The Cafe Article. No holds barred.
A climbers’ eye on the light refreshments of the West Highlands and beyond.
Picture coutesy of SAIS Lochaber
The staggering and inconvenient truth is that there are no good cafes in Fort William. Not one. There are numerous establishments on the High Street that serve uncaring generic toasties, paninis, baked potatoes and soup accompanied by aneamic doughy rolls; served until vagulely late afternoon whereafter a request for food elicits a response like you’ve just spat in their face.
There are two places that are worth knowing about however, primarily because of the availability of sausages and bacon from sharp o’clock. One is Wetherspoon's who serve breakfast from 0700 and the other is the Spar shop in Claggan who have a hot takeaway counter from the same time. Handy for a top-up before a winter walk-in.
Venture out into wider Lochaber and there’s a few worthy mentions. The Farm Shop Cafe just off the Nevis Range access road does all the usual cafe suspects but does them pretty well, and you can get deli stuff there too.
The Pine Marten Cafe at the ski centre is decent enough, occassionally excellent, with reliably fair coffee. Unfortunately they don’t open early enough in the winter season for proper hero activities, which is a trick they’re missing I think.
Down in Glencoe everyone knows all about Crafts ’n Things. Now there ok, but I find the coffee a bit bitter and they never used to dress their salads. Nice location and staff though and a good chance of sighting the legendary Hamish MacInness. When I’m down that way I always head for the Glencoe Cafe, tucked up in the village about a hundred metres past the rescue centre on the right. It’s much better, in fact it’s briliant. The cream scones are to die for darling, and the wifi’s not bad too.
Last but not least is Glencoe Mountain who’s cafe at the bottom of the hill is perfectly acceptable and they stay open until 2030.
It’s a big island and the climbing venues are very spread out, often in the middle of Bumteuchterie Nowhere, but I can give you the beta and some future-info so that you’re never too far away from cream and pastry fulfillment.
Working from roughly the North down:
Neist. Now, at some point in the future the cafe at the top of the lighthouse path will be finished. Hopefully. A cafe three minutes from the Baywatch area? Oh yes. But until that happens you need to drive south a bit until you get to Glendale. A right turn, following the signs, gets you to The Red Roof Cafe/Gallery. This is amazing, they do some quite posh nosh, but you can just have a cup of tea. They will ask you where you would like your coffe to have come from and then give you suggestions as to how to drink it. Pretentious? Well, a teeny bit but who cares, the choc brownies are like having a party in your mouth!
Rubha Hunish, Flodigarry and Kilt. Similar to the above, but a bit more down to earth is the Elishadder Art Cafe. Easy to miss, down a narrow single lane, it feels at first like going into somebody’s home. It is, but they do ace baking and also ask you which country for your coffee. They won’t tell you how to drink it though and they’re really nice. I recommend fruit scone and thick cream with rhubarb and ginger preserve. I took some Italians there a while ago, after climbing and was horrified when they ordered herbal infusions. I exclaimed and they told me they don’t drink ‘British Coffee’. I tried to turn them around but they wouldn’t be told!
And now for something completely different, Mrs Miggins’ Pie Shop. Well, not quite, but in fact the Skye Pie Cafe at Staffin. Sit-in or take away, quite expensive for a barely-single-person-pie but they are very good. The last one I had was lamb, sweet potato and cumin and it was unbelievable. You could treat yourself pre-Grey Panther. What’s a combination of glam and climbing? Clamping?
From the Cuillin? Well there’s the Slig I suppose, which is pretty functional. At Glenbrittle however is Cuillin Coffee at the campsite shop which is the good stuff. Cakes and ice creams too. Closes at 1800 so you can get a fix after the hill.
Costa del Elgol. You have choices here. First off a tiny ‘cafe’ at the Elgol Community Centre which is quite limited but very good.
Next along the road is the Blue Shed Cafe at Torrin which is just fine.
At Broadford (my ‘hometown’) there is now Cafe Sia. What to say about this phenomenon? The only problem here is that it’s heaving busy during the summer season and booking is essential for an evening meal. The owners and staff are really cool, there’s wifi, they roast their own beans in the restaurant, they have a big stone oven and do the best pizzas I’ve had on the planet, even Italy. Go.
Fulfilling an entirely different need is the Broadford Waterfront Chippy (which used to be Maclennan’s Store in the good old days). The key thing here is that it’s open doing takeaway breakfast stuff from 0630 weekdays and 0800 Saturday. I’ve been a regular customer there on the weekly commute for Cuillin guiding. A wee tip: if you ask for a coffee they stick a spoon of instant in a mug. If you ask for an Americano it comes from a machine is quite nice.
There’s quite a few to choose from here, the standout famous one of course is the Mountain Cafe in Aviemore. This has just blossomed over the years and is now genarally besieged by customers queuing up the stairs. In case you don’t know it, the food is real and well cooked, the portions huge, the cakes are legion and scrumtious and it has a nice view. The owner’s husband is an Instructor at Glenmore Lodge, so obviously knows a thing or too about cakes and what climbers want/need. She herself is from New Zealand, where they just don’t piss about. The results speak for themselves.
When inevitably you can’t get a table in there here are the other noteworthies.
Active Cafe, also in Aviemore and also above an outdoor shop is perfectly acceptable and much quieter. They used to (and may still) do a bacon buttie that cost around six quid but was the size of a breeze block and which would keep you going until at least lunch. If you could eat it.
For a slightly more sedate affair go to the Druie Cafe at Rothiemurcus - good Cullen Skink.
The Potting Shed at Inshriach, on the Kincraig Road specialised in tea, coffee and cream cakes. It’s like their made by a genetic mutation of Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson.
There are others, here and there, but I can’t give it all away can I?
Apart from this one. I’ve discovered it this year and have visited regularly on trips to North Wales. Wavells Butchers in LLanrug, a few minutes down from Llanberis. They’re top nice, chatty people, do sit in or take away coffees and breakfast rolls - really good quality, and they open at 0600! Brilliant for early starts. Good pies and deli too.
There you go. Enjoy yourselves and remember: you’re not going to get 8a fit without a bit of cake now are you?