During our trip to Assynt in September I got a slow puncture in one of my tyres. This required a trip to the nearest garage in Ullapool (Loch Broom garage, which I highly recommend) and while we were waiting for them to be able to fit us in we had a quick trip over to Inverlael Forest. Inverlael is managed by Forestry and Land Scotland, and is about a 15 minute drive from Ullapool, in Ross-shire. Although we were only an hour or so from Lochinver the countryside seemed different: less open, with new views to be discovered around every bend. We only had an hour or two to explore Inverlael but there is definitely more waiting to be discovered – Ross-shire is on our list for a future trip so I’m sure we’ll be back sooner or later…
Inverlael is an energy forest, one of six such sites across Scotland, where burning one tree could produce enough energy to power a house for ten days. Inverlael is also a hydro-electric forest, using the natural flow of the river to generate enough power for 1,500 homes (roughly the population of Ullapool), all without disrupting the flow of the river – water is out of circulation for around eight minutes before being returned to the river.
There was an impressive array of plant life at Inverlael including some bright and beautiful toadstools! There was also some heather lingering along the edges of the path which provided a lovely contrast with the surrounding trees.
We found Inverlael in our Northern Highlands walk book, but didn’t have time to do the full walk it details, which takes in two Munros. There are a few sign posted trails around the forest itself which we planned on following but we couldn’t find the start of either of them! So in the end we free-styled and followed the path through the forest towards Beinn Dearg for a while before turning around and heading back to the car in time for our appointment in Ullapool.
There is free parking in a small car park just off the main road. This was quite busy but despite this we barely saw anyone in two and a half hours – just one empty wild camping tent and a fell runner with his border collie!
The paths around the forest were mostly level and well surfaced, with a few sections climbing moderately as you head for the hills. A few of the connecting paths were a bit more slippery and uneven but these were a minority. Once we left the forest and started along the path to Beinn Dearg it wasn’t quite as even, but the path was still clearly identifiable, always a bonus! This path does take you through a deer stalking area but it is fine to walk through here, just make sure you stick to the path, and keep dogs under close control.
When you’ve finished your walk you can get to Ullapool in a quarter of an hour’s drive. It’s one of the larger towns on the NC500 and has a bustling high street and plenty of places to eat. Two of our favourites are North West Outdoors, who stock most of our favourite outdoor brands, and the deliciously tasty Seafood Shack. If you don’t spot the Seafood Shack with your eyes you will be led there by your noise – the amazing smells drifting down the main street are irresistable and are how we found it in the first place! They have outdoor seating and we saw quite a few dogs chilling out under tables, so if you have a canine companion, this might be a good place for you to stop and have lunch.
There are a few lovely walks you can start from Ullapool itself. We did the walk along the river while we were waiting for the car to be sorted, but there are a number of other walks detailed on the Travel Scotland website. You don’t have to go far to get a lovely view – we sat on the bench overlooking the harbour and enjoyed waving off the ferry on it’s way to Lewis & Harris!
Dog friendly rating – 5/5. This rating is based purely on the forest itself rather than the hill path up towards Beinn Dearg. The trees were perfect for being able to let the dogs off the lead without having to worry about livestock, and you can get to the river if your dog needs a drink. There are no awkward stiles to lift your dog over (hurrah!). If you do choose to head towards Beinn Dearg, the path is accessed via a deer proof fence with a gate, please make sure you shut this securely behind you. We chose to keep our dogs on the lead on the hillside, as it was in the middle of the deer stalking season, and we never like to take any chances with the dogs. There are no bins on site so please take any poos away with you (there are plenty of public litter bins in Ullapool).
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