One of the places on our “must see” list during our road trip around the North Coast 500, thanks to friends and twitter, was Knockan Crag. A National Nature Reserve, Knockan Crag is celebrated internationally because of an important and rather impressive natural geological feature known as the Moine Thrust.
The view from Knockan Crag.
More than just a cliff face in the middle of an already breath-taking part of Scotland, Knockan Crag exposes rocks that have fascinated scientists since they were discovered in the 19th Century. Old rock sits on top of much younger rock, and you can run your hands right along it, literally allowing something like 500 million years of history to run underneath your fingertips.
Poetry and sculpture on Knockan Crag.
As such, this area is very popular with walkers, artists and scientists alike. And even on this cool and windy July day the car park was full. No matter, when people go walking they spread out. We had a quick look at the information board and decided we could manage the longest and steepest trail of the three on offer here, the Crag Top Trail, laced up our boots, and headed out.
Trail and view.
First, to the Rock Room, a visitor’s centre with information to teach you about the geology of this unusual setting. It is very clear this place is considered a globally important geological site. I’m no geologist but I found the place and history incredibly fascinating; created by the force of two continents crashing together millions of years ago.
View from Knockan Crag.
From the Rock Room we headed along the trail. A simple loop no more than about 2km in length, the path goes along the crag, steeply up via steps and a narrow trail, along the top of the crag, and then zig zags down the other side back to the car park. You can see the car at all times, this isn’t a particularly long or arduous trail, but it will work your lungs and legs hard as you are gaining height very quickly, so take water as you will be pleased you carried it when you get to the top.
Trail along the top of Knockan Crag.
There are a number of art installations along the trail, both poetry and sculpture, created by people inspired by the area and all based on the history of the crag. More than just an excuse to stop and catch your breath, the art is beautiful and very interesting to see.
Sphere sculpture on Knockan Crag.
The trail itself is very well kept and there is no problem with navigation. The peat is spongey in places as you would expect, but work has been done to lay slabs and gravel to protect the peat and mark out the trail. It took us around an hour, including a decent length stop at the top to let the stunning view soak in. Bear in mind that the trail is very exposed at the top and so the temperature can be a lot cooler up there; waterproofs, hat and gloves are a good idea!
View from the sphere.
The hike is absolutely worth every step. From the top we had wonderful views across Coigach and Assynt, and for miles. Taking a few moments to both catch your breath and take in the scene was a real pleasure.
Taking in the view.
Knockan Crag is a great place to explore and I would urge anyone in the area to make an effort to stop here. The visitor centre is located on the A837 around 13 miles north of Ullapool and just south of Elphin, having a free car park and public toilets. The trail is open all year and I would love to go back in winter to do this one in the snow. There’s some visitor information here.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a spot of lunch or some tea afterwards, I would recommend the Elphin Tearooms, the service was friendly, the homemade soup was just gorgeous, and you’ll get a superb Anzac cake too.