Wester Ross and Lochalsh
Wester Ross and Lochalsh are home to some of Europe’s finest coastal and mountain scenery. Stretching up the west coast of Scotland from the Glenelg peninsula, this region’s many highlights include picturesque villages such as Plockton, the rugged hills of Applecross and Torridon, the white sandy beaches around Gairloch and a vast inland area of little-visited rocky peaks, known to walkers as ‘the Great Wilderness’. To the north is the bustling ferry port of Ullapool and, beyond, the unique landscape of Coigach.
This guide features 40 shorter walks which find their way to the villages, woodlands, beaches and bays that make this region such a treasure.
96 pages / 105mm x 148mm / step inside the guide
Wester Ross and Lochalsh
The area covered in this guide includes some of the most beautiful coastal and mountain landscapes in Britain. Stretching up the west coast of the Scottish mainland from the Glenelg peninsula to Achiltibuie, you’ll find some of Scotland’s most picturesque villages – Plockton, Shieldaig and isolated Applecross among them. There are superb and quiet beaches at Red Point near Gairloch, or lovely Gruinard Bay. There are iconic visitor attractions such as Eilean Donan Castle, or the subtropical gardens at Inverewe. The wildlife ranges from whales, dolphins and otters to deer, pine marten and eagle. The coastline is tortuously indented with sea lochs that penetrate, fjord-like, far inland. Rising above all this are range after range of impressive mountains – from the long, classic ridges of Kintail, through the stark, imposing majesty of the Torridon peaks to the strange, isolated monoliths of Coigach.
How to use this guide
This guide contains 40 short to moderate walks, most of which can be undertaken in half a day. Much of this area is remote, and although the public transport network is surprisingly widespread it does require a bit of advance planning to make use of it – the reward being fantastic scenery
all the way. The railway line from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, which passes through Strathcarron and around Plockton, is one of the most scenic in Britain.
Many of these walks are on paths or tracks and mention is made when the terrain is particularly boggy, steep or rocky. Bear in mind, though, that ground conditions can be as changeable as the weather and walks usually require boots.
A sketch map accompanies each route: however, apart from short waymarked trails, it is essential to have an OS map with you in case you stray off the track or need to shortcut to safety. All except the shortest routes need waterproofs, and the more mountainous routes such as the Triple Buttress, Sgurr a’Chaorachain and Stac Pollaidh require full hillwalking gear. In midsummer, some trails may become overgrown but usually remain passable. Routes can often be combined with one of many attractions in the area, such as boat trips at Kyle of Lochalsh or Gairloch or the gardens at Attadale or Inverewe, as well as numerous craft studios and teashops.
Due to the varied terrain, very few routes are suitable for all-terrain baby buggies: those that are you’ll find highlighted at the start of each description. There are a number of walks to delight children, nevertheless, including the Applecross Coral and Gairloch beaches, the iron age broch at Dun Totaig and the Woodland Trail by Loch Maree in Torridon. The promise of an ice cream from the West Highland Dairy may also be enough to get little legs moving on the pretty Achmore circuit.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gave walkers the right of access over most Scottish land away from residential buildings. With these rights come responsibilities, which are set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – essentially requiring respect for other land users and responsible access, especially on farmed and grazing land. In particular, dogs should be kept on short leads during the spring and early summer to stop them disturbing groundnesting birds and farm animals. They should be kept well away from livestock with young at all times. Deer stalking takes place on the hills between 1 July and 20 October, but this would not usually conflict with many of the walks described in this guide as long as you stick to the recommended routes.
Ticks and midges
Ticks and midges can sometimes be a hazard during the summer months. Take precautions such as covering up, wearing light-coloured clothing, using insect repellent and checking for and removing ticks each evening. Midges are worst on still, drizzly and mild days in the early morning and late evening. Everyone has their favourite product for keeping them at bay, from ingesting large amounts of Marmite and/or whisky, to deet-based formulae, to patches and natural remedies containing bog myrtle; many locals use Avon’s Skin so Soft.
On a clear day, much of this area can be surveyed from the top of one of the higher Torridon mountains. These are remarkably individual peaks, composed of giant lumps of sandstone eroded over time into castellated shapes. Further north, the area’s geology is on show at the Knockan Crag trail, where movement of the earth’s crust has exposed rock millions of years old.
The coastal areas benefit from the warming effect of the gulf stream, which means on a hot day the sandy beaches at Red Point and around Gairloch can appear almost tropical. The mild climate along the coast is most obviously demonstrated by the lush growth and rare plants at both Attadale Gardens on Loch Carron and Inverewe Garden near Poolewe. The latter was transformed from a headland of bare rock and peat with one small willow tree to a world-renowned garden in less than 90 years. Now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, Inverewe is open for much of the year. The ideal growing conditions can also be seen at Attadale where storms in the 1980s devastated the trees and planting, yet in under 30 years the garden is more glorious than ever.
Lairds like Osgood Mackenzie, who created Inverewe Garden in the 1860s, developed a taste for shooting and deer stalking, which was further popularised by Queen Victoria’s purchase of Balmoral. Many estates began to employ their own stalkers as well as establishing a network of sturdy paths to enable ponies to bring deer carcasses down from the hills. These paths are still used today and provide good access into many remote corries and ridges, including the route to the Triple Buttress on Beinn Eighe.
The Summer Isles, near Achiltibuie, were used by Frank Fraser Darling as a test bed for the newly emerging science of ecology. Here, between 1939 and 1943, he put old croftland back into agricultural production whilst studying the lifecycles of red deer, gulls and grey seals. He wrote two popular books about his life on the larger of the Summer Isles, Tanera Mòr – Island Years and Island Farm. Fraser Darling later became a key figure in the international conservation movement.
After the Second World War, the impact on the native wildlife and plants of the increasing deer numbers, coming after years of overgrazing by sheep and deforestation, began to percolate the national consciousness. Britain’s first National Nature Reserve was established on Beinn Eighe to protect the remains of the ancient pinewoods west of Loch Maree in 1951. This hands-on attempt at conservation on such a large scale makes a fascinating story: you can judge the success of the last 60 years on the Woodland Trail by Loch Maree.
Another individual who did much to foster the importance of wildlife and conservation in the public mind was Gavin Maxwell. He spent many years at Sandaig near Glenelg experimenting in remote living, with semi-wild otters as pets, and wrote the classic Ring of Bright Water there. Otters were routinely persecuted as a pest at the time, but Maxwell’s book was the catalyst to measures that have ensured they now thrive along the coastline here. Elusive creatures, you are most likely to see them in the water from walks like the Ardintoul circuit, Sandaig, Corran Herring Path or perhaps the Ardaneaskan walk. Other wildlife success stories include the massive white-tailed or sea eagle. Sometimes called ‘flying barn doors’ due to their enormous wing span, these birds of prey had been persecuted to extinction in Scotland but have now been reintroduced from Norway. Having first established themselves on Mull and Skye, they are now colonising the mainland around Gairloch to such an extent that local crofters are concerned about lambs being lost to feed the appetites of the largest birds of prey in Britain.
Today, crofting and fishing remain the backbone of life for many locals, with income from tourism increasingly important as well as forestry, fish farming, the public sector and offshore oil. In 1975, an Anglo-French consortium chose Loch Kishorn as the place to build the world’s largest concrete structure, the platform for the Ninian Central oil field in the North Sea. This provided a temporary boom for the economy, with 3000 workers living on site and in cruise liners on the loch, until its closure in 1987. Fishing reached its peak during the herring boom years when bands of fishermen and land-based female herring gutters would arrive in many small settlements for the season. Gairloch and Ullapool were once the centre of a large-scale cod fishery, and whilst this has diminished, a number of boats still operate from here and many smaller villages to catch shellfish for the continental market.