In praise of Plockton!

The vast majority of the Scottish coastline is jaw droppingly beautiful but I think it is fair to say that the West Coast probably draws more admirers and photographers than either of it's Northern or Eastern siblings. 
Whether you like photographing the landscape, exploring the landscape or just sitting back and enjoying the landscape, the West Coast of Scotland has to be one of the top destinations in the world...but where should you base yourself to make the most of this wonderful scenery?

 The view from the Bealach Ratagain looking over Loch Duich toward the Five Sisters of Kintail.

The view from the Bealach Ratagain looking over Loch Duich toward the Five Sisters of Kintail.

The sheer scale, variety and distances involved mean the coast has to be broken down into various sections to be explored using multiple bases from which to travel round. (Unless you have a motorhome/caravan in which case your base is always mobile. Alternatively, another option is to have a tent with you and do a spot of camping using any of the huge range of excellent sites or indulging in a spot of 'wild' camping if you're feeling hardy.) 

Make no mistake though, that even limiting your area of exploration will still necessitate some serious mileage behind the wheel for the simple reason that beautiful countryside and an extensive road network do not make easy bedfellows. How many times have you listened to a national traffic bulletin to hear something like "There is a road closure on the A83 resulting in a 50 mile diversion via Oban & Inveraray!"...or something similar?

Of course, all of this depends on your specific reasons for visiting and what it is you want to see. For example, you may want to just visit one of the many Inner or Outer Hebridean Islands and simply explore it for the entire duration of your stay...which is exactly what I would recommend you do. However, regardless of which island you decide to start with, and irrespective of how big or small it is I would say that you need at least a week to have any idea of what it has to offer and if you decide on somewhere like Skye (a favourite amongst photographers) this will barely scratch the surface.

The purpose of this particular piece though, is to highlight a favourite base of mine from which I am able to reach Skye / Applecross / Torridon & Loch Maree etc. (Though I would rarely visit all of these during one visit up there!) Each of these locations offers a huge range of scenery, both seascape and landscape and, consequently, they also offer an equally huge range of photographic options.

As you've no doubt gathered, the place in question is Plockton... Often referred to as the 'Jewel of the Highlands' and one of Scotland's prettiest villages but not without good reason. Having it's own micro-climate as a result of it's position falling under the path of the jet-stream and being on the east side of a peninsula in Loch Carron, it is one of the few places in Scotland where you will see palm trees...!!! Having just a couple of pubs/inns, four small stores and a very unintrusive take-away it might not be to everyone's taste...possibly being too quiet for some. For my wife and I, however, this is the very essence of it's charm...Throw into the mix a fantastic selection of food, real ales and whisky choices available at the village's three main eateries, a wide and varied range of accommodation to suit all budgets and views across the Loch that are simply stunning and you'd be hard pressed to find a better base from which to explore the area!

 Harbour Street, Plockton.

Harbour Street, Plockton.

I am sure though, that there will be some folk who disagree with me, citing that Plockton is a 'dead end' on the edge of a peninsula in Loch Carron...one road in and one road out...all of which is absolutely true...

However, even if photographic opportunities were not reason enough to visit, there are a huge number of walks, places to visit and activities to take part in...either straight out of the village itself or within 30minutes drive. 

A particular favourite of mine, and one which has become a bit of a tradition for Dianne (Mrs. N) and I is to venture out onto Loch Carron in the very capable hands of 'Calum's Seal Trips'. This genuinely has to be the best value £10 you can spend on a boat trip anywhere...
With Calum's running comedic commentary on items of interest in and around the village, his knowledge of the wider area around the Loch and his ability to find seals on some of it's many small islands, it is both an entertaining and educational trip out...though factor in his promise that 'if you don't see seals then you don't pay' and you just can't go wrong. Highly recommended!!! (If you ask nicely, he may even give you a rendition of "Somewhere beyond the sea")

So no real need to venture too far from Plockton if you just want to kick back and enjoy a rest after what was probably a long drive to get up there in the first place..(I live in Lancashire and it takes me 8hrs to get to Plockton). However, If you do decide to jump in the car you can be on Skye in about 15 minutes and explore all that it has to offer at your leisure...or turn left at Kyle and visit Eilean Donan castle and then over the Bealach Ratagain toward the Brochs at Glenelg. (Where you can get the wonderful little ferry across to Skye in the Summertime making a nice circular touring route.) Alternatively, if you head North..you can skirt Loch Carron and head over the Bealach na Bà (which has to be one of the most impressive drives in the country)..pause at the top to take in what has to be the most complete Cuillin view to be enjoyed from any point and then continue down to Applecross for a bite to eat in the wonderful Applecross Inn. You then have the entire peninsula to explore leading you round to Shieldaig and onto the Torridon mountains...

 The Cuillins..as seen from the top of the Bealach na Bà

The Cuillins..as seen from the top of the Bealach na Bà

But despite all of these wonderful places that are easily within striking distance of Plockton... it is the place itself that makes me want to base myself there. Admittedly, there are many villages that are nearby and are pretty enough such as Duirnish, Drumbuie and Erbusaig and the same accessibility to all of the aforementioned places is as true for them as it is for Plockton...But Plockton just has a charm that I cannot put my finger on...I can't say it's because of 'X' or 'Y'...maybe it's just a form of nostalgia from when I first visited with my then girlfriend..my now wife! Maybe it's because we have visited a few times and just know the place really well so that it has an air of familiarity...I just don't know!

But whatever it is, I hope it doesn't lose it!!!

 Neist Point, Isle of Skye.

Neist Point, Isle of Skye.