Designations on this journey

Map of Wester Ross UNESCO Biosphere

How to get to the north of Scotland

Take the train to Inverness from either Waverley in Edinburgh or Glasgow Queen Street. Or why not book the Caledonian Sleeper from London and journey overnight in your own room, complete with a bed?

Travel by road with coaches running from Edinburgh and Glasgow up the A9 to Inverness. Or why not hire an electric car, and drive up the more scenic A82 from Glasgow via Loch Ness through the Great Glen to Inverness?

Fly to Inverness Airport from a number of destinations across the UK and Europe, including Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast, Dublin and Amsterdam. With lots of choice at London Airports, it’s easy to fly into the UK and then onto Inverness.

Find more information and advice on travelling to Wester Ross and to the North West Highlands Geopark.

Bealach Na Ba road

Wester Ross Biosphere

Where to start

The biosphere is over 3,000 square miles, so there’s a lot of distance to cover as well as things to see. For a first look at just how special this place is, make the journey from Kyle of Lochalsh, a village on the banks of Loch Alsh across from the Isle of Skye, up to Ullapool using the coast road. You’ll take in some of the spectacular scenery that makes the biosphere so iconic. Gaze out across an epic backdrop of soaring mountains, golden beaches and unspoilt woodland.

Local tip: stopping at small local cafés is a must to sample delicious home baking and local produce.

Towns to base yourself in

Why it’s special

The landscape of Wester Ross is among the most spellbinding in the world. Here in the north west Highlands of Scotland, discover a place of astounding natural beauty and eco-diversity, where communities live in harmony with the land and sea, preserving a unique, time-honoured way of life passed down through the generations.

Type of designation:

Biosphere

How long to stay

At least 3-4 days

“People are amazed by the feeling of remoteness here – only 8,000 people live in the 5,000 km area. Cycling, walking or kayaking are the best ways to really get in touch with the place. It lets you slow down and really engage with the environment and people.””
Natasha, General Manager at Wester Ross UNESCO Biosphere

What to do during your time

Things to do

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve – Gold GTBS

This spot of land is so special it became the UK’s first National Nature Reserve, right back in 1951. Beinn Eighe, along with Loch Maree Islands, stretches over 48 square kilometres with breath-taking views over Loch Maree from lochside to mountain top. It’s filled with mountain peaks, ancient pinewoods, and a variety of wildlife, including soaring eagles.

Follow the Beinn Eighe NNR woodland trail or mountain trail when visiting.

Ewe Canoe

Get out onto the beautiful waters of Wester Ross for a different perspective on the biosphere.

This canoe and kayak company is run by qualified coach Conor, who has 20 years of experience. Private sessions over a half day or full day are tailored to your group, so it works for both beginners and those with more experience.

Explore sheltered sea lochs, wide sandy bays and idyllic lochs, all surrounded by the stunning Wester Ross mountains.

Sessions run from Aultbea, Poolewe and Gairloch areas, depending on the weather.

Book with Ewe Canoe.

Attadale Gardens

Located opposite the pretty Highland village of Lochcarron, Attadale is a long-established privately-owned garden that stretches to over 20 acres, set amidst stunning Wester Ross scenery.

Take a self-guided tour by picking up a printed guide at the gatehouse. Don’t miss a stroll along the Old Rhododendron Walk as it leads to the Viewpoint, which offers lovely views over the house, the gardens and on to the Isle of Skye beyond.

Plan your visit to Attadale Gardens.

Gairloch Museum

Uncover the fascinating stories of the village of Gairloch and the wider north west Highlands at this immersive local history museum, housed inside a former Cold War era nuclear bunker. See a replica of an old-fashioned croft and the original lens of the Rubh Reidh Lighthouse.

Don’t miss the interactive exhibit about the surrounding landscape and nature, and the café and roof terrace, with the views out over the loch to Skye.

Check out the ongoing events and exhibitions programme to see what’s on when you are visiting Wester Ross.

Plan your visit to the Gairloch Museum.

Balmacara Estate

The Balmacara Estate is an outstanding example of a Highland crofting estate which stretches over 2,500 hectares, and will give you a great insight into the rich natural and cultural heritage of this area.

There are 17 miles of walking trails including circular routes, short paths and full-day hikes. The diversity of the landscape supports a wide variety of wildlife and plants, so look out for red squirrels, dragonflies, pine martens, otters and (not so wild) Highland cattle.

Stop off at the heart of the estate, Balmacara Square, to explore the local shops, café and Steadings Gallery.

Plan a trip to Balmacara Estate.

Did you know?

Crofting is a small-scale and low-intensity form of agriculture that has great environmental benefits, as well as being the defining social system of Highland communities.

McKenzie Mountaineering

This mountaineering company offer guided trips around the area, so you can leave the organisation to them and focus on soaking up both the views and the stories they’ll tell. There are day walks to enjoy around Ullapool, or why not sign up for the 7-day North West Highlands experience for iconic mountains, beaches and inspiring geology?

Book with McKenzie Mountaineering.

Climb Torridon

Sign up to a course with this small family-run business and enjoy mountaineering, rock or winter climbing in the north west Highlands. The courses cover instruction and guiding so are suitable for different abilities.

Pick your ideal mountain to cover with Climb Torridon from the jewelled hill of Beinn Alligin to An Teallach, the last great wilderness in the UK.

Book with Climb Torridon.

Balnacra Pottery

Meet and see the work of freelance artist, illustrator and potter Vicky Stonebridge at Balnacra Arts & Pottery. Explore the studio space and shop in a former blacksmith’s building at the Smithy Community Hub. There are also regular pottery classes and activities, and of course a selection of beautiful work influenced by how people relate to the world around them, symbols, stories and much more.

Visit Balnacra Arts & Pottery.

Food & Drink

There are a myriad of bustling piers, harbours and slipways where you can watch fishermen landing the catch of the day. If you’re lucky, you might be served that very same catch when you sit down in a nearby local restaurant for dinner at the end of the day.

The Good Food Trail

This trail was designed by the community to help visitors find businesses that either showcase great local Wester Ross produce or wider Scottish produce. That helps benefit both you when you visit, but also brings good back into the local community.

You can check the trail out which breaks down into smaller areas within Wester Ross.

Follow the Good Food Trail.

Applecross Inn

Overlooking stunning Applecross Bay, the Applecross Inn is famous for its first class location and its menu, which boasts beautiful local seafood such as langoustines, smoked salmon and crab.

Visit Applecross Inn.

The Gorse Bush

This friendly independent restaurant showcases the superb produce of Wester Ross. Try the local game or seafood in a relaxed, informal setting with a wood burner and local art on display.

Visit the Gorse Bush.

Kishorn Seafood Bar

Based in the small village of the same name, the sky-blue log cabin of Kishorn Seafood Bar serves fresh, local seafood. The daily catch comes straight from local boats to the front door, and includes langoustines, lobsters and hand-dived scallops. The owner Lucy is committed to sustainability through using local suppliers.

Visit Kishorn Seafood Bar.

Eolach

Let’s go alfresco! If the sunshine is in your favour, stop by Eolach for mouth-watering local Scottish produce and mesmerising scenery. Located in Glenelg, the food truck offers an exciting selection of dishes to suit any palette. From traditional lamb dishes to smoked mackerel, you’ll definitely be in food heaven.

Visit Eolach foodtruck.

Did you know?

The nearest superstore is 40 miles away from the heart of the biosphere, so the communities rely on the innovation and services of the local suppliers.

Look out for:

Accommodation

To get the most out for your visit to the area, opt to stay in a traditional croft or cottage for a few days or more. Keep your carbon footprint to a minimum and opt for green accommodation with strong eco-credentials. It’s one of the easiest and effective ways to ensure your stay is as sustainable as possible.

Leckmelm Holiday Cottages

The villa and cottages are set next to Loch Broom, around 3 miles south of Ullapool. They’ve been run for over 50 years by the same local family, and sit as part of a traditional farm.

The villa sits on the edge of the larch forest and sleeps four, while the cottages are modern inside – there are choices for sleeping four or six people.

The wider farm has planted native woodland, the business uses environmentally-friendly cleaning products, and profits are reinvested in estate projects, including restoration of the farm buildings, woodland management and drystone wall conversion.

Book Leckmelm Holiday Cottages.

The Torridon – Gold GTBS

Relax in the luxury of a Victorian retreat at the Torridon Hotel, set amongst 58 acres of dramatic scenery at the end of Loch Torridon.

It was originally built as a shooting lodge in 1887, but has been restored into a beautiful hotel, with Victorian-style opulence set against contemporary palettes and furnishings.

The Torridon Hotel is committed to self-sufficiency and helping the environment thrive. It makes use of biomass energy and natural spring water, 60% of the produce used is grown in the farm and kitchen garden, and it gifts wildflower seeds to guests to help the bee population back home.

Book the Torridon Hotel.

Bliss Haus

This design-driven hip hideaway sits on the south-facing shore of Loch Ewe, so you can watch the abundant wildlife out of the floor-to-ceiling windows, and feel connected to the wild outdoors. The building was created using natural and sustainable materials and sleeps four people in the master bedroom and the bespoke steamer-style bunks in the second bedroom.

Book Bliss Haus.

Campsites and touring tips

Check out the Wester Ross Touring Map for all the responsible tips you need on waste disposal, overnight parking and driving on the single track roads in the area. The map also highlights campsites, public toilets, grocery shops, petrol stations, recycling points, designated parking and more.

The map also covers campsites which are open to non-residents for chemical waste disposal – Applecross Camping and Sands Caravan & Camping.

Download the Wester Ross Touring Map.

Hillwalker taking in the views over to Suilven from Stac Pollaidh, a mountain in the north-west Scottish Highlands

Local tips

Cycling, walking and kayaking are probably the best ways to really get in touch with the biosphere, as opposed to the car or other vehicles - slow down and take time to engage with the environment.

Ask questions, talk to local people, keep an open mind and recognise that Highland ways are not the same as those of cities.

Check the local Facebook page for Wester Ross, which often shares news of local events and opportunities for the communities. It’s a great way to get a taste of local life.

In the summer months, you can take a boat trip out to the community-owned Isle of Martin.

Walks, cycle routes, ways to travel around

The North Coast 500 driving route passes through the biosphere, but if you are planning to stay a few days or more, explore more of the area on foot, bike or kayak or canoe. There is a choice of rental providers in the area where you can hire equipment.

Find walks in Torridon and Gairloch with Walk Highlands.

Suggestions for walks or guided walks in Wester Ross.

Ideas for cycling and mountain biking options in Wester Ross.

More information

UNESCO designation

Wester Ross Biosphere

Visiting the area

Highlands Ullapool iCentre Inverness iCentre
Looking out over the hills and peaks of Foinaven at sunset

North West Highlands Geopark

Where to start

The North West Highlands Geopark takes in around 2,000 square kilometres of mountain, peatland, beach, forest and rugged coastlines. It has a population of just 2,000 people.

There are eight communities within the space, all detailed on this handy geopark digital leaflet.

Towns to base yourself in

*Outside of the geopark boundaries.

Why it’s special

The sheer age of some of the rocks here is almost incomprehensible! You can literally see land which existed 3 billion years ago, and everything in-between. It’s also a stunningly beautiful spot, with sandy beaches, towering mountains, rocky caves and lush forests.

Not many people call this special spot home, but those who do work hard to look after it and live in harmony with the landscape. It’s a great place to explore slowly, understand why it’s important, and create memories you won’t forget.

Type of designation:

Geopark

How long to stay

At least 3-4 days

The Rock Route
A road at the shore of a loch, surrounded by hills and mountains under a beautiful red and yellow sky

What to do during your time

Things to do

The Rock Stop Café and Exhibition Centre

The Rock Stop is the visitor centre, coffee shop and exhibition space for the North West Highlands Geopark, based in the old Unapool school building. You’ll find everything you need to explore further there, from books on the local geology to gifts and information packs.

Plan a trip to the Rock Stop.

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve is the perfect spot to understand more about why this was the first UNESCO geopark. It was at the Moine Thrust zone in the 19th century where geologists discovered older rock sitting on top of much younger rocks. That discovery set the scientific world alight, and was how they first identified the collision of continents millions of years ago. Still today you can bridge 500 million years of history with your bare hands.

While you’re at the reserve, visit the Rock Room to learn more, a unique open-sided and turf-roofed visitor centre. Then follow one of the Rock Trails to explore further - look out for poetry and sculptures as you walk. Follow the Thrust Trail from the Rock Room to the Moine Thrust, or take the easier Quarry Trail. Climb the steep Crag Top Trail for wonderful views across Coigach and Assynt.

Explore Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve.

Rock Driving Route

Beginning just outside the geopark, this route starts in Ullapool and takes you along many examples of the local geology including:

  • Stac Pollaidh – which is being worn down every day by the weather
  • Loch Assynt – see how the landscape formed by the oldest rocks has been lost over time
  • Kyle of Durness – the work of glaciers gouging out the valleys and depositing sands

Look out for the panels explaining the wonderous views and stories behind how they were formed.

Follow the Rock Route.

Bone Caves

Follow the circular walking route near Inchnadamph to discover the Bone Caves, and see where geologists found the remains of some of Scotland’s lost animals.

This beautiful walk leads up a limestone valley to the cave openings on a steep slope, at the foot of a cliff. When they were excavated in 1889, geologists Peach and Horne found the remains of species which once roamed the area, such as lynx, reindeer, arctic fox, lemmings and polar bear.

The walk is also a chance to see a waterfall, and watch water appear from nowhere – a characteristic of limestone areas – and of course, enjoy the views.

Follow the Bone Caves walking route.

Assynt Fly Fishing

Head out with Assynt Fly Fishing’s Stewart Yates, a guide who will take you fly fishing. Stewart is incredibly passionate about both the local area and the fishing, and he’ll share the geology, history, flora, fauna and stories which make it such a special spot of Scotland.

Head out with Assynt Fly Fishing.

Durness Deep Time

Take in the free exhibition exploring the 3 billion years of geology that make up this area at Durness Deep Time. There’s also a range of tailored geology walks running from 2 hours to a full-day which complement the exhibition, all which was created and are led by geologist Dr Bjorn S. Hardarson.

Visit Durness Deep Time.

Hamlet Mountaineering

Experience the best of the north west Highlands with Hamlet Mountaineering. This guided walking company will take you on a wild adventure, with everything from gentle walks on well-made paths to thigh-burning climbs up mountains, or explore with binoculars, a camera lens or even a paintbrush!

Check out Hamlet Mountainnering.

North Coast Explorer Tours

Choose a private luxury tour with North Coast Explorer Tours who can help bring the area to life, taking you off the beaten track and to places others might not even know of. Check out their example tours for ideas on routes and stops you might enjoy, to suit your timeframe and requirements.

Plan a bespoke trip with North Coast Explorer Tours.

Accommodation

Newton Lodge

Book a uniquely styled room at Newton Lodge, Restaurant & Bar, all with wonderful loch or mountain views near Kylesku on the west coast. Enjoy a local beer out on the deck, or a single malt and artisan gin in Highland Bar No. 4, before a delicious meal made with local produce in the restaurant and conservatory.

Book with Newton Lodge.

Scourie Lodge

Stay at this historic house with bed and breakfast in the lodge, or room-only in the Coach House. Look out for the sustainable practices from the organic gardens to the high quality and free-range produce, the biomass boiler to the bamboo bed linen, and Tesla electric car charger. Don’t miss the beautiful walled gardens.

Stay at Scourie Lodge.

Campsites and touring tips

Check out the North West Highlands Touring Map for all the responsible tips you need on waste disposal, overnight parking and driving on the single track roads in the area. The map also highlights campsites, public toilets, grocery shops, petrol stations, recycling points, designated parking and more.

The map covers campsites which are open to non-residents for chemical waste disposal – Port a Bhaigh Campsite, Clachtoll Beach Campsite, Loch Clash Stopover, Scourie Caravan Park.

Download the North West Highlands Touring Map.

Food & Drink

The Seafood Shack

Situated opposite the museum on West Argyle Street in Ullapool, the Seafood Shack has won awards for its beautifully cooked seafood including langoustines, traditional Cullen Skink, fresh local oysters, and scallops. Everything is caught fresh with the waters off the west coast home to some of the best prawn, crab, and lobster.

Visit the Seafood Shack.

Elphin Tearooms

North of Ullapool, you’ll find the Elphin Tearooms. All of the hearty soups and delicious cakes are homemade at the tearooms, and the fresh sandwiches made to order. There’s also a range of locally made arts and crafts and a small farmshop, specialising in local meat raised in Elphin in sustainable farming systems.

Stop off at Elphin Tearooms.

Choc-O-Latté Café

Enjoy a sweet treat at this chocolate café and shop run by a Belgian couple, Philip and Sophie. Sit back and savour a real cup of hot chocolate and chocolate treats, all made with Belgian chocolates bought in the UK. The café is based at Clashmore, on the way to the Lighthouse of Stoer.

Visit the Choc-O-Latté Café.

Local tips

Choose a start point on the Assynt & Coigach Creative Trail for a personalised tour around local creators from woodturners to photographers, jam makers to writers.

Download the Coigach Geotrail, an award-winning trail of geologically focused excursions. See the spectacular coastline, beaches and hills alongside views of the Summer Isles and mountains of Coigach and Assynt. You can even purchase a paper copy of the Coigach Geotrail to take with you on holiday.

Find a list of grocery shops in the North West Highlands Touring Guide.

Check out what’s on with local events in the North West Highlands.

Kylesku

Walks, cycle routes, ways to travel around

Follow one of the Pebble Routes – driving and cycling routes on lesser-used roads.

Choose from 10 great walks in the North West Highlands Geopark.

Where next on the UNESCO Trail?

Discover & Experience UNESCO in Central West Scotland

The west of Scotland is highly accessible and a great place to start Scotland’s UNESCO Trail. Arrive into one of Glasgow’s two major rail stations, then use the fantastic public transport network including trains, buses and coaches, which make exploring this UNESCO City of Music and the nearby World Heritage Sites of New Lanark and the Antonine Wall easy. Find practical guidance on getting around and tips on attractions, accommodation and food and drink.

View Journey

Experience UNESCO on the Outer Hebrides

After exploring the North West Highlands Geopark, take advantage of regular seasonal ferry services from the mainland and discover the islands of the Outer Hebrides off the north-west coast, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of St Kilda. Get around using inter-island ferry services, buses, taxis or by bike. You can even fly to some remote islands. Plan your island-hopping journey with tips on transport, attractions, accommodation and food and drink.

View Journey