Inspiration is never far behind when it comes to spectacular walks in the Scottish Highlands. The region is a dream for lovers of the great outdoors – and this is especially true of the far north-west.
From the short but breathtaking trek up Stac Pollaidh to the delights of Stoer Point, the area is full of cracking hikes. Base yourself in the Assynt area and use your car to head a little further north, and even more gems open up to you – all of which can comfortably be tackled on a day trip.
Located not far north of Ullapool is one of the most striking peaks you’ll find anywhere.
This breathtaking mountain looks like it’s just dropped in from a Tolkien fantasy, and appears almost impossible to scale at first glance – what with its steep flanks and jagged crown.
But looks can be deceiving. In fact Stac Pollaidh’s summit ridge can be scaled by walkers with relative ease, although a hiking pole can come in useful on the steepest sections. Those looking to reach the true summit beyond the ridge will also need to take on a scramble, but the vast majority of walkers are content to go no further than the stunning vistas of the summit ridge.
Located right next to the road to Achiltibuie, Stac Pollaidh is looped by a well defined footpath that winds its way around the back of the mountain.
Here the path forks. Those with less of a head for heights can simply stick to the lower level route which circles back round to the other side of Stac Pollaidh. But those who head up onto the summit ridge are rewarded with jaw-dropping views. Looking north the stunning silhouette of Suilven beckons, while to the west the Summer Isles and Outer Hebrides are easily visible. Cul Mor, to the north-east, also draws the eye.
The Old Man of Stoer
Not to be confused with Skye’s famous Old Man of Storr, its Stoer namesake is an often-overlooked gem – a beautiful sea stack that can be reached by a four or five mile round trip.
Head north past Lochinver and you’ll eventually reach the Stoer Head Lighthouse car park, where you can leave your car and head out on foot to the stack.
The path is ill-defined in places and can be very boggy underfoot, but although the going is uneven the hike is a relatively simple one and offers great views of the stack. Just make sure to stay away from the cliff edge.
The climb up to the trig point on Sidhean Mor also offers stunning panoramas, with the peaks of Suilven, Col Mor, Stac Pollaidh and others lining up like dominoes on the horizon.
The island of Handa, which can be seen from Stoer Point, lies north of Scourie in the far north.
The island is a bird sanctuary, which can only be reached by a small passenger-only ferry. And by small, we mean a rigid inflatable speedboat. You’ll be required to wear a life jacket for the crossing.
The boat trip, which is a mini-adventure in itself, is well worth it. At this time of year the island is home to a menagerie of breeding seabirds – from the Great Skua to everyone’s favourite, the colourful Puffin.
From the ferry’s landing spot, on a beautiful sandy beach, a well-defined walk leads north towards stunning 330ft cliffs and the Great Stack, a massive sea stack that is home to so many birds you can smell the guano on the breeze. From there the walk loops west, sticking close to the stunning cliffs (take care), and back round to the south of the island for a return ferry crossing. Highly recommended.
A remote beach with a truly magical atmosphere that boasts its own sea stack and was the location of the last reported mermaid sighting in Scotland.
Sandwood Bay, which regularly makes top 10 lists of the UK’s most beautiful beaches, can be reached from a car park out past Kinlochbervie. The hike is a straight-forward but very enjoyable walk of nine miles (there and back) that passes small lochans before descending onto the beautiful sandy expanse of the bay itself.
On a clear sunny day keep an eagle-eye out as you begin your descent into the bay – the tip of the lighthouse at Cape Wrath peaks out over the distant headland and almost beckons you to visit it. That isn’t possible during this walk… but it will definitely be a tempting target for a future foray into the wilderness.