Scottish Highlands Driving Tour: Ullapool to Lochinver
Our one-day Scottish Highlands driving tour explores an area of unique natural beauty. The 59-mile (95 km) loop begins at the gateway to Scotland’s North Coast, the town of Ullapool. It passes along the shoreline to the fishing village of Lochinver, and winds through the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve on the return route to Ullapool.
This Scottish Highlands self-drive tour takes in magnificent stretches of rugged mountains and coastline. The route brings travelers up close to unspoiled moorlands, glacial lochs, herds of wild stag, and the ruins of Ardvreck Castle. Our Scottish Highlands itinerary includes short hikes of sandstone peaks, walks along rocky beaches, and exploration of the historic villages of the North West Highlands.
We think navigating the open road is the best way to tour the Scottish Highlands. Our guide is designed to give you all the information you need to set out with confidence.
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ROUTE, ROADS, AND TRANSPORTATION
Google maps calculates this Scottish Highland’s scenic drive to be 59-mile (95 km) and slightly less than 2-hours, but you should plan on spending a full day on this trip. The routes identified on the map are meant to serve as a guide. Part of the fun of exploring the rugged mountains and rocky hills of the Scottish Highlands is the glorious feeling of isolation one gets when detouring off the beaten path.
The roads designated on this route are tarred divided highways. Out on the road, there is often little shoulder, no breakdown lanes or streetlights, and few pull-offs. The roads are narrow, windy, hilly, and it can be difficult to pass in spots. The weather and road conditions change frequently. Be prepared for fog, ponding water, and freezing conditions.
Bus Tours: For those with limited time, bus tours are a good option for traveling this loop. A good guide can add to the enjoyment of the tour, and allow visitors to cover a large territory in a convenient and cost-effective way.
Small Group Tours: Small group tours have all the benefits of a bus tour, with the advantage of being able to detour off of the main highways to even more scenic and remote areas.
Private Vehicle: Renting a vehicle gives travelers maximum flexibility in tailoring the day and sights seen. We recommend a compact vehicle to navigate the narrow roads on the Scottish Highlands road trip.
Motorcycle: In good weather, a motorcycle is an ideal vehicle to take in the exceptional scenery.
Bike/E-bike: Bicycles and e-bikes are great transportation on this loop for the physically fit. In high-season take note that the major routes can get congested, and proper care should be taken.
THE ULLAPOOL TO LOCHINVER LOOP
Ullapool: Plan to spend at least 2-hours at the beginning or end of your day in Ullapool. The village is the largest town in the North West Highlands, and known as the gateway to the area. The harbor town sits on the edge of Loch Broom. The long arm of the sea loch shelters the community which is home to several restaurants, hotels, pubs, and a small museum housed in a former church. In town there is also a golf course, motor coach park, and headquarters for a number of boat, bike, and kayak excursions.
Grab a village map at the Ullapool iCentre on Argyle Street (one street up from the harbor). Explore Shore Street that runs along the sea front, and the local cemetery. On Argyle Street see the Ullapool clock and make a quick stop at the museum if it is open. Pass the quaint bed and breakfasts on Market Street and stop in the An Talla Solais Gallery and gift shop if time permits.
Stretch your legs with a short walk around the perimeter of the village along the sea front. Find the path that runs behind the Riverview Bed and Breakfast (on Castle Terrace). Or, see the local terrain with a 2.8-mile hike of Ullapool Hill. The trail is accessible from town, can generally be completed in 1.5 to 2-hours. The top of the hill provides outstanding views of Ullapool, Loch River, and Loch Broom.
Stac Pollaidh: The first leg of your journey will be from Ullapool to Stac Pollaidh. It is about a half hour drive on A 893 and A835 veering toward the coast. Along the way look for sheep, cattle, and herds of deer in the rolling grass lands. Stac Pollaidh is a mountain with two summits connected by a rocky ridge. Stop for photos of the distinctive pinnacle before continuing on the route.
Inverkirkaig: Continuing on A835 for an additional hour drive along some of the most breathtaking coastal expanses in the UK. After an hour of passing panoramic ocean and mountain views, you will come to the township if Inverkirkaig on the eastern shore of Loch Kirkaig.
The tiny village is sprinkled with traditional Scottish cottages and vacation homes. A stone beach runs along the edge of a thin sea loch that meets the mouth of a River Kirkaig. Park in the Inverkirkaig car park for a lovely walk to the Falls of Kirkaig. The path is well marked and passes through a wooded glen and moorlands. Take care, by the falls the trail becomes steep and rocky (round trip is about 4.25-miles (7 km) and 2.5-3 hours).
Lochinver: From Inverkirkaig, it is a short drive to the fishing village of Lochinver. The village is located on a sheltered bay named Loch Inver in the shadow of Caisteal Laith and Suilven mountains. At first glance the hamlet appears to be sleepy, but there is a lot going on here.
Located close to town there are a number of sandy beaches. (If you love golden sand, take a 5-mile side-trip to the turquoise waters of Alchmelvich Beach.) The village is the jumping off point for many hikes, ocean excursions, and spectacular scenic drives.
In town, visitors can wander the industrial fishing port at the edge of town (it was once the busiest fishing port on Scotland’s west coast). Then, sample some fresh seafood at a restaurant in town. Another great meal option is visiting Lochinver Ladar for some (incredible) sweet or savory pies.
To round out your visit: see how pottery is made at the Highland Stoneware Pottery Shop (there is also a company store in Ullapool); wander the businesses of the short main street; admire the stonework on the regal Church of Scotland; and take a short stroll in the scenic Culag Woods (1-mile from town).
Inverpolly Nature Reserve: Leaving Lochinver, pass through the magnificent Inverpolly Nature Reserve on the drive to Loch Assynt. The Nature Reserve is largely treeless. The windblown and layered landscapes seem to stretch on forever. The reserve is home to herds of deer, wild flowers, and craggy peaks.
Loch Assynt, Ardvreck Castle, and Calda House: Classic North West Highland scenery will greet you along the shores of the freshwater Loch Assynt. Sitting in the shadow of Canisp, Quinag, and Beinn Uidhe mountains, the tranquil loch seems frozen in time. Stop by the haunted ruins of the 15th century Ardvreck Castle and the (once grand) Calda House for photos and to soak in the atmosphere. Next, travel on through the tiny settlements of Inchnadamph and Elphin.
Knockan Crag: As you continue along Route 835 be sure to stop at the Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve. Part of the North West Highlands Geopark, the reserve provides education on area’s history and geology. The unique open-air visitor center (“Rock Room”) is located on a hillside a short distance from the car park and facilities. Information panels tell the tale of the local Moine Thrust rock formations. Visitors can touch rocks that are millions of years old. The centre is also the jumping off point for a trail that take visitors up the hilltops for breathtaking views of the surrounding crags. The short walk takes about an hour to complete.
Ullapool: From Knockan Crag it is about 13-miles on A835 back to Ullapool where our loop ends.
Soraidh (see you later) from Scotland, Laura and Randy
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