If you come from Poolewe over the A832, also known as the Wester Ross Trail, make sure to stop at the viewpoint just before you descend over Achtercairn Brae. The views over Loch Gairloch, the village below and the Isle of Skye are second to none. If you arrive from the other side you enter the harbour first which is in fact Charlestown and also referred to as the Harbour area. Further down the road at the junction is Achtercairn and Strath is located on the coastal road going west from the junction. These three villages make up Gairloch and you can say that each village has its own identity with its own shops and other amenities. Being as it is, Gairloch is a welcoming village and in fact the largest village in Wester Ross apart from Ullapool and the three settlements together are a perfect holiday destination. There is a lot to see and do in the village as well as in the surrounding area.
Gairloch Heritage Museum
The Gairloch Heritage Museum opened in 1977 in a barn near the junction in Auchtercairn but soon had a lack of space due to the many items and other extensions were added in the years thereafter. As I’ve learned in 2011, the museum staff is again looking for more accommodation due to a lack of space. The museum is divided into 21 different exhibitions. One of them is the original lighthouse mechanism of the Rubha Reidh lighthouse, built in 1912. There is a large Pictish stone and together with the one in the Poolewe Graveyard these are the only Pictish Stones found in the west of Scotland. The Picts (Latin picti, the painted ones) are a people we know little about and up till today the symbols on the stones cannot be explained. Another interesting exhibition is about Fishing which played an important role in the life of the crofters. Many of them had a small boat which they hauled above the high water mark. Other exhibitions include Geology, Landscape and post deliveries. A surprising exhibition for me was the illicit whisky still referring to a period when whisky distilling had been carried out at home as a cottage industry or an adjunct to farming. There is also a large and interesting section on crofting. Another remarkable object is a large wooden pulpit also known as a “Preachers ark.”
Activities, Accommodation and Eating Out in Gairloch
On Mondays you can find an interesting tourist market with homebaking, coffee and lots of local craft in the village hall at the junction. The Leisure Centre next to the High School offers sporting activities and for swimming you can visit the nearby pool in Poolewe. Attached to the village hall, next to the museum, is the Tourist Information Centre which can be a starting point for new visitors in the area. The Gairloch golf course is short and involves a lot of crossing and shared fairways. It has a dramatic setting by the beach and a very welcoming club house. The sandy beach, which borders to the golf course, is very pleasant for a walk and to take in the views of Gairloch. The beach is accessible from the car park at the golf club. There’s also a smaller beach in the village centre.
From the 10 to 15 restaurants in Gairloch I have visited only a few which I can mention here. Highly recommended is the Old Inn opposite the Harbour area. Another nice restaurant is The Shieling. I’ve watched a stunning sunset over the Isle of Sky here while enjoying an excellent meal. This place offers free WiFi and it has a nice area with sofa’s. For a smaller appetite I can recommend the Mountain Coffee Company & Hillbillies Bookstore in Strath, again free WiFi and a more than excellent choice of books, coffees and cakes and the Harbour Lights Cafe at the harbour. Shops are dotted all over the place and there is something to be found for everyone, make sure to also visit the Treasure Chest next to the Harbour Lights Cafe.
Gairloch has its own local community radio station, Two Lochs Radio, which went on the air in 2003. Two Lochs Radio is the place to find out where to be and what to see and do in the Gairloch and Loch Ewe areas. Tune in on 106 FM (Gairloch) or 106.6 FM (Loch Ewe and Loch Maree). Besides several hotels, self catering cottages and bed and breakfasts there are two campsites, one in Strath (Gairloch Holiday Park) and one to the west called Sands Caravan & Camping. Next to the Sands Campsite is a beautiful stretch of beach, almost a mile long, backed by a beautiful dune area. This campsite also offers a playground for children. A youth hostel, situated approximately half-way from Strath to Sand, has superb views across the bay towards Skye.
Fishing was an important way to make a living in earlier times for many people in the area, also for the village of Badachro across the loch. Unfortunately the number of boats are in decline, a situation which is not much different from other fishing towns in Scotland. There are still a few dedicated fishermen who work regularly for their living, but many have moved on; some have diversified into catering for tourism and visitor activities. The pier in Gairloch still is the base for landing catches of crabs, lobsters and prawns. This is also the place to go to if you want to arrange a boat for fishing trips or to join a wildlife spotting cruise for whales, seals, dolphins and porpoises. There is also a glass bottom boat available for trips at sea.
Rubha Reidh Lighthouse
Heading west from Strath you first reach Sands Holiday Centre. The views are stunning, both towards the Isle of Skye as well as to the mountains at the Beinn Eighe Reserve. From here the road is single track and the first wee settlements are North Erradale and Melvaig. Beyond Melvaig the road becomes private all the way up to the Rua Reidh Lighthouse. You can park in Melvaig and walk up to the Lighthouse. You are rewarded with beautiful views and, at the end, a beautiful lighthouse with great views over The Minch, the sea between mainland Scotland and the Outer Hebrides which are also visible on a clear day. Please note that there is no café or public toilet at the lighthouse.
There is a guide at Rua Reidh who offers guided walks in the area. From the lighthouse you can explore a variety of wildlife habitats (coastal and mountain) and see birds, whales, dolphins, etc. The old keeper’s house has new owners who offer guest accommodation, quite a unique place to stay. Halfway Rubha Reidh from Melvaig is a small track going uphill to the radio masts. When I was here the gate was open and I took my chances. The views from up here are even more rewarding although it can be quite windy.
A Walk to Flowerdale House and Waterfall
A gentle walk on good paths through beautiful woodland brings you to Flowerdale House. Rhododendrons add a lovely splash of colour in the spring and summer. While the main path is good, the paths beyond Flowerdale House can become muddy, so stout shoes are essential in wet weather. The path passes the front of Flowerdale House and continues on through forests and farmland, before winding its way up through foresty land towards Flowerdale waterfall. The walk can be extended by climbing up the path on the left-hand side of the waterfall, which leads out onto rocky moorland. I’ve done this walk on a sunny autumn day in October and it was beautiful.
Red Point and Beach
Another interesting detour from the main road south from Gairloch is the single track road to Red Point passing Badachro, Port Henderson and South Erradale. At the end of this single track road is a wee parking space and a gate on your right. You can walk through the field with cattle and beyond the dunes is a fabulous remote and secluded beach with beautifully coloured sand. On a lovely sunny day this is probably one of the most wonderful places for a picnic in this part of Scotland.