I’m returning to a series of articles that has become the most popular source of information on Traveling Savage. These Itinerary Ideas highlight different regions of Scotland and provide a handy batch of activities, sights, and experiences I’ve drummed up during my explorations. It always feels good to craft another entry in this series. I look at it as an homage to the area, one I plan to make for every corner of Scotland. Today I’m highlighting Wester Ross, a region whose landscapes are the dreams of gods and whose very name sounds like something out of a fantasy novel. If you’ve read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, you’d know Westeros sounds damningly similar.
These Scotland Itinerary Ideas collect many of my previous articles on the selected region into one place, along with my assessment of their importance for the visitor and a bevy of useful tidbits that might’ve gotten lost along the way. At the end of the day, these articles should be useful cheat sheets to refer to when you begin dreaming up your trip, and they are especially good starting points when you decide to contact me for help in planning your trip to Scotland.
As always, don’t hesitate to pepper me with questions.
Wester Ross. The name alone conjures forgotten lands in musty tomes, and to look upon its sky-swallowing glens and lonely, cloud-wreathed mountains is to step into a fantasy of unrivaled natural splendor. Here the sea has risen to an ideal height, for the narrow roads mirroring the rocky coastline are in fact clinging to the sides of mountains where red deer and golden eagles roam. Of all Scotland’s wonderful corners, perhaps Wester Ross is closest to a past when man was not so profligate as he is today. There are tiny towns and quaint pubs and cafés nestled in wooded vales, but there is a sense of companionship between our two kingdoms that gives hope. Wester Ross stands far from everything, at the edge of Europe, often just beyond reach, like any good fantasy. But when you arrive — and you will, someday — a spell falls, ensorcelling, compelling you to return to this fey, most beautiful place.
Things You Can’t Miss
The Applecross Peninsula. The Applecross Peninsula has taken on a legendary status among Scots and Scotophiles for its great beauty and its position just off the tourist trail to Skye. It takes some effort and itinerary wrangling to make your way here, but it’s worth it. The serpentine road up and down the Bealach na Bà makes for the most harrowing drive in Scotland, but it takes you through epic vistas of great, stoney mountains and island-studded seas beneath the incredible Scottish light. Applecross town is itself a worthy destination, just a small blip on the Applecross coast with a great inn and a warm, welcoming vibe.
The Wester Ross Coastal Trail. The Wester Ross Coastal Trail hugs the coast between Kyle of Lochalsh and just south of Ullapool. This road is neither the shortest nor the fastest way to travel through Wester Ross, but it is by far the most beautiful one. The journey takes in many of the sights below, and I especially like the stretch between Gairloch and Corrieshalloch Gorge. Here you’ll find beautiful vacant beaches, island-speckled waters, towering mountains, and waterfalls tumbling through the hills. There are few better ways to spend a day in Scotland.
The Lonely Mountains. One of the most amazing aspects of Wester Ross is the geology of the landscape. There are plenty of mountains out here, and the vast majority of them jut up from otherwise low-lying terrain and give the countryside a sawtooth appearance. An Tealach, Stac Pollaidh, and Slioch are a few of the most famous mountains, and they will stop you in your tracks. Luckily, there are plenty of places to pull over on these desolate roads and gawk or begin your career as a Munro bagger.
Things You Shouldn’t Miss
Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve. There’s a feeling as you drive through Wester Ross around Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree that this area could one day become a national park. A great visitor center lies just off the A832 where the reserve’s natural history and wild inhabitants are covered in detail, and a couple of easy hiking trails lead from here up into the mountains’ low foothills. With Beinn Eighe’s hills, lochs, and long-distance views, it’s the perfect place to get a feel for Wester Ross.
Corrieshalloch Gorge. Scotland’s northwest highlands are basically one huge natural wonder, but there are certain sites within this gorgeous expanse that even the Scots mention with awe. Case in point: Scotland’s “Grand Canyon,” Corrieshalloch Gorge, which you can find a dozen miles southeast of Ullapool. Corrieshalloch is a slot gorge or box-canyon created by glacial meltwater, and it looks like a giant swung his axe through the earth’s crust to its iron mantle. An old suspension bridges sways over the River Droma flowing through this cleft. The river drops 100 meters through a series of waterfalls, including the precipitous Falls of Measach.
Torridon. The road is so narrow between Kinlochewe and Loch Torridon that it feels like you’re driving on a bike path. The mountains of Glen Torridon loom to left and right, and it’s not hard to imagine traveling through the glen on foot hundreds of years ago. Those moments are priceless, waiting to be captured all over Scotland, and as Glen Torridon deposits you on the secluded shores of Loch Torridon you’re forgiven whatever fugue moments have overtaken you.
Things to Do Off the Beaten Path
Red Point Beach. South of Gairloch, at the end of a long, winding, narrow road, lies the surreal Red Point Beach. Here you can feel the sky, and its movements are writ in the sand. This is a place for contemplation, to alter your consciousness and pick out the threads that normally remain hidden to perception. I could have spent a long time here just thinking and writing, but that would have been unfair to my traveling companions and actually impossible because my fingers would have seized up in the cold. Yet it’s places like Red Point Beach that make Wester Ross such a special visit.
The Summer Isles. Northwest of Ullapool, just off the Coigach coast in true hinterland, lies the Summer Isles archipelago. Come to Achiltibuie for the view or a boat ride to Tanera Mór or one of the smaller isles, it’s up to you, but if you’re looking for an out-of-the-way, beautiful place this is it. And if you’re swimming in cash, some of these islands are actually for sale right now!
Knockan Crag. At the very northern border of Wester Ross lies Knockan Crag, a stunning line of cliffs that compose one of the oldest landscapes in Europe. A visitors center provides an in-depth analysis of the local geology, flora, and fauna, and there are walking paths and art installations around the reserve. Knockan Crag is a great place to get above Wester Ross and appreciate the spectacular scenery.
Logistics & Salient Bits
Bases. Perhaps more than anywhere else in Scotland, where you base yourself is less important than happiness with your accommodations. The entire region is gorgeous, and driving through it is the primary pleasure. That said, I think Gairloch and Poolewe are the most central bases and an ideal place to start your searches. Gairloch in particular is a pretty town on the coast — check out that view above town on the way to Poolewe. Torridon also makes a nice base if you aren’t on a budget. Both the Torridon Hotel and the Torridon Inn are very nice accommodations, and I’ve found them ideal for exploring the Applecross Peninsula. Further north, Ullapool seems like an obvious base, and it would be fine, but it’s not as beautiful as other coastal towns in Scotland, places like Portree and Tobermory. Instead, consider splurging on the Brochs of Coigach near Achiltibuie. You will have an unforgettable time there.
Transportation. You need a car. There is no feasible way to explore Wester Ross without one. The entire region is composed of single-track, windswept roads where I don’t think I saw a single bus. The nearest the train gets is Strathcarron and Achnasheen, but they’re not quite far enough north to be ideal. Even if you could use public transportation to explore Wester Ross, however, I wouldn’t recommend it. A large part of the fun is driving down these tiny roads to hidden beaches, coves, and cliffs and just watching the water or the deer come down from the hilltops. Barring the Bealach na Bà, this is not stressful driving. While the roads are mostly single-track, there’s not enough traffic to make that bothersome.
Food & Drink. The recent “creation” of the North Coast 500 means that more and more tourism amenities will be making their way to this stretch of Scotland, but by and large Wester Ross is still fairly limited in its offering. However, I found both the Badachro Inn and the Applecross Inn to be a couple of the nicest pubs out there. The Badachro had a surprisingly huge wine list and the food was consistently delicious. Speaking of good food, the Torridon Hotel‘s 1887 is world-class fine-dining and produced one of my all-time favorite meals. Its sister accommodation, the Torridon Inn, has a more casual restaurant with a nice pub. The Old Inn in Gairloch and the Summer Isles Hotel in Achiltibuie were both decent places to spend a meal. Also in Achiltibuie, SALT Seafood Kitchen was a welcome surprise serving the freshest seafood in the area. In Ullapool you really shouldn’t miss The Ceilidh Place — the food is fantastic and they have a great little bookshop attached.
I hope you’ve found some itinerary ideas that catch your interest. Wester Ross is a true gem that blew me away with its beauty, and it deserves a place on most itineraries of at least two weeks in length.
Photo of Knockan Crag by Les Dunford via Creative Commons