This article is about the Cuillin of Skye. See Rùm for the Cuillin of Rùm.

Sgurr nan Gillean and the Pinnacle Ridge from Basteir gorge

The Cuillin (Scottish Gaelic: An Cuilthionn or An Cuiltheann) are a range of rocky mountains located on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The true Cuillin are also known as the Black Cuillin to distinguish them from the Red Hills (Am Binnean Dearg) across Glen Sligachan. The Red Hills are lower and, being less rocky, have fewer scrambles or climbs.

The highest point of the Cuillin, and of the Isle of Skye, is Sgurr Alasdair in the Black Cuillin at 992 m (3,255 ft). The Cullin Hills is one of 40 National Scenic Areas in Scotland.[1]


Black Cuillin

The main ridge

The Black Cuillin is mainly composed of basalt and gabbro, the latter being a very rough rock which makes for superb grip for mountaineers. It is from the dark colour of the gabbro that the Black Cuillin receives its name. The summits of the Cuillin are bare rock, jagged in outline and with steep cliffs and deep cut corries and gullies. All twelve Munros on Skye 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)
Sgurr 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 Frithe Walk Ascent via Fionn Choire
Sgurr a' Mhadaidh Grade 2/3 scramble North-west or south ridges
Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh Grade 3 scramble North ridge
Sgurr na Banachdaich Walk Ascent via Coire nan Eich
Sgurr Dearg Moderate rock climb East ridge of Inaccessible Pinnacle
Sgurr Mhic Choinnich Grade 2 scramble North ridge
Sgurr Alasdair Grade 2 scramble North-east ridge from top of Great Stone Shoot
Sgurr Dubh Mor Grade 2 scramble West ridge
Sgurr nan Eag Grade 1/2 scramble South ridge
Blaven Walk Ascent via Coire Uaigneis

There are no sources of water on the ridge (unless winter snow is considered); all water has to be carried by the visitor.

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 Es Tresidder in May 2007, stands at 3 hours 17 minutes (though this time is from Gars-bheinn to Sgurr 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 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 Bill Murray's book for details of his traverse).

Some 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 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 the Alps or Rockies.

The Red Hills

Marsco in the Red Hills

The Red Hills (Am Binnean Dearg in Gaelic) are sometimes known as the Red Cuillin. 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.

The highest point of the hills is Glamaig, one of only two Corbetts on Skye (the other being Garbh-bheinn, part of the small group of gabbro outliers surrounding Blaven).

Major peaks

Panorama of the Black and Red Cuillin from Sgurr Dubh Mor

Here are listed the Munros, Corbetts and Grahams of the Cuillin. This listing excludes peaks such as Clach Glas which in hill walking/mountaineering terms are considered of significance.

  Peak Absolute height (m) Relative height (m) Cuillin
1 Sgurr Alasdair 992 992 Black
2 Inaccessible Pinnacle - Sgurr Dearg 986 182 Black
3 Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh 973 c. 123 Black
4 Sgurr na Banachdich 965 c. 114 Black
5 Sgurr nan Gillean 964 c. 204 Black
6 Bruach na Frìthe 958 c. 125 Black
7 Sgurr Mhic Choinnich 948 c.56 Black
8 Sgurr Dubh Mòr 944 c. 89 Black
9 Am Basteir 934 c. 55 Black
10 Blà Bheinn - Blaven 928 301 Outlier
11 Sgurr nan Eag 924 c. 127 Black
12 Sgurr a' Mhadaidh 918 c. 71 Black
13 Garbh-bheinn 808 172 Outlier (Blaven group)
14 Glamaig 775 c. 480 Red
15 Marsco 736 413 Red
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 Frithe 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 Cullins 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.

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).



  1. ^ "National Scenic Areas". SNH. Retrieved 30 Mar 2011.
  2. ^ Colin Wells, Running in Heaven. Sunday Herald (accessed 14 June 2007).
  3. ^

Cuillins to be gifted to nation

External links

Coordinates: 57°12′N 6°12′W / 57.20°N 6.2°W / 57.20; -6.2

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