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Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Northwest Highlands

Northwest HighlandsNorthwest Highlands View slideshow

The term Northwest Highlands usually refers to the northern third of Scotland that is separated from the rest of the country by the "Great Glen" or "Glen More". This fault line has been exploited by man to create the Caledonian Canal which extends from the west coast to the east, from Loch Linnhe to the Moray Firth and which serves as the boundary between the Northwest Highlands and the Grampian Mountains.

Inverness, Scotland

Hebrides

Northwest Highland - Water activities

The sheltered harbors, inland lakes, estuaries and inlets of the North West Highlands offer amateur sailors plenty to explore. Yachts and motorboats are available for hire and there are a number of sailing schools for beginners. Other opportunities for watersport enthusiasts include skiing, windsurfing and canoeing. Sunken wrecks and a fascinating underwater world attract divers, while bathers are guaranteed crystal clear water.

Mallaig, Scotland

View from the road near Mallaig.
The A830 heads west out of Fort William towards Mallaig (42mi/67.2km) following a winding scenic route. Mallaig is a terminal for ferries to Skye, Rhum and Eigg.

Glenfinnan Monument

The Glenfinnan Monument at the north end of Loch Shiel (20mi/32km) was erected in 1815 to commemorate Bonnie Prince Charlie's proclamation of August 1745. It was here that he met the clan chiefs and they agreed to back his struggle against English domination.
The Visitor Centre has displays and commentary in four languages on the prince's campaign.
Address: NTS Information Centre, Glenfinnan PH37 4LT, Scotland

Loch Nan Uamh Cairn

A memorial stone by Loch Nan Uamh recalls the flight of the "Young Pretender" after the debacle at Culloden and his month-long trek through the Highlands. He boarded a French ship nearby and escaped from his English pursuers.

Road to the Isles (A87)

The scenic Road to the Isles runs past the Five Sister of Kintail. Some of the highlights in the surrounding area include the Eilean Donan Castle and the hike to the Falls of Glomach.

Loch Carron - Strome Castle

The road continues beyond Kyle of Lochalsh to Loch Carron, which is noted for its attractive lakeside scenery, and Castle Strome which was destroyed in 1602. For many years it belonged to the powerful Mackenzie barons of Kintail. The coat-of arms bears a stag's antlers (caberfeidh), symbolically the payment rendered in return for the granting of royal estates.

Applecross

View of the ocean from the Applecross Road.
A trip off the beaten track will reap a worthwhile reward. At Kishorn branch off the A896 to the west. Climb a steep mountain road with several hairpin bends over the Bealch nam Bo pass, beyond which the road suddenly drops from 2,000ft/600m down to a level plain and the fine, sandy beach of Applecross.

Torridon - Mountain Terrain

After Loch Carron, the A896 continues north to Loch Shieldaig, an inlet surrounded by fine woodland, and then on to the mountain region of Torridon dominated by the towering "Munros" (over 3,000ft/1,000m). The red sandstone (over 750 million years old) of Liathach (3,456ft/1,055m) and Beinn Alligin (2,232ft/679m) on the north bank of Upper Loch Torridon are much admired by geologists.
Walkers ought not to miss the remarkable Auchnashellach Forest Walk along Loch Clair and Loch Coulin southward to Auchnashellach railroad station.
Located in the mountainous region of Torridon Mains you will find a Deer Park and Deer Museum.

Visitor Centre

Wester Ross on the south shore of Loch Torridon.
The National Trust for Scotland is responsible for the upkeep of this wild terrain and at the junction of the A896 and Diabaig Road it runs a visitor center which goes into considerable detail about the region's fauna and flora.

Shieldaig Island

Cottages at Shieldaig.
Shieldaig Island is a 32ac island off Shieldag. It is almost entirely covered in Scots pine, which once covered much of the Scottish Highlands.
Address: Torridon, Scotland

Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve

Mountain scenery of the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve.
Park rangers lead guided tours into the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve near Kinlochewe. Opened in 1951, it was Britain's first nature reserve and in 1976 it was upgraded to a UNESCO biosphere reservation. Scotch pines and birch woods dominate the landscape on the lower slopes, but at higher altitudes alpine flora such as alpine azaleas can be found. Wildlife includes red deer, pine martens, wild cats, snow hares, red foxes and golden eagles.
Address: Anancaun, Kinlochewe, Achnasheen IV22 2PA, Scotland

Loch Maree

Loch Maree Nature Reserve lies along the south bank of Loch Maree, a deep Pleistocene valley with water low in nutrients but nevertheless a habitat favored by otters and black-throated divers. Access to the nature reserve is through a birch wood about 1mi/3km west of Kinlochewe. The nature trail through breathtaking mountain scenery stays below the tree line. The more demanding mountain trail, a 4mi/6.5km circular tour, begins at the parking lot. It rises to just under 1,800ft/550m and offers an unforgettable view over Loch Maree.

Victoria Falls

The waterfall near Shatterdale - accessible via a signposted footpath - was named after Queen Victoria who visited Loch Maree in 1877.

Gairloch, Scotland

The attractive village of Gairloch (pop. 1,100) is a scenic stop on the tourist route northwards. It lies in a sheltered, sandy bay and boasts a nine-hole golf course.
The road to Ullapool runs alongside sandy beaches, majestic mountain ranges and fjord-like inlets. Campers find it hard to resist some of the secluded bays.

Heritage Museum

The Heritage Museum details the cultural and economic development of the western Highlands from the Stone Age to the present day. A reconstructed crofter's house and models of fishing boats are among the exhibits.
Address: Achtercairn, Gairloch IV21 2BP, Scotland

Wester Ross - Inverewe Garden

Thanks to the extremely mild climate a lush, subtropical garden overlooks a sheltered bay by Loch Ewe near Poolewe (5mi/8km north of Gairloch). Rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias, eucalyptus from New Zealand, Japanese ferns, Himalayan lilies, South American water lilies, giant forget-me-nots from the South Pacific, rock gardens, ponds, Scotch pines and rare varieties of palms are just some of the unusual plants and features to be admired in the delightful Inverewe Gardens. Osgood Mackenzie was only 20 years old when in 1862 he proved that plants from distant lands could survive on the poor Torridon sandstone and acid peaty soil, if it is enriched by loam from the coast and the wet peat is drained.
Address: Poolewe, Ross-shire IV22 2LG, Scotland

Braemore, Scotland

The scenic A832 winds round Gruinard Bay and then follows the south bank of Loch Broom to Braemore (38mi/60.8km). A suspension bridge over the Corrieshalloch Gorge offers the best view of the spectacular Measach waterfalls as they cascade over 150ft/46m into the valley.

Aberdeenshire - Mar Lodge Estate

Mar Lodge Estae is part of the Cairngorms, an internationally recognised nature conservation landscape in the British Isles. This estate contains: four of the five highest mountains in the UK; the upper watershed of the River Dee, and remnant Caledonian pine forest.
Address: Braemar, Aberdeenshire AB35 5YJ, Scotland

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge in Braemore is one of Britain's finest examples of a box canyon. The canyon is 200 feet deep and the rive plunges 150 feet over the falls of Measach. Further downstream there is a suspension bridge, then further still there is a viewing platform pointing up, toward the falls.
Address: Inverewe House, Scotland

Ullapool, Scotland

Boats in the evening at Ullapool.
The A835 links Braemore with one of the Northwest Highland's most popular resorts. The fishing village of Ullapool (pop. 1,100) was founded in 1788 by the British Fisheries Association. Its pretty whitewashed houses in the village nestle on the north bank of Loch Broom. The art world is familiar with this remote spot thanks to some evocative watercolors by the Austrian-born Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) who visited the area on more than one occasion during the 1940s.
Car ferries leave Ullapool for Stornaway.

Inverpolly Nature Reserve

The remote 41sq.mi/109sq.km Inverpolly Nature Reserve which lies about 20mi/32km north of Ullapool was opened during the 1960s. It is characterized by open moorland, birch woods and lonely lochs.
The Knockan Cliff Visitor Centre with nature and geological trails is situated nearby.

Inverkirkaig Mountain Route

Evidence of glacial activity during the Ice Age are the rounded peaks and deep valleys. Instead of taking the direct route along the A835 to Ledmore, a more adventurous alternative winds its way below the constantly changing mountain backdrop and alongside the coast to Inverkirkaig where the Kirkaig waterfalls (2mi/3.2km south of Lochinver) cascade into the valley. To the west of the A835, Ben More Coigach (2,438ft/744m) and Cul Beag or Stac Polly (2,009ft/613m) are the first peaks to come into view followed by Cul More (2,787ft/850m) and Suilven (2,399ft/732m), an impressive "sugarloaf" mountain. All the mountains in this range are popular with mountaineers.

Knockan Cliff

Knockan Cliff is of interest to geologists because the sequence of rock strata has become reversed by tectonic movement and the older moine schist lies above the younger Torridon sandstone. A nature trail (about 1mi/2km from the parking lot) explains about the "moine thrust", a 125mi/200km fault line between the Isle of Skye and Loch Eriboll.

Loch Assynt

Almost 22mi/35.2km north of Ullapool the A835 crosses the unforgettable picture-book landscape to the north of Loch Assynt. Well-known among the angling fraternity for its salmon and trout, the loch is ringed by a majestic mountain panorama.

Ardvreck Castle

At the eastern end of Loch Assynt stand the ruins of Ardvreck Castle which was built ca. 1590 for the MacLeods. The Seaforth MacKenzies took over the estate in 1691 but were obliged to sell it to the Earl of Sutherland in 1757 to meet their tax debts.

Inchnadamph Nature Reserve

Geologists are fascinated by the rock formations visible at the Inchnadamph Nature Reserve. The route along the north bank of Loch Assynt ranks very highly on the list of Scotland's finest panoramic routes.

Lochinver, Scotland

No fewer than 280 lochs surround the rural community of Lochinver (pop. 700) and although some of them do not even have a name, they do provide a wealth of opportunities for anglers. Lochinver was an important port for the herring industry during the 17th and 18th centuries but now the catch is primarily white fish and crustaceans. Locally-produced ceramics are available from the Highland Stoneware Pottery.

Eas a Chual Aluinn Falls

It is possible to take a boat trip from Kylesku, northeast of Loch Assynt, along Loch a'Chairn Bhain to see the seal colony. The Eas a Chual Aluinn Falls are Britain's highest waterfalls (658ft/200m) and are visible on the return journey.

Handa Island

The bird reserve on Handa Island is run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and lies almost 3mi/4.8km northwest of the crofting community of Scourie. As one of the biggest seabird colonies in northern Europe, it gives bird watchers a rare opportunity to see puffins, guillemots, razorbills, great skuas, fulmars, shags and kittiwakes at close quarters. Seals often bask on the rocks in the sun.

Sandwood Bay

To the north of Blairmore a 5mi/8km long footpath leads to Sandwood Bay. It is not only one of the remotest but also one of the most beautiful beaches in Scotland. The spirit of a bearded sailor from a ship wrecked off the coast is said to haunt the beach and mermaids are also supposed to sit on the shore.

Loch Eriboll

A bay on Loch Eriboll.
The north coast road, in many places just single-track, passes through delightful scenery as it winds its way to Thurso. Loch Eriboll, a salmon farming center, is a good place for a break. A walk to Whiten Head offers further splendid views.

Durness, Scotland

Scenery around Durness.
Durness (pop. 1,400) consists of a series of scattered settlements. At the west end of the village look out for the picturesque remains of Balnakeil Church (ca. 1619), a golf course and Balnakeil beach where the grave of a Viking warrior was recently discovered. Craftsmen and women can be seen at work in the nearby craft village.

Faraid Head

Dunes at Faraid Head.
Faraid Head to the north of Durness is a popular spot with ornithologists.

Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave, which lies to the east of Durness, is a vast limestone cavern with three chambers. The first one (220ft/67m long and 120ft/37m high) is reminiscent of the nave of a Gothic church. Continuing erosion has opened up a number of holes in the roof and daylight has led to the growth of some unusual vegetation on the walls. The other two chambers are accessible only by boat.

Cape Wrath

In summer a passenger ferry from near Cape Wrath Hotel operates across the Kyle of Durness and then a minibus service covers the final few miles on to Scotland's magnificent northwestern tip ("hvarf" = "turning point"). On a clear day a fine view from the storm-battered rocks extends across to Lewis and Harris and in the east as far as the Orkneys.

Clo Mor Cliffs

The manned lighthouse built by Robert Stevenson built in 1827 stands a little to the east of Cape Wrath on the spectacular Clo Mor Cliffs (920ft/280m).

Sutherland Clearances

On a lonely hill by Ben a'Bhragaidh northwest of Golspie stands a huge statue of the first Duke of Sutherland. The statue was erected in 1833 initially to acknowledge his contribution to the kelp industry, fisheries, house and road building, but it quickly came to symbolize one of the bitterest episodes in Scottish history: the Highland Clearances.

The origins of these traumatic events can be traced back to the defeat of the Scottish clans. With the exception of Caithness, the traditional structure of Highland society rested for centuries on a system of almost 180 clans that lived independently of each other, cultivated the valleys to fulfillll their own requirements and bred "Black Cattle". The land belonged to the clans, which were represented by a clan chief, and every individual had rights and duties arising from his or her membership of the clan. After the convincing defeat at Culloden in 1746, the clan system was banned and the clansmen's property became the property of the English administrators who showed little concern for the welfare of the crofters whose livelihood depended on that land.

Strathnaver Museum

Strathnaver Museum in the old village church in Bettyhill describes the devastating consequences of the land clearances. Also on display is a traditional Highland cottage, which gives some insight into the everyday life of the crofters before they were evicted, and clan memorabilia belonging to the MacKay family.
Address: Clachan, Bettyhill KW14 7SS, Scotland

Thurso, Scotland

Thurso (pop. 8,000; "Thors-a" = "by the river") has the northernmost railroad station on the mainland. The medieval St Peter's Church (12/13th century) is the oldest building in the small town. It is thought that the foundation stone was laid by Bishop Gilbert of Moravia.

Heritage Museum

The Heritage Museum documents the traditions and customs of the local people. It also displays a collection of minerals belonging to Robert Dick (1811-1866), a well-known geologist, and a reconstruction of a typical Caithness cottage.

Loch Shin

Situated in central Sutherland, Loch Shin (15mi/24km long and 2mi/3.2km wide) is a popular watersports and fishing center and also a source of hydroelectric power.
Lairg (pop. 1,000) at the south end of Loch Shin is the venue for the largest lamb market in the country.
From mid-July until the end of summer it is possible to watch salmon jumping at the Shin Falls.

Altnaharra, Scotland

Loch Naver and the tiny village of Altnaharra (pop. 60) north of Loch Shin nestle in the center of a splendid mountain region.

Rosail Clearance Village

A short distance south of Altnaharra of Syre lies the abandoned Rosail Clearance Village which bears witness to the dramatic changes wrought by the Highland Clearances.

Flow Country

The wild peat moor to the northeast of Altnaharra is impressive for its size alone. The "flows" are sometimes 16ft/5m wide and flanked by small lakes are a favorite breeding ground for curlews, black and red-throated divers, golden plovers and greenshanks.
For birdwatchers the only time to visit is in spring and summer.

Caledonian Canal

Strathpeffer, Scotland

As illustrated by an exhibition in the old well house, the elegant spa town of Strathpeffer with its smart villas, delightful gardens and 18-hole golf courses (4mi/6.4km to the west) was one of Scotland's most fashionable resorts in Victorian times. In the village square it is still possible to sample the mineral-rich water and the woods around the village are ideal for relaxing walks. Craftsmen and women from around the region display their skills and products in the restored railroad station. As well as craft shops, the old station contains the delightful Highland Museum of Childhood, which is open from April to October and is well worth a visit.

Pavilion

The Strathpeffer Spa Pavilion has been restored and is now a venue for the Arts as well as for functions, weddings, conferences and other events. The original lantern on the Pavilion roof was a feature that was removed in the early 1900's. A replica of the original lantern was put in place to provide light in the main hall.
The Pavilion's main hall is one of the largest performing arts spaces in the Highlands with a modular stage and flexible seating.
Address: The Square, Strathpeffer IV14 9DL, Scotland

Invergordon, Scotland

The A9 follows the north bank of the Cromarty to Invergordon (pop. 4,200). Its harbor was once an important military base but is now dominated by the oil industry. The town is one of the main repair and maintenance centers for the British sector of the oil drilling industry. In 1749, scarcely 10 years after the last Jacobite uprising, Sir John Gordon devised a scheme to convert the town into a holiday resort with bathing machines and pleasure boats but the project was only partially completed.

Tain, Scotland

Carved lion at Tain.
Locally-quarried red and yellow sandstone gives the houses in Tain (pop. 4,100) an attractive appearance. This small royal market town by the Dornoch Firth has several sights of interest including the town hall in Scottish baronial style.

St Duthus Chapel & Collegiate Church

Collegiate Church of St Duthus (14th century). The ruined St Duthus Chapel (1246), a popular place of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages, is situated in the cemetery of Tain by the seashore.

Ardjachie Point Tunnel

Beyond Tain, a tunnel near Ardjachie Point passes under the Dornoch Firth to the southern tip of Sutherland.

Dornoch, Scotland

Low tide at Dornoch.
The coastal town of Dornoch (pop. 1,100) is noted for its cathedral. Little remains of the old castle - once an episcopal palace - apart from the tower which has since been incorporated into a hotel.
Today Dornoch is best known for its 18-hole golf course and its long sandy beach.

Cathedral

Exterior view of the Dornoch Cathedral.
Dornoch's cathedral was established in 1224 by Gilbert of Moravia. Fine arcades, original stonemasonry (13th century) in the chancel and a splendid west window are among the cathedral's most interesting features.

Whitch's Stone

The Whitch's Stone serves as a reminder of a cruel chapter in Scottish history. Janet Horne, a woman thought to be a witch, was burnt to death at the stone. She was the last of more than 4,500 women who, following the Reformation, were accused of involvement in witchcraft, tortured and then executed.

Skibo Castle

Skibo Castle (5mi/8km to the west of Dornoch on the A949) was built in 1898 for the philanthropist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. He frequently visited Scotland and wanted to spend his twilight years in the country of his birth. This handsome little castle is now used as an exclusive private club.
Address: Skibo Castle, Dornoch IV25 3RQ, Scotland

Golspie, Scotland

The main road north runs from Dornpoch alongside the coast to Golspie (pop. 1,300; 10mi/16km to the north). It is the administrative center for Sutherland and can boast a long sandy beach, a go-kart track and an 18-hole golf course overlooking the sea.

Dunrobin Castle

Summer time at Dunrobin Castle in Golspie.
Only a mile or so northeast of Golspie stands the imposing Dunrobin Castle, seat of the influential counts and dukes of Sutherland, who could once claim to own the whole of Sutherland. At the end of the 19th century the third duke owned more land than any other landowner in western Europe. The castle itself - a sight that should not be missed - was begun in 1275 Robert, when the second Earl of Sutherland built a huge tower fortress. However, the major part of the structure designed by Sir Charles Barry dates from the mid-19th century and is in Neo-Baronial style.
The attractive corner towers with conical slate roofs lend a "fairy-tale" look to the castle which undoubtedly bears a strong resemblance to some of the famous Loire valley chateaux in France. A fire badly damaged the interior and Sir Robert Lorimer was given responsibility in 1915 for creating a new decor. Of the 189 rooms probably the Drawing Room stands out as the highlight. Louis XV-style furniture, the two studies of Venice by Canaletto above the fireplace and the Mortlake tapestries (18th century) alongside showing scenes from the life of the Greek philosopher Diogenes are of special interest. The family portraits were painted by Reynolds and John Hoppner. The extensive Italian-style gardens are ideal for a stroll and also offer fine views over the Dornoch Firth. A display in the summer house belonging to William Earl of Sutherland sets out the full family history.

Great Glen Way Walking Trail

Scenery of Great Glen.
The trail is being considered by Scottish Natural Heritage as an official long distance route. The 71-mile / 114 kilometer route goes from Fort William on the west coast to Inverness on the east, following a canal towpath, forest tracks and minor roads. The trails can be used for both cycling and hiking.
Address: Bowerswell Lane, Kinnoull, Perth PH2 7DL, Scotland

John o'Groats

The harbor at John o'Groats overlooks the Pentland Firth and marks the northeastern tip of the Scottish mainland. The signpost outside the Victorian John o'Groats hotel must rank as one of the country's most-photographed landmarks.
Address: Ferry Office, Caithness KW1 4YR, Scotland

Last House in Scotland

Old photographs and other memorabilia testify to the harsh existence of the region's fishermen and the sunken wrecks in the Pentland Firth.
Two souvenir shops beside the hotel await the countless visitors who descend on this otherwise lonely spot. It is possible to see the Orkney Islands from the cliff tops.

Canisby Church

The tale is told of the Dutchman Jan de Grot (John o'Groats) who settled here in 1489 and is buried in Canisby church.

Duncansby Head

Strictly speaking the northeastern tip of Scotland is Duncansby Head which lies 2mi/3km to the east of John O'Groats. The view from here is even more stunning.

Castle Mey

The Queen Mother owns Castle Mey which is situated by Tang Head to the west of John O'Groats. At certain times during the summer the castle garden is open to the public.

Dunnet Head

Some 10mi/16km further on from Castle Mey, Dunnet Head juts out into the Pentland Firth. The tip marks the northernmost point of mainland Scotland and it offers fine views across to the Orkney Islands.
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