The Isle of Skye is a must-visit for Insta-tourists, climbers and scramblers alike; but while the Cuillin are world-class peaks, they get world-class midges to match - when the wind and rain relent long enough. So what's it really like living year-round in a small glen, and do the pros outweigh the cons? Adrian and Bridgette Trendall followed a dream to find out...
Depression and darkness, a house fire and a healthy dose of luck all contributed to our moving to Glen Brittle at the foot of the Black Cuillin. Glen Brittle is not even a village, just a collection of a few houses with about 17 residents, nestled between the soaring peaks of the Black Cuillin and the sea.
With virtually no facilities, no mains water or gas, miles from the shops and services, life in the glen won't be for everyone. But for my wife, Bridgette, and me, it's nigh on perfect, our wee spot in paradise, our epitome of living the dream.
Skye in general, the Cuillin in particular, had always been my refuge, an escape from depression, mental illness and a dark world. Month after month spent, mainly in Glen Brittle, living the archetypal dirt bag existence meant I knew the location in all seasons, the good and the bad. If I could survive for months on end in a small tent on cheap food, thumbing lifts, blagging showers, then living there in a house would be luxury.
October 2016 saw me meet my future wife at Sligachan, courtesy of a post in UKC/UKH's "Lifts & Partners" forum. A fortnight of stunning autumnal weather, some great climbs and scrambles, lots of photography, all cemented our relationship and imbued in us a determination to move to Skye. By June 2017, we had moved there. Ostensibly this was because I was working on my guidebook to the Cuillin Ridge (that Cicerone Press would publish just as lockdown kicked in), but really it was a life choice. With no savings, no jobs, nothing but a big helping of hope and love, it was a giant leap of faith.
Life here requires patience and tolerance, not just with the climate but also with visitors
An advert on Gumtree led to us running a B&B in Sconser, a beautiful location and an opportunity to get a foot in the door and suss out a more permanent place. We worked hard, running the B&B whilst establishing our business, All Things Cuillin, a mix of mountain guiding and photography.
Glen Brittle was our obvious base, and fate seemed to lend a hand. We put in an offer on a bungalow but were massively outbid. A subsequent fire destroyed the bungalow (and in the words of Billy Joel, "We Didn't Start The Fire"). To cut a long story short, we ended up buying the ruined building and land, and built a small house.
There are obviously pros and cons to living in such a remote location and I'll divide them into, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, a western themed analogy, because, well, we're way out west. The Good far outweighs the downsides for us but your mileage may well vary. We'd divide the Good, Bad and Ugly into 95%, 4% and 1%.
Life in the glen is perfect for us. This is a location with much of the Black Cuillin within walking distance, as is a sandy beach and the sea. Our work is largely done from home. 75% plus of my guiding work is a walk from our house, and for photo locations there's no need to travel far, if at all. Work and pleasure are largely catered for on site, with walking, scrambling and climbing within walking distance. Ditto a beach for kayak trips in the sea.
With no savings, no jobs, nothing but a big helping of hope and love, it was a leap of faith
Life is fairly binary. April until October is super busy. I'll be out guiding five or six days a week, Bridgette will be doing admin, supplying local businesses with guidebooks, calendars, cards and prints. Time off will be minimal but then our work never really feels like work. No Monday morning blues or counting the hours until Friday and the weekend.
The off season is largely devoted to personal photography projects, chill time and revelling in the peace and quiet and the nature on our doorstep. Maybe, the odd trip to other islands or to explore the mainland, but lots of quality time together.
For us, it's the perfect work/life balance and wild horses wouldn't drag us from the glen. But before you decide to up sticks and locate to such a rural location, take a look at the downsides and calculate how they will or won't impinge on your quality of life.
Connectivity is a big issue but such problems have work-arounds. For the first year we struggled with 4G connectivity and it was frustrating. When the nearby campsite was busy, all the bandwidth seemed used up and the only way to send important emails was to get up for an alpine start at the computer. During the day, we'd have to drive up the road to get a better signal, laptops propped on the dashboard.
Get the right network, EE in our case, and the phone signal is great. For a business that relies hugely on social media and the internet, it was problematic, the work rounds frustrating. Starlink was the saviour, so many thanks for that, Elon. Now we have superfast internet at all times. It's costly but can be offset against tax if your business needs it. Starlink has been a game changer for us.
On a more physical level, we are in a very remote location down almost nine miles of single track road. Not just single track with the consequent tourist jams in the summer, but a road the council often neglects to grit or plough. All roads on Skye are currently in a dire state [not just Skye - Ed] but the road into the glen is particularly bad with potholes deep enough to swallow road cones.
Poor transport just means planning ahead. Supplies are stocked up in preparation for winter cut-offs. Luckily, the majority of my guiding work is within walking distance since trying to commute past the tourist attraction of the Fairy Pools would be a right pain. In the summer, we just plan to go past early or late; problem solved.
Don't expect much in the way of local facilities in the glen or even nearby. The campsite has a fantastic coffee shop and we'll walk down there for a morning latte and almond croissant but that's about the extent of the glen's seasonal facilities. There is a small community shop in Carbost and a PO as well as a very efficient medical practice (next day appointments seems the norm) but anything else means the 23 mile drive to Portree. Even here, the biggest shop is a large Co-Op, so major shopping trips mean the three hour drive to Inverness.
For the internet we'd have to drive up the road to get a better signal, laptops propped on the dashboard
There is a great outdoor community and the new climbing wall in Portree (Third Ridge) has been an added bonus especially in winter. Not just a great place for the climbing but also there's a thriving fell running community and plenty of kayaking opportunities.
Luckily, lots of friends visit us but to see distant family and friends down south means an epic drive or an Inverness-Bristol flight. The Minginish community is fantastic and everyone knows everyone; there is a genuine community spirit with people actively looking out for and helping others. This was highlighted by lockdown, but has continued, and is a real bonus.
Living here is very weather-centric. We do get a lot of rain, lots of snow, high winds and you need to know you can cope with prolonged adverse conditions. My previous Skye experience was good preparation but I can envisage many newcomers suffering one winter then opting to leave. As photographers, we see bad weather as an opportunity and are always ready to nip out to maximise those minimal breaks in the weather.
Don't let people put you off with tales of how bad the midges are [hahaha - Ed]. In our first year in the glen, we only had two days when they were insufferable. There is often just enough of a breeze to keep them at bay. Much worse can be the months of inclement weather, torrential rain and gale force winds. The good days are well worth the wait and even on the bad days, there's nowhere we'd rather be.
Life here requires patience and tolerance, not just with the climate but also with visitors. It's no use fretting too much about cars parked in passing places, traffic jams and ignorant single track road users. Just chill, admire the scenery and accept there are worse places to be stuck in a queue. Better still, plan to travel outside of busy hours.
The Ugly side, the one percent of real negativity, is the lack of respect shown by a very small minority of visitors: Litter thrown from cars, fires destroying grass and peat and starting forest blazes, excrement and those that drive off and leave not just their tent but rubbish and worse. Last year we had a fantastic local ranger who improved this aspect in the glen but each spring sees the re-emergence of such behaviour.
Such a remote location might well work for others, especially those that can work remotely from home. It's the perfect location for our guiding and photography work and with our Starlink connection everything slipped into place. Pinnacle Ridge after work, fabulous seafood, cake and coffee shops, a thriving community of artists and photographers - Skye is a fabulous destination and all within easy reach. Ninety five percent pros and virtually no cons, what's not to love?
The good days are great and the bad days are still pretty good. Imagine guiding in the sunshine having met your clients at your house. Perhaps, a round of Coire Lagan then home for tea and home made cakes in the garden looking up to the Cuillin Ridge above.
- Cuillin Traverse: Taking the Easier Route 25 Mar, 2020
- Small Dog Bags the Cuillin Munros 8 Jul, 2019
- Walking for Mental Health - Living the Dream on Skye 6 May, 2019