I’ve visited this area for many years now. I want to share my favourite corners to help those heading to this wonderful place for the first time, to get the most out of their visit.(although just being there is often enough!)
Torridon ‘exhibits more of mountain beauty than any other district of Scotland, including Skye……’
So said W H Murray, of Himalayan fame and one of our finest writers on landscape whose discerning eye and hard work led to the identification and protection of so many of Scotland’s superb wild areas today.(see his 1962 book Highland Landscape).
This area is a mecca for driving tours, for those who simply want to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the superlative mountain and coastalscape unfolding before them, a new ‘wow’ moment around every corner of the roads. It draws photographers from the world over, seeking to catch some of the truly iconic images that Scotland is renowned for – the brooding, sometimes melancholy often sublimely beautiful images of the Scottish Highlands which draw so many to our land.Being coastal and so far north, the ever changing light is a wonder to behold.Colin Prior, one of the world’s finest landscape photographers, includes it in his recently published book ‘Scotland’s Finest Landscapes’ (which includes Kintail, Assynt, Harris, Skye, Glencoe , Ardnamurchan and Cairngorm).Torridon is a word spoken with reverence by walkers and by all lovers of the great outdoors.
But where to start when you finally arrive, after a 90 minute drive from Inverness or 4.5 hour drive from the central belt? These would be my choices:-
A fantastic 10 mile winding drive on a good single track road is many people’s first introduction to this wild area.
Liathach (translation from the Gaelic: the Big Grey One.Pronunciation: Lee -uu-uh. ‘U’ as in ‘up’) rears over 3,000 feet from the moorland, all rocky terraces – a monolith of a mountain. An inselberg – all on its own – as many of the hills around here are and reminiscent of the land much further north again, amazing Assynt.
No matter the weather, the glen is a wonderful drive, with the rich colours of the moorland and the emerald green of the ancient Caledonian Pines that line the slopes of Sgurr Dubh ( the Dark Peak) above lonely Loch Clair.The rock here is Lewisian Gneiss and Torridonian Sandstone, so it has a pinkish tinge to it.The former are amongst the oldest rocks in the world hence this landscape looks more Jurassic Park than current day.
Park opposite the broad track down to Loch Clair on the Glen Torridon road.The track is marked with a Right of Way sign.Take 5 mins to wander down the path to the shores of the loch for some iconic views of Beinn Eighe and Liathach and to breathe in the cleanest, sweetest air you can imagine.Fantastic spot for photography.
Coire Mhic Fhearchair (MacFarquar’s Corrie)
Park at the small National Nature Reserve car park signposted on the right(coming from Kinlochewe) between Beinn Eighe and Liathach just off the Glen road.
For more serious walkers there is a rough but good track which heads into ethereal Coire Mhic Fhearchair and its glacial lochan, below Beinn Eighe’s triple buttresses. It’s as wild a place as you could wish for. Two hours, at least, one way.No difficulties but be prepared weather wise and have good sturdy boots, full waterproof gear and warm clothing – all year round. And a map.
Ling Hut/ Lochan an Iasgair (translation: small loch of the fisherman. Pron. ee-us- gir)
Just opposite the car park there is a bridge over the bubbling, rushing, whisky coloured Torridon River. A short, wettish flat walk takes you round to the whitewashed Ling Hut, used by climbers but a wonderful photography point across the deep blue Lochan an Iasgair to the slopes of the Big Grey One. The light in the glen on a wild windy day with scudding cloud is particularly atmospheric.
Watch out for stags feeding in this area.
The Twin Lochans of Sgurr Dubh ( pron. Skoor Doo)
A further two hours hard , hard slog from the Ling Hut will take you up to the beautiful twin lochans below Sgurr Dubh but it is wild, rough country, very wet and tough going. Well worth it though if you are fit and getting into the wild is what you crave. At least half of it is over trackless moorland and you make your own way so a map, compass etc are essential.
Torridon village (Fasag)
Arriving out of the glen feels like entering a softer world – for the moment.The Visitor Centre has some interesting leaflets and is worth a quick stop.The Deer Museum down the same track is also worth time with its good display of antlers, animal traps and wildlife paraphernalia etc. It was developed by Lea McNally, once National Trust Ranger for the area and Head of the Red Deer Commission. His books are beautifully written, giving an insight into the landscape and wildlife of the area and his experience of living in Torridon for many years with his family.There is a small herd of red deer in an enclosure beside the Museum.
Torridon/ Fasag village is strung out overlooking the head of the loch , with some nice traditional crofts and whitewashed cottages beyond the small number of council houses. The slopes of Liathach tower over all and I’m always amazed that this rocky, precipitous and quite stupendous hillside has never come tumbling down to crush the village once and for all.
The Torridon Stores and Cafe is a real community hub, a friendly welcoming place with a nice warm stove belting out heat in winter.It’s usually busy and no wonder! Excellent home baking including first class scones – cheese or plain or fruit served with butter or clotted cream. And – very civilised – they will also serve a glass of wine with whatever food you order – a big plus as far as my husband is concerned (he likes his wine but gallantly suffers being dragged into tea-rooms up and down the country.Very rarely do they serve alcohol.) Soups and filled rolls (sandwiches) are the order of the day.The shop stocks some basics and a good beer selection.Frozen bread, pickles and the like.They’ll order a box of groceries in advance if you’re staying any time in the area.
Bealach na Ba (pron. b-yalach nam bo)
The drive over the Pass of the Cattle has been ranked as one of the world’s Top 10.It doesn’t have the sheer scale of an Alpine Pass yet is, in my opinion, an equally fantastic drive taking you into the heart of a much more ancient mountain landscape than anything in much of the rest of the world.The world’s highest mountains are youngsters – these are fine antiques, honed by time. The road, the highest in the UK, climbs above 2000 feet in 6 miles and takes you into incredibly rugged territory, superbly scenic.The view from the top in decent light is wonderful……the whole of Skye laid out across the ocean with the shapely peaks of the island of Rum visible beyond.If you can travel there near sunset on a fine evening, then go for it even if weariness after a full day has descended. It is more than worth it.
If coming from the Kishorn side, there is a beautiful waterfall , small but perfectly formed and in a lovely moorland setting, worthy of a brief stop – or longer, if you have a picnic. Stags often feed hereabouts.
My favourite route up the Bealach, having driven it in each direction countless times, is from this side.I love seeing the unforgiving mountains loom closer before the final zig zag up the corrie headwall and onto the summit.
Park at the top and savour, if clear enough, the fabulous coastal views. It’s a difficult spot to leave! Another 15 mins walk uphill leads to the radio tower at the top.There are various hillwalks possible from here but it is rough, hard walking.
The meandering drive down to Applecross Bay is now done in the knowledge that The Sanctuary (Applecross’s correct name as translated from the Gaelic ‘A’Chomraich’) will greet you at the end of the hill road. It is well-named, a little oasis of calm after the rigours of the mountain pass. 24 hour fuel is available from the community petrol station which we always try to support.Card only.
Lunch options now present themselves: the Applecross Inn , converted from the pretty , whitewashed row of traditional cottages that line the shore.Or The Potting Shed, a few miles round the bay. The Inn is always my choice.It’s not a gastro pub but serves good, far better than average pub food in a cosy atmosphere.In summer, there is a small beer garden where you can sit beside the crashing ocean basking – hopefully! – in some sunshine.The langoustines are legendary as is the home made ice cream – Old Treacle, Golden Syrup, Whisky and Honey, Rum and Raisin……there are usually five or so choices. I’m a great fan of puddings though I rarely choose ice cream as it is usually bland , bought in stuff with more vegetable fat than cream or milk ingredients. Not so here! The Potting Shed is lovely too – more of a restaurant/cafe in an attractive garden setting. A bit more expensive.
There isn’t much else to do in Applecross except wander its shores and, at low tide, the sand, look out for the sea eagles and perhaps visit beautiful old Clachan Church at the far side of the bay, very severe and plain inside. St Maelrubha (AD 673) is buried in the old graveyard. It is a delightful spot. Here, peace comes dropping slow…..
There is also a small Heritage Centre beside the Church.
The Coastal Road from Torridon to Applecross
A must do drive! If you are doing the NC500, this is part of the route and a true highlight.
The road climbs above Applecross Bay giving fine views to the Skye Cuillin across the deep blue ocean then turns north.It’s not strictly the ocean but Inner Sound. Look out for peregrine falcon hunting gulls, perched on the high rock escarpment on the right. Sand Beach appears, a fine place for a stroll in most weathers. Pink sand from the red Torridonian sandstone common in this area.There is a small Naval Defence station on the headland, the prettiest you’ll see.Submarines exercise in the very deep water between here and the islands of Raasay and Rona.There is a wonderful panorama now of the Trotternish coast on Skye and the Old Man of Storr is visible beyond conical Dun Caan, the highest point on Raasay.
The coast of Applecross is a patchwork of hard worked croftland, long abandoned though cottages several have been modernised and now sit attractively perched above the sea as prime holiday homes.The single track road has quite long sight lines and soon you crest the end of the coastal road before it turns east alongside Loch Torridon.There is a parking area here and a stop is well worth it to admire the scene of wild ocean, Skye and the rolling crofting landscape.Harris now emerges on the western horizon, giving a glimpse of the Outer Hebrides.
The big peaks of Torridon now emerge, still distant but impressive.
It’s a twisting, turning roller coaster of a drive along the single track lochside road.The scene gets better at each turn as you enter Torridon itself, with its tiny crofting communities, its mixture of rock and tussocky moorland, looming mountains and turquoise sea loch.A land of constantly changing colour and light.
Fearnmore, Kenmore, Arrina…….little whitewashed cottages and crofts, stone barns, tumbling burns and rivers.Past the Applecross Smokehouse where you can pick up fresh, live langoustines in season.
The road isn’t long in miles.Around 30 from Applecross, but it has taken us many, many hours , given the dramatic panoramas that assail the eye.No matter how often we drive this road, it fills up half a day at least, such are its joys.
Nanny’s in attractive Shieldaig village is a nice coffee stop but better still, head for Torridon Stores and Cafe in the village , the slopes of mighty Liathach looking as if its rocks will tumble down on top of the houses at any moment.There is a good Smokehouse in Shieldaig for smoked salmon, trout etc.
This 5 star hotel, once a shooting lodge, has been voted the most Romantic Hotel in Scotland and is a gem.Worth a splurge though simply booking in for a dinner of Michelin standard is also a real treat for a special occasion. Or just pop in for a coffee , tea and cake…not cheap but a lovely experience. Stags often graze on the lawns. Excellent whisky bar with a huge range, but you’ll pay a big premium to drink here ! The Shieldaig Bar would be a more affordable option. For activity enthusiasts, the hotel runs various options from clay pigeon shooting to hillwalking and kayaking.
Walk along the private single track road signposted into the Torridon Estate (beyond the village and on the Inveralligin road) and look out for Nancy, the resident otter who hunts along this shore. A rising tide is best. It’s a lovely flat walk on tarmac with no cars to bother you, just the rustle of the Caledonian Pines overhead.The road peters out after a mile or so and becomes a wettish track which meanders along the shore to Inveralligin, a glorious walk. Red deer stags often graze on the Estate which welcomes walkers. Sea eagles hunt around here too.
Diabaig (from the Norse meaning Deep Bay)
The roller coaster drive to this most picturesque village is not to be missed. And at the end of the 9 mile drive is a lovely restaurant/cafe – Gille Brighde.( http://www.gille-brighde.com).
In summer, boat trips head from Shieldaig to Diabaig stopping for a picnic at Red Point beach.
The views throughout are simply mesmerising, in almost any weather. Loch Torridon and its mountain backdrop, Skye, the ocean, moorland and lochan….it’s all here. Walk out along the old jetty past the stone harbour building for a wonderful shot back to Diabaig.
For those who only want an easy stroll into wild country without much effort, then a wander along this dry, excellent track is well worth an hour or so.The National Trust car park sits high up above Loch Torridon on the Diabaig road.Cross over the stone bridge to admire the small waterfall as it tumbles into the Nobuil river then head along the beautiful Scots Pine – fringed path.Go through the deer gate and emerge into the open moorland with the big peaks foreshortened before you.They don’t look their most majestic up here but the open moorland and rushing river beside you is glorious with silvery Loch Torridon glistening far below. Golden eagles sweep across the sky, resident in this area.The path is actually a long loop round Liathach and back to Glen Torridon but walk as far as you feel able.There is another bridge over the river about 25 mins walk ahead, a fine place for a picnic before you turn back.I always feel I’ve connected with the wild on this easy stroll – good for the soul.
Big Mountain Walks
My favourites in an area which could last a lifetime are Beinn Alligin (Jewel or Beautiful Mountain); Mullach an Rathain , Liathach from Coire Nobuil; Beinn Damh.
Walkhighlands is excellent for info on the best routes though even better is Peter Barton’s cracking little book on the whole area, published by Cicerone Press.