The song ‘Four Seasons In One Day’ could have been penned specially for Scotland, where its extraordinary beauty can go hand in hand with some crazy, unpredictable weather. But even that doesn’t get in the way of most people enjoying the wildness of the West Coast – there is a certain thrill in watching a squall rolling in low and grey from the Atlantic.
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This stunning coastal stretch of Scotland was fashioned by fire and ice millions of years ago, the shape of its craggy terrain created by volcanic activity then sculpted by glaciers. It left behind a jaw-dropping landscape, a combination of towering, dramatic mountains, lush forests, heathery moorland and crystal white sands, ground down from the shells of long-gone sea creatures.
But what makes this part of Scotland truly special is its relative isolation. Often you will have a beach to yourself, or see no one for miles, which makes it a very special place to get back to nature and immerse yourself in a proper wilderness. Just you, the wind, the sun and the sky. (And sometimes the rain, but even then it’s soft, pure Scottish rain, without which, there would be no whisky in the world!).
The tiny village of Arisaig, just a few miles south of Mallaig, has startling views from its famous silver sands over to the island of Skye to the north, and the trio of Small Isles: the nearest, Eigg (pronounced ‘egg’), tiny Muck (yes, the Scots know how to name their islands) and beyond that the spectacular peaks of Rum (see?). Further out, hours by ferry, are the last islands on the edge of the mighty Atlantic – the Hebrides, stretching from Vatersay and Barra in the south, to Harris and Lewis in the north. On an alternately sunny/overcast/sunny day, it’s a beautiful place to be.
Adventure travel company Wilderness Scotland is one of the best tour operators for this part of the country. This small owner-run outfit, lauded by National Geographic Adventure Traveller magazine, started life in 2001 offering walking tours in the wilds of Knoydart, not far from Arisaig. These days you can choose from mountain biking, road cycling, canoeing, sailing, hiking, kayaking, photography and wildlife trips.
Each is centred around small groups (never more than eight people), but if you’re looking for something really special, you can go for their tailor-made holiday option, where Wilderness Scotland creates a bespoke itinerary just for the two of you. You simply select the activities you fancy, the kind of accommodation you want to stay in (castle? luxury hotel? mountain lodge? wild camping?) and any wishlist desires you’ve been dreaming of, and they will make it all happen.
So if you want a picnic by a driftwood fire on a deserted beach at sunset, or watch the Northern Lights from a hot tub, or eat fresh seafood overlooking a glittering loch, or visit a whisky distillery, or gallop a Highland pony through a forest, your wish is their command. And if you’ve never been to Scotland before and you want to see it in all its Outlander glory, this experienced adventure company is a great place to start.
One of its most popular trips is kayaking along this glorious coastline famous for its white sands and turquoise waters. There’s something truly special about the northern light and the pale sand that renders the water a cross between the shimmering azure of the Caribbean and the jewelled green of the Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda.
There are myriad sheltered inlets and tiny islands, such as the Skerries, that make it a perfect spot for kayaking, a tranquil and meditative experience that brings you as close to nature as it is possible to be. You don’t need any previous experience, and the technique is simple to get the hang of.
All the outdoor gear is provided and the experienced, friendly guides take you through all you need to know, and are on hand to offer tips throughout the trip. Kayaking is a magical way to experience the seascape, sitting low and close to the water, clear enough to see beneath the surface, and offers a stunning perspective on Scotland’s rugged and mountainous West Coast.
Surrounded by an extraordinary array of native seabirds, eagles, porpoises, otters and dolphins, perhaps the most delightful part of this experience is being in the company of curious grey seals. Popping their heads above the waves, these playful creatures eye you with interest, following you all afternoon, a constant plop in the water behind you, as you turn to see their tails disappearing beneath the waves.
To find out more, visit the Wilderness Scotland website here.
Images by Jane Wright