When to go
The village of Plockton, on the coast of the West Highlands, is one of Scotland’s best-hidden holiday gems. The lochside “jewel of the Highlands” is a National Trust for Scotland conservation village known for its seaside attractions, including spectacular coastal views, adventurous maritime activities and freshly caught seafood. The village also makes a fantastic addition to a trip to the neighbouring Isle of Skye, which is only 15 minutes away by car.
Lying on a peaceful inlet on Loch Carron, Plockton grows more popular in the summer months, when sailing enthusiasts gather for the village’s annual regatta. After the races, prizes are awarded and the village celebrates in style with traditional music, singing, dancing and a few drams in Harbour Street and the Plockton Inn.
Other outdoor activities are best as the weather mellows, including boat trips across the loch, cycling along sweeping roads or exploring the open moorland and pine forests of the Highlands.
For the rest of the year, the village is a quiet but still lively place to visit, though temperatures can drop to below 10°C from November through to April and rainfall tends to peak in October. When the weather doesn’t play ball, there are cosy pubs and restaurants to retreat to. Though small, with a population of less than 500, Plockton is home to the National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music, teaching bagpipes, Gaelic song, flute and whistle and more – look out for performances by students.
How to get there
Plockton station is served by Scotrail with a regular service from Inverness that takes two hours and 20 minutes and traverses one of the UK’s most picturesque train lines. If you prefer to travel by road, there are coaches operated by Scottish Citylink to nearby Kyle of Lochalsh – gateway to the Isle of Skye – from Glasgow, Inverness and Fort William. Buses to Portree on Skye run from Kyle of Lochalsh.
Once there, Plockton is small enough to cover on foot, but to visit nearby attractions around Loch Carron and beyond may require a car.
Where to stay
The relaxed atmosphere of Plockton Inn, a short walk up Innes Street from the harbour, is part of its charm. A clutch of colourful, newly refurbished rooms features work by local artists. Its restaurant serves fresh catches from the loch alongside other local produce and a good range of local ales, while the bar often has live traditional music. From £110, plocktoninn.co.uk.
Those in search of more local colour might consider Plockton Gallery and Guesthouse B&B, where host and artist Miriam Drysdale has curated a collection of local paintings and sculptures for guests to enjoy alongside a full Scottish breakfast – though be warned, there is no Wi-Fi. Doubles from £90, visitplockton.com/bed-breakfast/the-plockton-gallery-bb.
Up with the sun
Besides an early-morning hike, a great way to see Plockton’s scenery is via a sea kayak, with a guided trip to beauty spots, sheltered bays or more adventurous excursions into the loch for the more confident. From £95pp, seakayakplockton.co.uk.
Just along from the harbour is Hidden Treasures (visitplockton.com/discover/shops/hidden-treasures), which describes itself as “the gift shop of the sea” and sells local arts and crafts with a nautical flavour, including hand-made ceramics and jewellery alongside any fishing gear you might need to catch crabs or sticklebacks.
Every local has the same recommendation for the best thing to do in Plockton: go and see Calum Mackenzie, captain of the Sula Bheag, whose daily wildlife cruises are the stuff of legend. Calum’s Seal Trips (calums-sealtrips.com) include a two-hour evening cruise that guarantees a sight of local seals or a refund of your ticket (£15 adults, £6 children), alongside entertaining commentary about the local area and a dram of whisky. You might also see puffins in spring and early summer, as well as otters, dolphins and porpoise, and a host of sea birds.
Time for a sundowner
The bar at the Plockton Hotel (plocktonhotel.co.uk) warms with a roaring log fire on colder evenings and a beer garden overlooking Loch Carron and the surrounding mountains in spring and summer. It serves a wide array of real ales and gins – perhaps not surprising as it organises an annual Real Ale & Gin Festival each May to show off the best local producers.
The pick of the village’s seafood is to be found at Plockton Shores (plocktonshores.com), with locally landed langoustines, lobster, king scallops and mussels alongside land-based fare, including venison and beef.
Hit the beach
A 10-minute walk from the village brings you to secluded Coral Beach, a quiet, sandy bay that looks out over Loch Carron towards Skye. The path is calmly overseen by a flock of curious Highland cows, so dogs should be kept on leads.
If you are not sick of seafood yet, the Harbour Fish Bar is Plockton’s best spot for locally caught fish and chips.
Time to relax
Less than a mile south-west and inland from Plockton is the small crofting township of Duirnish, a charming collection of whitewashed farming buildings established in 1826. It is home to a beautiful, babbling stream, the homely Croft Café (instagram.com/the_croft_cafe) and a resident herd of Highland cattle – who are happy to be stroked or pose for photographs.
Have a treat
The best sweat treats are to be found at Meghan’s (instagram.com/meghansplockton, a harbourfront ice cream parlour and bakery. Don’t miss the stuffed doughnuts, filled and topped with Lotus Biscoff, salted caramel or crushed Crunchie bars, though the line-up changes daily.
Three things you might not know about Plockton…
1) Plockton grew rich on the herring trade in the mid-19th century, recording catches worth £7,000 at the turn of the century.
2) Several of Plockton’s harbourside views were used for scenes in the 1973 British horror film The Wicker Man, including the harbour of Summerisle where Edward Woodward’s Sergeant Howie arrives on a sea plane.
3) Plockton’s surprising crop of “palm trees” are actually New Zealand cabbage trees, grown along Harbour Street since the 60s with help from the region’s mild and wet climate.