Two years ago we stayed on the northern coast of Scotland and fell in love
with the Highlands, this time we went west, staying just below the Isle of Skye.
The epic western isles, vast mountains, and sweeping lochs will capture your soul.
We decided to drive the whole way, all ten-and-a-half hours, in one day so it was an early start. Bekah and her partner, Dave, followed, and with regular breaks we reached Scotland. We recalled the drive up and were excited to see the mountains again and just after Loch Lomond we weren’t disappointed. The Bridge of Orchy introduces you to the giants and the A82 though Glen Coe will make you stop and stare – do stop, you’ll need photos! We stopped for photos at Buachaille Etive Mor, or the Skyrim mountain as my family call it, a volcano of a peak! Up through Fort William and Ben Nevis and finally we arrived at the Five Sisters mountain range, nestling the road at their feet, and they welcomed us to the Kyle of Lochalsh.
The Lochs, Cluanie and Duich, were smooth and reflective and throughout our stay we passed Eilean Donan castle several times. We visited the castle on our last trip, but it provided the perfect silhouette reflected against the mouth of Loch Alsh on our final night.
One of the reasons we’d chosen to stay on the western coast was that I’ve always wanted to visit Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa, and travelling across Scotland takes time. We booked a Three Island Tour through Staffa Tours which meant our day began early. We caught a ferry across from Oban to the Isle of Mull, it was crowded and I struggled with the amount of people on deck to see us leave Oban. On the Isle of Mull we joined a double decker coach provided by West Coast Tours and through sheer luck got the front upstairs seats. The coach driver was great providing commentary on the history of Mull, whilst simultaneously navigating a single track road with passing points and tourist cars who don’t realise the size of a coach!
The roads across Scotland in general are worth a mention. Many around the coast are single track and all have regular, signed passing points. The rule is to pull in and let faster vehicles pass, and to pull in where necessary to let oncoming traffic through. It works brilliantly, and is inherently better than the Welsh country roads with few passing points we’re used to at home! Btw, if you see a coach coming towards you, back up or pull in and give plenty of space, you’d be surprised how many people seem to be unable to reverse concisely!
Back to Mull, a quick ferry across to explore the small island of Iona for two hours before we took a short boat trip to the isle of Staffa. As Staffa gets closer you are stunned by the tall basalt rock formations that give the island its name – staffa old Norse for staff, stave, or pillar like the columnar rocks. The boat pulls alongside Fingal’s Cave for a spectacular view, though don’t expect photos without people in them at this point. You might berate the tourists clambering over the rocks in front of the cave, but in a few minutes you’ll be one of them!
You get an hour on Staffa, it’s not enough – I could stay all day – but it’s all you’ll get. We walked across the hexagonal volcanic rocks, well, I hurried – I’m a child at heart, to the cave. Currently you can’t get down into the cave since it was damaged by fierce storms, but you can appreciate the force of the ocean as it crashes over the stone and glistens in the sun. Greens and blues mingle at the shore offset by white seafoam and black rock.
Dan reminded me the island had more to offer and after a ten minute walk we discovered the island’s other wonder. On the cliffs are a plethora of puffins, nesting on the island from May to mid-August. The miracle is that they’re as fascinated by you as you are by them! We sat on the grassy cliff tops watching the birds as they perched, wandered, flew, and watched us back. I couldn’t believe we could sit literally a foot away from them and they barely batted an eyelid. Fingal’s Cave and the puffins were the highlight of my holiday.
The next day we went hunting for more wildlife. Dunvegan castle and gardens sit in a bay on the north-west coast of the Isle of Skye. The castle’s history is Viking/Scottish and it’s a well-looked after example of a lived-in castle. Our main reason for visiting was to go on one of their seal trips, but you can only book a seal tour if you’re inside the castle grounds, so you’ll be paying for castle entry and then just under ten pounds per person for the boat trip.
The seals were adorable. A small boat and guide took the six of us out just in the bay close to the castle to their local seal colony, and the seals were out basking in the sun and dipping in and out of the sea. The middle of July meant pups were lively and bobbing close to the boat, despite their mothers’ barks to be careful! Our guide gave us lots of seal facts and legend, and told us about the castle’s history. We were lucky with great weather, glittering indigo water, and plenty of selkies, though I wish the trip had been longer.
The Fairy Pools down at Glenbrittle on the Isle of Skye was our next destination. There’s a car park with an attendant, but when we arrived at 5.30ish in the afternoon there was no attendant to be seen, so we left the car. Also, the waterfalls are a huge tourist attraction and the car park could be very busy – there is an overflow car park at the end, but overlooked if you don’t know it’s there. When I said busy, I meant it. There’s a constant stream of people on the hike, you won’t be exploring alone. It’s recommended to go early or late to avoid the crowds and find the best light, and getting those perfect pictures will mean trying to dodge many people, climbing carefully, and missing out on some because people are bathing in the pools. It can be frustrating, but shouldn’t be missed.
The pools and waterfalls are beautiful, and caught in the right light they’ll shimmer green, teal, and cobalt blue – truly magical.
Wildlife continued with a trip to the Highland Wildlife Park just south of Inverness. You’ll be entering the edge of the Cairngorms, so if you’re making a day of it maybe travel a bit further and see the mountains too. The wildlife park has a small but very basic self-drive safari, but the main attractions are walking round the animal enclosures seeing polar bears, snow monkeys, an arctic fox and her cub, red panda, deer, wolves and lots more. We went to see the wolves for Cait. Pups frolicked and played and completely enchanted us.
Thursday saw us go out in the Kyle of Lochalsh on Seaprobe Atlantis from the port in Kyleakin, a glass-bottomed boat to see seals and underwater creatures. Plenty of seals, but not so much underwater. Lots of jellyfish floating about, a couple of pipe fish, and lots of hypnotising bootlace seaweed!
I wanted to find dinosaur footprints at Staffin on Skye, but we had trouble finding access to the beach. We’d timed the tide, but it was difficult to work out how to find them. There was a stream we couldn’t cross and we couldn’t work out which side of the beach the prints were supposed to be, so we gave up. If you do want to find them, there are online articles which will point you in the right direction.
Instead we drove around the top of the island taking in the Old Man of Storr, Mealt waterfall and Kilt Rock. We got fish and chips at Portree and headed back to the south of Skye to Kylerhea and an otter hide. The road over the mountain to Kylerhea was gorgeous, narrow and wild, so pretty. There’s a small car park with an RSPB hide, and a short walk to the otter hide overlooking the bay. You can watch the small car ferry from the bay and spy on sea life and birds. We didn’t see any otters, it’s a long way down to the sea and though there was a small telescope, it was hard to pin point creatures. We did see a seal, gulls, an oyster-catcher, and a heron!
It was late in the day so we missed the last ferry at six, but the Kylerhea scenery was stunning – the green moss, ferns, and trees contrasting with stormy clouds over the slate-blue water.
Our last day saw us take advantage of Plockton and Calum’s Seal Tours, he advertised the tour for free if you didn’t see any seals… Calum Mackenzie was fun and informative and he got paid as there were plenty of seals! If you’re lucky you could also see dolphins and sea eagles.
Then we drove right around Loch Carron and crossed the mountain road to Applecross Bay. One of the highest passes, and reminded me of Snowdonia mountain roads, but single track. That evening, we explored a few of the local Inverinate roads, where we were staying and caught the sunset. Nothing better.
On our way home we stopped in Stirling to see the Wallace Monument. 246 steps to climb, but a great history lesson.
We had a stunning week, fulfilling dreams, and discovering the West coast of Scotland. If you’ve enjoyed this, you can read more about our North coast Scottish adventure two years ago. It’s pretty much a guarantee we’ll be back!
This land is a magical land of rainbows, diamonds on the ocean, moss, towering mountains, tumbling waterfalls, mystic lochs, and enchanted landscapes. Just avoid the early morning and late night midges!
One day we hope to return and to stay…
What are your favourite places in Scotland?
I’m so happy you enjoyed the West coast of Scotland, now I’m going to read your blog about the East coast where I live.
I think our hearts are in the Northern Highlands, but our next visit will be to the east coast!
I’ve loved every minute of the time I’ve spent in Scotland, and your wonderful post made me long to go back. One of these days I intend to head over and stay awhile. Thanks for the gorgeous photos and text.
We adore Scotland, we live in Wales and love it, but Scotland is like Wales only more epic!