North-west Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world. I haven’t explored nearly enough of it yet, but one place I keep returning to is the area around Gairloch and Poolewe. Nestled between Torridon and Ullapool, it’s a family-friendly haven of beaches, mountains and lochs.
While some parts of the Highlands are arguably becoming overwhelmed by tourists during peak season (hello Skye!), so far Gairloch and Poolewe seem to have escaped this fate. Its remoteness probably helps this, along with the dreaded Scottish midge, but those who do make the journey will be rewarded with some of the most stunning scenery Scotland has to offer.
Gairloch and Poolewe: The Lowdown
Where is it?: Gairloch is part of Wester Ross on the northwest coast of Scotland, around 70 miles west of Inverness.
How to get there: Gairloch is about four and a half hours drive north of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, Wester Ross isn’t the most convenient area to navigate by public transport. The nearest train station to Gairloch is Achnasheen (connecting trains from Inverness) and there’s one bus a day to and from Inverness.
Where to stay: There’s plenty of accommodation in the area, including camping and caravan sites, B&Bs and self-catering cottages. Many campsites back onto beaches, including Gruinard Bay Caravan Park and Sands Caravan and Camping Park. There are also more basic (but beautiful) sites at Mellon Udrigle and Firemore Cove. We travelled in our campervan and spent most of the time wild camping (which is legal in Scotland). There are hundreds of beautiful spots to park up for the night – just make sure you follow proper wild camping etiquette.
When to go: Thanks to the nearby Gulf Stream, Gairloch and Poolewe typically have a milder climate than their northerly latitude would suggest. That said, this is Scotland, so if you go in the winter, don’t expect to be sunbathing. Being Scotland, it can also rain a lot. May–September are the best months to visit, but it’s pot luck as to whether you hit a sunny spell or a rainy week.
What to bring: A waterproof, sun cream and lots of midge repellent. Oh, and a camera, to capture the beautiful views.
Gairloch and Poolewe Highlights
You can find the ‘official’ highlights of what to do in Gairloch and Poolewe here. This is my unofficial guide, focused on the outdoor stuff you people love!
Badachro and Red Point Beach
Red Point Beach lies nine miles down a dead-end road off the A832. There are actually two beaches – one on either side of the headland – from which you can look across to the Isle of Skye. It’s a great beach for swimming (if you dare brave it!) and seal-spotting.
Back down the road, stop in at the Badachro Inn, a great pub located right on the harbour. Good food, good beer and great views.
Fairy Lochs are a small group of freshwater lochans that lie in marshy ground in the hills behind the Shieldaig Lodge Hotel. They’re also the site of a wartime plane crash. An American Liberator bomber, flying back to the United States via Iceland crashed with the loss of all 15 crew and passengers. The strewn wreckage remains on the crash site as a memorial to those who lost their lives.
A pleasant 6 km circular loop takes you up to the lochans and back via Loch Braigh Horrisdale. Be warned – it’s boggy!
Wild Camping on the Beach
If you can brave the midges, the area around Gairloch and Poolewe has some of the most beautiful wild camping spots in the world. A campfire, hot dinner and the sound of lapping waves make for a perfect evening. If you’re new to wild camping, here are some tips.
There are many, many beaches to explore in this area. But Gruinard Bay is one of the most spectacular. It’s actually a series of bays, with a huge tidal reach that can catch out unsuspecting sunbathers. You can scramble back to the car park above the high tide line, but I wouldn’t recommend it. (Voice of experience…)
Of all the Munros and other hills in this part of Scotland, An Teallach is the most intimidating. The full ridge is a Grade 3 scramble and a great day out. We started at Corrie Hallie and dropped down into Glas Tholl Corrie to give a circular route without too much road walking. It’s a popular day out and if the sun is shining, you’ll need to get there early to grab a car parking spot.