Plockton sits at the heart of a truly spectacular corner of the Highlands and is in the perfect location to visit a number of popular and iconic Scottish attractions and areas.
Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is famous for its scenery and landscapes that will take your breath away. It’s the largest island of the Inner Hebrides and has a rich history, which you can get a taste of as you explore its dinosaur fossils; ruins from the time of the Highland Clearances; and castles, which are the seats of Clans Macleod and Macdonald. It’s a place to spot wildlife. Visit quieter stretches of coastline and you may be rewarded with a sighting of the resident white-tailed sea eagles or perhaps otters, seals or dolphins. There are boat trips to get an even closer view. Skye’s mountain range, the Cuillins, offer world-class climbing and walking. Every corner of the island has its hidden gems. Take your time to explore glens and rivers that are off the ‘beaten track’. Artists are tucked away in their own secret spots gaining inspiration from their own piece of special landscape. There’s local produce and food and drink to taste and savour. Immerse yourself in one of these quiet corners to get a real flavour of the Isle of Skye.
The Isle of Skye is the largest and best-known offshore island in the UK and is just a 15-minute drive away via Kyle of Lochalsh. Lochalsh is the nearest geographical neighbour to Skye and provides easy access to this famous island. Plockton sits within Lochalsh, a region that is a special place in its own right. It consists of mountains, stunning coastline and picturesque villages and it functions as an important hub connecting the traveller to some of the most outstanding areas of natural beauty in Scotland. This is a region connected historically, culturally, politically and geographically by the sea. The coastline is intricate, studded by islands, home to communities and is rich in wildlife. Panoramic views are the norm and the options are many and varied for paddling.
Although firmly part of mainland Britain, Lochalsh, like Skye, also has the characteristics of an island. In former times this peninsula parish could only be reached by boat across Loch Carron in the north and via Loch Long and Loch Duich in the south-east. Nowadays you can still arrive by boat, but there are also 3 more options: By road using the A87; By train, using the rail link from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, which is considered to be one of the most scenic railway journeys in the UK; and even by air – the small airstrip in Plockton provides a spectacular landing for light aircraft into this famous and beautiful Highland village.
Kyle of Lochalsh
The slipway in the heart of Kyle of Lochalsh is a good place to start your exploration of the village. From 1841 up until 1997, this was where the Skye Ferry operated, taking people and cars back and forth across Loch Alsh to Kyleakin. In fact, both villages grew substantially on the back of waiting passengers. In 1997 the elegant Skye Bridge was opened which transformed access between Lochalsh and Skye. But it came at a price – tolls were expensive. These have since been removed and visitors and residents can now travel freely between the two areas. Although a modern feature on the landscape, there is something very special about the bridge’s enormous span and seeing the Cuillin ridge framed perfectly underneath.
Leaving the shelter of Loch Alsh and heading north around the coast you pick your way between the many scattered islands and rocks. This is a dream location for kayakers. Depending on the state of the tide there are numerous tiny coral beaches nestled here, which provide magical locations for a break. Further along the coast, more islands create sheltered channels, which are rich with marine life and the sea becomes turquoise blue in the sunshine. It’s a great place for spotting otters and herons and a sea kayak is the best mode of transport to explore. The bay of Port Cam sits under the grassy slope and fields at the crofting township of Drumbuie. The meadows here are home to a variety of orchids and other wildflowers and herbs, not dissimilar to Hebridean machair.
Dornie & Kintail
At the eastern reaches of Loch Alsh, the iconic Eilean Donan Castle sits majestically on its vantage point, a small island at the confluence of 3 sea lochs. At this junction, Loch Long branches off to the north, winding its way inland until it reaches Glen Elchaig. A stunning Highland glen managed by the Inverinate Estate and a ‘through route’ to the east coast in days gone by. It’s here you’ll discover the Falls of Glomach, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Britain. East of Eilean Donan Castle the waters become Loch Duich and where they end they lap the shores of mighty mountains, the Five Sisters of Kintail, managed and preserved by the National Trust for Scotland.
Glenelg & Arnisdale
Cross Shiel Bridge and the road winds its way over the high Mam Ratagan pass to Glenelg. Glenelg is famous for its dark skies and is twinned with Glenelg on the planet Mars. It’s an area steeped in history, with evidence in the form of ancient Brochs, which date from around 500BC; barracks built in the early 18th Century and legacies to crofting and the clearances. Glenelg, like Kyle of Lochalsh, is also a gateway to the Isle of Skye. Here, the Glenelg ferry, the last operating manual turntable ferry in the world, crosses the fast-flowing narrows of Kylerhea. This is an experience not to be missed and a delightful way to make the crossing. If visitors continue beyond Glenelg to Arnisdale and Corran, they will be rewarded with magnificent views over fjord-like Loch Hourn, of one of the most remote parts of the UK, the Knoydart peninsula.
Balmacara Estate is an outstanding example of a Highland crofting estate. Crofting is a small-scale and low-intensity form of agriculture that has great environmental benefits, as well as being the defining social system of Highland communities.
The estate’s rocky, moorland-covered hills are interspersed with lochs, woodlands and crofting settlements, with a long and intricate coastline scattered with offshore islands. This diversity means the estate supports a wide variety of wildlife and plants native to the Scottish Highlands including otters, pine martens, red squirrels and the ancient oak woodland of the Coille Mhòr.
The landscape of Balmacara Estate has been worked by people for thousands of years, and numerous archaeological sites and historically significant buildings give an insight into the development from early settlers to the crofting estate seen today.
The landscape can be explored using the road network and the 17 miles of footpaths that weave through the townships, woodlands, across hills and along the coastline, offering spectacular views of the estate and the surrounding Highlands and islands.
Visit Balmacara Square with its mill pond. Here you can enjoy a cuppa and cake at Beth’s Café, or treat yourself to a selection of goodies from the Beth’s Deli Shop. It’s also the location of the Home in the Highlands gift shop which sells a wide selection of beautiful gifts, lovely Scottish textiles, glass, ceramics and boutique clothing.
Applecross is a small, isolated village situated north of Plockton and is a ‘must do’ if you’re staying in the area. The route takes you over one of the highest roads in the UK, the Bealach Na Ba or ‘Pass of the Cattle’. The views are fantastic: looking across the Inner Sound, the islands of Raasay, Rona, Skye, Scalpay and Crowlin can all be viewed. If it’s really clear you can even see the Outer Hebrides. The road is single track, steep in places and Alpine in style as it comes complete with hairpin bends to negotiate near the summit.
It will take about 1.5 hours to drive to Applecross Village and your route will take you past the beautiful Attadale Gardens, which are well worth a visit. Continue through the villages of Lochcarron and Kishorn until you reach Tornapress and the appropriately named Bealach Café. Here, a left turn for the ‘coastal route’ will take you over the Bealach Na Ba. Take it slowly – there is no rush!
Explore the communities and beaches that that are dotted along the Applecross coastline. This is a remote part of the Highlands, but the Applecross Inn is always open and famous for its food, hospitality and has won many awards over the years. Nearby is the Potting Shed café at the head of Applecross Bay. Both are highly recommended. The road over the Bealach na Ba is part of the North Coast 500, which continues on along the coast to Shieldaig and beyond.
Torridon has long been a magnet for hikers and climbers, a place of majestic beauty and uncompromising terrain. It’s only an hour from Plockton.
Considered by many to embody the North Highland landscape, Torridon is an ancient and enchanting wilderness of water and rock. The rugged mountains are incredibly old – the Torridonian sandstone that forms the bulk of all the mountains dates back 750 million years. On the west side of the estate the hilly and loch-strewn landscape is even older. Composed of Lewisian Gneiss, it’s over 2,600 million years old and it was the erosion of this land that provided the sediment, laid down in shallow seas, for the sandstone we know today.
Part of the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve is on the Torridon estate and, along with other designations, the estate supports an impressive variety of flora and fauna, including important plant colonies, rare mosses and lichens, and the elusive pine marten and golden eagle.
There’s an amazing choice of walking and climbing routes, with over 18 miles of paths to choose from. Here the mountains are Munros: Liathach, Beinn Aligin and Beinn Eighe being the most famous.