Friday 24 July 2015
Ullapool to Gairloch
3 miles walked, driving tour
Sands Campsite, Big Sands Bay, Gairloch
I slept for 8 hours, in proper bed. It was wonderful and I didn’t want to get up. A big thanks to Donna for my night of luxury and the enormous breakfast. I resisted a wee dram on my porridge but it sounded interesting.
It was raining again, but the sky was lighter and the rain wasn’t going to last. I left late and went via the post office (to collect a map delivery) and the bakers for some fresh bread rolls. I left Ullapool and headed down to the head of Loch Broom.
The road followed the River Broom inland to the Corrieshallock Gorge, which is a very impressive gash through the rock caused by the ebb and flow of ice during the ice age. There is a short walk you can do that takes in a bridge across the Falls of Measach and there’s a viewing platform.
By now the sun had come out and it was pleasantly warm; time for the midges to make a brief appearance!
The road headed back to the coast via the Dundonnell River and Little Loch Broom. I was sandwiched between the Loch and the An Teallach mountains until all of a sudden I rounded the corner and there was Gruinard Bay. Gruinard Island sits in the middle of it and was where Anthrax was trialled; the island has only recently been cleared for humans again.
Driving South from Ullapool I noticed a change in the landscape: it seemed to become less like rocky lumps and there are now huge lochs with big mouths open to the sea. There are more sandy beaches and some great-looking campsites right on the edges of them. There also seems to be a bit more money in this area as the crofters cottages are taking on all forms of grand designs, having mostly been done rather smartly. The roads are suddenly wider and some even have white lines down the middle, bit there are fewer cyclists as Ullapool marked the end of the Highland Tourist Route.
I drove all the way around Gruinard Bay to Mellon Udrigle, which has a campsite overlooking The best beach of the day. This one was simply stunning and there were several families on the beach and in the sea (all wearing wetsuits).
The sand was white underneath the crystal clear water. I dipped my hand in and it was freezing!
I went for a short walk around the small headland of Rubha Beag. The going was boggy but the views were great; I could see the Summer Isles again and, of course, plenty of mountains inland.
Next up was Loch Ewe, famous as the gathering point for the Arctic convoys during WW2. Known as Port A, at its peak there would have been up to 600 ships in this deep water loch. Simply amazing.
I drove through Aultbea and on to Mellon Charles, a very smart-looking settlement on the East bank of Loch Ewe. I stopped at the Perfume Shop, not for perfume but to take advantage of the Aroma Cafe.
It’s definitely more upmarket around here as they had a coffee machine (first cafe I’ve seen with one in the Highlands) and the food was like something I’d get down South (poncy names, emphasis on local sourcing, everything served on a bed of rocket). Naturally I felt right at home! Although that could have been because the manager was a Brummie. The sun was shining and the view across the Loch was stunning in the light.
On my circumnavigation of Loch Ewe I stopped at the Isle of Ewe Smokehouse, where I bought some lovely (and expensive) salmon. It was a beautiful drive to Poolewe at the head of the Loch, which looked like a bustling little town. I drove straight through it and up the West side of the Loch.
More beautiful beaches (and houses) and then, at the far point, evidence of a military presence in the form of abandoned pillboxes and gun emplacements.
And there was the Russian Convoy Club Memorial.
On the way back I took a quick tour around the exhibition that has been created in the Inversdale Primary School (the school has been mothballed due to lack of students). The volunteers were very proud of their museum and are hoping to expand.
By now it was 5 pm and I needed to find somewhere to camp. I was heading to Gairloch as the campsite had been recommended by the lady from The Isle of Ewe Smokehouse. To be honest I had passed so many great campsites that I wasn’t sure. However, as soon as I arrived I knew I was going to enjoy camping here. Right on the shore of Loch Gairloch, my 5th sea-facing loch today, it reminded me of Shell Island in North Wales: pitch anywhere, a few dunes, relaxed feel. I found a pitch and went for a walk on the beach. There were kids and kayakers in the sea so I thought I should at least have a paddle. It wasn’t that cold, not as cold as the sea at Mellon Udrigle earlier in the day. I sat in the dunes and admired the view, this was more like a holiday! I couldn’t resist jumping down the dunes (I’m not really 40).
The weather today was lovely, according to the car’s temperature gauge it hit 18 degrees, and there was only a light breeze so it felt warmer in the sun. I was down to a t-shirt and had to dig out my sunglasses. I didn’t go as far as breaking out the suncream. Knowing that it was cold and rainy in England was just the icing on the cake as it’s been the other way round for ages.
The good weather did mean I got my first proper exposure to midges this evening. I retreated to the car where I could read and listen to the radio in Peace. It was interesting to see how some people retreated inside and others just carried on regardless or sat cocooned in nets. They are definitely attracted to me!