The shores of Loch Shieldaig

A walk around the many inlets of the Shieldaig peninsula.

NEAREST LOCATION

Shieldaig

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

3.25 miles (5.3kms)

ASCENT
500ft (152m)
TIME
1hr 45min
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Medium
STARTING POINT
NG814538

About the walk

The Shieldaig peninsula separates inner and outer Loch Torridon, and at every turn there’s a new view – up the loch to Liathach and the less-known hills to the south, out across the sea to Skye and Raasay, or into a sheltered bay with a cluster of eider or the sleek head of a seal. But on a warm, grey summer’s day you may wish to complete the walk quickly and not linger too long.

Scotland's scourge

The reason? In Gaelic she’s ‘meanbh-chuileag’, the tiny fly, but she’s better known as the mighty midge, Scotland’s scourge. I say ‘she’ as the male is an altogether weaker creature, content with a suck of bog myrtle, a brief dance in the summer haze and death among the heather stalks. It’s the female that needs a blood meal in order to lay her eggs. The blood host could be a deer, a sheep, a grouse, or, of course, you. The larvae hatch in wet peat moss, which is all too common in western Scotland. They have the evil ability to absorb oxygen even from such waterlogged surroundings.

Midgie prince

Bonnie Prince Charlie, wandering Scotland in the damp summer of 1746, was mildly inconvenienced by the pursuing redcoats. But his real enemy was the midge. On Benbecula, crouching under a rock in the rain, on a muggy June day, he lost his customary poise and gave way to ‘hideous cries and complaints’. His remedy was brandy when brandy was to be had, and otherwise whisky. During his flight through the heather he got through as much as a bottle a day. Indeed, his alcoholism in later life can in part be blamed on the midge.

There’s a historical mystery over the midge. Dr Johnson, touring just 27 years later, didn’t notice the midge at all. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, walking the Great Glen in 1803, found them mildly annoying, but the bed-bugs were much worse. By 1872 the midges were bad enough to completely ruin one of Queen Victoria’s picnics. This increase in the midge may be down to the Highland Clearances. Glens formerly farmed became their bog breeding grounds. But the worst midge story of all is said to have happened at Gairloch. A replacement minister, the Revd John Morrison, was sent to the Presbyterian church there in 1711, and the congregation so disapproved of his sermon that they stripped him naked, tied him to a tree and left him overnight for the midges!

Walk directions

Follow the street along the shoreline past a cannon salvaged from the Spanish Armada of 1588. At the village end it rises slightly, with another parking area, and a war memorial above on the right.

At the road hairpin, go up to the right of the school. The track bends left below a tennis court. In another 100yds (91m) it divides; here the main track for Rubha Lodge forks off left, but your route bears right, passing to the right of a glacier-smoothed rock knoll. The track runs through birch woods at first, with Loch Shieldaig below on the left. It ends above a rocky bay with a holiday shack. A wide path continues above a second bay, then strikes across a peat bog, bright in mid-summer with bell heather and the fluffy white tops of cotton grass. In the middle of this flat area it divides at a cairn.

The right-hand path runs along the edge of the peaty area, with rocky ground above on its left, then next to birch trees for 50yds (46m). Look out for the point where its pink gravel surface becomes peaty, with a rock formation like a low ruin on the right, because here is an easily missed path junction.

What seems like the main footpath, ahead and slightly downhill, peters out eventually. The correct path forks off to the left, slanting up to the higher ground just above. The path crosses slabby ground in the direction of the peninsula’s trig point, 0.25 miles (400m) away. After 220yds (201m) it rises slightly to a gateway in a former fence. Aiming to the right of the trig point, it crosses a small heather moor. A path joins from the left, then at a broken wall, it turns down right through a gap to the top of a grassy meadow. The first of the two shoreline cottages, Bad-callda, is just below. A rough path leads to the left across the boggy top of the meadow and above a birchwood, with the trig point just above on the left. Keep going forward at the same level to a heather knoll, with a pole on it. Just below you is a second cottage, Camas-ruadh.

The footpath zig-zags down to the right between rocks, with a chain for support. White paint spots lead round to the right of the cottage and its big green shed. Turn left behind the shed to turn left on a well-made path. At once, a small path turns back right, for a clifftop viewpoint at the corner of the peninsula. Return to the main path, which is easy to follow, mostly along the top of the slope dropping to the right to Loch Shieldaig. After 0.5 miles (800m) it rejoins the outward route at the cairn, Point 3.

Additional information

Well-made old paths, 1 rough section

Saltwater views up Loch Torridon and down Loch Shieldaig

Keep on lead in village and when passing livestock

OS Explorer 428 Kyle of Lochalsh

South end of Shieldaig village, opposite shop and hotel

North end of village (another car park)

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WALKING IN SAFETY

Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.

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About the area

Discover Highland

Apart from the Orkneys and the Shetlands, Highland is Scotland’s northernmost county. Probably its most famous feature is the mysterious and evocative Loch Ness, allegedly home to an ancient monster that has embedded itself in the world’s modern mythology, and the region’s tourist industry. Monster or no, Loch Ness is beautiful and it contains more water than all the lakes and reservoirs in England and Wales put together. The loch is 24 miles long, one mile wide and 750 feet deep, making it one of the largest bodies of fresh water in Europe. 

At the very tip of the Highlands is John o’ Groats, said to be named after a Dutchman, Jan de Groot, who lived here in the early 16th century and operated a ferry service across the stormy Pentland Firth to Orkney. In fact, the real northernmost point of the British mainland is Dunnet Head, whose great cliffs rise imposingly above the Pentland Firth some two miles further north than John o’ Groats.

The Isle of Skye is the largest and best known of the Inner Hebrides. Its name is Norse, meaning ‘isle of clouds’, and the southwestern part of the island has some of the heaviest rainfall on the whole of the British coast. Despite this, it’s the most visited of all the islands of the Inner Hebrides. It’s dominated from every view by the high peaks of the Cuillins, which were only conquered towards the end of the 19th century. 

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