The North Coast 500 is a circular tourist route that takes you through all the counties in the Scottish Highlands (north of Inverness). It follows the coast for most of the journey, and takes you through the most stunning landscapes Scotland has to offer. It can take a long time to travel up into the Highlands to see one specific thing, but with the North Coast 500 you’ll uncover a whole host of hidden gems along your route, and really get the full measure of the Scottish highlands.
As we’ve been motorhoming in Scotland all our lives, we put together a guide to each of the 6 counties you’ll visit on the North Coast 500 route.
This article covers the county of Wester Ross, and our other articles are listed below;
Wester Ross is a remote and beautiful county on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. It’s sometimes combined with Easter Ross (on the east coast) and simply referred to as Ross or Ross-shire, but they are two separate counties.
The most defining feature of Wester Ross is its wild and rugged landscape; this is the place to go if you want to escape civilisation for a bit. Whilst here, spend your time exploring the walking capital of Europe, visiting the two major gardens in the area (Attadale and Inverewe), and taking in the views at one of the six varied lochs.
Motorhome Campsites in Wester Ross
There are six options for motorhome campsites in Wester Ross, including; Gruinard Bay Caravan Park on a beach on the north coast an hour from central Ullapool and Loch Ewe; the simple Shieldaig Grazing Camping Area in the south, closer to Applecross and Attadale Gardens; and Broomfield Holiday Park situated within Ullapool itself which is handy for ferry access and the town amenities. On the shores of Lochbroom, Broomfield Holiday Park is in the most built up area in all of Wester Ross, yet the campsite itself is very spacious with wide, unspoilt views of the loch.
A very popular holiday strategy with those in the know, is to head straight for Ullapool and Broomfield Holiday park, and then venture out each day to explore the wider Wester Ross county to the north and south. You also have the nearby Outer Hebrides just a ferry ride away, which departs directly from Ullapool. To put it all in perspective distance-wise, Inverness (the North Coast 500 starting point) is just an hour’s drive south.
Ullapool on the Shores of Lochbroom
The fishing town of Ullapool, on the shores of Lochbroom, has been voted one of the UK’s top 10 outdoor destinations by Outdoor Fitness magazine. This is largely thanks to its nearby challenging and breathtaking geological features, including; Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve, Corrieshalloch Gorge, and the often-photographed Stac Pollaidh Mountain (which takes around 2 hours to ascend for experienced walkers).
Whilst in Ullapool, pop by the Ullapool Museum in the Category A listed building, Thomas Telford Church, to learn more about the history and heritage of Lochbroom. You’ll find a collection of exhibits, recorded oral histories and tales of the past. If your motorhome holiday involves a bit of ancestor-tracking, then you’ll definitely need to stop by here as there are experienced genealogists onsite. They are available to search the museum records for any trace of your family members in the Lochbroom area. The museum is open April – October, Monday – Saturday
Walking in Wester Ross
Overall, Wester Ross has a massive network of walking routes on offer, suited to a wide range of abilities; you could take a relaxing stroll around Flowedale in Gairloch or join others training for intense Himalayan climbs up An Teallach (AKA Sgurr Fiona)! There are two munros for you to bag in An Teallach, with the highest sitting at 1062 metres. One of the big draws of walking in Wester Ross, is that most of the routes remain fairly quiet year-round, so you’ll feel like you’re really off the beaten path. However, the remote nature of the area coupled with the fact that most of the routes are unmarked means novice hillwalkers can easily get into danger. Make sure you have some orienteering skills to enable you to navigate back to safety if you get lost.
For a list of most of the walks available in Wester Ross, head over to the online resource Walk Highlands, where it lists routes by difficulty, distance and expected time taken, within each area;
- Ullapool and Dundonnell
- Gairloch and Poolewe
- Torridon: Kinlochewe to Shieldaig
- Glen Carron: Lochcarron to Achnasheen
- Applecross and Kishorn
Ben Mor CoigachJust north of Ullapool, lies Ben Mor Coigach Wildlife Reserve which covers over 5000 hectares and has become the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s largest reserve. You’ll get a real mix of high mountainous peaks, jagged, untouched coastline, and wild rolling hills. Walk the Postmans Path (also known as the Postie’s Path) while you’re here, a 6 mile route from Strathkinnaird to Achiltibuie, but be aware that this is quite challenging and should only be attempted by experienced hillwalkers with the appropriate gear. This rough and rugged coastal path was once the regular route taken by the local postman back in the 1860s, and he used it to walk to Ullapool twice a week!
For cyclists, there are some massive hills for you to take on like the one at Gruinard, but there are also miles and miles of relatively flat coastal route, so you can really tailor it to your current fitness level and goals.
Whilst Ullapool is the one and only town in Wester Ross, there are around eight or so smaller villages that are worth a visit. On the shores around Loch Ewe you’ll find the villages of Poolewe, Cove, Inverasdale, Aultbea and Mellon Charles. Poolewe and Aultbea are the larger of the lot, with markets on each Tuesday morning, and Friday in tourist season respectively. The area of Loch Ewe has an interesting history as it played a military role during WW2, acting as a convoy collecting point thanks to its deep waters. And when an American flagship sank just off the shore in 1944, the local crofters played a heroic role in rescuing them and searching for survivors in horrific winter conditions. The Russian Arctic Convoy Museum in Aultbea is dedicated to this shipwreck and the local history of convoys in the area.
Inverewe Gardens & EstatesThe award-winning Inverewe Gardens and Estate (owned by the National Trust for Scotand), one of the two major public gardens in Wester Ross, can be found near Poolewe, just a little further north-east. The lush and varied 800 hectare garden is home to many unexpected species, which thrive here thanks to the Gulf Stream. Many plants have been shipped in from far overseas, including rhododendrons from China, Nepal and India, poppies from the Himalayas and eucalyptus from Tasmania! Rather than the usual Scottish fare, you’ll also find exotic trees like ancient Wollemi pines and colossal California redwoods. Keep an eye out for wildlife, as you’ll find Scotland’s big 5 species here; red squirrels, red deer, otters, seals and golden eagles.
There are several path options throughout the garden, which intersect and overlap so you won’t miss a thing, or you could take one of the tours to hear more about the plants. And when you’ve taken it all in, Inverewe House is worth a visit to find out more about the lovely story behind the father and daughter who created the garden. Inverewe Gardens also has the Sawyer Art Gallery, which encourages you to interact and play with the exhibits, activities for children, and a licensed café and gift shop.
Exploring Loch Maree
Loch Maree, south east of Loch Ewe, lies in the heart of Wester Ross and is 20km long. It’s the fourth largest fresh water loch in Scotland and is arguably one of the most beautiful, with a rich history and varied wildlife. Loch Maree has 5 large wooded islands and over 25 smaller ones. Many tourists report that they didn’t see another person when they were out walking the route around the loch, which made for a very quiet but stunning experience. Stop by Loch Maree hotel for lunch (one of the few buildings in the area), and book in for a boat trip around the loch islands.
In the south east corner of Loch Maree, you’ll arrive at Britain’s oldest reserve, Beinn Eighe (which is also just outside Kinlochewe Caravan Park). The reserve has a visitor centre, a woodland trail and a more strenuous mountain trail. The three trails which start from here are open to the public year-round and a further path links the visitor centre with the village of Kinlochewe. The walking routes pass through the remains of the great Caledonian pine forest which is filled with Scots Pines; a very unique and compact construct, similar to a bonsai tree. A walk through this forest will be unforgettable. For those opting for the mountain trail, the highest mountain in the Beinn Eighe range is 1009 metres, with views over Loch Maree and the rest of Wester Ross.
Attadale GardensAttadale Gardens is about 45 minutes south of Loch Maree (via the A832 to Achnasheen, then the A890 on to the Gardens), and is the second of the two award-winning public gardens in Wester Ross. It’s made up of hill paths meandering through 20 acres of conifers and rhododendrons. This truly is an artist’s garden, designed to frame the stunning views of Skye in the distance. There are waterfalls Monet bridges, meconopsis, bamboo and candelabra primula, nestled in amongst dark pools and unexpected sculptures. There is a lovely tearoom in the gardens where you can relax and take it in, and plant sales are available if you’d like to take something home.
Torridon Hills and Bealach na Ba
Heading northwards once more, you’ll encounter the Torridon Hills and Torridon National Trust Reserve. The Torridon mountain range will be the main reason many people head straight to Wester Ross when visiting Scotland; the trails are ideal for hikers, mountain climbers and just nature-lovers in general. And the fantastic outdoors is a stunning backdrop to the famous little village of Applecross which you may want to visit. It’s actually the road that travels into Applecross which features in so many photos because it offers views of the hairpin bends in the road descending the mountain side. The road is called Bealach na Ba (gaelic for Pass of the Cattle). The general area of Torridon is full to bursting with great walks, including the memorable ridge walk along Liathach massif, and Benn Eighe itself.
A Visit to Gairloch Village
Back up to the north end of Loch Maree, you’ll find the village of Gairloch sitting on the north side of Loch Gairloch; very popular with tourists, Gairloch has several restaurants, pubs, shops and boat trips. Whilst here, take a trip to the remote lighthouse of Rubha Reidh by road, where you’ll be rewarded with views of Skye and the Outer Hebrides on a clear day.
After you’ve walked the length and breadth of Wester Ross, you might enjoy a few days of down-time in Gairloch or back up north in Ullapool. Just a day or two though, because you still have to hop on the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway in the Isle of Lewis on the west coast and get exploring over there!
Get in touch with us at Motorhome Escapes to hear more ideas for adventuring around Wester Ross and the North Coast 500; we’d be more than happy to help you plan your Scotland holiday. And when you come to pick up your motorhome, we can have all your destinations programmed into the GPS system for you, so you can focus on enjoying the journey.