Walking, Hiking & Trail Running

Knoydart and The Old Forge | The UK’s Most Remote Pub and How To Get There

How far would you walk for a pint? Knoydart is home to The Old Forge, the UK's most remote pub

Bashing down the gnarly trail that scythes between hulking Highland massifs Britain’s most remote pub seems impossibly far away. As I descend by a wake of ruined crofts I feel smaller still as the landscape unfurls like a cinema screen to reveal an ice-calm sea loch, savagely wild slopes and thunderous skies. The only sounds are from a rumbling herd of Highland Cattle; the only other visible life a golden eagle soaring high in the thermals. Welcome to Knoydart, the utterly unique peninsula I’ll be heading back to as soon as restrictions allow, in search of a pub and community that somehow survive wedged literally between heaven and hell.

“Getting to the Old Forge… is not easy”

I’ll be honest with you: getting to the Old Forge – the pub Guinness World Records recognise as the British mainland’s most remote – is not easy. There is no rail line in, nor road. The first time I ventured here I ‘cheated’ with a long train ride from Glasgow to Fort William, then another train along the ‘Harry Potter Line’ to Mallaig, finishing off bouncing across the Hebridean waters sandwiched between a crate of wriggling langoustines and a headless stag – both resurfaced on the menu for dinner.

The other option is to walk in. I say walk, but it’s more a spirit challenging, spirit soaring battle. Let’s just say either of the brace of options will give you a new understanding of the word boggy. I’ve yomped in from Kinlochhourn, breaking my journey with a night in the informal bothy at Barrisdale.

The Glenfinnan route is even tougher as you have to face the notorious ‘Rough Bounds’, some of Europe’s harshest and most remote mountain country. There are two bothies en route for a night at each, but you’ll need a back up tent as the bothies can fill up.

Credit: Robin McKelvie
Credit: Robin McKelvie

Knoydart is undoubtedly worth the effort. It does lie literally between heaven and hell: Loch Nevis (Loch of Heaven) hugs its southern fringes and Loch Hourn (Loch of Hell) guards its northern boundary.

On this peninsula you quickly realise that man plays firm second fiddle to nature in a  wildscape where humans are easily outnumbered by deer. The UK’s largest land mammal is backed up by sea eagles and otters. In the aquarium-clear waters marine mammals abound with minke, humpback and even killer whales. There are rare sightings of leatherback turtles too as well as pods of dolphins, who often skip in the wakes of startled yachts.

“Knoydart may be a wilderness, but it’s very much a manmade one”

Knoydart may be a wilderness, but it’s very much a manmade one. Its history swirls in tales of feuding clans – rumour even has it that Bonnie Prince Charlie himself hid from the British Redcoats here after the Battle of Culloden. By the late 18th century over a 1,000 clans people eked out a living here through subsistence crofting. Then the baleful Highland Clearances decimated Knoydart in the 19th century, with its inhabitants (many who had never left the peninsula before) forced off the land and packed off to the New World.

Credit: Robin McKelvie

By the 20th century Knoydart and its sparse population were being passed amongst various landowners so the hardy locals decided to take matters into their own hands. The legendary ‘Seven Men of Knoydart’ staged a daring land raid in 1948. Although it ‘failed’, unpopular landowner Lord Brocket did eventually relinquish ownership. In 1998 the local community finally took control of their own destinies by buying the land and setting up the Knoydart Foundation.

Today Knoydart’s population has grown to over a 100 with affordable housing being built to help boost numbers and kick-start the economy, with the focus now on sustainable development. Unlike some of Scotland’s anachronistic, closed estates, the Knoydart Foundation are welcoming and visitor-friendly. The Foundation runs a ranger-guided walking service, bike hire and a campsite. A new hydroelectric project and the planting of half a million trees demonstrates their firm environmental aspirations.

Credit: Robin McKelvie

Those ranger-led walks are the ideal way for more timid walkers and those looking to learn more about the community. If you’ve got the skills and the gear to head out on your own a trio of mighty Munros beckon in the craggy form of Ladhar Bheinn, Luinne Bheinn and Meall Buidhe. The views across to the mountains of tourist-infested Skye are worth the effort alone. Sgurr Coire Choinnichean, a jagged gem that rises behind the Old Forge, is a surprising challenge too, with an airy ridge and deep gully.

Knoydart’s ‘capital’ is the hamlet of Inverie, home to a ramble of little whitewashed stone houses and, of course, the Old Forge. This iconic, frankly brilliant pub (I’ve spent many nights here warmed by its welcoming community vibe and raucous impromptu live music) in recent years has become embroiled in controversy.

“Tales and counter tales about unlicenced firearms and unpaid utility bills have waged”

Tales and counter tales about unlicenced firearms and unpaid utility bills have waged between the Belgian owner, Jean-Pierre Robinet (who took over in 2012), and some of the community. The Times have as gone as far as dubbing Knoydart a “community in crisis”.

Credit: Robin McKelvie

Reading between the lines at the heart of the dispute may be the traditional role of the pub as an unofficial community hub and essential oasis. Robinet – who fell for Knoydart after working here as a deerstalker –  has a background in hospitality and has tried to ‘upgrade’ the Old Forge’s culinary offer with a keen eye on passing yachts and visitors. The helicopter pictured on the main page of the Old Forge website echoes this tone.

Closing this Knoydart institution in winters proved the final straw for some Knoydart residents, who have set up their own drinking hole – ‘The Table’. This informal waterfront sitooterie (a glorious Scots word that means exactly what it sounds like) may have started as half joke/half protest, but the shack is now furnished with a firepit, bookshelf and a disco ball. A message declaring love for Knoydart is carved into The Table’s wood.

“Knoydart ventures blinking into the flickering light after the darkest times”

I said I was dreaming of heading back in search of a pint at Britain’s most remote pub. I still am, but I’m also keen to check out how its ‘rival’ is getting on. These two venues evoke much more than just the tension in one small village, or even peninsula. They touch on wider land ownership issues and the sustainable development of fragile communities across the Highlands, one of Europe’s last great wildernesses. This year will be a fascinating time to visit a peninsula and community that stubbornly exist between heaven and hell, as Knoydart ventures blinking into the flickering light after the darkest times most of us have ever faced.

Do It Yourself

Some useful links: – Community info and ranger walks. – Accommodation and eating out info. Getting there info too. – Local activities at community hub.


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