The North Highlands will, quite simply, grab at your heart. It is difficult to describe the grandeur, the remoteness, the sheer beauty of this varied landscape in a way that does it justice (but try I must!). This is what the Wild North means to me: vast spaces with ancient forests and atmospheric glens; winding roads watched over by huddled mountains; beaches that are breathtaking in their solitude; ragged lines of mountain peaks entangled in cotton-wool clouds or interspersed with sheets of light; lochs abandoned in the folds of hills; waterfalls cutting into a wall of hillside; a land bruised with heather; coastal views with fingers of land stretching out into the water and a blue/grey layer of mountains wedged between sea and sky.
So what is there to see and do in this area of immense beauty? To give you some highlights of the northern mainland, we sought out those who know it well. We asked the team at Wild North to share their tips on top beaches, walks and activities. Here are their suggestions:
There are so many beautiful beaches in the North Highlands, it would be hard to pick a favourite. Some of the most popular beaches are Achmelvich, Sinclair’s Bay (which was recently listed in The Guardian’s Top 10 Beaches in the World!), Dornoch and Gairloch.
The ever popular and remote Sandwood Bay would be the obvious choice for a hidden gem, however, another gem that we love here is Melvich beach. Due to the remote location it is often over-looked, yet it boasts a luscious stretch of sand with views over the Pentland Firth.
The Torridon Walking Festival takes place from the 12th – 14th October. With a range of walks to suit all abilities, you can experience some of the finest Munros in the North West Highlands, including Liathach, Beinn Eighe and Ben Alligin.
We also love: the North Sutor Walk, with great views across Cromarty and a good dolphin-watching spot; Knockan Crag Rock Route which offers stunning views over Assynt and includes a treasure hunt for children; Corrieshalloch Gorge, where you can enjoy the sight of spectacular waterfalls as well as views of the countryside towards Loch Broom.
Lunch and a View
Whaligoe Steps Café
Whaligoe Steps Café is a great stop whilst travelling up the east coast. This hidden gem is nestled on the cliff edge, where the dining-room has uninterrupted views over the North Sea. The café sells wonderful freshly made bread and home-made marshmallows. Definitely worth a stop!
The Storehouse of Foulis
This homely café and farm shop serves fresh local produce and offers a mouth-watering range of desserts and cakes. There is also outdoor seating for those warmer days with enviable views over the Cromarty Firth to the Black Isle.
A Fun Family Activity
Located on the northern coast, the rather lovely sounding Smoo Cave is a great place for families to explore. With the largest entrance of any sea cave in the UK, it has a vast, floodlit, interior that is ideal for getting young imaginations going! The cave is said to have been used around 6,000 years ago by early settlers and is rumoured to have been a smugglers’ hideaway.
Knockan Crag Visitor Centre
Learn about the landscape and geology of the North Highlands at the fascinating Knockan Crag Visitor Centre. There are interactive areas and a treasure hunt for younger children. You can also find out more about the amazing rocks and landscapes of this area along the Rock Route (see walks above).
Top spots for watching wildlife
Set in a picturesque location overlooking Charleston Harbour, Gairloch has a Marine Wildlife Centre with a research centre dedicated to raising awareness of the marine environment through interactive wildlife displays. There are also boat trips where you get the chance to spot whales, dolphins and a huge variety of seabirds.
You can try to spot some of the animals that breed in the Forsinard Flows Reserve by joining a guided walk. The visitor centre also has a variety of family friendly activities, with free ‘Wildlife Explorer’ backpacks available to children to take on the trail of the reserve.
Many thanks to Wild North for sharing their highlights – follow them on Twitter @MyWildNorth for more great tips on visiting the North Highlands.
What are your impressions of the North Highlands? Do you have any tips for visiting? Leave any comments or questions below.