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Northern Scotland

David Cross (DavidX) from England

ST Google Map - Northern Scotland: Detailed Google Map by DavidX for Northern Scotland and the Islands

Ardgour and Ardnamurchan

As soon as you leave the Corran Ferry (from the A82 north of Ballachulish) you will notice a change in tempo. On a summer weekend afternoon you will feel massively superior anywhere that you can view the traffic going up the A82 on the other side. It is, of course, possible to reverse the suggestion on my Central Scotland page and visit Glencoe from here. However there is no need to leave this side for want of somewhere to go.

There is no need for detailed suggestions here. Basically all you need to do is get the appropriate Ordnance Survey map(s) of where you are going; these can be bought from the visitor centre in Glencoe on the way if you have not obtained them in advance. Then explore wherever you like and take the smallest roads as well as bigger ones. If you want a trip to an island or islands you can choose between a number of ferries, not all run by Calmac.

We went to Coll and Tiree (trip only, with Calmac) from Lochaline and to Eigg and Rum (separately, landing on each) with other ferries. There are some great trips from Mallaig which is my favourite Scottish ferryport - marginally. If you can get a trip to Loch Corruisk on Skye treat it as an absolute priority unless it is too misty.

If you are travelling to the north or to Skye you could consider combining this with it and then taking the Mallaig - Armadale car ferry and crossing the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh if you are heading up on the mainland.

North of Fort William to Mallaig road (A830)

The area between this and the road from Invergarry to Kyle of Lochalsh (A87) is as wild as any in Scotland. There are only two roads which go west into it and both are minor - and well worth investigating.

The first is the unclassified continuation of the B8005 which is reached by the B8004 from Fort William to Spean Bridge. This leads to walks into Knoydart and in particular to the wonderful mountain of Ladhar Bheinn (I believe pronounced more or less like Larven!) This can also be reached by boat to Inverie from Mallaig, a place with an excellent pub and a hostel. Sgurr na Ciche near the head of Loch Nevis looks and is supposed to be a wonderful mountain but I regret that I have not been up.

The other road is to Kinlochhourn and the magnificent fjord-like Loch Hourn which can be followed its full length to near Glenelg. Nearer to the A87 is the mountain called "The Saddle" in English which gives marvellous views.

I believe the ferry still runs from Glenelg to Kylerhea on Skye though this may be out of date. If it does it is by far the most atmospheric route to Skye. A minor road from Glenelg leads in a short distance to what are probably the best brochs on the mainland.

North of the A87

I do not know this area as a whole although, since it includes what is said to be a magnificent walk along the Five Sisters of Kintail and the mountains of Glen Affric, reached by a minor road to the east, which are favourites of some of my friends, it can not pass without a mention.

The only part I do know is the road from Kyle through Stromeferry to Strathcarron and round Loch Carron to the small town of Lochcarron. This is good enough for anyone but the area west of it is even better.

If you use the train nowhere else, try to travel on it between Stromeferry and Kyle. It sounds like the Tower of Babel as passengers stand and express their appreciation of the view in various languages. The unclassified roads here also merit some exploration and a place I find particularly interesting is Port-an-Eorna (the Barleyport) which apparently once had about twenty-five houses but is now scarcely known.

North from Lochcarron to Torridon and Kinlochewe

By my reckoning you now enter an area of sheer magic. The A896 goes north with the Applecross hills on the left to Shieldaig and then east to Kinlochewe. Just after the little village of Annat there is an unclassified road to the left to Torridon village and on to Inver Alligin and Lower Diabaig.

Loch Diabaig

Loch Diabaig

Applecross

The village of Applecross may be reached by two routes. The first on the left as you go up from Lochcarron and goes very high on a shoulder of Beinn Bhan. It is great but is not advised for nervous drivers or passengers or in mist. A much easier route runs around the coast from near Shieldaig. This is all fine but if time is limited I think what is to come is better still.

Torridon

This is one of the great scenic areas of Scotland. It is almost criminal to miss anything here. In particular follow the unclassified road to its end at Lower Diabaig and turn off to see Inver Alligin on the way.

If you like cities and crowds go somewhere else. There is one shop and one pub in Torridon but the scenery is spectacular. It has to be admitted that there is not much sandy beach for children and some of the later areas described may have more appeal for some families.

If you do like it here there is plenty of accommodation, except in the peak season, if you ask around. Stay a few nights and try walking around the coast both ways from Diabaig and all around Alligin and Torridon House. There is a sandy beach near the Youth Hostel at Craig and a big one at Redpoint where the path reaches the B8056.

As you go from Torridon towards Kinlochewe you will pass beyond Liathach, a marvellous mountain, to find Beinn Eighe, another marvellous mountain. If you prefer walking among mountains to walking up them there is a terrific walk starting between the two and going right to one of the best corrie lochs imaginable or more or less straight on to come out below Beinn Alligin, yet another marvellous mountain, onto the road from Torridon to Diabaig.

The Torridon Peaks are on one side of Outdoor Leisure sheet 8 of the Ordnance Survey, the other side being the Cuillins of Skye. (Very strongly advised if you are going to either area.)

Beinn Aligin

Beinn Aligin

Kinlochewe to Poolewe

For some way the A832 follows the shore of Loch Maree, which is a stunningly beautiful loch surrounded by Torridonian sandstone mountains. Slioch on its north side is as good as the last three mountains mentioned and there is a wonderful deserted area beyond, which I only wish I knew better.

After leaving Loch Maree it is worth turning left onto the B8056 to Badacro and Redpoint (see above). The main road goes on to Poolewe, both the roads turning off to the north being worth following. Gairloch has good beaches on the way. Just beyond Poolewe is Inverewe, a garden belonging to the National Trust for Scotland which may well astonish first time visitors by the plants which it is able to grow, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Whether it does or not it has to be worth a visit for its beauty.

Ullapool Area

An Teallach

This is a wonderful ridge along the mountains immediately south of Little Loch Broom. It is probably one of the two best ridge walks on the mainland, the other being Aonoch Eagach above Glencoe, and is not particularly easy although it does not require ability in climbing. This is one of my favourite walks and I have seen ptarmigan, dotterel and eagles on it. It includes a corrie that can rival the one on Beinn Eighe mentioned under Torridon above.

Around to Ullapool

You go south then east then north on the A832 and the A835 and you are basically going around Loch Broom itself. However it is possible to get closer to its western shore along a very attractive unclassified road. Before this where the A832 meets the A385 there is a wonderful gorge, which should be seen even if time only allows a brief stop. Then shortly after the unclassified road there is an arboretum on the right at Lael and access to some of the least walked mountains in the whole area which are teeming with red deer.

So along Loch Broom to Ullapool. This is the obvious place to be based if you want more than one pub and a few shops near you and it is a lovely town with a pier where there always seems to be something happening. There is no major town nearer than Inverness but this is the biggest in the area. The car ferry to Stornaway on Lewis (Scotland 4) goes from here and there are trips to the Summer Isles - both things giving magnificent seascapes.

Ullapool to Achiltibuie

More magic. Achiltibuie is reached by an unclassified road left off the A835 a few miles north of Ullapool. The road is terrific - if I seem to be giving undue praise you can think of one of my friends who cried out here for a factory chimney or a tip so that he could find some different descriptive words.

In particular Stac Pollaidh (unfortunately better known as Stack Polly though it resembles neither a parrot nor a kettle) is a wonderful mountain in miniature - though the legs can ache getting up. It is only just over 600 meters high but has a perfect shape ant a marvellous ridge. Its only drawback is its proximity to the road which means that the main path up is grossly disfigured and the ridge is less fun than it used to be.

Achiltibuie is beautifully situated near the Summer Isles which can be reached by a trip from here and all the various bits of unclassified road should be followed. Some superb beaches will be revealed and this is excellent for children - as long as they do not want commercial amusements which are in very short supply. May it ever be so!

Then there is the coast route to Lochinver, which leads to the next section.

On to Lochinver

There are two ways to Lochinver from the south.

The main road is by the A835 on from where the Achiltibuie road leaves it to Ledmore and then left on the A387. This is a fine road and gives views of Canisp, Suilven, a mountain a long way from anywhere and best accessed as described later, Ben More Asynt, Loch Assynt and Quinag, perhaps the easiest of all these mountains and scenically none the worse for that!

The other route is not and could not be classified, tortuous, hilly and slow as they come, dangerous in parts - a friend following me in his car was one of the many pranged here - but if you have any superlatives left, this will force them out. I do not have to sing its praises here and, since I do not want many cars there, I will say no more. If you do not go that way you should try to go part of the way from Lochinver - not the worst part of the road where there used to be and I hope still is a very good bookshop. If that sounds incongruous it could well be because it is. From here there is a remarkably good walk up a salmon river to a waterfall and, if you are feeling up to it on to Suilven.

I have always wanted to try a holiday based at Lochinver but have not yet done it. It is a great little port.

The Far North-West

The fastest route from Ullapool or Lochinver is the A894 (which leads from the A837 between them) and then theA838 from Laxford Bridge to Durness. From Lochinver, however, it is scenically best to follow the slow but scenic B869 which winds up around the coast. There are several turnings off to the left, all of which are worth following. The first leads to a wonderful beach at Achmelvich.

The B869 joins the A894 near Unapool. If the A838 is followed the other way (SE) from Stamford Bridge for a short distance you will come to one of my favourite smaller mountains on your right, Ben Stack. I do not suggest going any further down the road - nothing wrong with it but not comparable to the other bits.

Kylescu and North

There was a car ferry, free when I first knew it, from Kylescu to Kylestrome. Now there is a not very attractive bridge. Once across you leave the marvellous Torridonian sandstone behind you and enter a world of gneiss, one of the oldest rocks found anywhere, which provides pretty dramatic scenery of another kind. Water-lilies abound in the little lochs near the road and red-throated divers breed here.

Before long you pass the fascinating Badcall bay and come to Scourie. Soon after this you can turn left to find to find an excellent little fish restaurant and the boat for the bird reserve island of Handa where plenty of arctic and great skuas can be seen as well as auks in the season.

North/west of Rhiconich

The B801 goes from the A838 as far as Kinlochbervie which, though small, was an important fishing port whose auctions were worth seeing. I have no idea how it has been affected by fishing restrictions but if you are in the area it must be worth asking.

The road after this is unclassified but follow it on and, if you can, follow the path to Sandwood Bay. I would not say that this walk appeals enormously but the bay is dramatically good when you arrive.

Durness and Around

Durness may disappoint you a bit after the feast of sights on the way, although the view of the Orkneys is good - but seeing them clearly is said to signify rain. However there are two outstanding things to do.

  • Walk to Faraid Head and back. This is not far but can take a number of enjoyable hours. My wife and I watched families of Eider ducks and little ducklings swimming in from the east side and you will see seals and gannets if you are lucky. Wandering around the rocks at the headland itself and seeing some great displays of acrobatics by seals in the rock pools can while away a very long time so that you scarcely notice. There are extensive sands on the west coast.
  • Go to Keoldale and take the passenger ferry across to get the minibus towards Cape Wrath. You may be drawn to go all the way to the lighthouse at Cape Wrath but if you have any interest in birds and the season is right you should ask the driver where is best to see the puffins and walk up to the coast there. The cliffs give fabulous views of the coast and the birds are spectacular.

East from Durness - the North Coast

I have only been as far as Strathy Point. The coast is splendid compared with many regions and the mountains of Ben Hope and Ben Loyal quite appeal but I am afraid that I feel the magic goes away a bit after Tongue. Above all do not be tempted to see a different road back - as I was - and turn down any of the routes inland towards Lairg. They do not touch the western route up and you are much better off retracing your steps and seeing things the other way round.

The East Coast

I know next to nothing about this and I am avoiding giving anything other than my own opinions. There are, of course, guidebooks.

Guidebooks

I am generally avoiding mountain guidebook advice because there are so many and I have not tortured myself keeping up to date when I can no longer get up the mountains because of a heart condition. One book I will mention because it does cater for those who like the fine mountain scenery but cannot, or do not want to, get far up. My edition is 1980 and I suspect there may be more recent ones: "The Scottish Lochs" by Tom Weir (published by Constable).

Google Maps

ST Google Map - Southern Scotland: Detailed Google Map by DavidX for Southern and Central Scotland

ST Google Map - Northern Scotland: Detailed Google Map by DavidX for Northern Scotland and the Islands

Resources

Websites for northern Scotland.

www.westhighlandhotel.co.uk: The West Highland Hotel is located overlooking the picturesque Scottish Highland village of Mallaig.

www.road-to-the-isles.org.uk: The Road to the Isles. The Road to the Isles from Fort William to Glenfinnan and Lochailort, through Arisaig and Morar ending at Mallaig.

www.arisaighouse-cottages.co.uk/places.htm: Arisaig House Cottages, page of things to do and see

www.knoydart-ferry.co.uk: Knoydart Ferry Service, Loch Nevis, Inverie and Tarbet

www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/areaulla/: Undiscovered Scotland, Ullapool Area

www.gael-net.co.uk: West Highland explorer


David Cross was born in Plymouth but is now a "happily naturalized" Yorkshireman. He has grand-children in Wales and Scotland. David is a moderator on the World Travel Experience forums - groups.yahoo.com/group/worldtravelexp/. See David's Slow Travel Member page.

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