Wester Ross (Scottish Gaelic: Taobh Siar Rois) is an area of the Northwest Highlands of Scotland in the council area of Highland. The area is loosely defined, and has never been used as a formal administrative region in its own right, but is generally regarded as lying to the west of the main watershed of Ross (the eastern part of Ross being Easter Ross), thus forming the western half of the county of Ross and Cromarty. The southwesternmost part of Ross and Cromarty, Lochalsh, is not considered part of Wester Ross by the local tourist organisation, Visit Wester Ross, but is included within the definition used for the Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve.
|Wester Ross National Scenic Area|
A map of the Wester Ross National Scenic Area.
|Location||Ross and Cromarty, Scotland|
|Area||163,456 ha (631.11 sq mi)|
|Governing body||Scottish Natural Heritage|
Wester Ross is renowned for the scenic splendour of its mountains and coastline, and the range of wildlife that can be seen. The area is a popular tourist destination, receiving around 70,000 visitors each year. Tourism forms a major part of the economic activity of the area, accounting for 35 % of all employment. Other major economic activities in the area include commercial fishing, renewable energy, agriculture and fish farming.
The area gives its name to the Wester Ross National Scenic Area, one of 40 such areas in Scotland, which are defined so as to identify areas of exceptional scenery and to ensure their protection from inappropriate development. Scenic spots including Loch Maree, Inverewe Garden, Corrieshalloch Gorge, Glen Docherty and the Bealach na Bà. Wester Ross was designated as a Biosphere Reserve in April 2016.
The geology of Wester Ross consists predominantly of Torridonian sandstone and Lewisian gneiss. The latter was formed during the Precambrian period, and is the oldest rock type found in Scotland; indeed the rocks around Gruinard Bay are, at 2.5 billion years old, amongst the oldest rocks in the world. The Torridonian sandstone was formed by the deposition of sediment on top of the gneiss around 750 million years ago. The linear geological feature of Moine Thrust Belt runs northeast across the area from near Kyle of Lochalsh. The area was heavily glaciated during the ice age, with all but the highest peaks being covered by glaciers, leading to the steep-sided glens and deep sea lochs that characterise the area today.
Wester Ross is well known for its spectacular mountain scenery, especially the Torridon Hills which includes such peaks as Beinn Eighe and Liathach. Although many peaks in the Northwest highlands exhibit Torridonian geology, the Torridon Hills are generally considered only to be those in the Torridon Forest to the north of Glen Torridon: the Munros of Liathach, Beinn Eighe, and Beinn Alligin; and the Corbetts of Beinn Dearg, Baosbheinn and Beinn an Eoin. Other notable "Torridonian" peaks in Wester Ross include An Teallach and Slioch, in the Dundonnell and Fisherfield Forest in the north of the area, and the hills of the Coulin Forest between Glen Torridon and Strathcarron. Torridonian hills exhibit some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the British Isles, surpassed in grandeur probably only by the Cuillin of Skye. The hills sit apart from each other, and are often likened to castles. They have steep terraced sides, and broken summit crests, riven into many pinnacles. There are many steep gullies running down the terraced sides. The summit ridges provide excellent scrambling, and are popular with hill walkers and mountaineers. However, like many ridge routes, there are few escape points, so once committed, the scrambler or hillwalker must complete the entire ridge before descent. Under winter conditions, many walking routes in Wester Ross become serious expeditions.
In contrast to the isolated Torridonian peaks that characterise much of Wester Ross, the mountains of Kintail in the south of the area take the form of peaks linked by ridges that rise steeply from narrow glens and the sea.
Most of the major roads in the area radiate out from the more populated areas of Easter Ross, and link the settlements on the western coast to Inverness. Less major roads link these east-west routes to form a north-south route along the coast between Kyle of Lochalsh and Ullapool. This route has been marketed to tourists as the Wester Ross Coastal Trail, and also forms part of the North Coast 500 tourist route. The only railway line in Wester Ross is the Kyle of Lochalsh line, which is operated by ScotRail and provides a link between the southern part of the region and Inverness. Four services a day operate on the line, calling at stations at Achnasheen, Achnashellach, Strathcarron, Attadale, Stromeferry, Duncraig, Plockton and Duirinish, terminating at Kyle of Lochalsh.
Despite being located at a latitude of between 57.2° and 58.0° North Wester Ross experiences a relatively mild maritime climate (Köppen Cfb) due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The tables below provide data for three locations within the area: Aultbea, located on the coast near Poolewe; Kinlochewe, located in a more inland position at the head of Loch Maree; and the summit of the Bealach na Bà, located 600 m above sea level in a coastal location.
|Climate data for Aultbea|
|Average high °C (°F)||7.6
|Average low °C (°F)||2.7
|Average rainfall mm (inches)||170.4
|Climate data for Kinlochewe|
|Average high °C (°F)||7.1
|Average low °C (°F)||0.9
|Average rainfall mm (inches)||309.3
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||18.0||41.7||67.2||111.1||152.2||123.9||111.3||104.7||80.4||49.4||23.5||14.6||898.0|
|Climate data for the summit of the Bealach na Bà|
|Average high °C (°F)||1.6
|Average low °C (°F)||−2.1
There are traces of Mesolithic occupation at several sites in Wester Ross, including at Redpoint and Shieldaig. Excavations of a Mesolithic rock shelter and shell midden at Sand on the Applecross peninsula revealed a variety of tools made from bone, stone and antler, together with waste from tool manufacture and food processing. The Mesolithic people were largely nomadic, and permanent settlements were first built during the Neolithic era, when trees were felled to create land for farming.
The area was inhabited by Picts in late antiquity, and was largely Christian by the 7th Century. From the 8th Century Wester Ross, along with much of the western seaboard of Scotland, came under Norse domination, and placename evidence suggests that the Pictish language seems to have been entirely replaced wherever the Norsemen encountered it, with most names considered likely to be of Medieval rather than pre-Norse origin. Following the decline of Norse power in western Scotland after their defeat at the Battle of Largs the semi-independent Lords of the Isles came to dominate the western coast until the 15th century, when Scottish Crown was able to cement its control over the region.
The 16th century marked the height of the Clan structure in the Highlands, and Wester Ross was occupied by different clans, chiefly the Mackenzies and the Macdonalds. Historically the chiefs of the Clan Donald held the title of Lord of the Isles until 1493 and two of those chiefs also held the title of Earl of Ross until 1476. During this period the area was farmed under the communal run-rig system, with people living in small townships, growing oats, bere (barley), and later potatoes. Cattle rearing was the chief economic activity, with cattle being raised in the glens and then driven to market. This trade expanded during the early 19th Century, due to the demands of the new industrial cities and the British armed forces for cattle for beef.
The clan structure began to break down in the 18th century, as clan chiefs came to see themselves as landlords, and the small tenant farmers had no legal answer to a landlord who wished to have them removed. During the late 18th and 19th centuries, the Highland Clearances saw tenants being forcibly moved to become crofters, a system under which their labour would be available when required by their landlords: they would be workers first and farmers second. Crofters were employed in enterprises such as fishing (Ullapool in the north of Wester Ross was built by the British Fishing Society in the 1780-90s) and kelping (the collection and processing of kelp to create products such as soda ash). In the later stages of the clearances the driver ceased to be industrial enterprises, but simply to clear the land for sheep faming, and later deer forests. At this point emigration was often the only option to those removed from their homes.
Under pressure from the Highland Land League and public opinion a series of inquiries were held into the situation, leading to the Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886 which put an end to the clearances by granting security of tenure to crofters. However the act did not break up large estates, and Wester Ross continues to consist chiefly of large single-owner estates.
There are many different habitats in Wester Ross, ranging from the marine and coastal environment to mountain summits over 1000 m above sea level. The area forms one of the Watsonian vice-counties, geographical divisions of the British Isles used for the purposes of biological recording and other scientific data-gathering.
The coastline is mostly formed of cliffs and rocky shores covered with barnacles and seaweed. These cliffs are home to large numbers of seabirds such as puffins, fulmars, kittiwakes, razorbills , guillemots, black guillemots, cormorants and shags, whilst the rocky islets and skerries are important for harbour seals. There are also beaches and sand dunes: the dunes at Achnahaird in particular support three plant species (petalworts, dune slack mosses matted bryum and sea bryum) that occur nowhere else in Scotland. There is relatively little machair in Wester Ross compared to other parts of western Scotland.
Whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals area frequently seen in the outer lochs and open waters, whilst the more sheltered sea lochs contain rocky reefs, maerl beds and deep mud banks. Loch Carron is home to the world's largest flame shell beds.
The rivers and lochs of Wester Ross support important populations of Atlantic salmon and sea trout, although numbers of adult fish have declined in recent years. Freshwater pearl mussels live in the gravel beds of clean, fast flowing rivers: the population had declined across Europe as a result of pollution, habitat changes and pearl fishing, and the Wester Ross population is now of international importance. Otters and water voles are both present in strong numbers in the rivers of Wester Ross: water voles populations have been in decline across Great Britain due to predation by non-native American mink, which have only recently been recorded in Wester Ross. The lochs also support internationally important concentrations of breeding black-throated divers, which is at the southern edge of its range in Wester Ross. Besides salmon and trout, Arctic charr can be found in many of the lochs.
There are areas of Caledonian pinewood at Shieldaig, Coulin, Torridon, Beinn Eighe, Rhidorroch, Achnashellach and the islands on Loch Maree. Though small in terms of area, these pinewoods (which are composed chiefly of Scots pine, alongside deciduous species such as birch and rowan) are an internationally important habitat. These woods are genetically distinct from the pinewoods of central and eastern Scotland, and support a highly specialised flora and fauna including rare mosses and lichens, and insects such as the Scottish wood ant. The pinewoods are also habitats for red squirrel and black grouse.
Moorland habitats, which are rare globally, are quite common in Wester Ross. The moors are characterised by blanket bogs composed of sphagnum mosses, and host breeding birds such as golden plover, greenshank and dunlin, along with a resident population of red grouse. The summits of Wester Ross host alpine and sub-alpine heaths comprising mosses, liverworts and lichens, and dwarf shrubs such as alpine bearberry, juniper, crowberry, and cowberry. Beinn Eighe is the only known site for the Northern prongwort in the UK, and represents 75 % of the known world population. Bird species in the montane areas of Wester Ross include ptarmigan, dotterel and snow bunting, along with raptor species such as golden eagle and merlin.
White-tailed eagles were reintroduced into Wester Ross during the 1990s, with 58 birds being released between 1993 and 1998. This was the second phase of the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles into Scotland, following on from the release of 82 birds on Rùm between 1975 and 1985. As of 2014, it was estimated that there were 98 breeding pairs living along the west coast of Scotland.
The Wester Ross National Scenic Area covers 1635 km2 of countryside and seascape, and is the largest of the national scenic areas in terms of land area (1439km2). It extends from Loch Kishorn in the south to Little Loch Broom in the north. There are two further national scenic areas (NSA) that include parts of Wester Ross: the Kintail NSA and the Coigach portion of the Assynt-Coigach NSA.
Wester Ross was designated as a Biosphere Reserve in April 2016. The designated area is subdivided into three zones:
- A Core Zone of 53 km2, coincident with two protected sites, the Beinn Eighe and Loch Maree Islands National Nature Reserve and the Coille Mhór Special Area of Conservation.
- A Buffer Zone of 138 km2 surrounding these two sites and including the entirety of the National Trust for Scotland's Balmacara property.
- A Transition Zone of 5108 km2 covering the rest of Wester Ross (including 955 km2 of sea).
Approximately 20 % of Wester Ross is legally protected via the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designation.
National Trust for Scotland properties
The National Trust for Scotland, a charity that cares for sites of historic or natural significance, owns seven properties in Wester Ross:
- The 7,050 ha (17,422 acres) Kintail and Falls of Glomach Estate covers the mountains on the north side of Glen Shiel, including the "Five Sisters of Kintail" and the Falls of Glomach. The Falls became a Trust property in 1941, whilst the wider Kintail Estate entered Trust ownership in 1944. The estate is adjacent to the Trust's West Affric Estate in Inverness-shire.
- The Balmacara estate, which became a Trust property in 1946, is a 2,277 ha (5,627 acres) crofting estate covering the land surrounding Plockton.
- The ruins of Strome Castle, situated on a rocky promontory in Loch Carron, have been a Trust property since 1939.
- Shieldaig Island, lying offshore from the village of Shieldaig, is entirely covered in Scots pine trees, and was purchased by the Trust in 1970.
- The 6,457 ha (15,955 acres) Torridon Estate covers the mountains on the north side of Glen Torridon, including Beinn Alligin, Liathach and part of Beinn Eighe, and has been a Trust property since 1967.
- Inverewe Garden, which has been a Trust property since 1952, was first established by Osgood Mackenzie and brings together exotic plants from around the world. The garden forms part of a wider estate, covering 839 ha (2,074 acres) in total, all of which is under Trust ownership.
- Corrieshalloch Gorge is a National Nature Reserve located between Ullapool and Dundonnell, which has been a Trust property since 1945. The chief attraction is the Falls of Meanach, which can be seen from a Victorian suspension bridge and viewing platform.
The population of Wester Ross was 8701 according to the 2011 census of Scotland, showing a slight increase compared to 8491 in 1991. The population is generally older than Scotland as a whole, with 22.1 % being aged 65 or older, compared to 16.8 % for Scotland as a whole.
Wester Ross has historically been a Gaelic speaking area, however the language suffered from persecution for many years, and its decline was hastened when schooling became compulsory in the late 19th Century. In the 2011 census 10.6 % of the population reported being able to speak the language, compared to only 1.1 % of the population of Scotland as whole.
Government and politics
Wester Ross is part of the registration county of Ross and Cromarty. The counties of Scotland are now used only for statistical purposes, and for local government purposes the whole of Ross and Cromarty is part of the council area of Highland. Wester Ross is united with Strathpeffer in Easter Ross to form a single ward entitled Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, which elects 4 councilors to Highland Council under the single transferable vote electoral system. Some local decisions are delegated to the Ross and Cromarty Committee, which consists of all councilors representing this ward and the four neighbouring wards that cover Easter Ross and Cromarty.
In the Scottish Parliament most of Wester Ross lies within the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross constituency, however the Lochalsh area in the south of the region forms part of the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch constituency. Each constituency elects one Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) by the plurality (first past the post) method of election; a further seven additional members are elected from the Highlands and Islands electoral region (in addition to the eight constituency MSPs), to produce a form of proportional representation for the region as a whole.
In popular culture
Wester Ross is featured in the lyrics to the song Letter from America by The Proclaimers, and Kishorn Commandos by North Sea Gas, which relate the wild lifestyle of construction workers on the Ninian Central Platform in Kishorn. Many other songs refer to or are named after areas, geographical features and villages of Wester Ross, notably Loch Maree Islands, which has been recorded by many artists including Calum Kennedy.
Major outdoor scenes in the films Stardust and The Eagle (based on Rosemary Sutcliff's book The Eagle of the Ninth) were shot in Wester Ross. Plockton was used for shots showing Sergeant Neil Howie's arrival at Summerisle in The Wicker Man.
Places in Wester Ross
- "National Scenic Areas - Maps". SNH. 20 December 2010. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
- Tourism and Leisure Solutions (May 2018). "Visit Wester Ross - Tourism Development Strategy Update & Refresh" (PDF). Visit Wester Ross. p. 7. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
- "The 6 Lochs Tour of Wester Ross" (PDF). Visit Wester Ross. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 2.
- "The special qualities of the National Scenic Areas" (PDF). Scottish Natural Heritage. 2010. pp. 239–249. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
- ""We" are "Wild about Wester Ross"". Visit Wester Ross. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 7.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 8.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 43.
- "National Scenic Areas". Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
- "Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve". Wester Ross Biosphere Ltd. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 54.
- D. Bennet & R. Anderson. The Munros: Scottish Mountaineering Club Hillwalkers Guide, pp. 212-219. Published 2016.
- R. Milne & H. Brown. The Corbetts and Other Scottish Hills: Scottish Mountaineering Club Hillwalkers Guide, pp. 205-208. Published 2002.
- "The special qualities of the National Scenic Areas" (PDF). Scottish Natural Heritage. 2010. pp. 181–187. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
- "The Wester Ross Coastal Trail" (PDF). Visit Wester Ross. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
- "Our history". Visit Wester Ross. Retrieved 18 September 2018.
- North Coast 500, http://www.northcoast500.com/interactive-map.aspx
- "North Highlands Timetable (20th May - 8th December 2018" (PDF). Scotrail. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
- "Aultbea climate (1981-2010)". Met Office. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
- "Kinlochewe climate (1981-2010)". Met Office. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
- "Bealach Na Ba climate (1981-2010)". Met Office. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
- History Scotland Magazine: First Settlers
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 38.
- "Ross and Cromarty". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
- Woolf, Alex (ed.) (2009) Scandinavian Scotland – Twenty Years After. St Andrews. St Andrews University Press. ISBN 978-0-9512573-7-1 pp. 87, 90, 95.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 39.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 40.
- Thomson, Derick S. (1983). The Companion to Gaelic Scotland. Basil Blackwater Publisher Lim., Àth nan Damh. p. 88. ISBN 0-631-12502-7.
- "Map Search". Who Owns Scotland. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
- "Vice-county map of Britain and Ireland". British Bryological Society. 28 January 2016. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 56.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 55.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 57.
- "Plan to give Loch Carron permanent protection". BBC. 21 March 2018. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 58.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 59.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 61.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 63.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 62.
- "Commissioned Report No. 898: Population and future range modelling of reintroduced Scottish white-tailed eagles" (PDF). Scottish Natural Heritage. 2016. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
- "Wester Ross NSA Map" (PDF). Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
- "National Scenic Areas of Scotland" (PDF). Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 37.
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 88.
- "Wester Ross MPA(NC)". Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
- National Trust for Scotland 2018 Guide. p. 100.
- "Property Page: Kintail & Falls of Glomach". Who Owns Scotland. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
- National Trust for Scotland 2018 Guide. p. 95.
- "Property Page: Balmacara Estate". Who Owns Scotland. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
- National Trust for Scotland 2018 Guide. p. 117.
- National Trust for Scotland 2018 Guide. p. 107.
- "Property Page: Torridon". Who Owns Scotland. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
- National Trust for Scotland 2018 Guide. p. 104.
- "Property Page: Inverewe". Who Owns Scotland. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
- Scotland's Census, Table KS101SC (2011)
- Scotland's Census, Table KS101SC (1991)
- Scotland's Census, Table LC1117SC (2011)
- Wester Ross Biosphere Reserve Application. p. 51.
- Scotland's Census, Table LC1117SC (2011)
- "Land register counties and operational dates" (PDF). Registers of Scotland. 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
- "Map: Ward 5 (Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh)" (PDF). Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland. 2016. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
- "Fifth Electoral Review - Highland". Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
- "Ross and Cromarty Committee: Tasks and responsibilities". Highland Council. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
- "Ross and Cromarty Committee: Ward representation". Highland Council. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
- "Caithness, Sutherland and Ross County Constituency" (PDF). Boundary Commission for Scotland. 2011. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
- "Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch County Constituency" (PDF). Boundary Commission for Scotland. 2011. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
- "Scottish Parliament Region: Highlands and Islands" (PDF). Boundary Commission for Scotland. 2011. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
- "Ross, Skye and Lochaber County Constituency" (PDF). Boundary Commission for Scotland. 2011. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
- "The Kishorn Commandos". Henry's Songbook. 25 August 2000. Retrieved 12 July 2018.
- "The Proclaimers - Letter From America (Band version) Lyrics". SongLyrics. Retrieved 12 July 2018.
- "Calum Kennedy - The Calum Kennedy Show". Discogs. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
- "The Highlands on Film" (PDF). VisitScotland. Retrieved 12 July 2018.