Scotland’s cities offer myriad urban charms, but if you want to really get to the heart of the country, you need to get into the wild. Making up 69 percent of the UK coastline and boasting more than 800 islands, Scotland is home to some of the last great wildernesses in Europe. From the Highlands to the Outer Hebrides, here are 8 of our favourite remote places in Scotland.
1. Knoydart, The Highlands
The Knoydart peninsula is worth a trip simply for the pleasure of sipping a pint in the UK mainland’s most remote pub, The Old Forge. They’ve got rooms too – an ideal base for exploring the craggy coastline or setting off for Ladair Bheinn. At 1020m, Ladair Bheinn is one of Scotland’s 282 Munros )mountains over 3000ft) and, approaching the summit, you will likely just have golden eagles and red deer for company.
Getting there: travel from Mallaig on the passenger-only ferry or a 16km hike from Kinloch Hourn.
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2. Applecross, the Highlands
There are not many villages worth blowing a gasket on your car for, but Applecross is one of them. Tackling the notorious Bealach Na Ba (Pass of the Cattle) has seen the comeuppance of many a vehicle.
The reward is a trim necklace of whitewashed houses and a legendary hideaway, the Applecross Inn. Enjoy enormous local langoustines before sinking into bed with a view of the Cuillin mountains over the sea on Skye.
Getting there: drive the UK’s highest road on the drive from Loch Carron to Applecross.
3. Papa Westray, Orkney Islands
This glorious outpost lies in the northern reaches of the Orkney Isles. It offers a community-run shop, starched white-sand beaches, hikes and the remarkable prehistoric site of the Knap of Howar.
Getting there: this is half the fun. Enjoy the world’s shortest flight from Westray to Papa Westray with Loganair which, in distance, is less than the main runway at Heathrow. It has been done in around 40 seconds.
© Donna Carpenter/Shutterstock
4. Unst, Shetland Islands
The UK’s most northerly inhabited island is a Shetland star. Handily, as well as superb beaches and sturdy Muness Castle, the islanders also enjoy their own Valhalla Brewery and a whisky distillery which, at the moment, is most renowned for producing Shetland Reel Gin.
You can hike out to gaze out over tiny Muckle Flugga, the most northerly point in the British Isles.
Getting there: even after getting to the Shetland mainland you will still need two more ferries to get here.
5. Foula, Shetland Islands
The UK’s most remote inhabited island is truly mind-blowing. Fewer than 40 people live in this wild Atlantic outpost, cast adrift 20 miles west of Shetland’s mainland.
Hike the hills and you’ll only have seabirds for company. There is only one shop here – it is run by the island's only school kid, Jack, for half an hour ever day after lessons.
Getting there: brave the tumultuous trip on the local ferry (which is hauled ashore after every journey to stop it being dashed on the rocks), or enjoy the seriously scenic flight from Shetland.
6. North Rona, Outer Hebrides
North Rona is the most remote island the British Isles to have ever been permanently inhabited – it lies a whopping 71km off the coast of Lewis. Landing by boat is tricky – the lighthouse is serviced by helicopter – but the reward is that the rugged rocky coastline gives way to a grassy and wildflower-strewn meadow.
The local seabirds may not welcome your arrival, so take a protective umbrella. If you make it past them to the lighthouse you can relax with a view that it's likely no other human being has enjoyed for months.
Getting there: if you don’t have your own helicopter, Northern Light run live-aboard cruises that take in North Rona.
7. St Kilda, Outer Hebrides
It is the misty-eyed lifetime dream of many Scottish sailors to make it out to St Kilda, the epic archipelago that lies over 64km west of the Outer Hebrides.
The archipelago enjoys a dual listing on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, once for its human heritage (its last inhabitants left their organic, community-led and money-free life in 1930) and again for its natural importance.
You risk being knocked off your feet by great skuas while hiking in the hills, can watch thousands of gannets and puffins swirl around the UK’s highest cliffs and see minke and even killer whales in the Atlantic waters.
Getting there: go to St Kilda run fast RIBs from Skye, while Hebrides Cruises have live-aboard expeditions that offer more than one day ashore.
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8. The Shiant Isles, Outer Hebrides
Known as the "other St Kilda", the Shiant Isles is less remote, as it lies in the Minch strait between Skye and the Outer Hebrides. But the islands also enjoy a colourful history.
Today only ghosts and seabirds survive amongst the vaulting cliffs and mysterious sea caves. You can also take in majestic views of the Inner and Outer Hebrides as you hum Mendelssohn’s Hebridean Symphony.
Getting there: the most comfortable way is on Majestic Line’s new Glen Etive. There are day-trips from the mainland too.
Inspired? Travel into the wild and check out our video on 5 reasons to road trip Scotland. Remember, you should always camp responsibly and sustainably. Find out all you need to know with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
Top image: The Cuillin mountains in the South of the Isle of Skye seen across the stretch of water known as the Inner Sound. © Derek Beattie Images/Shutterstock