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Issue 36 - Wanderings in Wester Ross

Scotland Magazine Issue 36
December 2007

 

This article is 9 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Wanderings in Wester Ross

The area around Gairloch on Scotland's north west coast has plenty to offer the visitor. Neil Gunn reports.

The road junction at Achnasheen leaves visitors to Wester Ross with a dilemma, do they turn south west and take the road to the Isles and the splendour of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Skye or north west towards the beaches of Gairloch and the stark grandeur of Torridon?

Choose the latter option and the rewards are immediate. The road leads you from Achnasheen past the shores of Loch a` Chroisg and winds slowly up to more than 800 feet into Glen Docharty. Waiting for you are magnificent views of the imposing slopes of Beinn Eighe and Slioch. The village of Kinlochewe and the sparkling waters of Loch Maree lie ahead.

A visit to Beinn Eighe, Britain’s first National Nature Reserve is essential. Set up in 1951 to protect the ancient Caledonian forest west of Kinlochewe it is home to some of Scotland’s rarest wildlife, among them pine marten, wildcats and the majestic golden eagle.

The mountain and woodland trails give you the ideal opportunity to enjoy a diverse rang of flora and fauna including Alpine azaleas on the higher slopes. The woodland walk is designed to take about an hour and takes you along the west side of Loch Maree. Choose the longer mountain trail and climb to around 1,800 ft and you will find a stunning view over the loch where on a clear day you can see the summits of 31 Munros (peaks above 3,000 ft).

At Kinlochewe you are again faced with a choice. You can turn south west through Glen Torridon or continue along the side of Loch Maree. Take the lochside road, you can visit Torridon on a later part of the trip.

The loch, peppered with small islands, was a favourite place of Queen Victoria and is perhaps the most beautiful of Scotland’s freshwater lochs. The biggest of the islands is Eilean Ruairidh Mor (the Big Island of Rory, named after a chief of the clan Macleod) and legend tells us that it is the meeting place of fairies who gather once a year to pay tribute to their queen.

As you pass the Loch Maree Hotel the road turns away from the loch. You are within a few miles of Gairloch when you turn off onto a quieter road and head to the small communities of Badachro and Red Point.

The Inn at Badachro is a fine place to stop for lunch before heading the few miles on single track road to Red Point where the road ends.

Park at the gates to Red Point farm, the nearby track will take you initially through some fields, then down to a wide sandy beach. The view across Loch Torridon to the islands of Raasay and Skye is superb, it is a quite magical spot.

For the fit and adventurous among you, continue for about seven miles until you come to the tiny hamlet of Lower Diabaig, in essence a group of houses strung along the road which descends steeply until it reaches the shore of Loch Diabaig. There you can pick up the public road again and hike the eight miles to the village of Torridon. The road then turns full circle, back to that junction at Kinlochleven.

It’s well worth spending a few days in Torridon where you are never far from the brooding presence of the surrounding mountains. There are a number of places to stay but remember, forward planning is essential because you’ve just left your car at Red Point.

Return refreshed to Red Point and then on to the village of Gairloch which is actually made up from a number of small settlements. In the summer it’s a bustling place with a wide range of hotels and guesthouses, many of which serve some delicious locally caught seafood.

Between March and October you can take a sea cruise where you might spot porpoise, common and grey seals, basking shark, minke whales and if you’re very lucky the distinctive black and white markings of a killer whale.

For the green fingered among you Inverewe Gardens are only about six miles from Gairloch. The world famous subtropical gardens lie on about the same latitude as Hudson Bay in Canada and are perhaps the last thing you would expect on the north west coast of Scotland. But thanks to the warm water of the Gulf Stream, Chinese rhododendrons, Tasmanian eucalyptus, Himalayan blue poppies, Californian dog’s tooth violets and other exotic blooms all vie for your attention. A visitor centre, bookshop and café make it an enjoyable day out.

I have left the best to last, my own favourite place in this part of the world.

Situated on a remote peninsula 12 miles from Gairloch is Rua Reidh, a fully automated lighthouse perched on the edge of a wild and lonely landscape Built by a cousin of author Robert Louis Stevenson, the keeper’s house has been converted into comfortable accommodation which is available to rent.

The last three miles of the journey to this remote spot is along a very narrow and windy single track road but the views across the Minch towards the Outer Hebrides are stunning. It’s an area where superlatives simply trip off your tongue.

If you scramble to the high point on the hill above the lighthouse you can see on a clear day north to the hills of Sutherland and Assynt. A walk along the top of the cliffs will take you to the lovely white sands of Camas Mor. Carry on round the headland and you’ll find yourself in the small hamlet of Cove with superb views across Loch Ewe.

It’s a quiet isolated place now but during the Second World War, north Atlantic convoys formed in the loch before heading to the grim waters around Murmansk in Russia. Now a few abandoned gun emplacements are the only reminder of busier and more dangerous times.

For most of this walk you will find yourself utterly alone, even during the busy summer period. It’s a place for quiet contemplation, for blowing away the cobwebs of modern life, a stunning and unique location in which to end your visit to the area.