The Highlands’ starkly beautiful west coast – stretching from the Morvern peninsula (opposite Mull) in the south to wind-lashed Cape Wrath in the far north – is arguably the finest part of Scotland. Serrated by fjord-like sea lochs, the long coastline is scattered with windswept white-sand beaches, cliff-girt headlands, and rugged mountains sweeping up from the shoreline. When the sun shines, the sparkle of the sea, the richness of colour and the clarity of the views out to the scattered Hebrides are simply irresistible. This is the least populated part of Britain, with just two small towns, and yawning tracts of moorland and desolate peat bog between crofting settlements.
Lying within easy reach of Inverness, the popular stretch of the coast between Kyle of Lochalsh and Ullapool features the region’s more obvious highlights: the awesome mountainscape of Torridon, Gairloch’s sandy beaches, the famous botanic gardens at Inverewe, and Ullapool itself, a picturesque and bustling fishing town from where ferries leave for the Outer Hebrides. However, press on further north, or south, and you’ll get a truer sense of the isolation that makes the west coast so special. Traversed by few roads, the remote northwest corner of Scotland is wild and bleak, receiving the full force of the North Atlantic’s frequently ferocious weather. The scattered settlements of the far southwest, meanwhile, tend to be more sheltered, but they are separated by some of the most extensive wilderness areas in Britain – lonely peninsulas with evocative Gaelic names like Ardnamurchan, Knoydart and Glenelg.Read More
The “Rough Bounds”
The “Rough Bounds”
The remote and sparsely populated southwest corner of the Highlands, from the empty district of Morvern to the isolated peninsula of Knoydart, is a dramatic, lonely region of mountain and moorland fringed by a rocky, indented coast whose stunning white beaches enjoy wonderful views to Mull, Skye and other islands. Its Gaelic name, Garbh-chiochan, translates as the “Rough Bounds”, implying a region geographically and spiritually apart. Even if you have a car, you should spend some time here exploring on foot; there are so few roads that some determined hiking is almost inevitable.
The Ardnamurchan peninsula
A nine-mile drive south of Fort William down Loch Linnhe, the five-minute ferry crossing at Corran Ferry provides the most direct point of entry for Morvern and the rugged Ardnamurchan peninsula. The most westerly point on the British mainland, the peninsula lost most of its inhabitants during the infamous Clearances and is now sparsely populated with only a handful of tiny crofting settlements clinging to its jagged coastline. It boasts some beautiful, pristine, empty beaches – especially about three miles north of the Ardnamurchan lighthouse at Sanna Bay, a shell-strewn strand and series of dunes that offers truly unforgettable vistas of the Small Isles to the north, circled by gulls, terns and guillemots. The coastal hamlet of SALEN marks the turn-off for Ardnamurchan Point: from here it’s a further 25 miles of slow, scenic driving along the singletrack road which follows the northern shore of Loch Sunart.
The Road to the Isles
The “Road to the Isles” from Fort William to Mallaig, followed by the West Highland Railway and the narrow, winding A830, traverses the mountains and glens of the Rough Bounds before breaking out onto a spectacularly scenic coast of sheltered inlets, white beaches and wonderful views to the islands of Rùm, Eigg, Muck and Skye. This is country associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose adventures of 1745–46 began and ended on this stretch of coast, with his first, defiant gathering of the clans at Glenfinnan, nineteen miles west of Fort William at the head of lovely Loch Shiel. The spot is marked by a column (now a little lopsided), crowned with a clansman in full battle dress, erected in 1815.
A cluttered, noisy port whose pebble-dashed houses struggle for space with great lumps of exposed granite strewn over the hillsides sloping down to the sea, MALLAIG, 47 miles west of Fort William, isn’t pretty. As the main ferry stop for Skye, the Small Isles and Knoydart, it’s always full of visitors, though the continuing source of the village’s wealth is its fishing industry. When the fleet is in, trawlers encircled by flocks of raucous gulls choke the harbour, and the pubs, among the liveliest on the west coast, host bouts of serious drinking.
Kyle of Lochalsh and around
Kyle of Lochalsh and around
As the main gateway to Skye, KYLE OF LOCHALSH used to be an important transit point for tourists, locals and services. However, with the building of the Skye Bridge in 1995, Kyle was left as merely the terminus for the train route from Inverness, with little else to offer. Of more interest is nearby Eilean Donan Castle, perched at the end of a stone causeway on the shores of Loch Duich. A few miles north of Kyle of Lochalsh is the delightful village of Plockton, a refreshing alternative to its utilitarian neighbour, with cottages grouped around a yacht-filled bay and Highland cattle wandering the streets.
- Wester Ross
ULLAPOOL, northwest Scotland’s principal centre of population, was founded at the height of the herring boom in 1788 by the British Fisheries Society, on a sheltered arm of land jutting into Loch Broom. The grid-plan town is still an important fishing centre, though the ferry link to Stornoway on Lewis ensures that in high season it’s swamped with visitors. Though busy, Ullapool remains a hugely appealing place and a good base for exploring the northwest Highlands.
By day, Ullapool’s attention focuses on the comings and goings of the ferry, fishing boats and smaller craft, while in the evening, yachts swing on the current, shops stay open late, and drinkers at the Ferry Boat Inn line the sea wall. In summer, trips head to the Summer Isles – a cluster of uninhabited islets a couple of miles offshore – to view seabird colonies, dolphins and porpoises.
The only formal attraction in town is the award-winning museum, in the old parish church on West Argyle Street, which provides an insight into life in a Highland community, including crofting, fishing, local religion and emigration.