Cape Wrath and North West Sutherland
This route forms part of the North Coast 500. You are beginning this journey on the West Coast, above Ullapool, and it would be a great addition to a trip to Skye, Plockton (famous for it’s palm trees) and Applecross (a beautiful peninsula). Edinburgh to Ullapool is at least a 5 hour to drive.
This region of Scotland is sparsely populated and is an area of outstanding natural beauty and geological interest. Boggy moorland, rugged cliffs braced against the wild Atlantic, white sandy bays and dotted with small crofting communities, friendly villages and numerous places to stop and camp.
Total time/distance: 3/4 days from Ullapool, 5/6 from Edinburgh
North West Sutherland is reached by continuing north on the A835 from Ullapool. At Ledmore continue on the A837 and then at Newton the A894. Alternatively head through Inverness on the A9 and at Tore turn left onto the A832 then the A835.
Head along the A894 to Scourie and stop at the Scourie Beach where you can spend the day swimming and sun bathing. Three miles along the road you can take the ferry across to Handa Island, a nature reserve with 120m cliffs and many thousands of seabirds. The island was populated until 1841 when the inhabitants were driven to the mainland due to potato famine. The ferry leaves from Tarbet and takes 10 mins.
A theme of this region is that of wide sandy beaches and as you drive north and leave the A894 turning left onto the B801 you will come to Oldshoremore and Phollain. Head to Phollain (sign says Polin), the quieter of the two beaches and a wonderful place to swim. This area is famous for its more than 200 species of flowering plant in the machair.
Useful to know
Places to camp
Scourie campsite is family run and has an onsite bar and cafe
From the Polin you can walk 3 miles to Sandwood Bay along a well signposted track across the moorland.
Sandwood Bay is one of Scotland’s most iconic wild beaches. A long stretch of pale pink sand secured by cliffs, the sea stack of Am Buachaille and sand dunes. If you are lucky you may spot the remains of a Spitfire engine, all that is left of a crash landing in 1941.
Useful to know
Be careful swimming in Sandwood Bay as rip currents frequently develop.
Cape Wrath Point and Lighthouse are situated at the most north westerly point of the mainland. They are also pretty inaccessible! This is either a proper hike or is accessible by passenger ferry from Keoldale Pier – the crossing takes around 10 minutes. Once on Cape Wrath Point you can enjoy the surrounds, the Lighthouse and a coffee or more in the Ozone Cafe which is open 24/7 everyday of the year!
Staying on the A838 to Durness there are small roads off to the left that will take you towards the cliff edges and sandy bays of this wonderful coastline, including Faraid Head where you will find some of the highest sand dunes in Scotland and Balnakeil Bay, sheltered and perfect for swimming. Balnakeil itself is home to the famous Cocoa Mountain, makers of delicious luxury chocolate and the most remote chocolatier in Europe!
Useful to know
Stop over at Sango Sands where you can camp by the steep cliffs overlooking the north coast beaches and enjoy the sea views. There is also a nearby cafe and bar.
As you carry on along the A838 between Sangomore and Sangobeg you will see signs to Smoo Cave. This huge, mixed sea and freshwater limestone sea cavern is the largest sea cavern entrance in Britain. The cavern can be explored to an extent on foot and in the summer boat tours take explorers further in.
Carry on towards Kyle of Tongue, a deep sea loch with Ben Hope and Ben Loyal bearing down. Tongue Bay is home to three small islands which are enjoyed by kayakers and divers as well as being great spots to enjoy a wander and picnic.
Now you can make a choice; turn south on the A836 and meander back to Edinburgh enjoying the scenery (6+ hours), or stay north hugging the coast and enjoy the dramatic cliffs and sea views (see Caithness and East Sutherland).