Wester Ross: The Complete Guide
With over 3000 square miles of soaring mountains and atmospheric glens, ancient Caledonian forest and wild beaches set against a backdrop of fjord-like lochs; Wester Ross is one of the world’s most spectacular, and remote, regions and probably the most beautiful part of the famous North Coast 500.
Wester Ross is an area of the Northwest Highlands of Scotland in the council area of Highland. The area is loosely defined, and has never been used as a formal administrative region in its own right, but is generally regarded as lying to the west of the main watershed of Ross (the eastern part of Ross being Easter Ross), thus forming the western half of the county of Ross and Cromarty.
Wester Ross has one of the lowest population densities in Europe, with just 1.6 people per km2, who live mostly in small crofting townships along the coastline of the region. The area is renowned for the scenic splendour of its mountains and coastline, and the range of wildlife that can be seen. It is a popular tourist destination, receiving around 70,000 visitors each year. Tourism forms a major part of the economic activity of the area, accounting for 35% of all employment. Other major economic activities in the area include commercial fishing, renewable energy, agriculture and fish farming.
The area gives its name to the Wester Ross National Scenic Area, one of 40 such areas in Scotland, which are defined so as to identify areas of exceptional scenery and to ensure their protection from inappropriate development.
Scenic spots including Loch Maree, Inverewe Garden, Corrieshalloch Gorge, Glen Docherty and the Bealach na Bà. Wester Ross was designated as a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO’s “Man and the Biosphere” (MAB) Programme in April 2016. The Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve now covers 5,200 square kilometres of Wester Ross and Lochalsh. This new-style biosphere, which covers an area over 100 times larger than the original designation, is a place where people live and actively learn about their surroundings to inspire a legacy rich in both natural and cultural heritage.
Visiting Wester Ross for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Wester Ross on the first visit. Top help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!
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This complete guide to Wester Ross not only tells you about the very best sights and tourist attractions for first-time visitors to the city but also provide insights into a few of our personal favorite things to do.
This is a practical guide to visiting the best places to see in Wester Ross and is filled with tips and info that should answer all your questions!
Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve
Pronounced 'Ben A', this glorious mountain range was the first in Britain to gain National Nature Reserve status in 1951, and encompasses a range of habitats from pine forests on the shores of Loch Mare to moorland and rugge, mountain peaks. The Aultroy Visitor Centre just outside Kinlochewe is a great place to get your bearings while, a few miles on towards Gairloch, at Coille na
Glas-Leitir car park, there is a choice of two excellent trails: one through the Scots pine woodland and one more challenging 4-mile (6.5-km) mountain hike which offers fantastic views across Loch Mare to Slioch mountain.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve!
| Distance: 10.17km
A lush, tropical oasis perched on a peninsula at the edge of Loch Ewe amid the rugged landscape of Wester Ross, this world-famous 21 hectare (52 acre) historic garden is one of Scotland’s most popular botanical attractions. Bare rock, thin soil and a few scrub willows were all that was on the site in 1862, when Osgood MacKenzie bought the estate. Over his lifetime and subsequently his daughter’s, the exposed peninsula was transformed into this exceptional garden, full of colourful and exotic plants from around the world. Himalayan blue poppies, rare Wollemi pines, New Zealand daisy bushes and Tasmanian eucalypts are just some of the unusual plants you’ll find at Inverewe. Enjoy the interactive museum, or join any of a programme of events in the garden. There are daily guided walks in the summer season and year-round exhibitions in the gallery, reflecting the characteristics of the garden and surrounding environment. Lose yourself in the lush setting and enjoy unrivalled views across Loch Ewe.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Inverewe Garden!
| Hours: Garden, shop, Osgood’s Café, Inverewe House and visitor centre 9.45–16.00 | Price: Adult £13.00 Family £33.00 | Website | Distance: 11.81km
The well-sheltered Flowerdale Glen is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life and owes its English name to the impressive display of wildflowers which can be seen in spring and summer. A gentle walk passes Flowerdale House, built by the MacKenzies of Gairloch, in 1738, who still own much of the surrounding area. In the woods keep a look out for woodland birds such as great spotted woodpecker and spotted flycatcher. Follow the path marked ‘Waterfall Walk’ for a longer, and delightful, waymarked walk (3 miles / 4.75Km) up the glen. On the return from the waterfall, you pass a memorial to Iain Dall MacAoidh – the blind piper of Gairloch (Am Piobaire Dall), who was a famously-talented hereditary piper to the MacKenzies. He succeeded his father in the role and was succeeded by his son and grandson – these four MacKay pipers spanning two centuries as pipers to the MacKenzie lairds of Gairloch. The car park is opposite the turning for the harbour, across the bridge from the Inn. Cormorants, shags and black guillemots can often be seen around the harbour.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Flowerdale Glen!
| Distance: 12.03km
The excellent Gairloch Museum, housed in a converted Cold War era Anti-Aircraft Operations Room, showcases the history, culture and natural heritage of this beautiful area. The collection includes ancient artefacts, such as the Bronze Age Poolewe Hoard and a Pictish carved stone depicting a fish, alongside objects from more recent times. These include the original lens from the Stevenson-built Rua Reidh lighthouse as well as farming and fishing implements and domestic utensils which provide a glimpse into life in the area in the past. The museum holds a Gaelic language and literature collection which is highly regarded by scholars and the in-house art gallery hosts regularly changing exhibitions. Local crafts are available in the shop and a café has wonderful views down the loch.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Gairloch Museum!
Address: Gairloch Museum, Gairloch, UK | Hours: Open Easter-October, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm. | Website | Distance: 13.08km
Torridon Countryside Centre and Deer Museum
With some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Scotland, Torridon is a magnet for walkers, geologists and naturalists. The rugged mountains are incredibly old – the Torridonian sandstone that forms the bulk of all the mountains dates back 750 million years, while to the west, the hilly and loch-strewn landscape is even older. There’s a great choice of walking and climbing routes in Torridon, with over 18 miles of paths to choose from and there’s an impressive variety of flora and fauna, including important plant colonies, rare mosses and lichens, and the elusive pine marten and golden eagle. Torridon Estate is owned and managed by the National Trust for Scotland. In the countryside centre, which serves as an introduction to the estate, you can find out more about the area, its wildlife and history. The Deer Museum is a short walk along the track from the Countryside Centre. Built up by local ranger Seamus McNally over many years, it gives an insight into the lives of wild red deer and those who manage them.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Torridon Countryside Centre and Deer Museum!
Address: Deer Museum Achnasheen IV22 2EW United Kingdom | Distance: 16.57km
Laide chapel and graveyard and Laide Wood
Just south of Laide, the Laide Wood is an 85 hectare community woodland featuring deep watercourses, two lochans and a beautiful cascading waterfall. There’s an array of wildlife, especially dragonflies and five waymarked trails of varying length. There is some mystery surrounding the origins of Laide Chapel, which sits by the shore, overlooking Gruinard Bay. Also known as the Chapel of Sand of Udrigil, legend has it that it was built by Saint Columba. Others say it was constructed by George MacKenzie of Gruinard in the 1700’s. However, it is most likely the later work was a restoration of the early chapel. The chapel, now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, was abandoned in the 19th Century and services were held at a nearby cave.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Laide chapel and graveyard and Laide Wood!
| Distance: 19.85km
Shieldaig Peninsula and Island
The village of Shieldaig is in a superb location and is perhaps best viewed from across the loch on the Applecross coast road. From here the village can be seen sitting below the mighty mountains of Torridon. Shieldaig was established in 1800 as a planned fishing village to encourage families into fishing and to build up a stock of trained seamen for the Royal Navy, during the Napoleonic wars. Grants from the Admiralty for house and boat building stopped in 1815 but Shieldaig continued to grow because the loch was well-known for its herring. The distinctive pine trees on Shieldaig Island, were planted to provide poles for drying fishermen’s nets but now provide a nesting site for a pair of white-tailed eagles (sometimes called sea eagles). From the front of Shieldaig village common seals can be seen at close quarters, along with eider ducks, oystercatchers and shags. The village has a range of tourist services and marine wildlife watching tours can be taken from the pontoon. From the north of the village there is a good path that takes you around the Shieldaig peninsula. Allow around an hour for the walk which has many lovely spots to admire the shoreline and look for otters and herons.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Shieldaig Peninsula and Island!
| Distance: 20.81km
Mellon Udrigle Bay
With its white sands, shallow turquoise sea and natural shelter from westerly winds this beautiful beach is an ideal place for all the family. But what makes it really special are the views across the sea to Assynt, Coigach and the Summer Isles. The sheltered bay attracts foraging waders, gulls, grey heron and red throated diver. There’s a lovely way-marked coastal walk to the top of the peninsula, Rubha Beag and the estuary at Opinan (Na h-Òbaidhnean meaning ‘the place of little bays’) which is alongside the route is a great place to find wading birds in winter. The 2.5 mile / 4 km route is circular, starting and finishing from the beach car park.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Mellon Udrigle Bay!
| Distance: 23.98km
Rua Reidh Lighthouse
Rua Reidh Lighthouse stands close to the entrance to Loch Ewe in Wester Ross, Scotland. The name "Rua Reidh" is a semi-anglicisation of "Rubha Rèidh" meaning a flat headland.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Rua Reidh Lighthouse!
| Distance: 27.17km
The sheer-sided spectacle of Corrieshalloch Gorge carries the river Droma down a series of thundering falls, the most dramatic of which is the 45m Fall of Measach (Easan na Miasaich, meaning ‘fall of the place of the platters’. This is a reference to the smooth, rounded boulders, or platters, which occur in the river bed above the falls. A good path leads from the car park to this extraordinary natural feature. The heart-stopping highlight of any visit is to cross the gorge via a suspension bridge above the falls, from where the path leads you to a cantilevered viewing platform. The bridge itself has links to industrial heritage, being designed by one of the engineers of the iconic Forth Railway Bridge. The humidity and shelter provided by the gorge sides allows a range of special plants to thrive. A full range of visitor services, including some excellent places to eat and hear live music, are available in nearby Ullapool.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Corrieshalloch Gorge!
Address: Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve, Braemore, Garve, UK | Distance: 28.10km
Rubha Cadail Lighthouse
The lighthouse is on the point separating Loch Kanaird and Loch Broom, marking the north side of the entrance to the upper portion of Loch Broom and the harbor of Ullapool. Accessible by a short walk from the village of Rhue, off the A835 highway about 5 km (3 mi) north of Ullapool.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Rubha Cadail Lighthouse!
| Distance: 30.33km
This picturesque lochside village provides great opportunities for fishing, walking, climbing and sailing. As soon as you’re off the beaten track on one of the many walking routes in the area, there’s a good chance you’ll catch sight of red squirrels, pine marten, deer, eagles or seals. The narrows at Strome (An Sròm; meaning the current, from Norse) create strong tidal currents resulting in rich marine communities - bottlenose dolphins can sometimes be seen in the loch and it’s a great place for underwater photography - the flame shell reef here was recently declared a Marine Protected Area. The exposed estuary at low tide also makes it a great place for the keen bird watcher and oystercatcher, curlew, redshank and greenshank are regularly found here. The village offers a range of local services and the Lochcarron Producers’ days (last Friday of every month, April – October) offers a chance to buy top quality local produce. There’s a vibrant community in Lochcarron and the community-owned Kirkton Woodland and Smithy Hub provide many facilities and activities for visitors and locals alike.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Lochcarron Village!
| Distance: 32.45km
These spectacular gardens were started in Victorian times and have been lovingly developed over the last 40 years. The varied grounds feature extensive water gardens which extend along the driveway up to the house, Japanese gardens and well-hidden sculptures throughout. This is a place of ever-changing interest, whatever the season. The paths take you through 20 acres of botanical bliss, over bridges, waterfalls and exotically planted ponds. Well-behaved dogs on a short lead are welcome provided they are kept under control.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Attadale Gardens!
Address: Attadale Gardens, Attadale Gardens, Strathcarron, UK | Hours: Open – April to end October | Website | Distance: 33.12km
Applecross Heritage Centre & Clachan Church
With archaeological remains dating back over 9,000 years, Applecross has a long history of human habitation, and internationally significant connections with the early Christian church. The Irish monk Mael Rubha founded a Christian settlement in Applecross in 673 and for some 120 years there was a thriving monastery here. The surrounding district is known as a’ Chomraich, ‘the sanctuary’ in Gaelic. Applecross was only accessible by boat until the early 20th century, and for many years after that the only road access was over the spectacular Bealach na Ba (‘Pass of the Cattle’), which crosses the peninsula and climbs to a height of 626 m, meaning it is regularly closed in wintry weather. Applecross Heritage Centre was created from a derelict building to ensure that the historical, religious and cultural background of this highland community was retained. This centre gives a good insight and understanding into the community of this peninsula, which is currently engaged in a wide range of development projects, and how it has been shaped over the centuries. Just beyond the Heritage Centre is Clachan Church and the unmarked site of Mael Rubha’s burial.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Applecross Heritage Centre & Clachan Church!
| Website | Distance: 33.66km
Applecross Broch & the Archaeological Trail
The Applecross Broch, thought to be Iron Age, has been the site of many archaeological digs over the years. Only the ruins are visible but it remains a fine example of Applecross history. Detailed information, and some of the ‘finds’ can be found in the Heritage Centre. The Broch, along with two restored Hebridean Barns, and a reconstruction of an Iron Age roundhouse, form part of the Archaeological Trail that winds its way throughout a woodland. Applecross offers wonderful wildlife watching opportunities on a wider network of walking and cycling paths and trails. Sea birds, eagles, waders and wildfowl can be seen on the estuary while otters and heron hunt on both river and sea. There are also some great outdoor recreational activities available in the area, from hiking and biking to sea kayaking and wild swimming
Read our full blog post on Visiting Applecross Broch & the Archaeological Trail!
| Distance: 34.88km
An easy 4 mile / 6.5km walk or cycle along the single track road from Lochcarron takes you to the ruins of Strome Castle. Perched on a rocky outcrop at the end of Loch Carron, the castle occupied a strategically important position, guarding the north side of the Strome Narrows. It was built in the 14th century and changed hands many times over the centuries, until finally, in the 1600s, it was besieged (and blown up) by Kenneth MacKenzie, Lord of Kintail. Until the ‘Stomeferry Bypass’ as it’s known locally, was completed in the 1970s, a ferry plied the route from North Strome to Stromeferry on the other side of the loch. There are fantastic views from here to the Isle of Skye.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Strome Castle!
| Distance: 37.00km
One of the most popular hills in Scotland to climb, due to its relative ease and spectacular location, the steep slopes of Stac Pollaidh rise from the roadside towards impressive pinnacles. The peak has a rocky crest of Torridonian sandstone, with many pinnacles and steep gullies. These were formed when the ridge was exposed to weathering above the ice sheet during the last Ice Age, while the ice flow carved and scoured the smooth sides of the mountain. There is a circular route which will take you around the base of the pinnacles, with an optional ascent up to the ridge from where there are breath-taking views over Assynt to the north and Achiltibuie and the Summer Isles to the south. Although steep, the hill is actually relatively simple to climb, thanks to the well-made, pitched path. Allow 2- 3 hours for the complete circuit. You will need good footwear and warm and waterproof clothing as the weather can change quickly.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Stac Pollaidh!
| Distance: 42.55km
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan is a small tidal island situated at the confluence of three sea lochs (Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh) in the western Highlands of Scotland. It is connected to the mainland by a footbridge that was installed early in the 20th century and is dominated by a picturesque castle that frequently appears in photographs, film and television. The island's original castle was built in the thirteenth century; it became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies, the Clan MacRae. However, in response to the Mackenzies' involvement in the Jacobite rebellions early in the 18th century, government ships destroyed the castle in 1719. The present-day castle is Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap's 20th-century reconstruction of the old castle.
Read our full blog post on Visiting Eilean Donan Castle!
| Hours: 10am-6pm Apr-May & Oct, 9.30am-6pm Jun & Sep, 9am-6pm Jul & Aug, 10am-4pm Nov-Dec & Feb-Mar, closed Jan | Price: adult/child/family £7.50/4/20 | Website | Distance: 46.24km