Wester Ross Coastal Trail
|Wester Ross Coastal Trail|
|To:||Braemore Junction (NH208776)|
|Via:||Lochcarron, Applecross, Kinlochewe, Poolewe|
|Distance:||158 miles (254.3 km)|
|Old route now:||A832, A890, A896, C1087, C1091|
The Wester Ross Coastal Trail provides a (very) long-way-round loop off the A835 (158 vs 19 miles), giving a more scenic route, including crossing the Bealach na Ba to Applecross. Of all of the tourist routes and trails in Scotland, few would argue with the notion that this is the most spectacular and enjoyable, encompassing the whole range of Highland scenery from the wide empty glens either side of Achnasheen to the mesmerising and intricate coastlines around Gairloch. The west coast villages are invariably pretty, with their views across the Hebrides and the backdrops of mountains and lochs, it is a landscape which is difficult to grow tired of.
Garve to Loch Carron
The starting point for this route is none too promising. Gorstan Junction lies a couple of miles west of the small village of Garve, and is a simple fork from the busy A835, Ullapool road. A short detour to the north on the A835 lies the Silver Bridge across the Black Water, with falls and forest trails connecting the old military Little Garve Bridge. However, neither are on the route, so instead lets head west on the A832, climbing a little through a mixture of small fields and forestry plantations.
Loch Luichart lies to the south, but is only occasionally visible, as the road winds westwards. After a few miles, however, the landscape opens up into the wide Strath Bran. This vast, empty valley is served by a fantastic road of long, fast straights and little traffic, meaning that rapid progress can be made by those wishing to get further west quickly. However, there are also a series of laybys for anyone wishing to pause a moment and take in the real emptiness of this landscape interrupted only by the railway below the road and the occasional roadside house. The forestry plantations across the river are huge, but barely noticed against the low rolling hills with the cloud-capped mountains beyond.
At length, the tiny settlement of Achnasheen comes into view ahead, and whether you were pressing on or dawdling, the brakes will need to be applied. The tourist route turns left at the roundabout, but for those with the time, a short detour ahead to the viewpoint at the head of Glen Docherty, far above Kinlochewe is a must. If you miss it, and are thinking 'if only', Kinlochewe, whilst only a dozen miles away, will be visited later on this route. Turning south, then, the A890 picks up where the A832 left off, crossing the watershed into the lonely Glen Carron.
The long descent of the glen gives glimpses of what lies ahead around the bends in the valley, but soon the road narrows and for the first time on our journey we find that the road is single track. As it winds through the trees, past scattered houses, care needs to be taken, and whilst there are plenty of Passing places some skill at reversing may be necessary particularly in the summer months. Glen Carron becomes Strath Carron, and then all too soon the shores of Loch Carron come into view ahead. There are some small car parks and picnic spots on the road, but if you want to be fed rather than cater for yourself, continue into Lochcarron village where a selection of eateries await your custom.
Loch Carron to Kimlochewe
The pretty white terraces of Lochcarron line the loch shores, looking south to the Lochalsh peninsula, where the A890 heads next. However, the tourist trail runs into the village along the A896, with plenty of shoreside parking for a little exploring, or simply to sit on the lochside and enjoy the peace and quiet. As the A896 forks right and starts to climb the hill, the side road to the left leads past Strome Castle to Ardaneaskan, with some spectacular views west to the isles of Raasay and Skye. The tourist trail, however, heads somewhere even better.
After crossing the hill to Kishorn, the trail turns left to ascend the amazing Bealach na Ba. For centuries, this was the only route in and out of Applecross, but it didn't matter too much as so much travel and trade was water-borne. However, with the advent of the car, it became ever more important to secure year-round road access to this remote community. The presence of military installations helped, of course! Today the pass is a comparatively easy climb in modern cars, even the lower powered models, but imagine double declutching on the hairpins in a small 1930s Morris or Austin as you make your passengers walk up behind, carrying luggage to reduce the weight! Then, as now, the ascent is worth it on a clear day for the views from the summit are amazing, encompassing a vast area of Wester Ross and the islands to the west.
Applecross is both the name of the peninsula and the village at the western end of the Bealach, where the well-known Applecross Inn stands. There are a variety of other accommodation options along the coast for longer stays, with stunning beaches and rugged coasts to explore, as well as the magnificent backdrop of mountains just asking to be climbed. Along the coast there are also the remains of ruined cottages dotted about, including a whole row at Lonbain looking out across the sea. The road continues north, winding between the scattered houses and farms of Applecross, eventually returning to the A896 just south of Shieldaig.
Shieldaig itself is another beautiful west coast village, with its row of pretty coloured houses looking out across the wooded island set in the middle of the sheltered natural harbour of Loch Shieldaig. The village is bypassed now, but this just means that the peace and quiet can be enjoyed fully, with plenty of parking along the shore. The road from Shieldaig to Torridon is one of many built up and down the West Highland Coast in the 1960s to improve access to the scattered rural communities they serve. Later the emphasis was put on improvements to the older roads, but who can imagine the political chances of trying to build a road like this today through some of the best scenery Scotland has to offer?
The road generally runs high above Loch Torridon, but this only improves the views of the loch below and the mountains beyond. The Torridon Hills are rightly famous amongst walkers, with some fine ridges and summits and stunning views from the summits. The little village of Torridon at the bottom may struggle to cope in the summer months with the influx of tourists, but there is still plenty of room for those just passing through to pause a while before heading east up the A896 to Kinlochewe, a dozen or so miles from Achnasheen, but it has been worth the detour!
Kinlochewe to Braemore
From Kinlochewe, the tourist trail follows the A832 north west along the shores of Loch Maree, a loch steeped in history and mystery from over a thousand years ago when a group of monks chose the isles at the far end for a monastery. The road follows the lochside much of the time, offering a number of places to stop including a visitor centre. There are also waterfalls and woodland trails for those wishing to stretch their legs a little. Before reaching the far end of the loch, however, the road turns to cross a low pass to Gairloch, the largest village in this part of Wester Ross, and so a good place to stop and refill supplies, as well as having a variety of tourist attractions of its own, including a visitor centre, bustling harbour with watersports and a golf course on the shore.
From the area around Gairloch, two roads head further west along this ragged and rugged coast, the B8056 to Redpoint and the B8021 to Melvaig. The scenery is as stunning as you may expect, with golden beaches, hidden coves and from the B8056 at least, some good views inland to the mountains of Torridon. The tourist route, meanwhile, turns inland and crosses the narrow neck to Poolewe, another pretty village set in the short valley between Loch Maree and Loch Ewe. The B8057 to Cove is another long dead end that is rewarding to explore, and just north of Poolewe are the renowned Inverewe Gardens.
As the A832 continues north along the shore of Loch Ewe, it is the scenery that is the biggest draw, whether looking out across the loch to the Isle of Ewe, and open sea beyond, or inland to the hills and mountains in the distance. At Aultbea, the road once more cuts across a narrow neck of land to Laide on the shores of Gruinard Bay, and from here the route winds around above the shore to Little Loch Broom, where it turns south east. The little village of Dundonnel lies around the head of the loch, with the mountains of Dundonnel Forest rising up to the south. The road, meanwhile, climbs the glen and crosses the watershed to Braemore Forest, from where it drops once more to the truly awe inspiring Corrieshalloch Gorge, where paths lead deep down to footbridges across this dizzying chasm. It is then just a mile to the end of the route at Braemore Junction.
From here, it is but 19 miles back to the start at Gorstan, and so on to Inverness. However, for those who don't want their adventure to end, a similar distance the other way on the A835 leads to Ullapool and so the North and West Highlands Route.