Wanderings around Scotland's West Coast
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 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
A West Coast Scotland Road 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
Whenever I write about the Isle of Skye, I try to encourage visitors to look beyond the usual iconic landmarks as the island has so much more to offer. Although joining one of the Bella Jane boat trips from Elgol to Loch Coruisk is undoubtedly popular, the remote geography of the area means you can easily find a quiet spot to enjoy Skye's wild and dramatic landscape once you arrive at your destination.
On my Scottish west coast road-trip with Red Kite Campers, I wanted to explore a part of the island I'd never visited before so I opted to join a cruise with Bella Jane, one of the local tour companies that run Elgol boat trips.
The road to Elgol
It's really hard not to fall in love with the scenery of Skye and the views along the road to Elgol are up there with the best in Scotland. Despite having my Loch Coruisk boat trip booked and a tight schedule to keep, it was impossible for me to drive more than a few miles without a photo stop, much to the annoyance of Mr Adventures Around Scotland. I mean just look at that backdrop, I defy anyone to resist getting their camera out every 5 minutes!
This did mean that we pulled up to the car park in Elgol with 5 minutes to spare and I was slightly panicked to find it packed full. The relatively quiet roads on my journey that morning had made me complacent and I had already forgotten how busy some parts of Skye can be. Learn from my mistake and give yourself plenty of time! Thankfully I managed to get a space sorted, checked in and joined my fellow passengers on the pier as the boat prepared to set sail.
Sailing on the Bella Jane
As we motored our way to our destination, one of the crew provided some entertaining and informative live commentary as we navigated our way across Loch Scavaig. The crossing may be short but there is still plenty to see from the open deck. On one side you pass the neighbouring Isle of Soay, home to only a handful of residents. Just beyond that lies the Small Isles, with the rugged peaks of Rum and the distinctive form of An Sgùrr on the Isle of Eigg, easy to pick out on the near horizon. On the opposite side, the remote southwestern coast of Skye rises up to meet you.
Despite opting to live on Scottish islands, I'm not a huge fan of travelling on wee boats and I'll admit to being a bit apprehensive before the journey. However, it was a surprisingly pleasant crossing and the humerous anecdotes from the crew and dazzling scenery kept everyone entertained and distracted.
Arriving at Loch na Cuilce
If someone had taken my photo as we neared our stopping point, I'm pretty sure my mouth would have been hanging open and my eyes popping out my head! Sailing in to the inlet of Loch na Cuilce is about as close as you will get in Scotland to feeling like you are entering the belly of Mordor.
Even on a relatively bright day, the towering jagged black peaks were gloomy and foreboding and the water was an otherworldly shade of verdant green. The occasional seal popped its head out to greet us, while more of the resident colony basked lazily on lumps of rock. With so much vying for my attention, it was hard to know where to look.
Breathtaking can be a cliché when it comes to depicting Scotland's scenery but in this case it is the only word that really does it justice. I recently read an article on Scottish Anchorages describing this spot as "...without doubt the most dramatic anchorage in the Hebrides" which pretty much sums it up.
Exploring around Loch Coruisk
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