When you tell folk that you are spending the summer in Scotland, they frequently utter that ‘oh right’ or ‘hmmm’ murmur that basically translates as, ‘Good luck with the weather.’
However, when you manage to sneak in that you’re actually heading to Arisaig, they nod and know exactly why.
If you have ever visited the isolated west coast village of Arisaig, you’ll have fallen in love.
Almost at the end of the A830 ‘Road to the Isles’, even the drive there is magical, weaving past the iconic ‘Harry Potter viaduct‘, uninhabited coastlines and finally reaching the crystal-clear beaches for which Arisaig is so famous (think Local Hero).
We’ve spent at least a week caravanning at this beautiful spot on the west coast since I was a toddler, and this year was no different.
You might wonder why we’d choose to holiday in Scotland…
Especially on its western side where the weather is even more unpredictable due to the proximity of the Atlantic. But, even though the weather was outstandingly crap this summer, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
The raw beauty of Arisaig and its coastline just seems to reset your sense of self. Does that sound daft? When I’m there, I feel removed from shallow modernity, instant communication and the self-consciousness that our society brings.
A place like Arisaig also reminds you that there is nothing more powerful than nature. There, camping on the coast, you are completely at the mercy of the rain, wind and sometimes sunshine. No-one here gives two hoots about how much money you have, how important you are at work, or how flash your possessions are. Out here in the wild west, you bow down to nothing but the ever-changing sea and sky.
So if you’re one of those murmurers who can’t quite grasp the attraction of a summer in Scotland, the picture-postcards below will hopefully highlight some of the best bits from the beautiful Arisaig area. There’s even some exciting additions to add to my previous ‘travel tips’ article on Arisaig and Mallaig… All I’m saying is ‘pizza’!
Those soul-cleansing beach walks in the wind.
When caravanning at Arisaig, there are a few relaxing things I love: 1) reading whilst the rain taps on the roof and 2) wandering aimlessly down the beach. It’s just so far removed from the built-up city existence that’s become habitual to me that the freedom and lack of stress is a godsend.
We spend hours just wandering, listening to the waves whacking the shore and exploring the adjacent rock pools. Forget those meditation apps; this right here is a guaranteed stress-buster.
The feisty local wildlife.
Scotland’s west coast is a haven for wildlife, whether that’s seals, otters or the many critters that shack up in the seashore’s rock pools and sandbars.
Ever since I was young, I’ve had a fascination with rock pooling and to this day we still go hunting for crabs, small fish (like gobies or father lashers) and dabs. It honestly is quite astounding how many species you can discover in such a tiny area of rocks and sand, all on your doorstep in coastal Scotland.
That distilled, glorious Highland spirit of Scotland.
Hearing this young bagpiper play beside Mallaig Harbour was a tangible nudge towards the many traditions that not only bolster our own patriotism but also encourage visitors to come here and experience them for real (think ceilidhs, haggis, kilts and Highland Games).
And there’s also something about these communities that, for me, truly encapsulates what it means to be Scottish. Maybe it’s the proximity to raw landscapes, or the sense of togetherness, or even the unpretentiousness of life in places like Arisaig which appeals to me. What do you think?
The Crannog, Mallaig’s best new pizza joint.
When we visit Mallaig each summer, we’re used to spotting the minuscule changes in the town: maybe a shop closure, an altered menu or a new pontoon at the quay. But this last year, there have been some massive changes at the marina, namely that two beautiful buildings have been erected with some rather delicious residents.
This area is now home to not one but two foodie establishments: The Bakehouse and The Crannog. We sampled the menus at both eateries, but the Crannog’s pizza blew our mind. With the fresh dough bashed out in front of you, flour flying and then slid into the gigantic pizza oven, you can quite literally see your dinner being made in front of you.
Adding another star to its rating, the Crannog pairs traditional Italian flavours with Scottish venison, cheese and Hebridean sea salt all on the menu. All items are take-away, though if it’s quiet you can grab one of the stools by the window and munch whilst you watch the boats move in the marina below.
Being at the mercy of the west coast elements.
Okay, so bad weather might not feature on everybody’s ‘best bits’ list of summer, but this year was more spectacular than any I’ve witnessed. After three days of gale force winds, whipping rain, broken boats (see photo backdrop!) and dismantled tents the clouds finally cleared… And it was pretty amazing to see what damage the brute strength of the winds had caused.
The image above shows just a small section of an Arisaig beach but — all along the coast — there were lines and lines of kelp, snatched from the seabed and spewed up on the shore. The most shocking scene to appear after the storm was the mounds of kelp on the famed Camusdarach Beach between Arisaig and Morar. Here‘s what it looks like usually!
And between the rain showers, moments of pure magic.
It may have rained more than I can remember, but — thanks to the west coast’s changeable weather — we did get some pretty incredible skies this summer. One of the highlights was this evening (see above) where the light broke through the clouds so softly that it created an almost watercolour effect over the Isle of Rùm in the background.
And in that moment, when you’re watching the oranges and lilacs deepen and darken, you almost forget the torrential rain you’d experienced just a few hours before. Perhaps, just perhaps, that unpredictability is what makes this area of Scotland so magical.