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Whole days away! (WDA's...)
Yes, we don't imagine for one minute that you will spend ALL your hard earned holiday in Gairloch alone. So, the trips described here are aimed at giving you a flavour (if such a thing is possible....) of the whole of Wester Ross. Read on.
WDA No 1: Well, if the writer had to pick ONE day journey in the whole of Wester Ross.....he would recommend driving down to Applecross via the "Bealach", then back up along the coastal road to Shieldaig and home. Quite simply, and given a clear day, this can NOT be beaten by anywhere in the UK, and in fact has to be one of the finest drives in Europe.
So: Start off by heading South towards Loch Maree and Kinlochewe, then up Glen Docherty to Achnasheen, taking the turning towards Lochcarron. (Gairloch - Lochcarron = about an hour) . Grab a coffee at Lochcarron or slightly further on in Kishorn. After Kishorn, there's a left turning to Applecross signed "No caravans".....it means this! What follows has been described as "the closest thing to an Alpine pass" in the Uk, and the single track road here winds and twists its way up to 2500ft with fantastic views all around. What it also has, of course, are views out towards the islands of Skye, Rum, Raasay, and Rona - and you don't get that on a Swiss pass! At the top, there's a small car park - if you are feeling fit, look behind you at the short walk up to a radio mast which has a 360 degree view all around you. Not just out to sea, but also for many miles inland towards a horizon of mountains.
Skye, from the Bealach (photo: Steve Carter)
Back in the car, carry on down to Applecross - this is a tiny village, often cut off during winter time, but despite (or because of) the location, the local hotel has built up an excellent reputation for food, drink, and accomodation...well worth trying!
Don't come back up the "bealach" on the return, but head northwards along the coast road towards Cuaig and eventually Shieldaig. There's another really good wee inn at Shieldaig, and the road will lead you back to Torridon and Kinlochewe (Yes - both have excellent hotels). Once at Kinlochewe, you are on the original road you headed out on that morning, and back towards Gairloch..the total journey, including stops / walks/lunch etc will easily take up your day, and the scenery throughout is pretty much beyond comparison in this part of the world.
WDA No 2: Northwards this time - through Poolewe, past Gruinard and Dundonnell, and over the "Fain" (a high level plateau) towards Braemore Junction. Both before or after Braemore, there are opportunities to park, and to take a short walk to look at the Falls of Measach at Corrieshalloch Gorge - here, the river Measach plunges over 200 ft down a narrow canyon, and the drop down into the gorge is seriously intimidating for some - especially if they are walking over the small bridge at the time! Well worth a look!
A further 12 miles or so will take you to Ullapool, Wester Ross's "big town" - this has a ferry terminal, shops, hotels etc and is worth a wander around, particularly when the ferry is in. However, we also mentioned "Knockan" earlier on. Knockan is where some of the fundamental geological discoveries of the Victorian age were made, and there's an excellent visitor centre here with interactive exhibits aimed at helping children and adults alike to understand geology. A number of short walks are also part of the centre, many with informative displays along them.
The actual driving isn't than long - about an hour+ to Ullapool, then a further 20 minutes North. But throw in Ullapool itself, then Knockan and some walking - that's another great day in this beautiful area!
WDA No3: No apologies at all about suggesting you go to Inverness for the day! Why not? It's the largest town in the region, the centre of government (Highland Council) - it's where most of us do our shopping - and has a museum, busy high street, bars and cafes, and riverside walks. The drive over there will also probably serve to remind you of the differences between Wester and Easter Ross, and why we enjoy living rurally in comparison to city life. On the way over ( or coming back), you can stop off at either Beinn Eighe or Rogie Falls for a short walk - perhaps with a chance of seeing salmon leaping at Rogie?
Journey time each way is about an hour and a half + any stoppages or sightseeing. Add in a few hours between the museum and shops (or a visit to the cinema) and there you have WDA No 3!
Inverness (Photo: Chris Brown)