Sheena’s Tea Hut and the Sandaig Islands – NW Highlands Trip Day 2

A fascinating afternoon visit to two remote locations near the original Skye Ferry. Day 2 (updated) – overnight the storm arrived with rain and wind loudly thumping on the guesthouse windows. Waking up tired from Thursdays Slioch walk I quickly checked a few forecasts which all seemed grim. Looking out at Plockton from the bedroom it was far darker and windier than the photo below suggests though at least the rain had eased.

Early morning rougher than it looks

We finished unpacking before eventually heading out in the car along the single-track coast road towards Kyle, scanning the weather. Skye didnt look too inviting so we turned left to Glen Shiel with the aim of having a drive round or if lucky an afternoon walk. We took the opportunity to check out one of the Highlands most imaginatively titled cafes below…..which was unfortunately “closed for refurbishment” (ps now open).

Always raises a smile when passing

Whilst sat in the car park taking this photo we formulated a plan to drive up the the 9 mile Mam Ratagan pass from Shiel Bridge to Glenelg on the west coast. There were a couple of coastal walk options away from the big mountains that were pulling the bad weather down. It would also be a chance to look around an area we’d only visited once before when doing Beinn Sgritheall in July 2000.

Sheena’s Tea Hut – Corran (updated)

The memories of that day came flooding back as we drove over this superb no-through road. Once past Glenelg you hug the shore with views across to Skye then if you drive far enough the reclusive and remote north side of Knoydart bursts into view across Loch Horn. We passed a sign and Alan reminded me of a strange obsession we had all of 12 years ago. The sign was for ‘Sheena’s Tea Hut’. We never had time to visit back then but had been fascinated by the various signs and its startlingy remote location. An indelible impression had been left that day and we had resolved to return someday for that remote cuppa. We had even jokingly fantasised many times about Sheena, was she an attractive lonely smiley Highland lassie desperate for male company, full of tales of Highland life and shortbread? Anyway the chance to revisit on a non-mountain day was too good to ignore and we decided to drive on beyond Arnisdale to the end of the road at Corran and hopefully finally meet siren Sheena.

Sheena’s Tea Hut and neighbours – from the path

We parked up at Corran, walked over a bridge past some small cottages and saw a final sign pointing to the very last cottage. At last after all these years we stood looking at the scene below. Sheena’s cottage is to the left, and the “tea hut” is a little green timbered shed which you walk through (passing the Highland cattle) to a small fenced patio garden. In the shed is a counter and on the counter is a door bell. I looked at Alan, he looked at me, I pressed it. Nothing happened, I pressed again, nothing. Alan in typically negative fashion said “nah must be closed, she probably doesnt live here anymore”. We stood in the patio garden gazing at the scenery about to leave when we heard a gate unlock, and then some steps, and then a mysterious figure appeared……it was Sheena……and she was 74 yrs old.

Happily supping a cuppa at Sheena’s Tea Hut – July 2012

I said “hello, didn’t think you were in”, she replied immediately “didn’t stop you ringing the bell did it”. Sheena may be elderly but she’s an admirably feisty lady:-) She served us from the counter & made 2 refreshing mugs of tea which we eagerly supped sat smiling in her patio. Anyone travelling around this area should make the diversion to Arnisdale and enjoy this truly wonderful experience. Feels like the end of the world, views around and across to Knoydart are an absolute delight and you won’t forget or regret it.  Sheena returned for a chat about the Swallows trying to nest above the counter. Amazingly she gets some custom most days but doesnt get out much as she’s tied to the tearoom. Nice lady, hope she’s around for years to come, I’m still smiling about Sheena’s Tea Hut.

The view west from Sheena’s Tea Hut – how good is this!!

Update July 2013; very glad to report that the Tea Hut is still open with a young lass helping to serve. Sheena is a bit more unsteady on her feet and complaining of a bad back, but admirably she said, “things could be worse“. I replied, “yes, you could be living in a big city“; she replied, “I’d NEVER live in a city, I wouldn’t even live in GLENELG, there’s too much going on“. PS; Glenelg has a population of 200. Quote of the holiday:-)

Revisiting Sheena's July 2013

Revisiting Sheena’s July 2013

Update July 2014; despite lack of signs and some rumours of retirement we were delighted to be met by a smiling Sheena outside her Tea Hut. When asked how things were she replied, “I’ll always be open till they carry me out in a box, I like meeting people“. Those Swallows had returned from Africa nesting again above the hatch then some chickens casually strolled through. We were the first customers of the day, soon joined by a couple who’d been singing at the Ceilidh House the previous night. A neighbour had assured us all was ok, Sheena had fallen a couple of times as “she still insists on walking up the valley for kindling“, but the community were keeping an eye on her. Some elderly cyclists were heading that way as we drove to Sandaig, ka-ching Sheena 🙂

Sheena smiling in her Tea Hut, July 2014

Sheena smiling in her Tea Hut, July 2014

Inside Sheenas Tea Hut

Inside Sheenas Tea Hut

Sheenas Tea Hut July 2014

Sheenas Tea Hut July 2014 – bit rainy this time

Holy Cow!

Holy Cow! Outside Sheenas, nicely posed

Update 2015;- Just heard that Sheena has now finally retired and moved to Uig in Skye. Wishing her all the best, hope she doesn’t find it too busy there 🙂 Sad news but good to hear she is ok. Wonderfully the Tea Hut lives on, the legacy now passed to Sheena’s daughter Lorraine. Will be visiting in summer to update further.

Summer 2015 update – all open with an increased refreshment range!

(Now back to 2012). Another amazing thing that afternoon was how the weather magically improved as we drove down towards the Tea Hut. Patches of blue sky had appeared although the inland upland areas still looked rough. The view below was from outside the Tea Hut westwards back along the road with the tent-like Sgritheall beginning to clear.

Sgritheall

Looking west over the mouth of Loch Horn, Knoydart to the left, Skye in the distance

We still had a walk to do but there was no rush to leave, so once back at the car park we nipped into the unmanned Ceilidh House & Heritage Centre which houses an interesting pictorial history of the area. Hundreds had lived and fished here before the clearances.

The Heritage Centre at Corran

Back in the car we stopped briefly when finding some mobile reception to book food at the Plockton Inn that night. The view at this point was pleasant, the temperature now 21 deg.

Every view is glorious here, you don’t want to leave – in good weather 😉

The Sandaig Islands & Camusfearna (updated)

Soon we got to Sandaig, the starting point of the short walk located between Arnisdale and Glenelg. In typical Highland fashion there was no village, just a house on the road. We couldn’t find the forest track at first then discovered we’d parked south 200yards the wrong side of the house. Anyway soon we were off walking through the mostly felled forest zig zags and the Islands appeared below.

Sandaig Islands below – does me bum look big in this or what?

A few minutes further you arrive at the picturesque scene below, note a glimpse of Cuillin in the middle distance. Continue down via a gate into a grassy field with the Islands ahead.

Sandaig Islands – good news the tide’s out 🙂

This field was ‘Camusfearna’ the home of author Gavin Maxwell who I remember as the author of the popular book and nature film from my childhood Ring of Bright Water Based on his experiences with otters the film was about a Londoner (Bill Travers) and his pet otter Mij living up on the Scottish coast. Maxwell lived here in partial seclusion and it turns out his life was far less straightforward than I imagined. Author, adventurist, wartime secret agent, shark fisherman and poet;- he was certainly a complicated character. Despite having once machine gunned a basking shark he later became an ardent conservationist and the inspiration to many aspiring naturists including wildlife presenter Terry Nutkins. Maxwell’s ashes are buried under this memorial stone at Sandaig.

Gavin Maxwell memorial stone

This lies on the exact position of his writing desk in his croft destroyed by fire in 1968

Maxwell’s favourite otter Edal had inspired the writing of Ring of Bright Water, sadly in 1968 a fire broke out at Camusfearna killing the otter, Maxwell was apparently devastated. There’s also a memorial to Edal just a few yards away heavily shaded under a tree. Maxwell died just one year later in 1969. We revisited 15th July 2014 which I’ve just discovered was Maxwells centenary, here’s a fascinating article by John Lister-Kaye on the interesting life of Gavin Maxwell.

Memorial to Maxwell’s otter Edal

We moved on across to the Sandaig Islands, here looking back to Camusfearna (by the dark Conifer trees). That’s also Beinn Sgritheall on the centre horizon, now perfectly clear.

View from the Sandaig Islands east to the coastline

Managed to fight my way around rocks and ferns to the highest point for these pics.

West to the unreachable end Island

Noticed a white ‘rock’ which with binocs looked like a polar bears face, honest….

It’s a Polar Bear’s face, it is!!

In reality it turned out to be the rear end of a seal, which apparently is less rough than a badgers. Counted 24 seals resting here, some cunningly disguised as rocks (& Polar Bears).

Sandaig seals, many seals

Looking north the weather had really improved from winter to summer, warmer than photos suggested and I hadn’t even thought of packing a T shirt or shorts. We sat watching the seals, I’d noticed the channel below was a little smaller than before but the water was completely calm there. Five mins later I turned round and channel was under water. With hindsight this is probably why it’s called the Sandaig Islands! Luckily only a few inches so we dashed back to the main section. Nearly got wet so beware 🙂 Glenelg tide times here.

Channel in the middle was underwater minutes afterwards

This little white beach was a very very pleasant spot, I remember thinking I’ll be back in the office sat behind a desk soon, so take it all in.

Simply beautiful

Final view below before heading back along the stream north of Camusfearna and up through the trees to make it a more circular walk back to the road and car.

Looking west and that’s Knoydart mid right, difficult to know where to look 🙂

This was a really enjoyable easy 4 mile round walk and heavily recommended, we were out for nearly 3hrs most of which was strolling around. Here’s a map of the area showing the road from Shiel Bridge to Corran and the walk in red. To zoom in/out just click on the map to see it fully on Social Hiking. More details of the route on Walk Highlands or just ask!

Sandaig Islands Route Map, click to zoom out

Updated Sandaig Islands Route Map showing correct start, click to zoom out

Sandaig Islands Update July 2014 – Quick update to stress the best visiting time is at low tide for the Islands and also a fern warning. At low tide you can get out to all but the last island. Sometimes the shallow stream pictured below can involve a wet feet/boot crossing when getting from the beach to the Islands. Not a huge problem, kids take their shoes off, I managed a careful dry boot crossing.

Sandaig Islands stream crossing

Sandaig Islands stream crossing

The circular route was more complicated on the return route going south east around the stream due to the bracken/giant unremitting ferns. Previously this hasnt been a problem but in July 2014 they were a pain and we couldnt find a straightforward route ending up with a few scratches & boots full of undergrowth. There’s the odd camoulflaged bramble too so a return via the approach route is probably best till autumn this year 🙂

Sandaig Islands ferns

Sandaig Islands ferns on the return route, trying to head top right

On the drive back from Sandaig we diverted for a welcome pint at the Glenelg Inn, a very rare proper pub in the Highlands. Looks a decent place to stay/eat although most tables already had ‘Reserved’ on them by 6.40pm, so if you want to eat best to book.

The Glenelg Inn – obviously

We sat in the hot pub garden, possibly the best pub garden view in the world, watching the tide coming in and the ferry to Kylerhea, (once the main Skye ferry until rail came to Kyle). This was yet another one of those places you really didn’t want to leave.

Surely one of the best pub garden views (not including Alan)

Reluctantly we dragged ouselves away as later that evening we had a meal in Plockton booked. Clinging on to every last view we stopped at Mam Ratagan for the classic one over Shiel Bridge and the majestic Five Sisters (eventually climbed 1 year later).

The Five Sisters of Kintail – slight foreground shadow problem here maybe?

The Five Sisters of Kintail in full, not the best light but certainly can’t complain.

Now straight back to Plockton, no time for any more stops. Oh hold on, here’s Eilean Donan yet again, 7.30pm. How are we supposed to find time to eat with views like this 🙂

Eilean Donan 7.30pm

Finally back to Plockton for food, beer & the traditional evening walk across the causeway.

Plockton evening from the causeway

Followed by the traditional evening view from the floating pontoon east over Lochcarron.

Plockton pontoon view, that’s Calums Seal Cruise boat moored

Last look at Lochcarron from Plockton’s Harbour St 11.15pm

So after a crappy cold, wet, windy start to the day it had turned into a cracker – and all this despite a gloomy forecast saying it wouldn’t improve. We didn’t leave the guest house till midday and managed to pack a lot into the next eleven hours. Also just goes to show it’s not all about Munro’s, there’s plenty of variety and surprises in the Highlands especially around the wonderful coasts.

As we supped our pint of Plockton Ale……in the Plockton Inn……in the village of Plockton, we looked forward to what tomorrow would bring.

  1. Slioch from Incheril – North Highlands Trip Day 1
  2. Waterstein Head and Neist Point – In Search of Sun, Highlands Trip Day 3
  3. 2 Men Alone on a Mountain (only 1 does Twitter) – The Curious Tale of Sgurr Na Stri

Update – Sheenas Tea Hut & the Sandaig islands has now become our traditional morning diversion each time we leave Plockton for the drive home. I urge you to try it and please do so in good weather to make it extra special. Thanks for reading.

Here’s some info on the area Glenelg & Arnisdale with a link about Gavin Maxwell  plus that interesting article on Maxwell’s life and legacy. Glenelg Bay tide times.

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About MART IN THE HILLS

Hillwalker with dodgy knees and dodgier sense of humour. Lover of the outdoors, Lakes, Highlands, Cheviots, nature, good food, real ale and leaf tea.
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10 Responses to Sheena’s Tea Hut and the Sandaig Islands – NW Highlands Trip Day 2

  1. Really enjoyed your photos. Was in Scotland in May and could not get to the Highlands, but will, hopefully in time for Shona to make me a cuppa. G

  2. Tanya Oliver (@heelwalker1) says:

    Love Shona’s tea room!!
    Great photos and blog. 🙂

    • Mart Lawton says:

      Thanks authoress Tanya 🙂 Places like this are a wonderous find, make you want to smile. It’s a long trip but if you ever get the chance….Shona would love your heels!!

  3. Lovely part of the world. Love the Ring of Bright Water 🙂

  4. Directions! says:

    *Sheena’s Tea Hut! 😉

    • Mart Lawton says:

      Thanks you’re right!! We always remembered it as Tea Room for some reason and the name stuck. My mate insisted it was Shona. Have now amended – least I got the Tea bit right 🙂

  5. vistna says:

    Love this place and always visit on our annual pilgrimage. Sheena has moved to Uig on Skye. Her daughter Lorraine has taken over the running of the tea duties – It will always be Sheena Tea Hut in the most glorious setting in the world. ps beware of low flying airplanes – the RAF practice around here! . https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sheenas-Tea-Hut/441356046027969?fref=ts

    • Many thanks for the update and link. Have already updated the blog to reflect the news. Sad news that Sheena will no longer be there but good news she is still around and hopefully having a rest in busy Uig. And wonderful news that the Tea Hut continues, hopefully for many years. Thanks again, I’ll be there late June/early July for a cuppa.

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