This post is part of a paid partnership with Visit Wester Ross as part of their 'Are you a West Coaster' campaign
Are you a West Coaster?
In my view, west coast sunsets like this should be savoured while strolling along a sandy shore; sitting on a rock; celebrating with a local tipple; or polishing off a plate of boat fresh seafood. It is not an experience to be rushed, but one to revel in as the burning orange embers of the sky gradually fade, a final memory to treasure at the end of a day well spent in a very special part of Scotland.
This is one of many special moments I've enjoyed in Wester Ross, a region of Scotland that includes some of the most scenic parts of the north-west Highlands. In a world where we spend much of our working time and day-to-day life rushing around, taking a vacation in a place like this provides space to breathe, relax and reconnect.
Locals here have embraced 'Highland time' and a new tourism campaign is encouraging visitors to do the same. 'Are you a West Coaster?' - if you share the ethos of west coast dwellers and prefer a more authentic experience when you travel, like me, you are a 'West Coaster' at heart.
Wester Ross forms part of the NC500 and although countless people who have travelled along the route would consider the region 'ticked off', I can guarantee they didn't even scratch the surface. Boasting a breathtaking coastline, an above average number of picturesque villages, lush gardens to visit, spectacular mountains to climb, iconic wildlife to spot, local culture to sample and a bountiful larder to taste, you need to dedicate longer than a night or two on a road trip to really appreciate everything Wester Ross has to offer. I know this because I'm speaking from personal experience - I've still only seeing a fraction of the area despite spending a fortnight there on holiday and visiting on several other shorter trips.
Stay a bit longer and give yourself time to get to know the people, immerse yourself in the landscape and get off the beaten track, because if you do, I can guarantee Wester Ross will get under your skin and leave you lovestruck. I can also promise you will collect some extraordinary memories and feel like the stress of the world has been lifted from your shoulders - I know I did!
5 ways to slow down in Wester Ross
To help with your planning, I've shared my 5 tips for things to do, to help you slow down, switching to 'Highland time' and experiencing some of the best that Wester Ross has to offer.
1. Get a bird's eye view of the landscape
Wester Ross is home to a landscape that has your jaw-dropping at every turn as you weave your way past sea, lochs and mountains. The backdrop is dominated by brooding peaks which include some of the most iconic mountains in Scotland. I don't consider myself a mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination, but even I felt a magnetic pull to conquer one of the craggy mountain summits for myself.
Because I had chosen a longer stay in the area, not only did I have the time to climb up one of the peaks, I could also pick the best day to do it. Early one sunny morning, I started up the well trodden path of Stac Pollaidh on the most perfect day imaginable. When I reached as close to the summit as I could without scrambling, I found a rock with a view, poured myself a coffee and gazed across at some of the most astounding scenery I'd ever set eyes on.
As I was staying nearby, I was in no rush to get down and lay back lazily in the sun, inwardly high-fiving myself at setting a goal and achieving it. Stac Pollaidh may not be the highest of mountains, but at that moment I felt on top of the world! To this day, it is still one of my favourite memories from travelling around Scotland.
Giving yourself enough time to climb a mountain is key, you can't just pull over in the car, run up to the top and take a photo. Another essential is having the skills, knowledge and equipment to climb a mountain safely. If Munro-bagging or even just hiking up a high hill in Scotland is something you dream of but don't have the knowledge or experience to confidently undertake, I recommend hiring a local mountain guide who will keep you right and know all the best places to go so you can achieve your goal.
Although I haven't used a guide myself, here are a few covering in the Wester Ross area -
Climb Ride Explore
Mountain & Sea Guides
2. Take to the water
Wester Ross is shaped by the sea, inland waterways and lochs, so to fully appreciate the region, I recommend taking to the water to reach otherwise inaccessible places, get a whole new perspective of the landscape and increase your chances of a wildlife encounter.
There are many options for exploring this stretch of Scotland's coast but I wanted to share a few of my personal favourites starting off with a unique boat trip in Gairloch. Tim Allen runs a glass bottomed boat tour and during my excursion I got to hand feed a seal, gazed at the underwater world below the loch, got a line fishing demonstration and an up close encounter with a lobster caught in his creels.
For a different wildlife experience, Calum's Seal Trips in Plockton guarantees you will spot seals on your trip or you travel for free. I can confirm that I spotted many seals on my outing, and as Calum knows exactly where to find them, his guarantee is a safe bet so be prepared to pay for your ticket!
In Ullapool I boarded the M.V Shearwater for a tour around the Summer Isles and although this isn't primarily a wildlife trip, we were lucky enough to come across white tailed eagles which was an unexpected and memorable bonus. Once you are out on the west coast waters it is possible to spot seals, porpoises, dolphins and even whales if you're lucky,
If you're looking for a slower and more intimate coastal adventure, sea kayaking is also available. I had my first ever kayaking lesson with Alison from Sea Kayak Plockton and I absolutely loved it. Not only did I get a different view of a familiar area, the closeness of the water and having to work with the elements offered a totally immersive experience. Unreachable places suddenly become reachable and wildlife encounters are more likely as you quietly manoeuvre along the coast.
Diverse ways to take to the water in Wester Ross is another reason to spend a bit longer in the area. Although I've already managed a few water-based activities, these are a few I'm keen to try on my next visit -
Guided outing with Ewe Canoe
A Hebridean Whale Cruise
Canoeing on Loch Maree
3. Immerse yourself in nature
The benefits of getting out in nature are widely documented, even a short walk among greenery can boost your physical and mental wellbeing. The sentiment of this blog is about taking time out to breathe, relax and reconnect, and what better way to do that than absorbing your senses in the natural environment.
From scent-laden gardens bursting with colour to shaded forest trails full of bird song, there are many places In Wester Ross where you can escape the hectic pace of life and embrace the 'Highland time' I spoke about previously.
Some of my favourites attractions include -
Inverewe Gardens - Sitting on the shores of Loch Ewe, the colours, smells, sights and sounds along the many trails are a treat for the senses. The warming currents from the Gulf Stream allow rare and exotic species to thrive, offering an unexpected slice of the exotic in the area.
Lael Forest Garden - If you find yourself in need of a tree fix, head to Lael Forest Garden where you will find around 200 species of trees from all over the globe. There are a number of marked trails to follow through the arboretum, passing the many unusual trees in the collection and a more strenuous option up past a pretty waterfall.
Leckmelm Gardens - For a small entrance fee, you can enjoy a walk through Leckmelm Gardens which was first planted in 1870 and restored in 1984. Among the trails you will see exotic plants and impressive trees from around the world. It is a bit of a maze but a pleasant setting to get lost in!
Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve - A popular natural attraction in the area which does mean you are less likely to have it to yourself but the view from the Victorian suspension bridge over the 45m high Falls of Measach makes this a worthwhile stop. The surrounding woodland is also home to a nationally rare species of cranefly.
Two other attractions I've yet to visit that are on my list are Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve and Attadale Gardens, but of course, nature is all around you in Wester Ross so you don't have to look too far to find some solitude. I also recommend staying fairly quiet on your outdoor wanders to increase your chances of spotting some of the more timid local wildlife including sea eagles, red squirrels, pine martens, black grouse, ptarmigan and deer.
4. Experience local culture
Wester Ross has a long history of habitation by people from different cultures, countries and backgrounds who all left their own legacy and helped to shape the region's 21st century cultural identity. Once part of the Kingdom of Dalriada, neighboured by Picts and Vikings, Wester Ross later went on to form part of modern day Scotland but Gaelic, Celtic and Norse influences can still be found in the people, language, music, art and landscape.
The Gaelic language in particular lives on in place names and is undergoing a revival in some parts of the community, while traditional occupations like fishing and crofting still form part of the local economy.
The current population is significantly less than a century ago, but Wester Ross continues to attract new residents from different parts of the world who all bring their own traditions and ideas. One of the best ways to find out more about the local culture is by speaking to the people who currently live and work in the communities you visit and finding out more about what is means to them to be a 'West Coaster'.
Heritage centres are also great places to find out more about the past and present day culture of Wester Ross, here are a few I can recommend -
Applecross Heritage Centre
Russian Arctic Convoy Museum
Isle Martin Micro-museum
5. Eat all the food
Scotland has a larder bursting with high quality produce and Wester Ross is no exception. From street food vans to award-winning restaurants, local ingredients feature heavily on menus around the region. For me, sampling local produce, and in turn, supporting local businesses is an essential part of any travel experience.
As you might expect from a place next to the coast, seafood freshly caught in surrounding waters is widely available but there are also smokehouses selling local game, artisan cafés conjuring up deliciously fresh dishes for all dietary requirements and talented chefs putting their own twist on local ingredients.
Good food is something to relish and for some reason it always tastes better just a stone's throw from where it originated from, and I can testify that it tastes even more delicious when that location happens to be as bonnie as Wester Ross.
When planning your trip, you might want to refer to the Wester Ross Good Food Trail which features places specialising in local produce or try one of my personal favourite places listed below for a great local food experience in the area -
If you're looking for a light lunch stop, I have also listed a few of my favourite cafes in this blog post
If you are looking to buy local produce to cook or make up a picnic, here are a few places I've come across on my travels -
Wester Ross Biosphere
Did you know Wester Ross is also a designated Biosphere? The Wester Ross UNESCO Biosphere extends from the northern tip of Knoydart northwards to Achiltbuie and the Summer Isles and east to Garve, including population centres in Kyle of Lochalsh, Lochcarron, Gairloch and Ullapool
Biospheres aim to connect people, nature and development in sustainable ways. Local partnerships work together to explore ways we can learn to live in harmony with our environment. As visitors we also have our part to play and the best way to do that is by interacting with nature and the environment as sustainably as possible.
It is also good to remember that you might be on holiday but you are not visiting a theme park, you are passing through communities where people live and work - treat them and their home with the same respect you would hope for.
You might wonder why I feel the need to state the obvious but a surprising amount of tourists have left a troublesome mark behind them as they have travelled around Scotland, sometimes consciously and sometimes unintentionally. Even those of us that mean well can still slip up so I've listed some tips to help you travel more ethically and sustainably below - I could have written a whole blog post on this but these are some of the main ones to consider.
Sustainable travel tips
If the content of this post resonates with you then consider yourself a 'West Coaster' and Wester Ross is ready to welcome you as a kindred spirit. Pop over to the Visit Wester Ross website to start planning your trip.
I hope my latest post has given you some inspiration
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