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What Are The Notable Parks, Beaches Or Wild Areas In The Scottish Highlands And Islands?
We’re looking at dog-friendly things to do in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the most unspoilt, deserted and ancient of all the landscapes of the British Isles. Here you will find the UK’s highest mountains, pine forests and desolate valleys carved out of the rock by glaciers during the last Ice Age. Expect plenty of water, too, be it the freshwater lochs and lakes, the rugged and largely uninhabited coastline or the almost inevitable rain and cloud that you will encounter at some stage – so remember to pack all the appropriate outdoor clothing that you or your furry friend might need!
Seven Things For You And Your Dog To Do In The Scottish Highlands & Islands
Visit Balnakeil Church
The ruins of the old church at Balnakeil will prove a memorable and magical backdrop for a day out near Durness, on the north coast of Scotland. You and your dog can also enjoy a walk along the miles of unspoilt coastline with its pink sand dunes and views of snow-capped mountain hills in the distance. The only thing the area has to offer that your dog probably won’t be particularly fussed about is its golf course.
Take a cruise on Loch Ness
Britain’s most famous body of water and potentially home to its most famous prehistoric monster is a few miles south of Inverness. However, as befits the size of its most famous resident, Loch Ness is vast: 23 miles long and a mile wide. What better way to explore the area and enjoy the landscape, then, than with a boat cruise?
Ride on the Strathspey Railway
Based at Aviemore at the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains National Park, the Strathspey heritage railway have been running steam train services to and from Broomhill since 1978. A great way to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of Scotland’s largest National Park without needing your hiking boots. Dogs are welcome on all services but are not allowed in First Class or Dining carriages, so you might want to pack a picnic for you and your furry friend.
Visit Dunvegan Castle
Home of the Clan MacLeod for 800 years, the stunning Dunvegan Castle on the Atlantic coast of the Isle of Skye is the oldest continually-inhabited castle in Scotland. Set in glorious woodland and acres of gardens, the castle also offers historical exhibitions, boat tours of local seal colonies and even holiday cottages available to rent. However, as befits its status as a private residence, Dunvegan Castle is only open to the public between April and October each year.
Ride on the Nevis Range Mountain Gondola
If you and your dog have an intrepid and adventurous spirit and a head for heights, this is the activity for you: the UK’s only mountain cable car service. Originally built to transport skiers up Aonoch Mor, Britain’s eighth tallest peak, it is now also a popular tourist resort and an unforgettable way to enjoy Britain’s biggest mountain range, with the cable car reaching altitudes of up to 650 metres.
Visit the Italian Chapel, Orkney
One of the most unique relics of World War II, the Italian Chapel at Lamb Holm in Orkney is an astounding monument to devotion, creativity and artistry. Constructed with the materials they had to hand – two disused Nissen huts – the chapel was completed by the 550 Italian prisoners-of-war who were interned at the camp near Scapa Flow. It was subsequently elaborately decorated in classical Italian style by one of the inmates, Domenico Chicchetti, and remains one of the most striking and memorable houses of worship in the British Isles.
Take a boat trip of the Shetland Islands
The Shetland Islands are the northernmost part of the United Kingdom, 50 miles to the north of Orkney and over 100 from mainland Scotland. There’s no better way to get to know the islands that make up this archipelago than by boat. However, the weather in the wild and windswept North Sea is notorious, so picking the right day is a must!
Seven Walks For You And Your Dog To Enjoy In The Scottish Highlands & Islands
A picture-perfect pine woodland at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park near Grantown-on-Spey, the Anagach Woods are particularly notable for one of their rarely-seen residents: the capercaillie, a huge woodland grouse. A great place to explore and enjoy the peace and quiet – quiet, that is, as long as you don’t disturb any capercaillies.
A large freshwater loch in the Cairngorms, Loch Garten is home to a famous RSPB Reserve and is where the osprey was reintroduced back into the wild in Great Britain. Your dog will be able to choose a wander along the lake shore or a session exploring in the pine forests that line the route.
If the idea of remote and deserted wilderness appeals to you, Sandwood Bay is a must. The pink sand dune beach is coupled with a large freshwater inlet and will provide you and your pooch endless opportunities to discover new things without any of the restrictions you might encounter walking your dog on beaches elsewhere in Britain.
A much-loved beauty spot about 15 miles to the west of Loch Ness, Glen Affric comprises glens, pine forests and mountain trails. There are a variety of signposted paths to choose from, or you can go off-piste.
Calgary Beach, Mull
A white sand and crushed shell beach on the northern tip of the Isle of Mull, Calgary Bay is a mixture of the scenic Scottish coastline with more traditional British seaside attractions, complete with art installations and refreshments.
Sands of Breckon, Shetland
A stunning white sand beach with crystal clear turquoise sea at the tip of the Isle of Yell in Shetland, Breckon is the largest area of dune grassland in the Shetland Islands. Breckon Sands has won many awards and is widely rated one of the UK’s most beautiful beaches.
Crantit Trail and Scapa Beach, Orkney
A signposted walking trail along the Scapa Beach on the Isle of Orkney, located just to the south of Kirkwall and near the Italian Chapel at Lamb Holm.
Where To Stay In The Scottish Highlands
Exactly where you want to base yourself for your stay is obviously dependent on exactly what activities you and your dog plan to get up to. However, here are some suggestions.
The ideal spot for people looking to enjoy the Highland wilderness without abandoning all modern conveniences, Inverness is the most northerly city in the United Kingdom. Look just beyond the city limits and there is staggering countryside all around, with Loch Ness and Glen Affric just a short car journey away.
Dingwall is a harbour town just to the west of Inverness. The heart of the Highlands lays just beyond its borders, while the Cairngorm National Park is also nearby. Another treat for dogs staying in the area is the Highland Hound Haven, a secure three-and-a-half acre dog park.
The most northerly town in mainland Britain, Thurso is an ideal location if you want to spend time exploring the Highlands but are also interested in travelling beyond the mainland – ferries to Orkney can be caught nearby.
One of the most beloved tourist villages in the Cairngorms National Park, Braemar is surrounded by awe-inspiring countryside and mountain views as well as spots of historical significance including Balmoral Castle, a favourite official residence of the royal family since 1852.
A picturesque village which sits at the southern tip of Loch Shin, Lairg is one of the largest settlements in the north Highlands to not be on the coast, meaning there are places for your four legged friends to inspect in every direction.
Where To Stay In The Scottish Islands
The largest town in the Isles of Orkney, Kirkwall combines the bustle of a seaside town with Orkney’s unique scenery, plus it is the island’s main travel hub for those wanting to head south to the mainland or visit the Shetland Islands to the north.
The main settlement on the Shetland Islands, Lerwick is 123 miles from the Scottish mainland, with Bergen, Norway 220 miles to its east. Lerwick is a UK town like no other – its scenery is unmatched and its weather incomparable. What really sets it apart, however, is the location: at a more northerly latitude than the capital cities of Norway, Sweden or Finland, Lerwick never gets dark at the height of summer, and in winter will experience just 6 hours of daylight.
A hamlet near Broadford which sits on the A87 road a few miles from the Skye Bridge which connects the Isle of Skye to the Mainland. Skulamus is an excellent base for those wanting to spend their holiday investigating the Hebrides, with a large array of holiday cottages and campsites nearby.
The largest town on the Isle of Mull, this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Tobermory, an old fishing village with one of the most famous seafronts in the entire United Kingdom – a place where unique and beautiful seaside vistas are not hard to find.