Highland way: a walk on Scotland’s Ardnish peninsula

This rugged, now uninhabited landscape of remote lochs and ancient woodland has an austere beauty and reminders of Bonnie Prince Charlie, crofters and Vikings

Five of Scotland’s best bothies

A stay in a historic building with amazing views and convivial company sounds enticing – and even better when it comes free of charge. The author of the new Bothy Bible shares his favourite

An ‘Arctic’ safari in the Scottish Highlands

Winter in the Cairngorms national park can turn positively Arctic – perfect for Kari Herbert to give her young daughter a taste of the polar conditions, and creatures, she enjoyed as a child in Greenland

Tain in Scotland

Excerpt from the book Scottish Highlands, Caribbean Islands, and more

Next it was back down the A9 to Tain, bypassing the Glenmorangie distillery, which I would have visited if the weather hadn’t been so warm and sunny. Tain was made a royal burgh in 1066 making it the oldest in Scotland. This was largely because the town was the site of a shrine to St Duthac who’d died the previous year. Duthac was an important figure in the early Christian era and the shrine became a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages with even King James IV visiting on an annual basis. The town possesses great civic pride. Tain has some of the most magnificent hanging-baskets I’ve ever seen. Most of the flowers were blooming and appeared to be flowing over the lampposts supporting the baskets. Next to these frothing flowers was a clean monument to Kenneth Murray of Geanies a former Provost of Tain who lived between 1825 and 1876. His good deeds resulted in a University Bursary.

Inverness to Ullapool via Plockton, Scotland

Excerpt from the book Scottish Highlands, Caribbean Islands, and more

Driving down the western side of Loch Ness I was vaguely aware of a large body of water through the trees on the left-hand side of the road. At Drumnadrochit I became acutely aware of a thriving industry based on the Nessie legend. I decided to leave this tourist paraphernalia behind and head for the shores of the loch itself. Urquhart Castle was built in the 13th-Century and was taken by Edward I but later lost to Robert the Bruce. Urquhart was repeatedly attacked during the 15th and 16th centuries by the Lords of the Isles arriving from the West although it wasn’t until 1692 that the castle was largely destroyed in the fight between the Williamite and Jacobite groups.

Visitors were milling around the shop buying souvenir whiskys, tea towels, and guidebooks. The ruins are not extensive and are fairly easy to traverse, but most people tend to concentrate on looking out over the loch and trying to spot something unusual. Some talking telescopes might help in this process.

The Castle was originally built to protect the Great Glen and the views are extensive. The loch disappears north-eastwards towards Inverness over the horizon and is about a mile wide at Urquhart. A boat heading towards the horizon can soon fade from view and yet its wake is still seen heading sideways to the far shore. The wind blows in gusts across the water and raises waves; the sun shines on part of the loch and creates patterns of grey. In places the water looks pitch black and I had to remind myself that the loch is over 700 feet deep in parts. Try as I might I couldn’t see any monster-shapes in the water though other people have been more successful in seeing things than I have.

Assynt, Scotland

Excerpt from the book Scottish Highlands, Caribbean Islands, and more

I was heading to the region called Assynt, a word derived from the Norse for rocky ridge seen from afar. Driving out of Ullapool on the A835 I soon arrived at Ardmair Bay and immediately pulled on to the side of the road to take a picture of the beach, sea, and mountains. I was able to reverse along the main road to get the best picture as no vehicles were coming in either direction. After driving off again I began to see many posters for the ‘Yes’ campaign for Scottish independence attached to lampposts, street lights, and garden gates. I had probably seen many such posters before, but today I seemed to be seeing everything more sharply due to the beauty of the weather and landscape. I stopped many times in the next hour to photograph the mountains Stac Pollaidh and Ben More Coigach, the village of Elphin, and the views of Loch Assynt. Ardveck Castle was a MacLeod stronghold from 1597 until it was destroyed by the Seaforth MacKenzies in 1691. The castle is on the shore of Loch Assynt. The mountain called Quinag can be seen in the distance. The waters of the loch, the jagged remains of the castle, and the elegantly shaped mountain behind made a vivid impression. I saw some independence supporters wearing kilts and sporting t-shirts saying “Aye” flying the Scottish saltire through a ruined castle window as their friends took pictures from below.

On an impulse I decided I had to explore some of this landscape and the best idea was to go to Inverkirkaig via Lochinver and walk to the Falls of Kirkaig. The road from Lochinver to Inverkirkaig was another single track road with passing places, but I met no other cars in either direction. I did some slight re-arranging of items into my rucksack and set off hoping that the path wouldn’t be too wet. I walked along by the river Kirkaig that flows 4km to the sea from Fionn Loch (the white loch) through Lewisian gneiss. On the other side of the river was the Inverpolly National Nature reserve. This river is also significant because it forms the border between the counties of Sutherland, where I was, and Ross-shire. The path gradually rises through purple heather and greeny-brown ferns and Suilven begins to loom in the distance. Holly, aspen, rowan, birch, and multi-stemmed hazel occur at irregular intervals where there’s a little shelter. I met a few walkers having a rest who made conversation for a couple of minutes. A few grey wagtails flitted around and according to the local ornithologists there are a few dippers in the river. Some adders and slow worms live in this habitat but stay out of the visitor’s way. The walk is very quiet and the first time you hear the falls are more or less when you see them as they are out of sight behind a rocky outcrop. I was able to get close-up and take some pictures, but only after leaving my rucksack behind and climbing down a steep decline, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone with dodgy knees or ankles. Overall the distance of the whole walk both ways is around 4.5 miles and will take about 3 hours in total depending on how long is spent admiring the surrounding scenery. The gain in height is 165 metres, but it’s a gentle incline all the way. There are some boggy areas, but almost all of them have stepping stones.