In the ten years before we moved, the majority of our holidays had been to the west coast of Scotland during winter. Ninety percent of which were to the Isle of Mull and so we were well acquainted with soggy days out and wiping rain off of my camera kit and binoculars but also some incredible wildlife encounters and experiences. It’s one of our favourite times of the year to explore for so many reasons. With the new year well under way now it was time for us to get a few days away and what better than a weekend of walks on the west coast of Scotland.
Having driven the North Coast 500 back in 2017 we knew there were so many places on this route that we wanted to re-visit and delve into some more, starting with Shieldaig.
With the boot of the car heaving with almost every bit of winter/waterproof kit that own, we headed north from Perth on the A9 toward Inverness. The journey (according to Google maps) would take us 3hours and 39 minutes. Very precise! The traffic played nicely and allowed our passage through to the west without any hold-ups. I had made a secret promise to myself not to keep stopping for photos and with my camera’s stowed safely under the mountain of other bags in the boot I actually managed it! Go me.
The Cabin at Treetops
The accommodation we had booked was a cracking wee place in Shieldaig – The Cabin at Treetops. A great find whilst searching on the Airbnb website.
Suitable for two people, with an open plan kitchen, diner, living space with all the equipment for a self catering break. The double bedroom had enough storage for unpacking our bags and making ourselves at home. As we have a large bathroom at home, it’s always nice when we go away to have the same space and this didn’t disappoint. With the bonus points from me for bath sheets and not tiny towels.
Upon our arrival we had been welcomed by our lovely host, Lisa. We chatted about our journey up, local walks and wildlife and then she gave us a quick tour of the accommodation. The Cabin is built on the family croft and it was really good to know that although we were free to come and go as we pleased, should we need anything Lisa would be around to assist.
Just a few minutes walk into the heart of village, it is perfectly situated for exploring the area on foot or by car. Infact, it’s close enough that we even braved the elements to go out for dinner and walked down to the Tigh An Eilean hotel/bar/restaurant on Saturday night.
Shieldaig Peninsula walk
We didn’t waste any time getting out for a walk once we had arrived in the village. Armed with one of our 40 Coast and Country Walks books we set out to walk along the Shieldaig peninsula.
The book states it is a 4.5km walk, so this was just right for the time we had before it started to get dark.
From the road we walked passed the primary school, the village football pitches and just followed the track. It was surprisingly well marked with painted stones periodically along the route and my favourite was definitely the one that gave us options of ‘up and over’ or ’round.’ We opted for a slightly longer ’round’ route that also stayed on the track and looked less boggy.
At this time of year when all the leaves are long gone from the branches of the trees, the sky can be grey and moody and on this occasion everything was soaked too; it’s easy to forget or not see the colours that nature still gives us. On this walk alone we walked through the birch trees with their silver barks and purple branches and just around the corner a views of Loch Shieldaig and Upper Loch Torridon. The waters were a calm grey/blue and complimenting the towering, dark Torridon hills on the far sides of the lochs and the oranges and browns of the ferns and grasses dying back at our feet. Absolutely delightful.
Although the area is teeming with wildlife – otters, white tailed sea eagles and seals, the only thing we saw was a heron. In the summer there are boat tours that take visitors out to (hopefully) get some animal action, so there is another good reason for us to come back.
We followed the same track back to the village and looked across to Shieldaig island. Today it is managed by the National Trust for Scotland and it’s impressive display of Scots pine trees were planted once upon a time to provide drying poles for the fishermen. Now protected, the island is a safe haven for herons, seals and sea eagles to make it their homes. The name Shieldaig is said to derive from the Norse ‘Síld-Vík’ meaning Herring Bay but the local fishermen these days are more likely to catch langoustines in their creels.
And just like that we were back at the village and narrowly escaping a downpour of rain. Time for a beer. Oh no it isn’t, we are not drinking this month. Whose stupid idea was this?
Flowerdale glen waterfall walk – Charlestown
It had done nothing but rain since we got in the car after the walk late on Friday and didn’t show any signs of stopping, but the Dude and I are hardy folk and decided to have a drive out in the direction of Gairloch.
In no particular rush, with no particular plans we drove north admiring the scenery (what we could see) and even managed to spot some red deer grazing in amongst some trees.
Fast forward about an hour and we stopped at the south end of Gairloch at Charlestown, pulling in at the car park opposite the harbour. Getting out for just a quick look about we spotted a sign for arboretum and waterfall walks. For me there is no competition, waterfalls will win every time.
Another brilliant waymarked route with clear signs, bridges and trails for the 4km(ish) round trip on the Estate of Gairloch. Never far from the roaring sound of the burn as it makes it’s way down to Loch Gairloch.
The trail along the glen is sheltered with it’s own micro-climate, we spotted some really interesting lichens and mosses on trees, rocks and fence posts. This beauty was like some sort of lettuce growing out of the bark, I’ve never seen anything like this before.
All the way to the top the atmosphere was damp, droplets of water were waiting on the tips of branches to fall and everything felt fresh and vibrant. Which I know sounds weird, but the colours seemed to jump out me and as the mist (momentarily) lifted the views changed.
With just a small ascent of around 250m it is an easy walk, but certainly in winter I would recommend a sturdy pair of boots as it is slippy and wet in places. All the way along we were given glimpses of the waterfall but in summer I’m guessing this would be mostly obscured by foliage and trees. The tumultuous outpouring of the falls had been fuelled by the recent wet weather and one of the reasons we love winter – powerful waterfalls.
It really is a lovely walk and can be extended by following the path around to do the Flowerdale glen walk. We thoroughly enjoyed this short walk and will definitely be back to do it another time. Of course, it didn’t stay dry but we did manage to get back to the car just in time again. Result.
A weekend of walks on the west coast of Scotland
All in all a cracking weekend of walks on the west coast of Scotland. It was fantastic to explore this stretch of the North Coast 500 at a slower pace and well worth us re-visiting for the dramatic views and spending precious time together.
There are other sections of this coastline that we wish to wander a slow pace, so we will be back.
Until next time, see ya later Shieldaig.
Route descriptions from Walk Highlands