The Highlands have an outstanding geological heritage and there is a real focus on sustainable development. The Year of Natural Scotland is the ideal time to uncover the geological marvels of the region - from the far north coast to Lochaber in the south, you can explore an array of outstanding landforms.
The North West Highlands Geopark became the first in Scotland in 2004. This is one of the most sparsely populated corners of Europe, a true northern wilderness where some of the rock is 3 billion years old. The geopark covers around 2,000 sq km and encompasses mountains, forests, moors and coastline. It stretches from the west coast to the north coast, from the Summer Isles to beyond Loch Eriboll.
The sense of scale and space in the North West Highlands Geopark is awe-inspiring with much spectacular and varied terrain to explore. Journey to Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point on the British Mainland, a truly wild and uninhabited area, and visit Faraid Head, an area of undulating sand dunes and coastal grasses. Be sure to check out Knockan Crag, one of the most important earth science sites in Scotland, which has an interpretation centre with interesting walks leading from it.
Head to Durness and explore Smoo Cave with its underground pools and local legends, or skirt Loch Eriboll, an extremely deep sea loch with a long history as a naval anchorage.
Ben Hope is Scotland’s most northerly Munro and the unusual sandstone mountains of Assynt - the likes of Suilven and Canisp - have to be seen to be believed. The same goes for Stac Pollaidh in the Coigach region.
Back at sea level, there are a wide range of sublime beaches, perfect for a stroll along the sand or a picnic. Achnahaird Sands near Achiltibuie is a beautiful long sandy beach while Achmelvich is perfect for families. For the ultimate secluded beach, head for Sandwood Bay and Sanna Bay in the far west of the Lochaber area and the Sands of Morar near Mallaig are equally stunning.
The Lochaber region of the west Highlands is also of huge geological interest. It stretches from Rannoch Moor in the south to Glen Garry in the north, and from Loch Laggan in the east to the Small Isles of Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna.
Amidst these ancient landscapes you’ll find Scotland’s deepest pothole Uamh Nan Claig-Ionn, known as the ‘cave of the skulls’, on the north-western slopes of Meall Ban. You’ll also find Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, Loch Morar, Britain’s deepest freshwater loch, and the most famous and atmospheric of glens, Glen Coe.