The Cuillin (Scottish Gaelic: An Cuilthionn or An Cuiltheann) is a range of rocky mountains located on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The true Cuillin is also known as the Black Cuillin to distinguish it from the Red Cuilin (na Beanntan Dearga, known locally as Red Hills) across Glen Sligachan. The Red Cuilin hills are lower and, being less rocky, have fewer scrambles or climbs.
The peaks of the Black Cuillin are mainly composed of gabbro, a very rough black igneous rock which provides a superb grip for mountaineers, and basalt, which can be very slippery when wet. The summits of the Cuillin are bare rock, jagged in outline and with steep cliffs and deep cut corries and gullies. Twelve Black Cuillin peaks are listed as Munros, 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|
|Blà Bheinn||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
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 (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).
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[who?] believe the ultimate mountaineering experience of the UK 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, T Patey and H MacInnes.
The Red Cuillin (Red Hills)
The Red Cuillin (Na Beanntan Dearga in Gaelic) are sometimes known as the Red Hills. They are mainly composed of granite which is paler than the gabbro (with a reddish tinge from some angles in some lights) and has weathered into more rounded hills with vegetation cover to summit level and long scree slopes on their flanks.
|Peak||Absolute height (m)||Relative height (m)||Cuillin|
|2||Inaccessible Pinnacle - Sgùrr Dearg||986||182||Black|
|3||Sgùrr a' Ghreadaidh||973||c. 123||Black|
|4||Sgùrr na Banachdich||965||c. 114||Black|
|5||Sgùrr nan Gillean||964||c. 204||Black|
|6||Bruach na Frìthe||958||c. 125||Black|
|8||Sgùrr Dubh Mòr||944||c. 89||Black|
|9||Am Basteir||934||c. 55||Black|
|10||Blà Bheinn - Blaven||928||301||Outlier|
|11||Sgùrr nan Eag||924||c. 127||Black|
|12||Sgùrr a' Mhadaidh||918||c. 71||Black|
|13||Garbh-bheinn||808||172||Outlier (Blaven group)|
|16||Beinn Dearg Mhòr||731||152||Red|
|17||Belig||702||246||Outlier (Blaven group)|
The Battle of Coire Na Creiche was fought on the slopes below Bruach na Frìthe in 1601. It was the last Scottish clan battle fought on Skye, in which 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. Following a dispute over ownership, a deal was cut for the property to be gifted in return for repairs to the clan castle.
There is a legend that the Cuillins are haunted by the ghost of an outlaw called MacRaing.
- 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 contains a song which refers to a legendary bear being "bigger than a Cuillin".
- In Jethro Tull's song "Broadford Bazaar," reference is made to "wee plastic Cuillins."
- The Black Cuillin Traverse is featured in episode 2 of Running Wild With Bear Grylls.
- Trials cyclist Danny MacAskill, who grew up on the Isle of Skye, filmed his latest video The Ridge on the Cuillin
- The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains, an illustrated novella by Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell, features a legendary cave of gold in the Black Cuillin.
- "National Scenic Areas". SNH. Retrieved 30 Mar 2011.
- Colin Wells, Running in Heaven. Sunday Herald (accessed 14 June 2007).
- "Black Cuillin may be gifted to nation in clan castle deal - Top stories - Scotsman.com". News.scotsman.com. 2004-05-08. Retrieved 2012-04-30.
- Ash, Russell (1973). Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. Reader's Digest Association Limited. p. 449. ISBN 9780340165973.
- Merrill, Jamie (2 October 2014). "Video: Thrill-seeker Danny MacAskill takes death-defying ride along the 992-metre drop of The Cuillin Ridge". The Independent. Retrieved 4 October 2014.
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