439pm Gairloch to North Erradale

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

After a picnic lunch, I head down onto the sands of Big Sand. Now I know why the place is called Big Sand. What a lovely long beach.

Big Sand lies in a shallow bay, sheltered by a large island just offshore, called Longa Island. The sea is beautifully clear, and I can see the contours of the sand under the rippling water.

Finally, the clouds have lifted a little. The air is bright and fresh, the water is shimmering blue and green, and I really enjoy this part of the walk.

The official Core Path runs along dunes just above the beach, but I was hoping to walk further along the sand. My way, however, is interrupted by a little river called, appropriately enough, River Sand.

I turn inland and follow the river up into the campsite, hoping to find the footbridge marked on my map.

Yes, there it is. An ugly, functional bridge, but just what I need.

I’m back on the Core Path now, with signs guiding me across a few grazing fields…

…and then along a very overgrown path beside someone’s garden, before I end up standing on a road. The house opposite looks beautiful but I decide it is, sadly, probably a holiday home.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I didn’t expect the settlement of Big Sands to be so… well, so empty. There are several roads, forming a sort of trident like arrangement, but the buildings are very spaced out, so I guess this is another crofting settlement.

I’m walking along the most easterly road of the trident, and the next part of my walk is uphill. Someone has planted trees (or allowed them to grow) in this section, with deer fences protecting the younger plants, on the right, from marauding deer.

The more I’ve learned about Scotland and the attempts to reforest swathes of the highlands, the more I realise what a problem the deer have become. With no natural predators, their numbers can easily grow out of control. Although I haven’t actually seen any deer for some time, that doesn’t mean they’re not out here, somewhere.

At the top of the hill, I pause to take photo looking back down over the camp site of Big Sands. It looks a lovely place to stay, and I make a mental note of this in case I ever return in my campervan.

I’ve nearly reached the end of the prong of my trident, and here the road makes a right-angled turn.

Walking past the two other prongs, each one leading downhill with tantalising glimpses of the sea, I reach the point where the Core Path leaves the road system.

I was worried this part of the Core Path might be impassable, but it follows a wide, clear track. The signpost tells me it is only 1.8km to North Erradale.

I have to convert 1.8km into miles, because I’m old-school and can’t process distances in kilometres. Only 1 mile to go. Excellent.

It’s uphill to a sheepfold at the top. Bealach Buidhe, says my map, but I’m not sure whether that is the name of the hill or the name of the track.

The sheepfold is a pile of ruined stones, and now the track disappears. But the Core Path continues as a… well, as a stream!

When I reach the top of the hill, the views are wonderful. And the path at the top is clearer. But just for a few minutes.

The path soon deteriorates again, into a mess of mushy grass and mud. It’s quite hard to spot the correct route among all the sheep tracks, so I stumble around a bit looking for where it might be.

It’s a good job I’ve worn my proper hiking boots today.

The line of electricity poles would be a helpful marker, but they’re not shown on my map. There does seem to be some sort of path running under the poles, so I follow this.

I’m walking along the side of a river valley, dropping down gradually towards the sea

Looking ahead, I don’t see much sign of North Erradale, until I realise it’s here – spread out below me along the valley floor. Yes, North Erradale is another one of those crofting settlements.

The river at the bottom of the valley is the Erradale River, from which the settlement must have got its name. I passed through South Erradale a couple of days ago, also named after its own River Erradale – but a completely different river.

Scotland is very economical with names, as I’ve noted before, and often uses the same one for several different places!

Nearly reached the bottom of the valley. This path has been difficult to follow – uneven and overgrown, and has required a lot of concentration to keep my footing. Only a mile, but it seemed much longer. So, I’m pleased to spot the gate in the fence where the path must join another track.

I hurry towards the gate, scattering a few sheep.

Through one gate, and then I must cross a very boggy piece of ground before I reach another gate…

… and, finally, I’m on the reassuringly firm surface of a track. Soon I join a proper road.

The road runs long and straight, and I’m so excited by my rapid progress, I nearly miss the turn I need to take.

This road, to the right, will take me up the other side of the valley and out of North Erradale. Unfortunately, it’s uphill all of the way, towards a lumbering mass called – I check my map – Meall Glac na Daraich

I’m tired now, after a day of cycling to Gairloch, and then this long walk back. So, I stop frequently to rest to take lots of photographs on the way up. Mainly of sheep!

At the top, I join the main road – if you can call the sleepy B8021 a main road! – which runs across the shoulder of Meall Glac na Daraich.

I’m walking backwards now, something I used to call “wasted walking”, to find my car. On these narrow roads, parking is difficult and I’ve left my car in an official parking spot – the only one for miles around.

Don’t mind this “wasted walking” today. It is a beautiful road with great views, although less impressive in the photographs because of the lingering low cloud across the mountains.

There’s my car. I left it here all alone this morning, and it still remains all alone. Has anybody else used this parking area today?

A group of sheep seem surprised to see me. One bold matron give me a quizzical look. What are you doing here? Nobody ever uses this parking spot, don’t you know? It’s in the middle of nowhere.

I give the sheep my best haughty stare. Have a quick snack and a drink, before setting off to pick up my Monster Bike and return to my hotel.


Miles walked today = 9 miles (although a couple were in the wrong direction!)

Total around coast = 4,513 miles

Route: (morning in black, afternoon in red)


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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22 Responses to 439pm Gairloch to North Erradale

  1. Eunice says:

    The beach at Big Sand looks really nice, and I love how clear the sea is.
    Thanks for the comment on my camping blog, it came as quite a surprise, however I’ve replied at length if you should want to pop back 🙂

    • I’ve read the reply, thank you Eunice. If you decide to visit Anglesey, do let me know. Would love to meet up.

      • Eunice says:

        It would be great to meet up Ruth though I doubt I’ll get to Anglesey this year unless it’s for a fleeting day trip while staying further up the coast on the mainland. The site where I usually stay isn’t currently accepting tents, just campervans/tourers with their own facilities so with no toilets or hook-ups available it’s out of the question for me. I know there are hundreds of other sits on the island which I could probably go to but none are in such a convenient location as the one at Benllech so I guess I’ll just have to wait until next summer 😦

        • Ah. Well, Covid restrictions are still in place in Wales, so they might not be able to open toilet blocks. Things might change after mid August when the restrictions are supposed to lift I think.

  2. Robin Massey says:

    thanks Ruth always such a pleasure when I see a new post to read. And photos to admire.

  3. You are making impressive progress on that north-west coast. With your posts coming almost a year after the event I keep wondering how much further you might have got beyond the latest post. When I look at all you have achieved to date I am in awe. How many walking days have you actually done so far – is that 439 number at the post title relevant? By the way “Bealach” as far as I know means “pass.” When walking in France and toiling up some steep tarmac I have often been hailed by overtaking motorists with windows down shouting out at me “courage!” I always took that as genuine encouragement and I wish you the same.

    • Only one more walk to write up from last year, Conrad. This year I’ve been walking the Lincolnshire coast, which I’ll also write up soon. Quite different. Yes, 439 is the number of days of coastal walking, and so I’ve done well over a year of actual walking and still nowhere near finished 😄. Love that French word “courage” and will remember to say that to myself whenever I start flagging.

  4. patriz2012 says:

    Gosh – you are out in the wilds of Scotland – full of admiration for your courage and determination. I am still in West Wales – just walked 8 consecutive days in the recent heatwave – too hot for walking really. Keep up the good work Patricia

  5. tonyhunt2016 says:

    I made the switch to navigating in km while living on the Continent, and have to say that once used to it I found it more motivating than using miles – the kms click up more quickly! I only switched back in UK after people kept asking me, ‘how many miles is that?’ after I read off the kms to them from my GPS unit.

  6. jcombe says:

    Yes I also found that path hard going. I’m interested to see how you are going to tackle the next part of the coast, round the headland to Rubha Reidh lighthouse and on to “Midtown” and the other villages on the east side of the peninsula.

    I did Poolewe to Gairloch in a single day, a bit of a monster walk around (I was glad to arrive to use in time to use the once-daily bus between Poolewe and Gairloch so at least I didn’t have to walk the main road to complete the loop). I walked up that road on the east side to Inverasdale then followed the “path” (another path that is basically a stream) to the beach at Camas Mor then made my own way along the coast to the lighthouse, back south along the road from there to Gairloch via the path to Big Sand you used.

    Then I did the corner I cut at the north east of the peninsula (from Inverasdale to north Cove etc as a different walk on another day).

    • That’s a long walk, Jon, even with the bus ride. Was the path passable? I should have done that path this year (from the lighthouse end) and, to be honest, worrying about that route is one of the reasons I chickened out and decided to walk around the Wash instead.

  7. tonyurwin says:

    The paths sound pretty muddy and hard to follow in summer. Does anyone try hiking these in autumn and winter?

    • Well, some people have walked round Scotland through the winter. Quintin Lake did, walking much of the time in the dark and using a head torch. Much braver and tougher than me. No midges, I guess, so that’s a bonus.

      • tonyhunt2016 says:

        I can’t see the point in that. It’s like people who walk the Coast to Coast in four days and see only the feet of the person in front of them – might just as well do it on a treadmill!

    • Chris Elliott says:

      I walked the coast pretty much all year around. But the problem of winter in Scotland are the short daylight hours – I wasn’t going to walk in the dark like Quentin Lake. Also camping in the cold is not much fun. I camped down to minus 5 Centigrade but no lower. Also I refused to camp in snow although I did walk in snow . The other main issue is safety. Accidents occur more easily when light is not good. So I delayed Cape Wrath and also delayed walking around Whiten Head as I decided they were too dangerous in mid winter. As Ruth says the whole point is to enjoy yourself, so I would avoid deepest winter.

  8. Chris Elliott says:

    Ruth – you were lucky to walk Big Sands in Covid times. In more normal times it is a heaving mass of humanity with hundreds and hundreds of tents, campervans etc etc. It was not the best place I walked to. But can I recommend the walk from the lighthouse north of you around the coast and down the west side of Loch Ewe to Poolewe. There is no footpath east of the lighthouse and the coast is a bit up and down but the views and heather are fabulous. I really enjoyed that stretch – I stayed in the lighthouse and walked right along the coast to Poolewe in a day. There are one or two unusual discoveries lying in wait for you too if you find them! You could always split it into several there and back walks.

    • Hi Chris. Thank you for this information. I reached the lighthouse last year, and I was planning to do this next section in two there-and-back walks ( as the road distance is too far for my electric bike to manage and I certainly couldn’t push-bike back to the lighthouse either). It will be next year now. Hope the route isn’t too boggy. Don’t mind ups and downs, but can’t stand wading through Scottish swamps!

      • Chris Elliott says:

        Hi Ruth – I guess it will depend what time of year you do it. I was pre-warned by the lighthouse owner that there was a difficult river crossing to do. As it turned out it was trivial by comparison to some crossings I did such as en route to Red Point when the burns were in full spate. Yes it was boggy in places but if once you get off the high ground i.e. further east, if you stay as near the coast as you can then there is a dry route . My advice is to keep as near to the coast as you can once off the high ground. You will not find it too boggy. A piece of cake by comparison to some places you have already done!!! And as I said before some really beautiful heather and one very beautiful beach to look down on, plus the little secrets you might discover.

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