The World’s Last Great Travel Wildernesses Are in Scotland
Bolivian salt flats, the Namibian desert, Scotland? Well, apparently so. CNN has just listed 10 of the world’s last great wildernesses for the more adventurous traveller and a little patch of Scotland has made the top table.
The Knoydart peninsula is now in the same league as the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia or Uttarakhand in the Himalayas and that’s not as strange as it might sound.
Knoydart has a road, it just isn’t connected to the rest of the country. It’s still the case that if you want to get there you’ll need a boat or a stout pair of boots and the energy to cross more than a dozen miles of the roughest and most unspoiled territory in Western Europe.
The reward is spectacular landscape – Ladhar Bheinn is over a thousand meters in height – pristine shorelines and peace, perfect peace. Accommodation can be found in the Knoydart Foundation Bunkhouse, not nearly as rudimentary as it might sound.
But why stop there? For the nature lover, the hill climber and the enthusiast for romance and history Scotland has a lot more to offer.
Isle of Skye
Recently voted “4th best island in the world” by National Geographic, if you were to spend your time in Scotland on just one island this would be it. The Cuillin hills are among the most dramatic in the country and the winding shoreline is a source of endless fascination for the geologist as well as naturalists. Don’t forget to look up while you’re there – you have a good chance of seeing both golden and sea eagles. For restoring yourself after a long day in the field, the produce of the world famous Talisker distillery can’t be bettered.
If Skye is your idea of overcrowded then Sutherland is your answer. Although one of the largest of Scotland’s old counties, this rugged, northern territory has barely more than a small town’s worth of people across its wide, coast-to-coast extent. The athletic can trek right across and hardly encounter another soul while camping under the stars at the half-way point. Your journey can start with the history of the Carn Liath Broch near Golspie, one of the finest Iron Age sites in the north of the British Isles, and end at Sandwood Bay. Even in summer, there’s a good chance you’ll be the only person there. For mountaineers there’s Suilven, Scotland’s very own Sugar Loaf mountain.
For those who would prefer something a little flatter and more distinctive, Shetland is worth a serious look. In some people’s minds this sub-arctic archipelago is hardly Scotland at all but part of a unique North Sea culture that’s a lot closer to Oslo than to London. It’s Viking country, as the place names constantly remind you. The locals too arn’t above appearing in the odd horned helmet, especially during Up Helly Aa, the winter fire festival that takes place at the end of January. The sheer cliffs harbour outstanding sea-bird colonies. The approach to the 600ft cliffs of Noss is an unforgettable ornithological highlight.
To the south of Knoydart on the West Coast is a hidden gem that’s almost as wild, but much more accessible – perfect for the wilderness lover who would still like to get there by car! Ardnamurchan is a volcanic peninsula reached by a short ferry ride and then a winding, single-track road. The hiking is manageable but very rewarding. Ben Hiant dominates the western end. It can be described as a ‘mere’ 528m (1,732 ft), but the views from the top over the sea to the nearby islands are some of the best that the Scottish hills have to offer.
To almost everyone Wilderness and Scotland means the north and the islands, but it can be a mistake to forget about the southern uplands. Galloway in the south west is where the Southern Upland Way starts. It’s a 212 mile marathon across the whole of the country taking in over 80 summits above 2,000ft. The 300 square miles of the Galloway Forest park offers high quality walking and wildlife, but it’s at its best after dark. This is now one of only four Dark Sky Parks in the increasingly light-polluted western world and gives the modern urbanite the chance to see the night sky as they’ve probably never seen it before. For this one leave your binoculars behind and take your telescope instead.
Fiona writes for LHH Scotland, leading provider of luxury self-catering across Scotland.