Sligachan Bridge is a spot on the Isle of Skye which holds a secret. During my time living on the island, I would often drive through Sligachan and every time I passed, there were always crowds of tourists on the Old Sligachan Bridge. Now don’t get me wrong, the bridge is beautiful. However, with the number of people that were there, I couldn’t help but feel I’d missed something…
It turns out that I just hadn’t been let in on the secret yet. Skye is full of great stories (have you heard the one about Spar Cave yet?) but the legend of Sligachan Bridge is definitely one of my favourites. And if a tall tale isn’t good enough, some even believe that the enchanting waters of the Sligachan River can deliver eternal beauty. Who doesn’t want a bit of that?!
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When was Sligachan Bridge built?
Somewhat confusingly, there are two bridges in Sligachan. The Old Sligachan Bridge is the original and is now only used as a footbridge. Next to it, a new bridge has been constructed for vehicles and forms part of the main road connecting Broadford to Portree.
The Old Sligachan Bridge was estimated to have built between 1810-1818 by engineer Thomas Telford. The rubble bridge consists of three arches, although these are of uneven size. The bridge is single track and has a hump over the central arch, which is characteristic of the time.
The Sligachan Bridge Legend
Our tale starts with Scotland’s most fierce female warrior, Scáthach. It is believed that she lived in Dunscaith Castle which is located in Tokavaig in the south of the island. Scáthach was super tough and could beat any man in battle (just imagine how tough she would have been in the Skye Highland Games!). Rumours soon began to spread about her greatness and it was only a matter of time before she was challenged by renowned Irish warrior, Cú Chulainn.
Determined to prove his strength, he set sail to Skye to defeat Scáthach. After his arrival, he met one of Scáthach’s trainees and demanded that she bring her mistress to fight. He aimed to crush Scáthach, proving his strength to all of the doubters.
Although Cú Chulainn was half god with the strength of a thousand elephants, the pair were evenly matched and a fierce fight raged for weeks. The two warriors were so strong that their crushing blows caused the whole landscape to change. The earth shook as valleys were created and mountains were formed.
It seemed like the fight would never end and it soon became clear that there was only one way to conclude these proceedings… a fight to the death. Scáthach’s daughter was distraught, seeing no way that her mother could win the fight. She fled and ran to the Sligachan River. Here she emptied herself of tears whilst pleading for the fighting to stop.
Unbeknownst to her, the water acts as a gateway between our world and the faerie world. Her cries were so passionate that the sound made it through the portal and these magical sprites decided to help her. They commanded that the daughter dip her head below the surface of the water for 7 seconds to discover how she could stop the violence. She did as requested of her and emerged from the river enlightened.
Knowing that time was of the essence, the daughter sprinted around the island collecting everything from nuts to herbs. Upon returning home, she stewed all that she had gathered into a hearty broth. As the scent of the food rose into the air, the daughter fanned the smoke, knowing the wind would catch it.
Smelling the delicious food in the distance, the warriors fought on, until their pangs of hunger became too much to bear. It had been weeks since they had eaten and they were famished. The warriors agreed to take a break from fighting for a food break and made their way to Scáthach’s home.
After being greeted by the daughter, both warriors feasted together. It was this meal that would come to mark the end of the fighting, just as the faeries had said it would. By eating in Scáthach’s home, Cú Chulainn had become a guest and therefore, neither warrior could hurt the other any longer. The battle was over.
The Quest for Eternal Beauty
Legend has it that the beauty of Scáthach’s daughter and the tears of love she shed in the river, mean that anyone brave enough to dip their face in the water will be granted eternal beauty by the faeries. Whilst seeking eternal beauty at Sligachan Bridge isn’t exactly pleasant, it is nowhere near as punishing as Dorian Gray found it to be!
How to Gain Eternal Beauty
You must dip your face into the river for at least 7 seconds. Don’t make the mistake of chickening out halfway through as your efforts will be worthless. You can’t bring the water to your face either, you must commit to full-on plank submergence. As you would expect, the water is absolutely freezing, no matter what time of year you visit. (It is Scotland after all…)
If you plan to dunk your head, just go for it. Those around you who don’t know the legend will undoubtedly stare at you as if you have lost your mind (trust me) but you’ll be there till Christmas if you wait for the crowds to clear.
Don’t be drying off your face afterwards either, that’s not how faerie magic works! For the eternal beauty to take hold, you must wait for your face to dry naturally so for that reason it is better to visit on a sunny day.
What if I don’t believe in faeries?
It probably goes without saying but as with any legend, take all of the above with a generous pinch of salt. Whilst I love the story behind the Sligachan Bridge, part of me is convinced that the locals just made up the bit about dipping your face in the river for a laugh. Still, a little bit of magic never hurt anyone right? As for the verdict on my new eternal youth, ask me again in a few years!
*A word of warning… if you are visiting the Sligachan Bridge in bad weather, be aware that the river can flow very fast. It isn’t worth gambling your safety for a face dunk, after all, what good is eternal beauty if you’ve already drowned in the process!
Even if you are not interested in dipping your face in the water, the Sligachan Bridge is still a beautiful spot to while away an hour or so. This is the gateway to the Cuillin Mountains and the scenery is some of the best on the entire island. If hiking is more your thing, there are numerous walks which start from here. You can find all of the routes on Walk Highlands.
Where is the Sligachan Bridge?
The Old Sligachan Bridge is located next to the Sligachan Hotel, close to the A87 linking Broadford and Portree. Whilst there isn’t much public parking in the area, there are several lay-bys in the direction of Carbost where it is possible to park. Parking is available at the hotel, however, this should only be utilised if you are a guest there or plan to stop off for a wee dram in the bar. And let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?
If you’re braving the face dipping, head to the waters edge by descending one of the well-beaten tracks down to the river. Be aware that the rocks are slippery so take care when you are exploring.
When is the best time to visit the Sligachan Bridge?
This is a very popular spot that nearly all of the Isle of Skye tours will stop at. To see the area without the crowds, try to visit first thing in the morning or around dusk. Visiting at these times does come with its disadvantages though. The Scottish midges are rife first thing in the morning and early evening so make sure you lather up with Smidge before you set off!
If you are visiting the Isle of Skye in the winter or autumn months, you are more likely to get the area to yourself. Another positive of visiting at this time of year is the ever-changing colours of the Cuillin Mountains and surrounding landscape.
Where to stay near to Sligachan Bridge
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better base for adventuring into the Cuillin Mountains than the Sligachan Bunkhouse. This is a great budget-friendly option for shoestring travellers as dorm beds are available for a reasonable price. There is a communal kitchen and bathrooms, as well as laundry facilities.
Located in Portree, this beautiful bed and breakfast is a great place to stay in one of the main hubs on the island. A full English or Irish breakfast is included every morning and the staff are exceptionally welcoming. This hotel is just a 15-minute drive from Sligachan.
Sligachan Hotel £££
For a more luxurious stay, head across the road from the Sligachan Bridge to the hotel. Offering far more than just accommodation, this place is actually home to a museum, micro-brewery and restaurant! Breakfast is included in the room rate and the views of the Cuillin Mountains really cannot be beaten!
Would you be brave enough to dunk your face in the enchanted waters at Sligachan Bridge? Let me know in the comments!