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
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
When Wendy from Red Kite Campers got in touch asking if I wanted to take their new VW campervan away for a few days to try it out, I got pretty excited. I've been on a couple of campervan road-trips in Scotland already and I love the freedom of making up my route as I go along and parking up at the most beautiful places for a short stop or even a whole night.
That initial excitement soon turned to dilemma after dilemma. With so many rewarding journey options, I struggled to decide on a route! In the end I opted for a road-trip that would incorporate some of the best Highland scenery on Scotland's west coast. As I only had the campervan for 3 nights, I had to be selective in the places I could visit in order to reach a balance of having time to enjoy the adventure without spending too many hours behind the wheel.
The route I have featured below includes a few Scottish tourist classics with my usual mix of hidden gems thrown in. It is impossible to see all of Scotland in a few days but if you are short on time and big on scenic landscapes, my recommended 4 day itinerary should tick all the boxes. I've also included some extra suggestions if you have more time to spend.
If you are looking for a longer itinerary then my West Coast Scotland Road-trip blog covers a circular route around Wester Ross and the islands of Skye, Lewis and Harris which is ideal for a 10 -14 day trip.
DAY 1 - MILTON OF CAMPSIE TO GLEN SHIEL
APPROX 160 MILES
With no sign of the torrential rain easing, I decided that our planned walk in Glen Coe was best abandoned as our clothes were just about dry again after our earlier soaking at Loch Lomond.
Mr Adventures Around Scotland pulled our colourful VW campervan in to a layby near the mouth of the looming glen and we both hopped in the back, feeling quite smug that we had such a cosy shelter to wait out the worst of the weather.
The rain thrummed noisily on the roof as a pot of water bubbled away on the stove. As I poured two mugs of steaming hot coffee, I could just about make out the distinctive form of Buchaille Etive Mor through the sheets of water sweeping across the surrounding landscape. On days like this, the iconic mountain takes on a foreboding appearance as it guards entry to the gloomy glen beyond.
I've been to Glen Coe countless times and could number the times I've visited on a clear, dry day on both hands and this was definitely not one of those days!
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