For an adventurous break in Scotland you can’t beat Lochaber. Yes, it might rain, but pack for all weathers, stay flexible with your plans, and go explore this incredible outdoor playground.

With Glencoe and the Mamores, the dramatic scenery of Lochaber has always attracted climbers, mountaineers and skiers. In the past few decades mountain biking has rocketed in popularity here, and to this we can now add kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming and many more ways to enjoy the hills and glens.

The University of the Highlands and Islands has been running a pioneering Outdoor Leadership degree in Fort William for some time now, and its success is evident in the increase in young and enthusiastic companies now offering outdoor activities. 

Look at the website for ‘the Outdoor Capital of the UK’ and click on ‘Who can help’ to find qualified local instructors. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Paddleboarding

A sport that has really taken off in recent years, paddleboarding is easy to get the hang of with a lesson or two. Soon you too can look like you’re serenely walking on water. It looks relaxing but it’s also an excellent workout (especially when the wind picks up). I hired a paddleboard from Otter Adventures in Strontian and took it out on Loch Sunart.

HeraldScotland:

It’s a quiet sea loch surrounded by trees, so a brilliant place for wildlife spotting. Apart from two intrepid swimmers I had this calm corner of the loch all to myself. I didn’t see the otters that give the company its name, but I’m definitely coming back for another go. In Glencoe you can have lessons from Rugged Coast and there are a number of qualified providers in Fort William too.

E-biking

Woodlands in Glencoe has a fleet of very fancy e-bikes and are well situated for exploring the area on two wheels. Cycle around Loch Leven with turbo power for the hills, follow the Caledonian Way cycle path to Castle Stalker, or do as I did and have a quick scoot along to The Holly Tree hotel for a deep bowl of local mussels. All good options.

HeraldScotland:

Off-beat bikes in Fort William also have e-mountain bikes which really do sound like a lot of fun.

Kayaking

From intrepid sea adventures to calm loch paddling, Lochaber is a great place to kayak. Starting in Glencoe village I explored Loch Leven and the island of Eilean Munde by kayak with a guide from Rugged Coast. The views of the Pap of Glencoe with swirling clouds were far more atmospheric than on a sunny day, and the seals dozing on the rocks were unphased by passing kayaks.

HeraldScotland:

In Strontian Otter Adventures offers tuition and tours on kayaks, including full day trips with a hot lunch cooked on a remote island or beach, weekend family escapes in open canoes with a night camping under the stars, or for the most adventurous a three-day circumnavigation of the Morvern peninsula. Karl will also plan bespoke trips for all levels of skill and enthusiasm.

Trail running

Trail running has been gaining in popularity across Europe for the past few years and the west coast is an ideal destination to learn how to run on rugged terrain. Glencoe-based Girls on Hills was founded in 2018 by Keri Wallace and Nancy Kennedy with the aim of empowering women to run in the mountains. They’ve seen a huge demand for their courses, with some selling out within hours.

HeraldScotland:

Keri explains that while women’s participation in trail races has increased, “it’s nowhere near 50:50”. Girls on Hills teach women the skills and confidence to enjoy running in the mountains with a motto of ‘You can run free’. On a recent course I learned how to safely cross a river and ‘run like a child’, bounding over heather and scree without twisting an ankle, plus mountain safety and navigation training. We also enjoyed incredible scenery, great camaraderie and white-tailed eagles circling overhead.

Trail running couldn’t be further from a sweaty treadmill in an urban gym and that’s why people love it. I’m keen to try the run and dip courses that include swims in secluded lochans and rivers, and the bothy adventures that include an overnight stay.

Girls on Hills also offer navigation courses, guided hillwalking and small group coaching that’s ideal for a mixed group.

Wild swimming

We can’t promise warm but we can promise awe-inspiring scenery and clear, clean water. If you aren’t used to cold water, definitely bring or hire a wetsuit, then take your pick from the beautiful rivers, lochs and beaches dotted all around Lochaber. My favourite spots for a dip are Camusdarach Beach near Arisaig, Samalaman Bay near Glenuig and Cuil Bay near Duror but you’ll be spoiled for choice. Off Beat Bikes in Fort William can provide kit and advice.

For inspiration and safe swimming tips pick up a copy of Vicky Allan and Anna Deacon’s Wild Swimming Scotland.

Mountain biking

Nevis Range has been home to the UCI Downhill World Cup since 2002 and is one of Scotland’s top mountain biking destinations. The lower trails are open all year round, look at the Nevis Range website for access and safety information.

HeraldScotland:

Beginners, or anyone looking to improve their skills or take on tougher routes, can book a lesson or guided ride with the on-site bike school.

Indoor Climbing and Ice Climbing

It’s always good to have a wet weather option. If you haven’t climbed before, Three Wise Monkeys in Fort William is a good place to get started.

HeraldScotland:

They’ll sort you out with shoes, helmet and harness and a qualified instructor will show you the ropes. In Kinlochleven you can take an indoor ice climbing lesson at The Ice Factor – the biggest indoor ice climbing wall in the world.

 

EAT LOCHABER…

THE REAL FOOD CAFE

If you’re heading to Lochaber from the Central Belt then a breakfast stop at the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum will set you up for a day on the hill or out on the water. Breakfasts are hearty: try a full Scottish with Stornoway Black Pudding, or the vegetarian and vegan versions.

HeraldScotland:

Later in the day, refuel with venison burgers, crisp and tasty fish and chips or delicious home baking. There’s always a buzz and it’s a popular spot for walkers refuelling on the West Highland Way. If you’re extra hungry, order online and they’ll have it ready . . . and can even bring it out to your car.

RAIN BAKERY,
Fort William

With queues snaking down the street at busy times, Rain Bakery is the go to spot for delicious cakes and excellent bread. I picked up a giant sourdough sandwich with grilled halloumi, sweetcorn fritter, chilli and pea smash sandwich, then ate it up a hill feeling very happy with my life choices.

THE WOOD FIRED PIZZA SHACK,
Strontian

HeraldScotland:

Enjoy a hot, crisp pizza cooked in a wood fired pizza oven. It’s only open a few nights a week but well worth a visit. Take it away or enjoy on the decking overlooking Loch Sunart.

CRANNOG,
Fort William

After 30 years this is still the top spot for seafood dining in Lochaber. A bowl of mussels here overlooking Loch Linnhe is unbeatable.

 

CONTACTS:

www.outdoorcapital.co.uk/ruggedcoast.scot/

www.facebook.com/The-Wood-Fired-Food-Shack

www.rainbakery.co.uk/

www.crannog.net/otter-adventures.co.uk/

www.ice-factor.co.uk

www.ruggedcoast.scot/efoil/

www.threewisemonkeysclimbing.com

www.ruggedcoast.scot/efoil/