(and it’s not just a Highland fling!)
Pristine white beaches and cascading waterfalls reaching majestic stretches of water, behind which lie mountains, glades and valleys shrouded in mystery….. Have you guessed where I have described yet? Of course, it’s Western Scotland! Where else can you find some of the most delightful and unspoilt scenery in the whole of the UK? On top of this you have a guaranteed packed itinerary for your Scottish staycation break.
It felt right to focus on this beautiful area of the UK this week. Having spent our honeymoon at Glenelg ten years ago this April and having enjoyed several trips since to this amazing area, I wanted to write about the Lochalsh area of Western Scotland. My husband and I were lucky enough to be married in a castle near Barcaldine in Argyll, around an hour and a half further east of Lochalsh, an area which we also love.
What’s so lovely about the Lochalsh area?
Well, to sum it up in a sentence, I’d say it’s magical, mountainous and steeped in history. Many tourists on their way to Skye drive past the peaks of the Five Sisters of Kintail, stop off for a few hours to visit the much photographed castle of Eilean Donean and then move on, joining the trail of cars, motorhomes and road trippers travelling to Skye. However, I believe that missing out on a longer stop to this area is a great shame, as there are so many worthwhile sites to explore.
Here are 5 key reasons to stop a wee while longer…
Nestled between the legendary island of Skye and the five sisters of Kintail mountain range to the east, this location is also part of the newly created North Coast 500 route. However, it really holds its own in terms of places to visit on your doorstep. The scenic village of Plockton lies to the north of this area, where you can catch a boat to visit dolphins or enjoy a serene kayak across Loch Carron. It is also famous as the village where “Hamish Macbeth”, (the ever-popular BBC TV series), was filmed. If you’re feeling adventurous, and you aren’t towing the caravan or driving a motorhome, (and if your vehicle is safe enough to try it), drive on one of the steepest access roads in the UK called Bealach na Bà. It raises you up over 2053 feet above sea level.
Having driven up this road, I can honestly say, it was one of the most dramatic routes I have navigated and I was extremely grateful for being able to rely on our car’s braking system! The views from the top of the pass were spectacular. There’s a video of the pass itself which you can watch here. Beyond the road lies the Applecross peninsular where you can find a myriad of pristine white beaches to recover from your trip!
If you holiday in Lochalsh, you are also within reach of Loch Ness and the Ben Nevis range of mountains to your east at just under two hours’ away. From there, you could catch a dog friendly gondola ride to glimpse the spectacular views of Ben Nevis and the Inner Hebrides from 650 metres up Aonach Mòr. Alternatively, you could attempt Ben Nevis itself, the highest mountain in the UK at 4406 feet.
The added bonus of this location is the fact that it is relatively easy to access in terms of campsites in the area, two of which are just off the main A87 leading to Skye. Skye of course, is famous for its Cuillin mountain ranges and other geological features such as the Quiraing and Old Man of Storr, as well as plenty of other attractions.
Glenelg – a secluded gem
We lost our heart to Glenelg on our first visit and returned for our honeymoon a year later. The village of Glenelg is situated south of the A87. I call it a secluded gem because it’s not easy to get to and not recommended if you are towing a caravan. To reach this village, you must first brave the Mam Ratagan Pass whose single-track gradient can reach 15% in places. The start is gentle but once you’ve reached the summit, you are rewarded with a superb viewpoint looking over Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail.
The village itself has a small variety of independent shops and a wonderful place to eat, called The Glenelg Inn which is set in front of stunning views over the Sound of Sleat. It also offers accommodation, for those who don’t camp or own a leisure vehicle. Further south, you can visit Iron Age Brochs, (described below), or laze on the white sands of Sandaig Beach, famous for its location in the book “The Ring of Bright Water.” Do take note of tidal times though if you are paying a visit!
Further along to the west of Glenelg and you are treated to a historic ferry run by the community of Glenelg. It is the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland and still going, helped by local and national support on its JustGiving page. It crosses to Kylerhea on Skye from the Sandaig lighthouse normally between March and October each year. You may even get treated to a view of an otter or seal as you traverse the Kylerhea Straits.
An hour’s walk from Glenelg village finds you at the first of two Iron Age structures, or Brochs. Dun Troddan and Dun Telve are believed to be roundhouses unique to Scotland. They are also some of the best preserved. Their purpose is shrouded in mystery to this day, but one thing is clear, you will not be disappointed if you walk along this gorgeous stretch of landscape through the valley of Gleann Beag to find each structure. There is a fantastic circular walk passing the Brochs starting at Glenelg village which can be found here, enabling you to soak up the wild beauty of this Highland region.
There are few places in the UK where you could you honestly say that you drove past an eagle perched on a fence post, were stopped by a herd of deer and were treated to otters and seals swimming near the shoreline in a matter of hours. However, if you holiday in Lochalsh and you are a nature lover, you are in for a real treat! The Otter Hide at Kylerhea is a fantastic option and only a short walk from the Glenelg Ferry. From here, you could spot otters, seals, sea eagles and plenty of other highland wildlife. I wouldn’t, however, recommend taking Cinder Toffee with you if you decide to visit the hide as we decided to do on our first visit, much to the wrath of the rest of the wildlife spotters nearby! Quiet is best for the chance to indulge in your own David Attenborough moment…
To the south of Glenelg, you are also touching upon one of the most remote locations in Scotland, the Knoydart Peninsula. This land is a haven for elusive wildlife such as golden eagles, dolphins, otters, foxes, water voles and buzzards. You can only reach it by boat or on a long walk. The John Muir Trust bought a large area of land here and currently maintains its wildlife, encouraging the return of even more native species to this rugged and tranquil area.
No matter where you visit across the Lochalsh area, it is highly likely that you will be able to experience nature and wildlife at its best!
You are spoilt for choice in this corner of the UK for things to do from cycling, water sports and horse riding to hiking. Here are just a few ideas….
There are plenty of boat trips from nearby Plockton or the Kyle of Lochalsh where you can explore life under the waves in the Seaprobe Atlantis. From this glass bottomed boat you may be lucky enough to spot crabs and starfish as well as otters, seals, or porpoises. We saw seals and plenty of other sea life wandering around on the ocean floor on our trip.
If two wheels are more your style, there are world class mountain bike routes a little further north near Torridon, whilst the Lochalsh area has plenty of challenging routes for you to discover. A decent circular route in Lochalsh can be found here, whilst further information about the Torridon routes can be found here.
Finally, it would be remiss for me not to include information about our favourite walk in the area. This is the walk to the Falls of Glomach. Dropping from 113 metres high, this waterfall is a true sight to behold as one of the highest waterfalls in Scotland. You can reach the falls if you set off from the National Trust for Scotland Morvich countryside centre, opposite Morvich Caravan and Motorhome Club Site. It takes between 5-6 hours from here, but it is definitely worth it for an amazing view and a fearsome drop. Do make sure you pay attention to the signs near the waterfall itself though, to avoid putting yourself in danger. For a full route guide, click on this link . We can’t wait to walk up this route again this year!
There are plenty of other walking routes for different tastes in the Lochalsh region. You can find a selection from this article on other routes in the area.
Where can I stay?
There are several excellent options in Lochalsh. The Caravan and Motorhome Club’s Morvich Site is a great bet for soaking up the picturesque mountains and hills, designated a National Scenic Area, surrounding the site. Its 88 pitches and washroom facilities provide a relaxing break and the site itself is easy to reach, located just off the main road to Skye, (the A87). It welcomes campers with tents too. Don’t forget, you can also enjoy that amazing walk up to the Falls of Glomach from here! An alternative option is the equally well located Reraig Caravan and Camping Site which is a little nearer Skye, (further along the A87). This site has bathroom facilities as well as landscaped surroundings and is only 10 minutes from the bridge to Skye itself.
If you’ve not been north of Edinburgh or Glasgow, I’d recommend the Lochalsh area for its wild beauty and its potential for an action-packed Scottish adventure. Of course, you may just want to soak up those staggeringly awesome views and chill out instead. I’d recommend springtime or early summer before the midges visit if you’re not sure when to go. Whenever you decide to go, I’m sure you’ll not be disappointed!
If you’d like any further information on any of the activities or places mentioned in this blog, please click on the links in the article. For the latest UK’s COVID-19 regulations in each country, check out the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling this summer.
For more ideas on outside adventures, follow me at alifeoutsideblog.com. If you liked what you’ve read, don’t forget to like, or share this page too!