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Sgùrr nan Gillean and the Pinnacle Ridge from Basteir gorge

The Cuillin is a range of rocky mountains on the Isle of Skye, the greatest island of the Inner Hebrides and of Inverness-shire. Its name in the Gaelic of the island is An Cuilthionn or An Cuiltheann.

A distinction is made between the Black Cuillin and the Red Cuillin; the true Cuillin range anciently of that name is the Black Cuillin, while the Red Cuillin is a lower, less rocky range of hills on the island, known locally as na Beanntan Dearga or the Red Hills.

The highest point of the Cuillin, and of the Isle of Skye, is Sgùrr Alasdair in the Black Cuillin at 3,255 feet.

The Cuillin is one of 40 'National Scenic Areas' in Scotland.

Black Cuillin

The main ridge

The peaks of the Black Cuillin are mainly composed of basalt and gabbro. Gabbro a very rough black igneous rock which provides a superb grip for mountaineers. The summits of the Cuillin are bare rock, jagged in outline and with steep cliffs and deep cuts corries and gullies. Twelve Munros are Black Cuillin peaks, though one of them, Blaven, is part of a group of outliers separated from the main ridge by Glen Sligachan.

The scrambler can access most of the individual peaks by their easiest routes. Only the Inaccessible Pinnacle is a graded rock climb (moderate) by its simplest line but several of the other summits require scrambling skills.

Munro Grade of easiest route Easiest route(s)
Sgùrr nan Gillean Grade 3 scramble West or south-east ridges
Am Basteir Grade 2 scramble East ridge avoiding the "Broken Step" on the left
Bruach na Frìthe Walk Ascent via Fionn Choire
Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh Grade 2/3 scramble North-west or south ridges
Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh Grade 3 scramble North ridge
Sgùrr na Banachdaich Walk Ascent via Coire nan Eich
Sgùrr Dearg Moderate rock climb East ridge of Inaccessible Pinnacle
Sgùrr MhicChoinnich Grade 2 scramble North ridge
Sgùrr Alasdair Grade 2 scramble North-east ridge from top of Great Stone Chute
Sgùrr Dubh Mòr Grade 2 scramble West ridge
Sgùrr nan Eag Grade 1/2 scramble South ridge
Blaven Walk Ascent via Coire Uaigneis

There are no natural sources of water on the ridge (except for winter snows and melt water): all water must be carried by the visitor.

Climbing the Black Cuillin Traverse

On the Cuillin Ridge

In addition to climbing individual peaks, there is the challenge of a full traverse of the ridge. Although only seven miles in length, the average traverse is likely to take 15–20 hours from sea level at Glenbrittle to the bar of the Sligachan Hotel owing to the difficulty of the terrain and route finding problems. The first recorded traverse in under 24 hours was in 1911 by L Shadbolt and A McLaren. The record for the full traverse, set by Finlay Wild in October 2013, stands at 2 hours, 59 minutes and 22 seconds [1](though this time is from Gars-bheinn to Sgùrr nan Gillean and does not include the initial ascent from Glenbrittle or the final descent to Sligachan).[2]

A longer traverse of the Black Cuillin, (including all the Skye Munros, though omitting some gabbro outliers) is the Greater Traverse; this involves continuing on to Clach Glas and Blaven. This traverse was first done independently by two parties, in the summer of 1939, with I Charleson and W Forde claiming precedence over W. H. Murray & R G Donaldon a few weeks later. - (see W H Murray's book for details of his traverse).

Some believe the ultimate mountaineering experience of the United Kingdom is the full traverse under winter conditions. The Isle of Skye's position in the warm Gulf Stream makes genuine winter conditions rare, and the very short winter days probably make a 24-hour traverse impractical. The first recorded, over two days, was in 1965 by D Crabbe, B Robertson, Tom Patey and Hamish MacInnes.

The Cuillin is perhaps the only range in the United Kingdom to approach in sheer jagged rawness (though not of course in height) the mountain experience of such ranges as Europe's Alps or America's Rockies.

Major peaks

Broad view of the Black and Red Cuillin from Sgùrr Dubh Mòr

The major peaks of the Black Cuillin and its outliers are:

Peak Height (ft) Height (m)
Sgùrr Alasdair 3,255 992
Inaccessible Pinnacle – Sgùrr Dearg 3,235 986
Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh 3,192 973
Sgurr na Banachdich 3,166 965
Sgùrr nan Gillean 3,163 964
Bruach na Frìthe 3,143 958
Sgùrr MhicChoinnich 3,110 948
Sgùrr Dubh Mòr 3,097 944
Am Basteir 3,064 934
Blaven 3,045 928 Outlier
Sgùrr nan Eag 3,031 924
Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh 3,012 918
Garbh-bheinn 2,651 808 Outlier (Blaven group)
Belig 2,303 702 Outlier (Blaven group)

Historical interest

The Battle of Coire Na Creiche was fought on the slopes below Bruach na Frìthe in 1601. It was the last clan battle fought on Skye, and on the field the Clan MacDonald of Sleat defeated the Clan MacLeod after a bitter feud.

In 2000 the Cuillin were put on sale for £10 million by the Laird in a scheme of land in exchange for repairs to Dunvegan Castle.[3] Following a dispute over ownership, a deal was cut for the property to be gifted in return for repairs to the clan castle.[3]

Cultural references

  • The Cuillin is a key thematic device in the Gaelic-language family film Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle.
  • One of Sorley MacLean's best known poems is the epic The Cuillin.
  • The band Runrig recorded the song, "Nightfall on Marsco".
  • According to legend, the Cuillin take their name from the Gaelic hero, Cúchulainn, although this is probably a folk etymology. Legend has it that Cúchulainn learned martial arts from the warrior woman, Scáthach, who was said to have a school in Skye.
  • The song The Road to the Isles mentions the Cuillin in the first verse and in each chorus.
  • The murder mystery novel Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart is set in and around the Cuillin.
  • The spy novel Mr. Standfast by John Buchan has a chapter set around The Cuillin ("Coolins" in the book).
  • The Inaccessible Pinnacle is the scene of a death in Val McDermid's "Trick of the Dark".
  • Brave (2012 film) contains a song which refers to a legendary bear being "bigger than a Cuillin".



Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Cuillin)