My recommended ways to explore the Scottish west coast in Wester Ross, Skye, Lewis and Harris
Recently I went on a trip around Wester Ross, Skye, Harris and Lewis as part of a partnership to promote the #WestCoastWaters Campaign. The aim of my trip was firstly to explore the road less travelled and I previously wrote a blog post with details of how I tried to achieve this on a west coast Scotland road trip.
The second aim was to find ways of slowing down and immersing my senses in the coastal landscape. This involved trying out a number of water and coastal themed activities including sea kayaking, pony trekking, boat trips, wildlife watching, coastal walks and eating ALL the seafood!
I've put together a list of 15 activities that are readily available in the areas I visited and but they are also available throughout the west coast in general. It is not a definitive list and I've added a few more options at the bottom but these suggestions should be enough to give you plenty of ideas to create your own unique Scottish west coast adventure.
These are my recommendations and you can just skip to the sections you are most interested in to find out more details on the activities and providers in Wester Ross, Skye, Lewis and Harris.
1. VISIT THE BEACH
2. GO FOR A COASTAL WALK
3. TAKE A BOAT TRIP
4. GO ISLAND HOPPING BY FERRY
5. EXPLORE BY SEA KAYAK OR CANOE
6. FOLLOW THE HEBRIDEAN WHALE TRAIL
7. GO WILDLIFE SPOTTING
8. GO PONY TREKKING ALONG THE BEACH
9. TRY STAND UP PADDLE BOARDING
10. CATCH SOME WAVES ON A SURFBOARD
11. TASTE THE CATCH OF THE DAY
12. SAMPLE THE LOCAL DRINK ON A TOUR
13. STROLL THROUGH A COASTAL GARDEN
14. TAKE PART IN A BEACH CLEAN
15. CATCH A WEST COAST SUNSET
1. VISIT THE BEACH
Taking a trip to one of Scotland's stunning west coast beaches is the easiest way for anyone to enjoy the coast and it is absolutely free. Whether you want to feel the sand between your toes, build a castle, do some beach-combing or even go for a paddle, the areas featured in this blog have some of the best beaches in Scotland to choose from. The best part - they are never crowded!
These are some of my favourites beaches in the area but there are plenty more to choose from -
2. GO FOR A COASTAL WALK
Another free and easy way to enjoy the west coast of Scotland is to follow one of the many coastal walking trails. There are loads of options for all levels of abilities and far too many to mention here. Personally I find the Walkhighlands website to be an excellent resource, not just for coastal routes but walks all over Scotland.
However, here are a few suggestions of my own -
3. TAKE A BOAT TRIP
Taking the road less travelled on a west coast Scotland road trip through Wester Ross, Skye, Harris and Lewis
Recently I undertook an epic adventure around the North West Highlands and Islands on a west coast Scotland road trip. Starting in Wester Ross, I crossed over the sea to Skye before taking a ferry to Harris and continuing on my journey to Lewis. The circular driving route around the west of Scotland eventually brought me back to Wester Ross where I finished off my trip at one of my favourite places.
This particular road trip took me through some of the most attractive parts of the country and some places that I thought I knew pretty well but it turned out there was plenty more for me still to discover. This was a journey with a difference as it was part of partnership to promote the #WestCoastWaters Campaign which encourages visitors to take the roads less travelled around western Scotland and find ways to immerse their senses along way.
I do believe that too many people rush around Scotland trying to tick as many things off as possible and don't take the time to really absorb their surroundings so I relished the opportunity to slow down and explore in bite-size chunks.
Although this west coast route will take you through some of the most popular Scottish tourist haunts, it will also take you off the beaten track and provide you with an original itinerary for exploring these well known places.
MY WEST COAST SCOTLAND ROUTE
It is worth noting that I started in the north of Wester Ross and travelled south, however this itinerary can easily be adapted so you start in the south at Plockton, cross to Skye and include the Wester Ross section at the end of your trip.
It is also worth adding that I did this trip in 9 days due to time constraints, however I would make it a 2 week itinerary if you can by adding extra nights in Ullapool, Gairloch, Plockton, Skye and Harris.
FURTHER READING - 15 ACTIVITIES YOU CAN DO ON THE SCOTTISH WEST COAST
DAY 1 - ULLAPOOL
I really like Ullapool, it is an attractive little town with whitewashed cottages lining the shores of Loch Broom. It has lots of quality independent shops and nice places to eat and drink which makes it a popular base for tourists visiting this part of Scotland. In fact, I have spent 2 separate holidays there myself recently and thoroughly enjoyed both.
The town has a long connection with the sea and was originally founded as a herring port in 1788 by the British Fisheries Society. Although the industry has declined, fishing still remains at the heart of the town and the Ullapool Museum is a great place to find out more about the history.
I arrived on a warm September day and the waterfront was lined with fellow tourists soaking up the autumnal sun. I joined them for a while, sitting at a picnic table with a harbour view and snacked on my tasty haddock wrap from The Seafood Shack. A place I regularly buy lunch from when I'm in the area.
Although Ullapool can be a busy wee place, it is still possible to find a little oasis of quiet just a short distance from the town. I took the small ferry boat from nearby Ardmair jetty to Isle Martin, which is currently uninhabited and looked after by the community of Lochbroom and Coigach. Although no-one has lived permanently on the island since 1949, many people have lived and worked on Isle Martin over the previous centuries.
There is a little museum, walking trails and a quiet beach with views over to the Summer Isles. It definitely ticked my criteria of taking the road less travelled and getting a new perspective on a familiar place. Sitting on a rock with a 360 degree view of the surrounding loch, mountains and islands was also the perfect spot to immerse my senses.
I didn't put myself under any pressure to rush around exploring everything in the Ullapool area. Instead I was happy to spend a bit longer on Isle Martin to gain a deeper understanding of the history and people who once called this island home. I do recommend adding another night in Ullapool if you can and I have listed more things to do in the area below.
FURTHER READING - More things to do in and around Ullapool
WHERE I STAYED - Aschcroft Bed & Breakfast in Letters was just perfect. Natasha is a brilliant host and the space is beautiful, clean and comfortable. The self contained apartment has 2 large bedrooms, a sitting room and shower room. A connecting door to the kitchen of the main house provides access for making drinks and this is also where breakfast is served which was generous and delicious.
Natasha's dog was my new best friend and I actually felt sad leaving her! If you like to temporarily adopt dogs on your holiday then this is the place for you! The accommodation is also situated in a quiet area overlooking the loch which meant I got a great night's sleep.
I highly recommend staying here and if you've not used Airbnb before you can get a £25 discount off your first booking with my personal discount link.
SOME WAYS TO ENJOY THE COAST & WATERS AROUND ULLAPOOL
DAY 2 - ULLAPOOL TO GAIRLOCH
My complete guide to all the free museums in Glasgow
When I was growing up in Glasgow, I didn't always appreciate how privileged I was to have so many fantastic museums to visit on my doorstep. The fact that many of them cost nothing to enter made them accessible to working class families like mine and I spent many a happy hour learning about everything from dinosaurs to tram cars.
When I'm back in the city I still love popping in and out of these varied venues and I can't recommend them highly enough if you are visiting Glasgow. No matter what your interests, there is a museum for you.
I've put together this guide to the free museums in Glasgow which should give you plenty of indoor inspiration suitable for all ages and ideal for rainy days.
Although these attractions cost nothing to visit, many of them rely on financial support from the public to remain open, so consider leaving a donation if you can.
KELVINGROVE ART GALLERY AND MUSEUM
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum has long been a favourite with both Glaswegians and visitors to the city. It is not only the top attraction to visit in Glasgow, but one of the most popular in Scotland.
With 22 themed galleries you can expect to find a wide range of exhibits from dinosaurs to suits of armour. There are actually over 8000 eclectic objects on display, including items of local interest and international significance.
The art collection is said to be one of the greatest In Europe, with 'Christ of St John of the Cross' by Salvador Dali being one of the most famous paintings.
Although the galleries are the main appeal for visitors, the grand building is an attraction in its own right. Officially opened in 1901 it is a striking piece of architecture.
The museum is situated in the west end of Glasgow and can easily be reached by public transport from the city centre. Expect to easily lose a couple of hours wandering around the exhibits and gift shop.
If the weather is nice then a walk around the adjacent Kelvingrove Park makes for a pleasant way to finish off your visit or enjoy a cup of tea in the cafe.
THE RIVERSIDE MUSEUM OF TRANSPORT
The Riverside Museum is home to a wide variety of modes of transport and is a great place to visit for all ages. Expect to see everything from prams and skateboards to vintage cars and buses, there is even a wall of motorbikes.
Over 3000 objects and 90 touch screen panels with films and stories will keep you entertained for hours. There is even the opportunity to climb on board some of the vehicles and walk down recreated cobbled Glasgow streets with period shops you can explore. It is this interactive element that makes the attraction lots of fun.
The Glasgow Museum of Transport has been my favourite museum since I was a wee girl. It first opened in 1964 and has actually moved location twice since then. My earliest memories date back to when it was originally housed in a former tram depot on the south side of the city. After that it moved to the Kelvin Hall in the west end of Glasgow before relocating again to its current home on the banks of the River Clyde.
The new statement building was designed by the renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, and the museum has won several awards since it reopened in 2011, including European Museum of the Year. It is situated next to The Tall Ship at the Riverside (see below) which is also free to visit and it makes sense to combine a trip to both attractions.
For a full day out in the city, you can also take the free Govan Ferry across the River Clyde during the summer months. On the opposite bank you can visit the Govan Stones and Fairfield Heritage Centre (see below). Another option for a longer day out is to visit the nearby Clydeside Distillery and join a whisky tour.
Back in 2016 I spent a fantastic week in Ullapool and always promised myself I would go back for another stay. When I first visited some of the attractions were closed for the winter so I decided that my return visit should be during the summer.
This year I finally managed to return for another week long stay. So many people quickly pass through the village on their way around the North Coast 500 or make a short stop before boarding the ferry to the Hebrides. I think this is a real shame as there are so many things to do in and around Ullapool that it makes a great base for exploring this part of the North West Highlands.
Below I've put together a list of all my favourite attractions, walks and activities in the area. I've also listed a few things that I've not managed to do yet but are on my list for next time. If you are visiting Ullapool for a day, a week or longer and looking for things to do, then this blog post should give you plenty of inspiration.
I always find museums a good starting point when you are visiting a place as they give you an insight in to the local history and culture. Ullapool Museum is housed within the old Thomas Telford church and there are some interesting original features inside.
The collections include agricultural and fishing exhibits, two of the main industries that existed after Ullapool was founded as a fishing station back in 1788. You can also research through local archives and genealogy records.
There is a small fee to enter and the museum is currently open on Monday to Saturday from April to October.
Summer Isles Cruise
One of my highlights from this year's trip was a cruise around the Summer Isles on the M.V Shearwater. We were lucky enough to sail on a sunny albeit choppy day but the boat felt very stable and comfortable.
There are plenty of outdoor options to sit and take in the views as you sail down Loch Broom, around the Summer Isles and back along the Coigach Peninsula. There is also live commentary so you know exactly what you are looking at on your tour. At the start we were told we might be lucky enough to see some nesting white-tailed eagles and to be honest, I was slightly sceptical. However, sure enough we did see one of the pair of eagles flying overhead which was pretty exciting and we passed plenty of seals too.
Although we didn't stop at any of the islands, we did sail to the mouth of Cathedral Cave on Tanera Beag. It is quite a dramatic feature and the captain had a chance to show off his skills as he manoeuvred around the bouncing waves at the entrance.
The cruise departs from Ullapool Pier and lasts just over 2 hours. At the time of writing payment had to be made in cash and the tours run through late spring and summer.
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