 as the United Free Church manse and which has been in our family for the past 70 years. Like its present owners it’s showing its age but is also weathering well and is an excellent base for a week or two exploring this fascinating and romantically beautiful part of Scotland with its sea and mountain views, its serene calm, and its wildlife of sea and land birds, fish, basking sharks, seals, whales, otters, pine martens, wild cat, deer and more.
Come and walk or climb. There’s a Munro - Beinn Sgritheall [“Ben Skreel”] just up the road at Arnisdale and another - Ladhar Bheinn [“Larven”] a little beyond Arnisdale in Knoydart and several more over Mam Ratagan, the pass into Glenelg from Shiel Bridge. Or spend time by or on the sea or just relax away from the frenetic clamour of modern life with Bac na beàrn a welcoming and uncritical base where you can dump your muddy boots or your hired bicycles and sleep warmly and soundly in the astonishing quiet, with only the stars or the moon glinting on the water breaking into the Highland darkness outside.Ceud mìle fàilte!
|Bac na beàrn||£399 Per unit per week|
Note: Prices are a guide only and may change on a daily basis.