Summer travel 2022: Explore a fine Highland host

The 2,500-hectare Balmacara Estate, on the Lochalsh Peninsula in Ross-shire, is a rambler’s heaven.

Situated on Scotland’s dramatic West Coast, it has more than17 miles of walking routes through a rich Highland landscape that is home to an abundance of wildlife, including otters, red squirrels and pine martens.

There are family-friendly trails suited to all ages and abilities, whether you are looking for afull-day hike or a short scenic stroll.

The Tree-Spotter Trail maintained by Forestry and Land Scotland is a moderate half-hour route that journeys between native oaks and birches, while the Skye View Trail is a slightly tougher option that delivers views across Loch Alsh.

Balmacara Square offers food and drink, retail and art. Image: NTS

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Throughout the estate, outdoor enthusiasts can admire lochs, small waterfalls and ancient woodlands including Coille Mhor.

It is also home to some spectacular spots for cycling – bikes can be hired from Skye Mountain Bike Adventures at Kyle of Lochalsh, south of the estate.

A short distance away is the Isle of Skye, and both destinations are suitable for families with children or elderly members looking for gentle cycle routes.

Skye is hugely popular with visitors, largely thanks to the plentiful family-friendly sights and attractions.

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The largest town and the island’s capital, Portree, has a wide range of shops and eateries, while the small crofting community of Claigan in the west is close to the white sandy Coral Beach.

Ten minutes away is Dunvegan Castle and Gardens which dates back to the 13th Century and is surrounded by the 41,000-acre MacLeod Estate. The castle and grounds are open to visitors daily until October, with family tickets among the options on offer.

To the south of the island, visitors can discover the story of Scotland’s largest and most powerful clan –the Donalds – at Armadale Castle Gardens and Museum.

Children can enjoy the outdoor adventure playground there, and the main routes in the surrounding gardens are pushchair-friendly.

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No visit to Skye is complete without experiencing the enchanting Fairy Pools in the River Brittle, below the towering Black Cuillin mountains. The crystal-clear water of the rock pools attracts wild swimmers during the warmer season – parking is available less than a mile away.

This island in the Inner Hebrides is also world famous for whisky. Talisker is the island’s oldest working producer, having been established in 1830 and sits on the shores of Loch Harport.

It is temporarily closed for a major renovation, however, anyone hoping for a taste of Scotland’s national drink can head over to Torabhaig Distillery Visitor Centre, at Teangue in the south of Skye. It is open daily and tours cost £10. Children over the age of 12 are welcome.

For adventure thrill seekers, the region is a must-visit. Skye Highland Adventures on the Balmacara Waterfront hosts a range of outdoor activities, including river tubing down rapids and sea kayaking to the iconic Eilean Donan Castle, which has appeared in many films including the 1999 James Bond adventure, The World is Not Enough. Weekend packages are available at the castle, as are group bookings.

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For art lovers, the rich landscape provides a wealth of inspiration. The nearby Balmacara Square grew from an 18th-Century farm steading. By the 1900s, it had cottages, a mill and mill pond. Visitors can now enjoy facilities there including an information room, café, gift shop and the Steadings Gallery exhibition space.

In the last week of July, award-winning contemporary artist Meg Miller will have a showcase, while a mixed media art exhibition, A Winter On Skye, by Don Mason and Gail McGregor will run between Friday 12 and Friday 19 August.

To make the most of Lochalsh and Skye, there are few better places to use as a staging post than the Balmacara Hotel. It has been serving guests touring the Highlands since 1946 and has been fully renovated during the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown.

Overlooking Loch Alsh and just four miles from the Skye Bridge, the hotel has 36 double, twin, family and superior family rooms.

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Balmacara Hotel’s Sea View Restaurant serves up locally-sourced food and drink, allowing guests to enjoy authentic Highland cuisine.

The menu caters to all tastes and features dishes such as smoked salmon, Highland beef burgers, Scottish fish and chips and a butternut squash and sage ravioli.

There is also a cosy bar where guests can enjoy a pre and perhaps post-prandial drink.

Manager Juan Santos says the hotel is most popular among UK residents seeking a staycation.

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“There are some beautiful views here and people can come to enjoy fishing and just getting back to nature,” he says.

“Skye is just around the corner and if you are wanting to come and explore the mountains, lochs and to eat, it is perfect.”

With heather-laden mountains for a breathtaking backdrop, and the loch’s beautiful shore on its doorstep, Balmacara Hotel is the ideal place to unwind after a day spent exploring the area.