439am Gairloch to North Erradale

[This walk was completed on the 13th August 2020]

I start today’s walk from the war memorial at Gairloch. The weather is dull, with low cloud covering the sky and obscuring the hills. So different from yesterday.

Nobody in the car park, and the beach is empty too.

I walk northwards along the road, which curves steeply downhill.

A bevy of motorbikes roar past, most carrying laden paniers, and this reminds me I’m now walking along the route of the infamous NC500. I manage to snap a quick photo as they disappear over the brow of the hill.

I guess there will be very few foreign visitors coming to Scotland this year (although there is an American family staying in the hotel), so these are probably British staycationers.

The NC500 is controversial. It may have brought thousands of tourists to northern Scotland – especially Germans in huge mobile homes – but has not been accompanied by a corresponding investment in infrastructure. So caravans and campervans crowd the narrow roads, the hotels and B&Bs are booked out years in advance, public toilets and washing facilities are rare, and it has become difficult to find somewhere to eat in the evening.

Covid has changed everything. It was easy to find a hotel room this year. In fact, there was almost too much choice and prices were low.

I pass a rather fine church with a beautiful view. The Gairloch Free Church of Scotland.

Below is another beach, which looks to be mainly shingle, where a lone couple are walking their dog.

I often think about getting a dog. Lockdown has been better for me than for many single people, because I’ve had my youngest daughter and her boyfriend living with me while their house is renovated, so I’ve not been completely alone. But, since I divorced my husband last year, I’ve been missing a companion to share my life.

A dog would be company, but walking with a dog brings all sorts of worries – finding dog-friendly places to stay, carrying extra water, negotiating stiles and fences, dealing with cattle… so I’ve decided to wait until my coastal walk is finished. (This finish may never happen, of course, but I keep plodding on!)

I nearly booked a room in this hotel. The Gairloch Hotel. The views over the sea would be wonderful.

A little way past the hotel, a footpath leads off to the left. It’s a Core Path, signposted for Strath. Strath? This confuses me, until I realise it is the name of the area to the north of Gairloch – and part of Gairloch really.

I follow the footpath, which takes me off the main road, cuts out a corner, and runs closer to the sea.

Joining the road again, I walk around the edge of Strath Bay. The tide is out, and I really should walk across the beach, but it looks too messy – a mix of rocks, slippery seaweed, sand and shingle.

I stick to the pavement, and I’m pleased that many of the houses I pass appear to be local homes, not holiday lets. Still a lot of normal life left in this pleasant town.

What’s this? “Two Lochs Radio.” A radio station? Surely not. Never heard of it.

I pass a pharmacy and more houses. At the end of the bay, the road winds up around the shoulder of a hill, and I get the impression I’m leaving Strath (and Gairloch) behind…

… but at the top is another little car park and a busy square, with a bus stop, coffee shops, fish and chips, and a local supermarket.

The coffee shop is tempting, as is the homemade ice cream for sale, but I haven’t walked far enough yet to deserve a rest or a treat!

I pass a Free Presbyterian Church (lots of “free” churches in Scotland) and then a Morrisons. Morrisons? No, not a large William Morrisons supermarket, but a smaller Kenneth Morrison’s butcher shop.

Now, I’m finally leaving Strath (and Gairloch) behind. A notice on the gate tells me I’m welcome, but “Our community is particularly vulnerable and our resources are stretched.” Then follows the usual list of Covid rules, including “Take no risks in the outdoors or at sea.”

It’s a reminder that Covid really has affected everyday services – such as health and rescue services – and I must make sure not to put an extra burden on them at such a difficult time. Well, I’ll be careful. I always am very cautious, although usually out of cowardice, rather than out of consideration for others!

I’m now in an area called Lonemore (the name seems apt) – with spaced out cottages on large plots. A crofting area, I presume, although I guess, it’s now really part of Gairloch.

Gairloch was a much bigger place than I imagined, with lots of shops and facilities, and a fair few tourists. I look back and take another photograph. Such a shame about the low cloud. You can’t see the mountains today.

More motorbikes pass me. I’m off the Route NC500 now, so these bikers must be visiting somewhere along this road, or even staying in one of the many B&Bs or campsites dotted about.

It’s a lovely road. I’ve already driven up it and cycled back along it once today, but you get a different view when walking. Cattle grid ahead.

Just beyond the cattle grid is a sign saying there are building plots for sale. Wonder how much they’re going for?

I’m not sure why they decided to paint directional arrows on the road at this point. No nearby ferry port, and so no incoming visitors who may be unused to driving on the left. Why remind people now? Maybe there was an accident here.

The road gently winds around the coast, keeping just above a crumbly sea cliff. The cottages have petered out now and the countryside is empty. Just one lone building ahead…

The lone building turns out to be a Youth Hostel. Yes, even marked with a red triangle on my map, which I failed to notice earlier. A lovely, if isolated, place to stay.

The road dips gently downwards, towards a place called Big Sand. Looks like it has a lovely beach.

There is a Core Path running through Big Sand, and on to a place called North Erradale. I am hoping it will be visible on the ground and passable (you can never tell with Core Paths). Ah, here it is. A good start.

There are a number of other signs fixed to the wall and gate. Basically, this land belongs to the Sand Holiday Centre, and they don’t want you using their toilets, or their rubbish bins, unless you’re a paying guest. Fair enough, I suppose.

I go through the gate, sling my ruck sack off, and perch on a grassy slope above the beach.

Time for lunch.

Route so far:

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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10 Responses to 439am Gairloch to North Erradale

  1. 829b says:

    Gairloch looks pretty good by Scottish standards. Do you ever think ‘I would really like to live here”? Perhaps you have a list of your favourite places.

    By the way, if you get a dog, would you consider a rescue dog, particularly an older dog. And of course, get a breed that looks like you. I resemble an Airedale.


    • Hi Ray, I often have little fantasies of living in the places I pass through. In reality, in Northwest Scotland the winter would really make me depressed (I have a mild version of SAD anyway) and in the summer there are midges… and ticks. Funnily enough, I now live in Anglesey, but had no passion to live there when I walked around it! As for dogs, I have no idea what breed of dog would look like me, maybe a lazy old Labrador, but I think I’ll get a cocker spaniel. Sadly, there are many unwanted lock-down dogs being advertised for sale now 😕

  2. Gairloch is a lovely little place, we spent a couple of nights there once, before the NC500 was invented.

  3. Eunice says:

    Gairloch looks like quite a nice place, I love it when I finding that a place I visit is bigger than I first thought. So you now live on Anglesey – and I’m not in the least bit jealous at all 🙂 🙂 I’ve camped there so many times since 1997 I call it my second home, although I haven’t been since before the start of Covid – I really must rectify that soon 🙂

  4. jcombe says:

    Walking through Gairloch was quite nice since there was either a pavement beside the road or a path to follow pretty much the whole way, albeit it was quite a sprawling village.

    I’m glad you did spot the Two Lochs radio station studio. As to the direction arrows I agree it’s odd. I saw a sign on the A26 about a mile and a half from Newhaven (a ferry port with a service to France) “Drive on the left” in various languages. I’m pretty sure anyone driving on the right would have noticed that was wrong by then!

  5. Jayne says:

    Gairloch is a lovely place, I remember clambering up to what is believed to be the remains of an Iron Age fort at the end of the bay. It always amazes me to think how many thousands of years some of these places have had continuous habitation.

  6. Darren MacLennan says:

    I’ve just stumbled across your website, and very interesting it is too, thanks! I’m from Gairloch, but am now living in Glasgow. I always find it so interesting to hear other peoples thoughts on the village, what they make of our little oasis in the west 🙂
    Thanks for visiting and writing about it. I hope many other people visiting this page take the time to visit, a true highland welcome awaits, with so much to see and do. The directional markings are there because so many tourists use that road, either visiting the lighthouse or staying at Sands. The directions markings are pretty common all around the highlands, to help prevent accidents.

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