Sutherland, Caithness and the Outer Isles

The following areas can easily be added on to any Scottish itinerary or make up a tour of its own.

The Wilderness of Sutherland.

Sutherland – A place close to my heart, this was my holiday destination as a child. It is in the far north west of Scotland but actually translates as Southland! This was a land to the south, for the Vikings.

The landscape of this area is truly magnificent and unique. Wonderfully names mountains such as Suilvan, Stac Pollaidh (Polly), Canisp, Ben More Assynt and Ben Loyal often called “Queen of the Highlands”,  to name a few fall to open landscapes of lochs such as Loch Assynt, Loch Inver and Loch More. Travelling around this area you get the sense of space, nature, history and a sereneness you will rarely feel anywhere else. I love the villages of Ullapool, Lochinver, Durness and Tongue. I enjoy the Summer Isles, the beach at Mellon Udrigle, Smoo Caves, Handa Island and Knockan Crag Geo Park. It is worth visiting Highland Stoneware in Lochinver for some of the best hand painted pottery in the world. Ardvreck Castle is beautifully situated on Loch Assynt in a complete wilderness and if you are up for a six mile round trip, a walk to Sandwood Bay, an undisturbed beach, offers spectacular views of the open sea.

The clans associated with Northwest Scotland are, Mackay, Macleod, Mackenzie, MacDonell, Ross, This part of Scotland is easily accessible from Inverness but I would recommend at least two nights to fully appreciate the area.

It is also worth travelling in to neighbouring Caithness, there are many historic and interesting places to visit here and the east coast road is a spectacular drive. The cultural centre of Timespan in the coastal village of Helmsdale is well worth a visit. Here you can learn about the 18th – 19th century highland clearances (forcing the majority of families to emigrate to cities or overseas), this event had a major impact on this part of Scotland. I have toured Caithness on many occasions with people of Sinclair ancestry and have visited the straths (open valleys) and villages where families were cleared from. This is a moving experience and even if you have no connection with the highland clans the stories of people being evicted is a moving one.

Visiting Orkney.

Getting there – I like to use the Scrabster to Stromness ferry. It takes 90 minutes and you get wonderful views when approaching the Islands.

Orkney is made up of 70 islands and is rich in historical and archaeological remains. Here you will see a remarkable picture of life during Neolithic times through villages, standing stones and chambers dating to around 3000BC. These monuments are thought to be the best preserved in Western Europe. It is a green landscape where the sea is always visible and there is a typical relaxed feeling of Island life. Kirkwall, the Islands capital is a bustling market town and a ferry port. It has a very quaint town centre with small streets and at the centre is the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral, one of Scotland’s finest medieval buildings. If you have time it is worth visiting some of the surrounding islands for historic sites and nature. There is also the opportunity to spot whales, seals, otters, dolphins and birds of prey such as the Hen Harrier.

Visiting Shetland

To get to Shetland it is a 5 hour ferry trip from Kirkwall on the Orkney Isles. Shetland is a cluster of over 100 islands set between Scotland and Norway and it shares characteristics of both countries while guarding a rich local identity. Like Orkney there are magnificent views of the sea everywhere and sea bird colonies are a feature of these islands. Again there are many prehistoric settlements and monuments which are fascinating and well worth a visit. Lerwick, the islands chief town, is a fishing port and is also the focus of Shetland life. The annual festival of Up Helly Aa, held on the last Tuesday in January is of pagan origin and pays homage to the traditional ceremonial burning of a Viking long ship.

Visiting the Western Isles.

Getting there – I like to use the ferry service from Ullapool on the mainland taking just over 2 hours or from Uig on Isle of Skye taking 90 minutes.

These Isles are a 130 mile long chain of islands lying to the north west of the mainland and offer a unique experience. The scenic landscape of land, sea, and loch has produced landscapes which have been designated areas of outstanding scenic value. In the Western Isles the Gaelic culture lives on in the way of crafts, language and music. Touring around these islands is such a wonderful experience and a place where you can absorb Gaelic culture as well as enjoy wide open spaces all to yourself. In the northern Isles of Lewis and Harris we will visit the wonderful Calanais Standing Stones erected around 3000BC and second in importance only to Stonehenge. We will step inside the ‘Blackhouse’ a traditional Hebridean thatched house dating to the 1870s, We can visit the world famous weaving of Harris Tweed, a truly Scottish product and spend time in the Islands main town of Stornoway, built on a natural harbour.

Leading south the Islands of North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra offer the same wilderness experiences with beautiful white sand beaches, Gaelic culture and Scottish clan history.