Wester Ross (Part 1): Unforgettable Gardens, Arts & Crafts

A visit to Wester Ross is always a delight – whatever the weather – but it was particularly wonderful to visit when the recent spell of lovely weather started.  Let us transport you to the West and tell you a little bit more about what’s happening there … and as there’s so much to tell, this is just Part 1!

From Inverness, we took the A835/A832 to Achnasheen.  This is a lovely drive. For those who’ve not done it for a few years, improvements have been made and it is reasonably straight these days … passing Rogie Falls and Loch Luichart.   The road actually follows the railway line from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and at Achnasheen, we caught a glimpse of the Royal Scotsman travelling West: a magnificent sight and there’s no doubt traveling by rail allows you to relax and enjoy the views more.   Check out the Scotrail timetable for more info.

The first planned stop was Attadale Gardens.   Attadale is a 30,000 acre estate in the North West of Scotland. It stretches from the south shore of Loch Carron to Loch Monar, 15 miles to the east.  With fishing, walking, the Gardens – and much more – there’s plenty to keep you at Attadale and Loch Carron for much longer.  There are 4 self-catering cottages in the grounds and what a fabulous base they make.

if you are a day visitor, you can either arrive by train at Attadale Station or park in the walkers’ car park where you’ll find a comprehensive map of the area with suggested walks marked so you can double check routes on your own maps as well.  And if you have your four legged friends with you, there are bio-degradable poo bags that you can use & dispose of in the special bin provided.

A visit to the Gardens is a must.  We were fortunate enough to visit when the rain had stopped and it was brightening up.  The smells you experience when there’s a bit of damp in the air are pretty heady – especially at a time of year when the flowers are starting to bloom.

Pay your entrance fee at the little hut and you’ll be given a map and a suggested route: beyond that, you’re free to explore.

The Rhododendrons were still in bloom together with lots of other woodland flowering plants and wonderful trees collected from across the world.   We’re not going to pretend to know too much about the various plants or their names (we’ll leave that to many a green fingered blogger) but we know what we like!

There are lots of different sculptures in the Garden – all detailed on the wee map: if you’re with children who might not be so interested in plants, send them out to spot them all!   The route takes you down towards the House and the Conservatory.  And if  you are gasping for a cuppa, there’s a great little DIY tea-room with tea/coffee making facilities, cold drinks and home baking – all clearly priced with an honesty box.  It is also a good moment to read more about the Gardens on the boards that cover the walls.

Continue to explore the gardens – the Japanese garden, the giant sundial and more trees from all corners of the world – as well as the water gardens and the geodesic dome with its fern collection.  And for those of you who love plants, the traditional kitchen garden has some plants for sale too.   The views down Loch Carron are pretty spectacular.

We’d done a little homework before our journey. As with so many stunning places this far off the beaten track, you’re aware that you’re in a working landscape where natural resources are put to good use … from the gardens that attract visitors and maintain employment to the self-catering properties that accommodate those who head to this area. Add in the Attadale hydro-electric schemes – generating enough to power to run around 2,600 homes – and you realise just how much work is going on behind the scenes to make this a viable and sustainable destination.

As you leave the gardens, you’re signposted to Carron Pottery, Arts and Crafts just down the road – back towards Loch Carron.   This adds another unique aspect to a visit to Wester Ross – the chance to discover the South West Ross Arts & Crafts Trail.

Created by local businesses working together – including Attadale Gardens – it is hoped that you’ll visit many of the studios and galleries as well as taking time to stop and sample the local produce at the area’s fine cafes & restaurants.   The map (which you can pick up from lots of different places) is very clear and gives details of all the participating studios, galleries and places to eat.    When we visited Carron Pottery, we met Peter who was busy creating pots and we took time to browse the other local crafts & paintings.   Carron Restaurant is right next door and is open for coffee, home baking and dining throughout the day.  Booking is recommended especially at busy times.

We’d booked a B&B in Lochcarron for the night – Loch Dubh B&B with stunning views down the Loch and across to Attadale.  In a modern, family home, this is an ideal place to stay with a well-appointed room & door onto the patio.   We had dinner at Carron Restaurant – which was good.  In Lochcarron itself there is also a popular bistro and Lochcarron Hotel which was buzzing when we popped in for a drink.

Lochcarron itself is a pretty village – right on the Loch.  If you’re a golfer, you’ll love the 9 hole course – going right around the local church, it has views back across the Loch and up into the hills.  Sadly no time to play … this time. Next time!  And as you drive in from Strathcarron, visit the Smithy Community Hub with a pottery and craft corner – all part of the South West Ross Arts & Eats Trail and (in the village) discover Lochcarron Gallery.

Further down, visit the historic & famous Lochcarron Weavers Shop – the world’s largest manufacturer of authentic tartans. Offering a superb range of Scottish tartan, knitwear, and tweed clothing in the finest of natural fibres, cashmere, lamora, mohair and lambswool as well as quality gifts. They offer a made to measure kilt and trouser service. There’s also a tartan weaving exhibition with audio visual on site.

And finally, continue down the road to Strome Castle – a ruin on the shore of Loch Carron in Stromemore … a former stronghold of Clan MacDonald.

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Thanks for reading!