Wester Ross Overview
- Lochs and glens
- Country life
- Gaelic gatherings
The Scottish Highlands: unlike anywhere else on earth.
Yes, it’s a struggle to avoid the gushing clichés in this land of sigh-inspiring panoramas – a world away from the cobbled streets of Edinburgh and urban energy of Glasgow, Wester Ross is Scotland’s wild frontier. This northernmost part of the British Isles is a celebration of the great outdoors: rivers, coast and lochs afford fisherfolk the ultimate fix, while crystal-clear waters framed by picturesque mountainscapes provide a walker’s paradise – and a backdrop for that most testosterone-fuelled of events, the Highland Games. Having originated under English occupation, when the Scots had to stealth-train for war without weapons, today’s games give us bare-below-kilts he-men tossing cabers, throwing hammers and lobbing rocks. These enjoyments are best taken with a stiff whisky; after all, the word for this amber-hued elixir stems from the Gaelic for ‘water of life’.
Wonderfully Wester Ross
Just as Eskimos have many words for snow, Gaelic is rich with different ways to say ‘hill’, from sgúrr (‘spiky peak’) to bealach and lairig (‘pass’) – for those who would rather walk through than climb over. Whatever the scale of your ambitions, the Scottish Highlands offer some of the best hill-walking and mountain-climbing country in Britain, so you’ll be closer to heaven even if you don’t attempt an ascent to Ben Nevis’ spiky peak.
- Chances are you’ll want your own wheels, but if you do plan on some serial whisky tasting before you take the high road, let your hotel arrange a ride for you.
- Tipping culture
- 10 to 15 per cent is standard in restaurants; round up taxi fares to the nearest pound or two.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Cashpoints and petrol stations are very thin on the ground (and they're certainly not 24-hour retail giants), so stock up on liquid assets of both kinds at every opportunity. Go early for lunch and dinners if you don't want to miss last orders.
- Packing tips
- Here in the Highlands, the weather can change at the drop of a sou’wester; definitely take a waterproof, windcheater and fleece, even in summer. And sturdy boots for all that walking. But, when the sun is out, it can be mighty strong – and the air is very clear – so remember the hat and sun cream. In summer, the dreaded midge arrives en masse: bring insect repellant.
- Recommended reads
- Charles MacLean distils his lifelong passion and knowledge of Scotch into his Whisky Tales. The title of Richard Gilbert’s book, Exploring the Far North West of Scotland: A Walker’s Guide to the Hills, Glens and Coastline of Wester Ross and Sutherland, is a read in itself.
- Regional specialities
- Angle for some of the region’s famed salmon and sea trout at one of many designated lochs and rivers: Loch Maree and the River Ewe are hotspots. Llocal shellfish is dreamily good: buy dressed crab or squat lobster tails from Maciver Shellfish in Tigh a’ Chracaich near Kenmore (01520 755367); or stock up on best-of-Scottish smoked salmon, as well as organic produce and cheeses at Summer Isles Foods (+44 (0)1854 622353), a family-run smokehouse in Achiltibuie. Enjoy all the usual souvenir-shop standards: home-made shortbread (tartan tin optional), haggis, and whisky…
- Pound sterling. Don’t panic if you're given a Scottish bank note: they are legal tender in the rest of the UK as well.
- Time zone
- Dialling codes
- Country code for the UK: +44.
Don't go home without...
… stopping by archetypal Scottish castle Eilean Donan in Dornie, which presides over the meeting of three huge sea lochs. While you’re there, try a spot of beer tasting: the 18th-century Old Inn (+44 (0)1445 712006) in Gairloch serves particularly well-kept real ales.