Wester Ross is a very special place in the UK and designated by the Scottish government as an area which represents the very best of Scotland’s renowned scenery. Given that Scotland has so many beautiful areas, that is reason enough to visit.
So why is it, surprisingly, that this area is still relatively unknown to many British people? Perhaps they think it’s not worth venturing this far north; it always rains; there’s nothing to do; there’s nowhere decent to stay or eat; they’ll be eaten by midges. Well they’d be wrong.
Often referred to as the last wilderness of Europe, Shieldaig, Kishorn, Torridon and the Applecross peninsula offer stunning scenery, single track roads, amazing wildlife, friendly locals and such a memorable experience, like everyone who visits, you will want to return very soon.
Stunning views from every angle, majestic mountains – nearly the highest in the UK – stag, sea eagles, otters, seals, occasional dolphins, all give such a feeling of raw nature. Watching the weather patterns ‘weave’ across the loch or gently ambling along an easy path, a holiday in this area allows you to slow down, go at your own pace and do as little or as much as you like, always surrounded by spectacular scenery. This makes this area particularly suitable as a family destination as there is something to keep all generations happy, including serious outdoor pursuits for the very active.
With emphasis on fresh fish and local produce there are now several award winning cafes and restaurants, as well as fine-dining, in the area so even when self-catering dining out is a great option and treat. You can also buy excellent fish, seafood and local produce, though if self-catering it is wise to stock up with your favourite brands and fruit and vegetables in Inverness before heading over to the West Coast as the village shops only have a limited range, though improving all the time.
Because of the stunning scenery and spectacular light, the area attracts many artists and there are several galleries and small shops selling crafts and paintings. There are also quite a lot of gifted musicians and singers in the area and most weekends there is live music in one of the village pubs, which are always worth a visit. If not for the music, the local ales and malt whiskies must be tried.
Accommodation ranges from bed and breakfast, self-catering, small guest houses and hotels. Standards can vary considerably which is usually reflected in the price and until recently accommodation offering high standards of comfort and facilities – particularly to suit all generations – has been rather limited. Thankfully that is starting to change giving visitors to the area more options for a stylish stay in the highlands – no more draughty houses unless you want them!
For such a remote and unspoilt area Wester Ross is actually now very accessible with low-cost flights from Bristol, Birmingham, Luton, Gatwick and Manchester to Inverness, from where it is an 80 mile drive through spectacular scenery over to the west coast. From London the overnight sleeper train to Inverness is also a good option and, if booked three months in advance, is reasonably priced.
For a truly great place to stay in the area Shieldaig is hard to beat. Originally a fishing village with a single row of cottages built around the end of the loch overlooking Shieldaig Island and below towering Ben Shieldaig, the village is picture-postcard-pretty and remains unspoilt even with the addition of a few more houses. With views out to sea to the Isle of Harris and the Torridon Mountains forming a spectacular backdrop, Shieldaig is a photographer’s dream.
Importantly, Shieldaig has a pub, restaurant and shop which are all open daily as well as the wonderful Nanny’s, the only remaining original corrugated iron building in the village, which now operates as a cafe and local craft shop. There is also a catamaran offering day trips to the Isle of Rona or evening loch tours with wine and canapés – very upmarket for the highlands – mountain guiding by a local expert, all-weather tennis court with racquet and ball hire available, and the loch is perfect for kayaking and pottering about in boats. There’s a lot going on for a small highland village!
Shieldaig is also perfectly placed for exploring the area; north to the sweeping sandy beaches of Gairloch; nearby to Torridon for its rugged beauty and soaring mountains if you want to bag a few Monroes; Kishorn for fresh seafood and art galleries; west over the Bealach na Ba (Gaelic for Pass of the Oxen and the highest road in the UK – single track with passing places and hairpin bends) with breathtaking views from the top over to Skye and on to the picturesque villages of Applecross; south to Lochcarron and Plockton, famous for its beautiful harbour and palm trees. Yes, palm trees in the highlands. This area is, after all, in the gulf-stream so mild temperate weather as well as extremes is the ‘norm’.
As for the weather, although it is not unknown to experience all four seasons on the same day, during the recent ‘summer’ deluges in many parts of the UK, the western highlands has been exceptionally dry – only two inches of rain in two months. But let’s face it, without the constantly changing weather patterns the highlands wouldn’t have the amazing light or be the spectacular place it is. So following the maxim ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing’ bring your suntan lotion, wet weather gear, a woolly jumper or two, some sensible shoes and you will be fine. After all, although it feels like a different country, it is still in the UK!
And as for the midges well, like the weather, they are unpredictable. They are only an occasional nuisance during the mid-summer months when it is very still and there is no wind, particularly at dusk, but natural midge repellant does a pretty good job of, well, repelling them. So the occasional and unpredictable midge should not deter you from visiting this amazingly beautiful rugged area of the UK.
For a special place to stay, offering exceptionally high standards of comfort and in an elevated position overlooking Loch Shieldaig, An Cos sleeps up to 12 www.AnCosShieldaig.co.uk
All photographs kindly supplied by local photographer Steve Carter. To view more of Steve’s photographs and find out more about Shieldaig and the area visit www.SteveCarter.com