Gairloch is a straggling community along the west coast of Ross and Cromarty in the Scottish Highlands. The land is hilly and farming isn't very productive, but creel fishing for shellfish is a traditional occupation.
From the south, travel via Inverness then north up A835 towards Ullapool, branching off at Garve for A832 past Loch Maree (sic). This road continues north beyond Gairloch, passing Loch Ewe (with Inverewe Gardens) and Little Loch Broom to rejoin A835 at Corrieshalloch. There's a steep hill along the way, not recommended if you're towing a caravan.
Westerbus 700 runs once a day (M-Sat) from Gairloch around 08:00 via Achnasheen, Strathpeffer and Dingwall to Inverness, taking 2 hr 30 min, and returning to Gairloch around 17:00. Bus 711 sets off around 09:00 and goes as far as Dingwall (which has a railway station), returning at 13:00.
You need a car. There's no local public transport except a school bus: Westerbus 705 runs once on schooldays from Torridon at 07:30 to Gairloch and returns at 15:30.
- The scenic coastline and beaches - even right by the harbour, you'll see seals and perhaps even minke whales. To the south is Badachro and Red Point, to the north is Melvaig (and see lighthouse entry below).
- 1 Gairloch Heritage Museum, Achtercairn House, Gairloch IV21 2BP (village centre). Apr-Oct M-F 10:00-17:00, Sa 11:00-15:00. Gairloch through the ages: stone axes, Picts, crofts, fishing, lighthouses and whisky. Adults £4.
- 2 Inverewe Garden, Poolewe IV22 2LG (on A832 five miles north of Gairloch). Daily 09:00-17:00 or dusk if sooner. Botanical garden, which a 19th C enthusiast intended just as a windbreak, then his mania for collecting exotic plants got out of hand . . . early seasons take colour from the rhododendrons and Erythroniums. In summer the walled gardens and borders are the highlight. Adult £11.
Let's camp somewhere else
If you take the north loop of road past Little Loch Broom, the islands twinkling in the distance are The Summer Isles. But there's another island much closer to shore: the infamous Gruinard. During the Second World War, the British military wanted to test anthrax as a bioweapon - purely for defence of course, no intention of using it themselves. Weaponising anthrax and dispersal is straightforward, but how long would the target area remain unsafe and off-limits? A remote spot was needed, so in 1942 the government purchased Gruinard, put 80 sheep there, and let off a device. The anthrax strain was the highly virulent Vollum 14578, and the sheep soon perished. Forty years later, the island was still unsafe. Activists began demanding a clean-up, and grabbed attention with "Operation Dark Harvest" - contaminated soil from the island was left at Porton Down military research facility, and at the Conservative party conference in Blackpool. Decontamination was set in hand, and in 1990 Gruinard was declared safe.
- Fishing: there's a choice of sea-fishing from shore, harbour or boat, or fly-fishing in the nearby lochs and streams.
- Marine sightseeing tours. Gairloch Marine Life centre runs daily boat trips, these are great for seeing seals, birds, whales and lots more.
- Gairloch Leisure Centre, IV21 2BP (behind museum), ☏ . M-F 15:30-21:00, Sa Su 10:00-16:00, closed mid July - mid Aug. Fitness classes, trampolining, archery and climbing wall, some activities need to be pre-booked.
- Gairloch Highland Gathering is held in late June or start of July, the first Saturday after schools break up, often coinciding with Armed Forces Day. Bands, games, food, drinks, dancing, Highland sports and so on. The next event is expected to be Sat 25 June 2020, tbc.
- Rua Reidh Lighthouse, built 1912, is on the headland 12 miles north of Gairloch, follow B8021 to the end of the public road at Melvaig. The last couple of miles are private track but you can walk it. The lighthouse is nowadays a B&B, plus the self-catering "Officers' Quarters", so you can't go in (or drive up the track) except as a booked guest.
- Buddha by the Sea is an offbeat gift shop in village centre.
- The Steading Bistro is a coffee shop & cafe open F-W 11:00-17:00.
- 1 The Shieling Restaurant, IV21 2BH, ☏ . Nov-Mar M-Sa 10:00-16:00; Apr-Oct also evenings. Traditional Scottish fare: steak, lamb, seafood, venison. Winter lunch only, dinners in summer.
- Bars include The Millcroft and The Old Inn in Gairloch village, and Badachro Inn some miles south. They serve food and may have accommodation.
- Loch Ewe distillery is a very small affair, producing only 600 litres of whisky a year. Try some while you're in the area, but the distillery isn't open for tours.
- There are two campsites, both a few miles from the village. Sands Caravan & Camping, open April-Oct, is on B8021 a few miles west towards Melvaig. Inverewe Gardens Camping & Caravanning, open all year, is just south of the gardens along A832. Wild camping is also possible, but the weather and the midges are a torment.
- 1 Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel (is a mile or so west on B8021). Open April-Sept. Check-in: 17:00-20:00, check-out: 08:00-10:00. This 31 bed hostel is closed between 10:00 and 17:00, and you have to go out during the day.
- 2 Myrtle Bank Hotel, Low Road IV21 2BS (Near jcn of A832 and B8021), ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:30. Small 3-star with restaurant and bar. No dogs. B&B double from £140.
- 3 Gairloch Hotel. It's a Victorian 70 room hotel with restaurant and bar.
- 4 Sheldaig Lodge, Badachro IV21 2AN (Off A832 two miles S of Gairloch then west up lane for a mile), ☏ . Upmarket Victorian hotel; the heating system and some fittings likewise show their age. B&B double from £200.
- 5 Pool House, Poolewe IV22 2LD (On A832 five miles east of Gairloch), ☏ . 300 year old hunting lodge with lively history, now an upmarket hotel. B&B double from £275.
The signal is very scratchy hereabouts.
- Go north to Ullapool, for ferries to Stornoway on Lewis.
- South is Torridon and Kylesku, thence to Skye.
- East takes you via Strathpeffer towards Inverness.