As the main A87, the road to Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye, reaches the foot of Glen Shiel and the head of Loch Duich, the observant motorist might notice a road sign off to the left. This indicates the way along an unclassified single track road to Glenelg. It is just under ten miles to Glenelg, and en route the road climbs the spectacular Mam Ratagan Pass to its summit at a height of 1,100ft before dropping down the side of Glen More and back to sea level.
There was a time when the road along the north side of Loch Duich did not exist, and the only overland route to Skye went via Glenelg. This changed in 1819 when the the road from Inverness reached Kyle of Lochalsh. What this means in practice is that there is no real need to visit Glenelg: if you discount the beguiling beauty of the area, the presence of some fascinating historical attractions, and the opportunity to travel "over the sea" to Skye using the unique Glenelg Ferry. Another important attraction, of course, is that because there is no actual need to visit, the only people you are likely to encounter are those who want to be there.
Glenelg is a scattered and largely white-painted settlement that wraps itself around Glenelg Bay with views west across the Kyle Rhea to the mountains of eastern Skye. (Continues below image...)
Your first surprise on approaching Glenelg is a sign announcing that it is twinned with Glenelg on Mars. There actually is a "Glenelg" on Mars. It is an area near the landing site of the Mars Science Laboratory (or the Curiosity rover). It is actually named (like other features in the vicinity of the landing site) after places in Yellowknife in northern Canada: and one of these, in turn, was named after Glenelg in Scotland. A twinning ceremony took place on 20 October 2012, complete with a live link to NASA. It is not thought any residents of Glenelg on Mars actually attended.
Glenelg itself offers the visitor a range of services. The Glenelg and Arnisdale Community Hall is home to the excellent "Way Out West" Cafe, while a little further along the road through the village the Glenelg Inn has high quality food, drink and accommodation on offer. At the other end of the accommodation scale is an informal campsite overlooking the shingle beach by the road leading to the Glenelg Ferry. Near the inn is the village shop.
Just to the north of Glenelg is a graphic demonstration of the strategic importance of its link to Skye in earlier days. In the aftermath of the 1715 Jacobite uprising the Government built barracks at four locations across the Highlands, with the best known at Ruthven. Bernera Barracks, completed in 1723 at Glenelg, was intended to guard the strategically important route from Skye and, by extension, the Western Isles, to the mainland. The barracks were abandoned by the end of the 1700s and though still surprisingly complete are definitely in the "view from a distance" category.
Glenelg's other main historical attractions are the Glenelg Brochs. They lie a short distance along Gleann Beag, which heads inland from the coast just south of Glenelg itself. The two most significant of the brochs are Dun Telve and Dun Troddan, which are two of the four best preserved brochs in Scotland, and by some margin the best preserved on the Scottish mainland. Two miles further east along Gleann Beag is Dun Grugaig, much less well preserved than the other two, and much less frequently visited.
It is possible to head south and then east from Glenelg along a further ten miles of single track road to the beautiful twin villages of Arnisdale and Corran, the second of which is, literally, at the end of the road. This is a journey well worth making if you have time. En route you pass the start of a walk that leads down to the coast at Sandaig, made famous as Camusfeàrna by the author Gavin Maxwell.