My wife and I love the Highlands, especially the Wester Ross area from Shieldaig to Ullapool, but we've not been north of Ullapool, other than a drive to Lochinver, an hour north. For our upcoming trip in May, we'd like to spend 5 to 7 days exploring farther north, maybe as far as Tongue. Is the scenery north of Ullapool as spectacular as that to the south of Ullapool? From what I've read, the scenery gets less spectacular east of Tongue, so we'll probably head down towards Inverness from Tongue (unless someone convinces us to take another route). I've consulted google maps, but information on that area is relatively scarce, so I'd appreciate any info you can offer, especially (but not exclusively) first-hand, on scenic drives and day hikes, recommendations for lodging, don't-miss sites/sights, and anything else you think I should know. And if I'm mistaken - if the area east of Tongue to John O'Groats is more scenic than I think it is, or if the coast west of Tongue is less scenic than I think it is, please let me know. Thanks in advance. Jay
Yes, you're fairly much correct about the coast east of Tongue not being as scenic as the west coast. However, I'd like to make a suggestion - keep going east on the A836 to Bettyhill (it's only about 12 miles), visit the Highland Clearances Museum there, then take the B871 south through Strathnaver to Altnaharra. Then you can pick up the A836 to Lairg, and then on to Inverness. Strathnaver was the site of one of the most brutal clearances during that "terror time."
You mentioned that you'd been as far as Lochinver. But did you get there by the main road, or did you cut across by Loch Lurgainn and Stac Pollaidh and then take the "Wee Mad Road" from the west end of Loch Lurgainn north to Lochinver? If you missed that one before, you really need to take it this time. Also, if you continue on the Stac Pollaidh road, down to Achiltibuie, there are boat trips out to the Summer Isles.
From Lochinver, the B869 to Loch Glencoul and the Kylesku Bridge is one of the most spectacular coast roads in Scotland. Stop at Drumbeg for the view out over Eddrachillis Bay. Have a picnic lunch there. It's heaven.
Scourie is an excellent spot for an overnight. The sunsets from there can be quite spectacular. Just north of Scourie is the turnoff for Tarbet. From Tarbet, you can take a boat out to the bird sanctuary of Handa Island, where you stand a good chance of seeing puffins and being divebombed by great skuas. There is an excellent restaurant (the Shorehouse Restaurant) by the dock at Tarbet.
Farther north is the turn off for Kinlochbervie, which is a charming fishing village. Just past Kinlochbervie is the start of the hike out to Sandwood Bay. It's about eight miles round trip, but it's a good low level hike. Sandwood Bay is quite possibly the most beautiful beach on mainland Scotland.
Before you hit the top of the mainland and turn east, you should take the boat across the Kyle of Durness to catch the minivan out to Cape Wrath. It's quite a journey. Smoo Cave, just past Durness, may be worth a visit.
I hope that gives you enough for a start. I'm sure that others will chime in.
Thanks for your detailed and obviously well-informed response; it was what I was hoping for. A few responses and some questions: 1) You suggest that we take the minivan to Cape Wrath. Is there a reason not to drive there ourselves? Is a 4WD and/or high-clearance vehicle necessary? You say "it's quite a journey" - do you mean to say it's a spectacular trip or a challenging one? We've driven on narrow roads in the NW before with no problems.
2) We drove the "Wee Mad Road from Ullapool to Lochinver on our last trip (returned to Ullapool via the main road), but we'll do it again because one time isn't enough.
3) There are so many spectacular beaches on the west coast that picking Sandalwood Bay as the most beautiful must be like trying to pick a favorite Dylan song.
Again, thanks. Jay
Hi again, Jay,
You can't drive to Cape Wrath. The boat is actually an RIB. You take the boat from Keoldale to the jetty on the other side of the Kyle of Durness. The minibus picks you up there and takes you to the cape.
The road (mostly unpaved) journey is about 11 miles, but because the minibus has to go slowly due to the condition of the road, it takes about an hour. There is a website somewhere that will provide more information. Some hikers take the minibus to the cape, then hike south along the coast to Sandwood Bay and Kinlochbervie.