Impressions from the Road: Wester Ross

by Keith Savage · 11 comments


One of the many gorgeous lochs in Strath Bran

I have returned home from my wonderful circuit of the North Coast 500 and so have I returned to blogging. I apologize for the couple weeks off — I traveled with family and decided to prioritize that time — but I did not forget to document my days and weeks, take scads of photos, and catalogue my thoughts as they happened. I like to write these ‘impressions from the road’ posts because they present an immediate reaction to a place before the oncoming months have distanced me from the experience.

I knew Wester Ross would be beautiful. I’d visited it in bits and pieces over the years but never for an extended period of time. Somehow we managed twelve straight days of pure sunshine on the northwest coast, and in that light Wester Ross gleamed like a jewel in Scotland’s crown. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The northern highlands are a bit like the Scottish Borders in that they lie beyond the obvious ‘circle route’ tour of Scotland, and perhaps because of that the area retains more of its old spirit. Wester Ross is itself an ill-defined region, really just the western half of the county of Ross & Cromarty. Good luck finding maps that represent the sole source of truth. The best I can figure is that Wester Ross runs from Loch Carron and the Applecross peninsula in the south up to Ullapool and just beyond, perhaps to Achiltibuie.

You’ve got an idea of where I’m talking about. Let’s get on with it.

Impressions

This might be the most awesomely beautiful area of Scotland. And that’s saying a lot. Drive through the Cairngorms, Perthshire, Skye, or Lochaber and you might scoff at this claim. I was unable to scoff because on day one of my trip, as we drove west from Garve along Strath Bran to Achnasheen and then Kinlochewe my jaw became dislocated gaping at the vistas unveiling themselves. Our exclamations defied hyperbole and counting, and each morning we said something to the effect of, “well, it can’t get any better than what we saw yesterday.” And everyday Wester Ross made liars of us. From Loch Maree to An Teallach to the Bealach na Bà, Wester Ross provided endless scenic grandeur. There’s something for everyone: sudden, rearing mountains, forested glens, pristine beaches, heathery moor, and navy lochs rippling black.

Nervous drivers beware! There’s just one catch. Much of Wester Ross is traversed (where it can be) by single-track roads. You’ll find these roads in many of Scotland’s out-of-the-way places where the engineers have chosen a smaller footprint at the expense of speed and ease. I think it’s a smart move — the last thing you want to do is further despoil these beautiful places, nor do you want to speed past their beauty — but it means you need to be prepared to stop quickly and get to a pull-off spot to allow oncoming traffic to get by. In most parts of Scotland these roads sound scarier than they really are, but the single-track roads in Wester Ross have more blind turns than elsewhere, so you need to moderate your speed and take care. In practice, this means you rarely go more than 40mph (often between 25-35mph), and you might be stopping and reversing often. Thankfully, Wester Ross is hardly overrun with people, but the advent of the North Coast 500 means more tourists on these small roads.

This is hikers’ paradise. Wester Ross is peppered with Munros and Corbetts, small mountains and high hills, that draw hikers from around the world. These mountains leap from the surrounding moorland in awesome fashion and make for fairly technical hikes requiring map, compass, and proper hiking gear, but there are plenty of hikes for all skill levels everywhere you turn in Wester Ross. The Beinn Eighe national nature reserve is a good first stop to stretch your legs on Wester Ross’s hills, but you’ll find well-marked paths and trails everywhere with minimal footprint on the landscape. It’s really inspiring to see such careful stewardship coupled with easy access courtesy of Scotland’s Right to Roam. Two of the best resources for finding hikes are Walk Highlands and the handy guides from Pocket Walks. I already miss being out beneath the big sky and mountains.

Vast stretches of wilderness predominate. Crack open a map and take a look at Wester Ross. You will quickly notice that because of all the mountains there are very few roads. Huge stretches of wilderness exist between them, and my mind immediately wonders what is out there? For hardcore backpackers this would be an ideal place to come and get lost (not literally). It is so rare to find this kind of wilderness in Europe, and it serves to invite the intrepid on hikes into Wester Ross’s wild heart.

I’ll be back next week with more impressions from the road. In the meantime, check out Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for extra photos, updates, and thoughts from my recent trip around the North Coast 500!


JennNo Gravatar July 7, 2016 at 8:22 AM

When I read Wester Ross I can’t help but think of Westeros from Game of Thrones. I wonder if the name inspired the fictional place. I’d love to be there right now soaking in all those amazing views! *Someday*

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 7, 2016 at 8:51 AM

I’ve heard several people say that, and the thought had crossed my mind, too, long ago when I first read the books. If not the name then surely the landscape inspired him!

HKNo Gravatar July 1, 2016 at 7:09 AM

What type of clothing is good for July?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 7, 2016 at 8:50 AM

It’s usually cool in Scotland. Pack layers that you can easily take off if the day heats up.

NoahNo Gravatar June 30, 2016 at 10:22 PM

Looks great … would love to hike that place, with nary a camera-gawking tourist in sight!

Tina Somberg-BuiksNo Gravatar June 20, 2016 at 2:29 AM

I have just returned from this wonderful region and my 6 guests loved it just as much as I do.

KenNo Gravatar June 16, 2016 at 7:45 AM

Words cannot describe how beautiful this part of Scotland is, nor how much one misses it when gone.

DaveNo Gravatar June 15, 2016 at 1:10 PM

I really look forward to reading your reviews Keith. I have to say when I looked at that photo you placed in the post, it felt as if something reached into my chest (in a good way). Just curious, did you go by the North West Highlands GeoPark in the area?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 16, 2016 at 8:23 AM

I saw many signs for various geoparks throughout the region, though we did not stop at a place specifically named so. The entire area might be one, and if so we put on 1300 miles exploring it! One place I missed on this trip and must visit is Knockan Crag. That might be the hub.

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