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
This post is part of a paid partnership with West Coast Waters to promote the many ways you can immerse your senses around the Scottish west coast
A couple of months ago I was sitting on a bench in the pretty hamlet of Strathcarron, scooping up small mounds of cooling ice-cream dispensed in a tub at the local shop. The Scottish summer was doing what it was supposed to for once. It was warm enough to ditch my jacket (a rare occurrence!) and the azure blue sky was dotted with enough white cotton ball fluffs to stop my pale skin from burning. Gazing across the echo of crumpled brown hills on the still waters of Loch Carron, I mindfully celebrated my first west coast trip of 2021.
This was the start of my summer holidays and my next stop was the Isle of Skye. The last time I had followed this route was back in 2019, before the world was gripped by a pandemic and the freedom to travel was something I took for granted.
In the two years since I last wound my way along Scotland's west coast and over the sea to Skye, much has changed, but as I sat quietly inhaling the salty tang from the loch I also realised how much has remained the same. The timeless landscape of Wester Ross was exactly as I remembered and the feelings it inevitably stirs up in me hadn't disappeared. It all felt familiarly reassuring.
On my last trip here I made a detour to Plockton for an overnight stay before crossing the Skye Bridge. My relationship with Plockton goes way back to the mid-90s, to a time when a Highland policeman named Hamish Macbeth was a regular fixture on tellies around Scotland. The quaint TV village with a breathtaking backdrop was quickly added to my travel list.
Even though I've visited many times since, on my West Coast Waters Campaign in 2019, I got to experience the village and coastal scenery from a whole new perspective. Guided by Alison from Sea Kayak Plockton I absolutely loved every minute of my first sea kayaking adventure, despite being more than a bit apprehensive at the beginning. Rounded off with a seal spotting cruise with legendary local Calum Mackenzie and a locally landed seafood dinner at The Plockton Inn, I don't think my day could have been any better.
OVER THE BRIDGE TO SKYE
However, on this trip I was heading straight to Skye for a unique overnight stay in Boris the Military Pod, a converted army radio repair workshop in Kylerhea on the south east coast of the island. Located within walking distance of the shoreline, I spent the evening sat on the rocks watching bobbing seals in the Kyle Rhea strait, the narrowest point between Skye and the mainland. Sitting by the calming waters of the west coast was quickly becoming a theme for this holiday.
I could also spot the characterful Glenelg Ferry - the short journey from the mainland on the last manually operated turntable ferry in the world is my favourite way to travel to Skye.
All too often, visitors make a beeline for the same cliched sites that seem to appear on every 'must do' Skye list and consider the island ticked off their bucket-list, often within a day!
As someone who has visited Skye many times and stayed in a different area each time, I can tell you there is much more to see and do, I'd even go as far as saying there are some better things to do.
On my last trip I stayed in Waternish and joined Divers Eye Boat Trips on one of their short cruises to the now uninhabited Islay Island. Wandering around the ruins of a long row of waterfront cottages and the laird's house which has a murderous past was a real highlight. I was the only visitor that day and despite being a stone's throw from the rugged and bustling Skye coast, it felt a world away as I stood alone among the remnants of past lives.
From a trip around the Sleat Peninsula to a boat trip to reach the remote Loch Coruisk, there are countless unique and memorable experiences to be had in Skye if you are willing to let go of your FOMO and break away from the crowds.
My recommended things to do in Inverness and the surrounding area
Inverness is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Scotland. It is known as 'The Capital of the Highlands' and acts as a great base for exploring the north of the country. The city of Inverness is compact and easy to explore on foot and although there are many places to visit within Inverness itself, some of the well known Inverness tourist attractions like Culloden and Loch Ness lie outside the centre.
You can travel to the city by bus or train and many attractions are walkable from the city centre but a car is advisable if you want to explore the outlying sites mentioned in this list. Inverness even has its own airport and the city acts as a gateway to countless Highland adventures whatever direction you decide to travel in once you get there.
My recommended things to do in and near to Inverness includes a mix of some of the top things to do but also some of the lesser known gems as I always aim to showcase a different side to the popular tourist places in Scotland.
I've also included a range of sight-seeing options that are within a 20 minute drive and I've marked all of the places mentioned in this handy interactive map to help you plan your itinerary.
What to do in Inverness
All of the following suggestions can easily be reached on from Inverness city centre
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
I personally think a visit to Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is one of the best things to do in Inverness. The museum covers an extensive history of the area and is a great starting point for those interested in learning more about the different historical periods of the Scottish Highlands.
On the ground floor you will find exhibits dating back billions of years in the geology section and some amazing Pictish and Iron Age finds. Medieval Inverness, Gaelic culture and Highland wildlife are all covered on this floor too.
On the first floor the story of the Jacobites, Highland dress and weaponry all feature and there is even an opportunity to dress up if you feel inclined! Other exhibits include field sports, Inverness silver, Scottish identity, the Clearances and life in 20th century Inverness.
The museum is free to visit and is also home to a shop and cafe,
My social media followers obviously know me pretty well as it was thanks to the recommendation from someone on Instagram that I first became aware of The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail. They knew about my love of hidden gems and public art thanks to other blog posts I had written about the Andy Scott Sculpture Trail and the Caol Ruadh Sculpture Park.
After they sent me some images of intriguing carved figures from their own visit to this woodland walk at Feshiebridge, I knew I had to add it to my Scotland travel list.
I found the figures to be thought provoking and mysterious, like ancient woodland spirits passing on their wisdom. Being the only one in the forest, at times the walk even felt a little creepy, as some of the figures lurk in the shadows and can appear quite lifelike. In fact, it is their appearance of having some animation and a philosophical soul that makes these sculptures more than a work of art to be admired.
However, being made of reclaimed wood that is exposed to the elements means these striking pieces won't last forever. The trail has been opened since 2007 and unsurprisingly some are already starting to rot and some have had to be cut down and placed on the ground for safety reasons. Some people are disappointed by the lack of preservation but this was part of Frank Bruce's vision. That his work went through the natural cycle of birth, life and decay.
I've no doubt many of the sculptures will still be around for a few years yet but if you do plan to visit, you might want to add it to your list sooner rather than later. I've written a guide with all you need to know below.
Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail Walk Details
LOCATION - Feshiebridge in the Cairngorms National Park - about a 20 minute drive from Aviemore and Kingussie
DISTANCE - A 1 mile circular route from the designated car park
TERRAIN - A compact accessible path that is also suitable for wheelchairs and prams
DIFFICULTY - Easy
TIPS - There is a charge for the car park so make sure you have some change
ABOUT THE SCULPTURES
As with all art, the sculptures are designed to make you think and in this case there are strong themes of politics, Scottish culture and our relationship with others. The individual pieces are united under the title 'Patriotism & Poverty'.
Most of the sculptures are carved from reclaimed wood, some of them from ancient Caledonian Pines which actually came from the forest they now sit in. The wooden pieces emphasise the natural shape and features of tree, with knots and branches looking like arms and legs.
There are also three stone pieces on the trail which will remain as a legacy once the wooden ones have gone.
Some of the stops have information boards which explain the meaning of the piece, others are left for you to interpret. I've posted some of the sculptures below, with a bit about their background. However, I have also omitted a few so you are left with some surprises if you do visit.
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