Before arriving in the Highlands, I’d heard so much about the North Coast 500 route and so wanting to do the NC500 drive (at least, in part) was something I came prepared for! The Wester Ross Coastal Trail, on the other hand, I had never even heard of.
I know I keep going on and on about the hidden parts of the Highlands but seriously, sometimes, the only thing that separates one amazing sight you know a lot about here, from another amazing one you’ve never heard of is just marketing. There’s so much here you’ve probably never heard of yet they’re as beautiful (sometimes, even more so) as the ones you have heard of.
Wester Ross is one of those places.
We started off in Sheildaig, which I have to admit, perhaps apart from dinner the night before, we’d not gotten to explore properly.
Sheildaig is just one of those really amazing villages in the Highlands that you have to visit. The surrounding mountains and beautiful bay make for quite the site – especially as the sun starts to rise over this sleepy little place.
We carried on driving to Applecross, stopping every so often to just look back and soak in that view from a totally different perspective…
…joined by a few of the woolly locals.
Sights like this are what I’d expect from Norway (and perhaps even New Zealand). It reminds me of the fjords and is something we’d travel long distances to see. Funny how it’s just on our doorstep here (so to speak 😉 ).
One sight that will make you definitely stop here are Hairy Coos (the Highland Cows)!
Set against one of the most picturesque landscapes in the land, they’re a sight, in and of themselves worth seeing in Scotland. (*My friend Alex is obsessed with cows and almost fainted at the thought of seeing these…Hahaha! If we showed up at her house one day and saw the garden filled with cows, it wouldn’t even surprise me one bit. 😀 ).
While you’re here, set some time aside to check out Sand Beach. It’s about 7 miles before you get to Applecross and is a long stretch of fine sandy beaches with amazing views of the nearby Scottish islands.
By the time we got here though, I was absolutely starving and so we didn’t spend as long as I’d have liked here before carrying on to Applecross. As you may remember from this post here, Applecross is also one of those amazing little places you have to visit in the Highlands.
Also, the off-chance of seeing deer effortlessly scale a fence here, along with the confused laughter from onlookers totally makes it also worth popping in for. 😀 (No guarantees on that one though, hehehe… that particular deer just looked like it was in the mood to show off that day).
For food – we headed over to the Applecross Inn (though there’s also the Potting Shed Café and Restaurant worth popping into for coffee and a bite to eat, which is also home to Applecross Walled Garden a beautiful Victorian Walled Garden).
Alas, we had no time to stop over at the Potting Shed or Walled Garden (we had something exciting planned for later that evening and I didn’t want to be late for that) so we headed straight for the Applecross Inn, where I proceed to order local lobster with Lloyd going for the fish and chips.
Scottish seafood is absolutely amazing, the water is amazing here and so you’ll get some of the nicest seafood up here! (*You should have seen the look of envy from everyone else at the restaurant as my lobster made its way from the kitchen over to me 😀 😉 ).
Lunch over, we hit the road again, this time arriving at a very famous and iconic spot – the Bealach na Bà (which translates to ‘Pass of the cattle’). This windy road and it’s epic hairpin bends takes you from the mountains (with a great view of the Isle of Skye and the other Western Isles) and goes straight down to the equally beautiful Loch Carron.
After taking a moment (or two… or three) to enjoy the view (there’s a lake in the mountains up here too), we carried on our merry way over to Plockton where we would be stopping for the night. (*Plockton is also one of those amazing places I mentioned seeing in that post here).
Plockton is actually quite unique here in that even though it’s in the West of Scotland (the Highlands generally are), the bay faces east which means it is sheltered and doesn’t get the North Atlantic drift (the cold wind which defines a fair bit of this part of the country) so is warm enough to even find certain palm trees here.
Now, the exciting thing I mentioned earlier was that when we arrived in Plockton, we would be heading off to go find some wild seals! I’m such a huge sucker for wild animal sightings (with the exception of bird watching perhaps, my experience of it so far just involved a lot of watching and very little action).
Seal watching however promised to be amazing – so much so that Calum’s Seals Trips, who we would be heading out with, have a guarantee. I can remember what it was now though – either you got your money back or you got another trip… Might be worth checking out his website for full details but we certainly didn’t need to worry about that.
The actual owner is called Calum and after a rather effusive hello (as seems to be the way in the Highlands), he asked if we were ready for some music to go with our seal spotting. At the time I thought “Not sure what it’ll be like looking for seals with the radio blaring loudly…” but I figured listening to Scottish music while on the boat wouldn’t be the worth idea in the world. (I’d been humming Enya pretty much the entire time we’d been in the Highlands anyway – and yes, I know she’s Irish but her music just goes so well with that stunning landscape up here).
Turns out, Calum wasn’t messing around. There would be no ‘radio music’ like I thought – instead, we would be treated to live music from some of the most talented young musicians in Scotland!
Apparently, there’s a renowned school of music here and students from all over Scotland come here to train. This evening we would be treated to music by a quintet with different instruments.
I wanna tell you what each instrument was but for fear of calling a fiddle a violin, I’m just gonna shut up. What I can say though is how amazing the music was!
We sailed through Loch Carron, past castles overlooking the Loch, mini islands and country homes – all the while brilliantly serenaded by our band before at a rock, jutting out of the ocean (and sure to disappear within 30 minutes as the tide rose) where the seals awaited!
Calum told us there were 3 seals he remembered here
“Lou, Ces and Imb…” he said.
“Awwww, that’s cute that he remembers them….” I thought
Until he carried on “Lucille. Cecil and Imbecile.” (Geddit? :D) I did burst out laughing once I realised he was just joking (perhaps a bit too enthusiastically –like someone who’d never heard a bad joke before *face palm*).
All that aside, the seal trip was absolutely brilliant and definitely a success (as someone who’s been on many a whale watching trip and never really seen any, I don’t take things like this for granted 😀 ).
We carried on from one spit of land to the other, finding even more seals, while soaking up the view of that stunning Highlands landscape…
…and even the Isle of Skye in the distance (along with a cheeky seal which kept popping up to say hi).
Eventually, we made our way back to land thoroughly content with our seal sighting.
With a couple of hours free before dinner, we decided to go down the road to see another Scottish gem, albeit a more famous one this time…
…the beauty that is Eilean Donan Castle!
I don’t know if it’s the time of day that we arrived if it’s more about where we parked or just that we were there on a quiet evening but we had the amazing view of the castle all to ourselves. (Alas, this also meant that it was probably too late to go in and explore it properly but evening just seeing from here was amazing – plus, it’s probably the best view of the castle that you can have).
Excited beyond rational reasoning to see this amazing spot, we carried on closer to explore it from many more angles, each one as amazing as the previous one.
After such a busy day, we were pleased to find out that the recommendations for dinner were exactly where we would be spending the night – at the Plockton Inn.
After a quick shower and a cuppa tea, we headed downstairs for the dinner I quickly realised, I’d been dreaming about for the last couple of hours. (*Apologies in advance for the photos – it was fairly dark and hard to take proper photos)
For starters, I went with the absolutely delicious local langoustines in garlic butter (I wish I had two or even thrice as many of this – it was sooooo good) and Lloyd went for the haggis (which I also know he enjoyed immensely).
For mains, I went for a favourite of mine – lamb which Lloyd went for a burger; which I proceeded to tease him about until I realised Scotland was probably one of the best places in the world to have a locally sourced burger. Scottish beef is known for being pretty amazing after all…
Lloyd went for ice cream for dessert which wasn’t a patch on my amazing sticky toffee pudding! It was just soo sooooooo good! (Also, as you can tell by now – or at the very least from this trip, sticky toffee pudding ranks very highly, along with crème brulee and pannacotta, as some of my favourite desserts).
After our visual and actual feast this evening, suffice to say, bedtime was not resisted one little bit! Plockton, Applecross, Eilean Donan Castle and the amazing Wester Ross Trail were everything I’d hoped to see on this trip and so much more.
I was already obsessed with the Scottish Highlands before I visited and even though I didn’t think it possible, my obsession had managed to grow even further and I just couldn’t wait to see what else the Highlands had in store!