Shiel Bridge has a magnificent setting at the head of Loch Duich, the sea loch leading into Loch Alsh, beyond which lies the Isle of Skye. Looking westwards you can see Dornie Castle, one of the most recognisable picture postcard views of Scotland, and the setting for one the popular BBC hot air balloon trailers. The village is a stopping point on the main A87 road to Kyle of Lochalsh, and the turning off point for the minor roads to Letterfearn, Glenelg and Arnisdale. The hostel at nearby Ratagan is one of the oldest and most popular run by the SYHA.
Rising above Glen Shiel are the 5 Sisters of Kintail, whose elegant profile is often photographed from across Loch Duich. Owned by the National Trust of Scotland the area is not subject to the usual restrictions due to stalking and is popular with Munroists as there are 6 on the 15km ridge. Further north lies the bulk of Ben Fhada, which on its own matches the 5 Sisters in size and lies between Loch Duich and the upper reaches of Glen Affric. Further north still is Glen Elchaig and the remote Falls of Glomach. This glen can be reached by taking a turning just beyond Dornie Castle and following the road up the side of Loch Long, but you have to walk to reach the falls high up the Glen.
Overlooking Glen Shiel to the south is The Saddle, with its 3 ridges pointing down to Loch Duich like the prongs of a fork and creating 2 impressive corries. The best known ascent route is the airy Forcan ridge, which is an exposed scramble in parts. Adjoining The Saddle and facing the 5 Sisters is the South Glen Shiel ridge, one of the finest in the highlands, another popular walk as its 14km length contains 7 Munros, with no great drops between them.
To the South lies Loch Hourn, reached by the long single track road to Kinloch Hourn. Its one of the longest dead end roads in Britain, but well worth driving in both directions for the stunning views across Loch Quoich of the surrounding hills. Its also the setting off point for Barrisdale and the rough bounds of Knoydart. Between Loch Hourn and Loch Duich is the Arnisdale and Glenelg peninsula, which has a gentler aspect and more forest, and several well-preserved Iron Age brochs. The exception to this easier aspect is the rough and insular summit of Beinn Sgritheall, which rises directly from the shores of Loch Hourn above Arnisdale.
For those unfamilar with Mountain Marathons, here is a quick guide. On Saturday morning all the pairs set off at minute intervals, carrying everything they need for a weekend out in the hills and for an overnight camp. Packing just what you need and keeping that as light as possible is one of the skills of the event.
Only at the start are they given their courses, a series of checkpoints marked by a small electronic control box and an orange and white marker. It is up to them how they get there and good route choice and navigation are vital. There are a range of courses to suit different abilities.
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Once they set off pairs MUST always stay together. If they give up and retire from the race no one will come and get them, they have to get back to the venue on their own. (Even if they don't make the mid camp, they still have all they need to camp out and walk back on Sunday.) Competing as a pair and self-sufficiency are the 2 main reasons for the exceptional safety record of mountain marathons.
Day one ends at the mid camp, most likely a rough field with a water source and simple latrines, and teams pitch camp, cook and rest up ready for day 2. Any food packets or rubbish they have when they pack up in the morning must be carried out with them.
The majority of teams have a mass start on day 2, and as on day 1 no one is given the course in advance. They only get it as they set off. The leaders in each class from the first day have a chasing start before this mass start. First off are the day one winners. If their lead was 5 minutes, the second team sets off 5 minutes later, and so on. This ensures that the first team to finish on Sunday will be the winners.
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