Scotland is known for its rugged scenery and provides the perfect escape for someone wanting to go somewhere wild. The Highlands and Islands in particular are remote and isolated, hauntingly beautiful, and yet teeming with wildlife, adventure, and things to go see and do. Breathe in the freshest air as you take in the vast sweeps of atmospheric moorlands, rugged mountains, white sandy beaches and thick pine forests.
A lot of this wildness is owed to a lack of habitation and inaccessibility. Scotland’s gorgeous mountains also serve as very effective barriers, forcing roads to wind around them and human settlement to the peripheries.
We’ve listed a few of our favourite wild places in Scotland below – these spots certainly meet the criteria for off-the-beaten-track, breathtakingly beautiful and once-in-a-lifetime destinations to visit. They all take a bit of effort to get to but are well worth the time.*
*Please note that careful estate management, conservation efforts, designated protected areas and responsible land use by industry and tourism mean that these special places have stayed wild. Do your bit and leave no trace and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code if visiting.
Rannoch Moor is arguably one of the wildest places in Scotland – but does not very often make it into these types of lists. Why not? Mostly because people confuse wild with just being remote. The Rannoch Moor actually has a relatively central location in mainland Scotland. Furthermore, one of Scotland’s main thoroughfares, the A82 which links up Glasgow to Fort William, passes through just a small fraction of the moor on the western end, and a train line skirts the expanse on the eastern end.
But there is so much more to Rannoch Moor than what you can easily see. It spans 50 square miles and is famously boggy, peaty and bleak. But it is also wild. It’s home to an abundance of flora and fauna, and wild weather to boot. Most people will only see the moor from where the road and train line passes through it, but these vantage points do give a good flavour of what the rest holds. Or doesn’t hold to be more accurate. No roads, no people – just beautiful, lonely lochans interspersed with bog and endless views of mountains.
This region is unimaginably beautiful and wild. Singletrack roads wind between glistening lochs and dramatic mountains jutting up starkly from the landscape. What makes the scenery so awe-inspiring is the relative solitude of the hills, described by geologists as “island mountains’. Assynt & Coigach are part of the North West Highlands Geopark and landscapes have been formed by billions of years worth of glaciation and weathering.
Although the landscape may look barren, it’s anything but. The area is home to an abundance of fascinating wildlife like red deer, stoats, badgers, pine marten, otters, adders, dolphins, orcas, osprey, guillemots, fulmars and white-tailed eagles.
Looking to get away from the crowds? Head over to the Knoydart Peninsula. Isolated from the rest of the Western Highlands by the ‘rough bounds’ – a notorious strip of mountainous terrain – it remains an untamed and beautiful area of high mountains and twisting sea lochs.
The region’s principal village of Inverie is completely cut off from the Scottish road network. The only way to get there is by boat from Arisaig or Mallaig, or by walking for 1-3 days across rugged terrain. Despite the remoteness, visiting Knoydart is definitely worth the effort though. The peninsula is home to three Munros – Ladhar Bheinn, Luinne Bheinn and Meall Buidhe, which are all considerable undertakings but provide excellent views of the surrounding area.
This small far-flung cluster of islands in the middle of the Atlantic was once populated by a remote and hardy community but has been abandoned since the 1930s. You can visit the islands by embarking on a 3-4 hour boat trip (keep in mind that is each way). Day-trippers can spend around 4 hours on the island, and a maximum of 5 nights are permitted for longer stays.
St Kilda is home to some of the highest sea cliffs in Britain and globally important colonies of gannets, fulmars and puffins. The incredible birdlife and the thought-provoking story of the islanders who once lived on this remote and unforgiving island will stay with you long after the cliffs become a mere dot on the horizon. The archipelago is one of the few sites, and the only in the UK, to hold dual World Heritage status for their rich cultural past and current natural value.
The Cairngorm Massif is an impressive mountain range sitting in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. The massif, even more than the rest of the park, is often described as Alpine-Arctic and tundra-like, known for its rough terrain, long-lasting snow patches and fierce weather. The massif consists of 18 Munros (mountains over 3,000ft) and you’ll find five of the six highest mountains in the UK here. Parts of the plateau are easily accessible, notably, Cairn Gorm itself where the ski centre is based and also the peaks near Braemar. However, much of the Cairngorms is actually very remote and untouched, a wild landscape of mountains, moorlands and forest.
If you want to get an idea for the awe that these hills hold, read Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, a memoir concerning hill walking in the Cairngorms. The beauty of the Cairngorms is best said in her own words: “Summer on the high plateau can be delectable as honey; it can also be a roaring scourge. To those who love the place, both are good, since both are part of its essential nature. And it is to know its essential nature that I am seeking here. To know, that is, with the knowledge that is a process of living. This is not done easily nor in an hour. It is a tale too slow for the impatience of our age, not of immediate enough import for its desperate problems. Yet it has its own rare value. It is, for one thing, a corrective of glib assessment: one never quite knows the mountain, nor oneself in relation to it. However often I walk on them, these hills hold astonishment for me. There is no getting accustomed to them.”
Sculpted by the forces of nature and the historical influence of the Highland Clearances, this is an intriguing and captivating corner of Scotland, which few tourists reach. Cape Wrath is the most north-westerly point of Scotland and separated from the main road by the Kyle of Durness, so visitors have to either traverse a considerable distance across moorland on foot or take a passenger ferry and a public minibus. Those that come are rewarded with genuine wilderness, impressive sea cliffs, white sand beaches and a plethora of wildlife.
The highlights are the Cape Wrath lighthouse and the beach at Kearvaig Bay. Although larges swathes of Cape Wrath are protected conservation areas, parts are actually owned by the Ministry of Defence and get used for military training, so be mindful of that when visiting.
Remote and wild shouldn’t be synonymous, but the lack of human accessibility means the Shetland Islands remain untouched and unspoilt. Foula and the Fair Isle compete with one another for the title of the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom. They both belong to the Shetland archipelago, so they are already pretty far-flung as far as the definition goes, as the Shetland Isles dot the sea between Scotland and Norway.
Starting with Foula, the island sits 20 miles west from the ‘mainland’ of Shetland and has around 30 people living there year-round. Foula’s inhabitants occupy themselves with crofting, sheep herding and tourists. The island’s attractions are the sea birds that live there and some of Britain’s highest and sheerest sea cliffs (only rivalled in height by those found on the aforementioned St Kilda). The island has a frozen in time vibe to it – it was one of the last places to still speak the old Norse language and still partakes in various Norse folk traditions and festivities. The name Foula translates to ‘bird island’ so it’s unsurprising that it’s also an area of special protection for birds.
Next up is Fair Isle, which is arguably even more remote, although its population is double that of Foula, with around 60 people residing there. The island sits at a rough equidistance from the most southwesterly point of Shetland the most northeasterly point of Orkney. Fair Isle is known for its incredible knitwear, wildlife and beautiful scenery. The island is notably home to many rare bird species and featured a beautiful bird observatory, which unfortunately burned down in a major fire in 2019. The island is often referred to as an Atlantic stepping stone and was thus used by the Vikings. The awe-inspiring cliffs of the island also mean that it’s a magnet for shipwrecks, from the Viking age through WWII and even the modern era.
Although the name Fisherfield Forests suggests the presence of trees, this area is actually pretty devoid of them – although you should encounter plenty of deer! Sometimes referred to as the Great Wilderness, Fisherfield forest is the incredibly remote and mountainous area that sits between Loch Maree and Loch Broom. If you heading into the depths of Fisherfield you’ll find yourself literally in the middle of nowhere, far from any roads or settlements.
The scenery is fantastic and dramatic – but unforgiving. The mountains are veined with rivers, which often need to be crossed to get to the summits that attract tenacious hillwalkers. Walkers will also have to overcome wild bog, thick heather and higher up there are boulder fields, scrambles and scree. Summit views are spectacular and due to the area’s inaccessibility, you’ll likely have them completely to yourself.
This is a true Hebridean gem, although not very hidden mind you. Rum’s prominent peaks grace the views from Arisaig and Mallaig, popular tourist hot spots, but due to the severity of the hillwalking and low ferry capacity, Rum only attracts a limited crowd. Rum is the ultimate outdoor adventure playground – with mountains, beaches and castles galore.
The island is an ancient extinct volcano, significantly eroded by glaciation and weather. As a result, the mountains on Rum aren’t particularly tall, but they are impressive to behold and make for a challenging hill walk. The Rum Cuillin mountain range consists of two Corbetts, Askival and Ainsvhal, and several smaller hills. Many of the hills, including the two Corbetts, have old Norse names.
After the Highland Clearances, the island was used as a sporting estate, as it’s rife with red deer. The island was purchased as a private holiday island by an eccentric family in the 1880s who commissioned the build for the opulent Kinloch Castle. NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage) bought the island in the late 1950s and have managed it since. You can find one of the largest Manx shearwater colonies in the world on Rum, as well as nearly 1,000 deer and both golden and white-tailed eagles.
Ardnamurchan is the most westerly point of the British mainland and a beautiful unspoilt peninsula, known primarily for Sanna Bay and Ardtoe and their gorgeous white sand beaches. The peninsula might as well be an island for its lack of accessibility. It’s surrounded by the sea on three sides and there is only a rough single-track road as the main access route on the peninsula itself.
If driving, you can get there by a long driving detour from Lochairlort or Glenfinnan or by ferry journey from Corran. You could also get to the village of Kilchoan via a ferry from the Isle of Mull, which you can reach by taking a ferry from Oban. Ardnamurchan is part of the Lochaber Geopark, and much of what you’ll see is part of an ancient caldera.
The landscape combines stark contrasts, which makes it so enrapturing. Picture luscious woodlands and Caribbean-esque beaches, but then interspersed there are also rocky sea cliffs, looming hills and boggy moorland.