WEST COAST

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Findhorn boat, ScotlandTruly isolated wilderness, the West Coast is a glorious stretch of nothing but nature, interrupted only by a couple of towns and crofting settlements.  The sweeping coastline holds many treasures for people intrepid enough to brave this part of the Highlands where transportation is hard, and nothing seems convenient. 

After taking in Cape Wrath’s beauty, venture downwards to Scourie and nearby Handa Island, where sea-bird colonies flock, the biggest of its kind in this part of Europe.     

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Points of Interest:  1. Scourie  2. Point of Stoer  3. Knockan  4.  Poolewe  5.  Kinlockewe  6.  Plockton  8. Arisag

 


Handa Island puffinAfter taking in Cape Wrath’s beauty, venture downwards to Scourie and nearby Handa Island, where sea-bird colonies flock, the biggest of its kind in this part of Europe.    

The island is composed of a rust-red Torridon sandstone block which many sea-birds call home.  If you happen to come by during the months of May to July, you may catch puffins nesting on burrows on the sea cliffs.

Further south is the busy fishing port of Lochinver, and then the odd geological formations in Knockan.    This wide stretch of the west coast is characterized by variety, so that with each run you will get a different slice of Scottish Highland life and landscape.

Handa Island & Scourie 
The small village of Scourie is a thriving crofting community, famous for being the birthplace of 17th century general, Hugh Mackay.  It is a small settlement with only a couple hundred of residents, but it has a handful of good accommodations and a sandy beach.  It is usually the gateway to nearby Handa Island, which is famous for its great wildlife reserve maintained by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Point of Stoer
The three-kilometre walk on the cliffs of Point of Stoer rewards one with amazing scenic views, and the end-result is just as stunning.  The Old Man of Stoer, a magnificent sea stack, stands majestic, and one a clear day, views of nearby coasts are just as rewarding.  The path from the lighthouse to the summit is sometimes wet, so it’s best to be prepared with good shoes. 

Lochinver
The biggest settlement this side of the Highlands, Lochinver is a busy fishing port—the busiest of all the Highland harbours.  It is a great side-trip for fishing enthusiasts, who can get permits from the local tourist office, which also has displays about the wildlife in the area, and offers guided walks during the months of May to September.

Hotels
There are several B&Bs here with amazing views, but the Veyatie-Lochinver (66 Baddidarrach, +44 1571 844424, from £30-40) offers the best.  It is also the best accommodation in town.  Located at the end of Baddidarrach, the B&B has two en-suite rooms named after the hills Suilven and Canisp which they overlook. 

Knockan
The Inverpolly Estate holds many geographical wonders this side of Scotland.  One of the highlights include the odd geological formations surrounding Knockan, which is recognized around the world as an important site for student-geologists to explore, given that it gives them an understanding of basic geology.  Basically, this is where the fundamentals of geology were born.  This area is now a designated Geopark, the first of its kind in Scotland.  It has a great unmanned visitor centre that visitors can peruse for more information, which can guide on how to best explore the area, with trail maps and crucial information on what to look out for.

 


Ullapool harbourUllapool is a testament of how sparsely populated the West Coast of the Highlands is.  With its population of only over a thousand, it is the biggest settlement this side of the country, thriving on its harbour.  It’s a pretty white-washed town with regular gridiron streets, but its surprising natural landscape makes it a pleasant town to get to know and explore.  It owes its look to Thomas Telford, who designed the town when it was founded by the British Fisheries Society in the late 18th century.

It was founded based on the boom of herring fishing, but the industry itself died out just as suddenly as it rose to prominence.  The town remains an important fishing centre, and it is deemed the best base for anyone exploring the northwest Highlands, because of the many accommodations it offers, as well as the options it offers should the weather not cooperate.

Sights
A favourite activity around Ullapool is to board a ferry to the Summer Isles, during summer only of course, which are located a few miles offshore.  These isles are largely uninhabited, save for bird colonies and other animals.  Yet even in other seasons, the harbour is an inviting place to hang out and people-watch, as it bears an authentic atmosphere, with the boats coming and going.  It’s a great spot to meet both the locals and fellow travellers.

To understand more about Ullapool, you can visit the highly-lauded town museum (set in a former parish church (7-8 West Argyle Street, +44 1854 612987) detailing the collective experience of the town during the Clearances, as well as the daily life of a Highland settlement.

Hotels

        

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The Ceilidh Place (14 West Argyle Street, +44 1854 612103, £80-150).  The rooms to let are full of character without sacrificing comfort.  Don’t expect a TV in your room, though—expect a tiny library instead.  The place has an interesting cultural history, starting as a café where performers “sang for their supper”.  It also maintains a cultural feel, with its bookshop and artwork, while also being socially responsible, supporting fair-trade in all their products.

SYHA Hostel (Shore Street, +44 1854 612254, from £17.50).  The location of this hostel is superb, and some rooms facing the harbour have great views.  

 The four recently refurbished rooms of West House (West Argyle Street, +44 1854 613126) are smartly decorated, and the facilities and furnishings all add to comfort.  The views of Loch Broom from the bedroom windows are amazing as well.
Waterside House (6 West Shore Street, +44 1854 612140).  This B&B sitting by the harbour has three en-suite bedrooms overlooking the seafront.  The hosts offer a sumptuous Scottish breakfast.  It’s best to book months ahead as it is one of the more popular accommodations for overnighters boarding the ferries.

Point Cottage (22 West Shore, +44 1854 612494) has quite a homey atmosphere, but the views from the bedroom windows are absolutely breathtaking.  Hosts can offer help and maps for hill-walkers, and foodies will enjoy the seafood for breakfast.

Broombank
(4 Castle Terrace, +44 (0) 1854 612247, £25-30)
is located in a quiet neighbourhood, which makes you feel right at home.  The en-suite rooms are tastefully decorated, even if quite small, though the landlady actually prepares you for this once you book a room.

Dromnan (Garve Road, +44 1854 612333, £65-75)
Situated in the outskirts of the harbour town, Dromnan has great sweeping views of Loch Broom, which you can enjoy while enjoying a full Scottish breakfast.
Westlea Guest House (2 Market Street, +44 1854 612594) has five en-suite bedrooms that are well-lit, airy and comfortable.  There is also a separate door for visitors, which is convenient for those staying out late.

Steeped in local history, the
Old Surgery (3 West Terrace, +44 1854 612520, from £25-35) has spacious rooms with comfortable furnishings.  Some rooms have wide windows that offer great views, but they cost more than the regular room.


Poolewe  (Inerewe Gardens)
Inverewe GardensThe tiny picturesque village of Poolewe lies on the bay of Loch Ewe’s southern part.  People mostly pass it by to get to the main event, the Inverewe Gardens (+44 8444 932225, A
£8.50) which lies to the north of the village.

The botanical gardens were created by Osgood Mackenzie, who, upon inheriting a massive estate in 1862, turned the lands into a spectacle of plants sourced from all over the world.  Lotus ponds, birch trees,  and other foreign plants thrive here side by side.  The town remains an important fishing centre, and it is deemed the best base for anyone exploring the northwest Highlands.

Gairloch 
Sitting on the northeaster part of Loch Gairloch’s bay, Gairloch has the best bits of the Highlands scattered in its land area.  Majestic mountains, lochs, islets, and a sandy sometimes rocky coastline—Gairloch pretty much has it all, but in small doses.  It is particularly popular during the summer, as it becomes a laidback holiday resort.  Because of this, there’s no lack of good hotels and B&Bs in the area. 

The Gairloch Heritage Museum (Achtercairn, +44 1445 712287, £4) combines the settlement’s social history (with photo displays provided by town elders and captions and other words in Gaelic), with the area’s geology and archaeology.       What people come to Gairloch for is the fantastic coastline.  You can go on a cruise to spot some wildlife across the bay, while you can enjoy a quiet and isolated walk on the beach if you walk to the northern side, where it is cleaner.

Kinlochewe 
Loch Maree, Highlands, ScotlandSituated in the valley of Loch Maree, Kinlochewe’s name causes much confusion as it suggests that it lies at the head of Loch Ewe, and not Loch Maree.  However, history suggests that there was a time when Loch Maree, which is dotted with islets covered with pines, was called Loch Ewe.  Kinlochewe is a sort of gateway, in almost every direction, to various natural wonders around the town, including the Beinn Eighe and Torridon Hills.  It is a fantastic base for nature trails.


Plockton 
Sitting on the bay of Loch Carron, hugged by hills, Plockton is a dreamy fishing village, looking quite distinct from other villages on the West Coast, because its mild climate allows swaying palm trees to thrive.  It has certainly attracted artists seeking the village’s subtle irony: palm and pine trees within striking distance?  Backed by the Wester Ross peaks, the village with its pretty cottages lining up along the shore, Plockton is a haven for both tourists and painters, who are easily drawn to its beauty.
 


Kyle of Lochalsh 

The Kyle of Lochalsh is not particularly popular for its beauty—it is more known for being the former port where the ferry to the Isle of Skye used to dock.  This ferry was soon replaced by the Skye road bridge.  The disappearance of the ferry has made the town rather more attractive than it was.  However, it is likely to get passed by, with buses coming from Glasgow and Inverness.  The railway from Inverness is a great scenic ride. 


Malliag
Mallaig is, at best, a living breathing fishing port, and you can feel it in the sometimes chaotic atmosphere of the village.  It is not always pretty, but the seagulls flocking to the harbour and the noisy pubs give it a unique feel, that this is not merely a tourist town. 

Many travellers may recognize the West Coast Railway which connects the village to Fort William and offers one of the best train rides with unbeatable scenic views.  The railway station was used in some of the Harry Potter films.


Eilean Donan CastleEilean Donan Castle
If not Scotland’s most beautiful castle, Eilean Donan Castle is one of its most iconic and most photographed.  Located at the confluence of three sea lochs and surrounded by imposing landscape, it was built in the 13th century as a defence against the Vikings.  For history buffs it is steeped in McKenzie and Macrae ancestry, and for film buffs you can spot it as a set in many films including Highlander, Entrapment, The World is Not Enough and Elizabeth: The Golden
Age It is a must see.


Arisaig 
Arisaig, on the western edge of the peninsula of Morar, is a great base for exploring the scenic “Road to the Isles”- the A830, which leads from Mallaig to Fort William.  Its railway station on the West Highland track is the most westerly station on the British Isles.  Many might pass the small village by, with the new bypass that rushes to Mallaig, but for a great scenic experience, it is best to experience it by track.

 


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