After my previous there and back walk to Scoraig, it was time to make progress south. On this walk I’d be walking the western edge of Little Loch Broom and rounding the corner into Gruinard Bay and finish near it’s western end at Laide. It was going to be a walk pretty much entirely along an A-road which was not great. On the other hand I had already driven this road and knew the traffic was fairly light and it also had another advantage, a bus service.
It was the bus service which was the reason for doing this walk today (and doing the walks on this trip out of order), because although a bus ran daily (except Sundays) from Gairloch to Inverness it took a different route on different days of the week and only ran via Dundonnell 3 times a week and today was one such day. Again due to the bus schedule, I had to make an early start and drive from my hotel in Ullapool to Laide in order to catch the morning bus around to Dundonnell. I parked in a layby along the dead-end road that goes out to Mellon Udrigle (great name!) and headed down to Laide Stores and petrol station to wait for the bus, as this is where the timetable said it stopped.
The bus soon arrived. You never know quite what sort of vehicle is going to operate buses in the Highlands of Scotland. Often they are a small Transit-van type vehicle with no destination board but this one was a full sized coach. I asked to be dropped off at the turning by Dundonnell Bridge which the driver was happy to do. It did not take long and soon we had passed through Dundonnell and so I headed to the front of the bus to make sure the driver had remembered and knew where to stop (the coach, unlike a bus, did not have a “stop” button for passengers to press to indicate to the driver to stop).
I got off at the turning for the road out to Badrallach where I had parked for a previous walk. It is always nice to get the bus ride done first as now I have the rest of the day to walk back and don’t need to worry about meeting a deadline.
The weather for today was forecast to be cloudy with a chance of rain in the morning and sunshine later, which seemed accurate enough. I knew from driving this road that the first couple of miles would not be so pleasant as much of the time the road is in woodland and the trees come almost to the edge of the road. That means no views and probably a good deal of traffic dodging.
The driver had dropped me at the end of the road. I headed a short distance along back to the bridge over the river where I could stop on the grass beside the road to get the things I needed for my walk out of my rucksack off the road, such as the map and camera.
I headed back to the main road and followed the edge of the road, stepping onto the grass when possible when traffic came. The trees on my right limited views, though the river was initially close by and I got occasional glimpses of it through the trees. The road began to climb away from the river valley and soon out of the trees.
Sadly there wasn’t that much to see as the top of the hills either side of the road was covered with low cloud.
I was hoping it would soon lift and clear, but it didn’t seem to and soon drizzle started. I continued through the light drizzle but soon had to put the map away in case it turns to paper-mache in the rain. I knew where I was going anyway, just keep to the road!
I soon reached the edge of the village of Dundonnell. Well village is over-stating things really. It seemed to consist of a farm (Kappoch Farm) and a few hundred meters along the road, a hotel (Dundonnell Hotel) and a couple of houses and that’s about it. I had reached the farm, but outside the farm there was also a telephone box. This was useful as I could briefly head inside out of the rain to check the map. The phone had a notice in it from BT proposing to remove the phone because it had very little use and there is a consultation about it’s removal. The poster was dated 2 days ago but I noticed it had been stuck on top of many similar, but older notices. I believe it’s the case that if someone objects the box stays and so it goes round in circles presumably until either someone doesn’t object within the 42-day consultation or BT give up! Trouble is telephone boxes can be very useful in remote parts of Scotland where mobile signal is poor or non-existent.
Anyway I didn’t want to spend the day in a phone box, it was time to move on. The rain hadn’t eased and in fact got a bit harder, but I continued along the road to Dundonnell Hotel. Walking on wet A-roads is pretty miserable. Not only do you get wet, you also get all the spray from vehicles that pass at speed, and sometimes splashed from the puddles too. When I got to the hotel I stopped to shelter under the overhanging roof of an out building in the car park on the other side of the road and between the building and some recycling bins. (I see from Google Street view this used to be self-service petrol station, but it is not there now).
The rain had got quite hard now so I stopped to check the “rain radar” on my phone. It suggested the rain would pass in about 15 minutes and then it was clear after that. I decided to wait it out. 15 minutes passed and the rain didn’t seem to ease. I gave it another few minutes, but seemingly no change. I couldn’t spend the whole day sheltering behind the bins in a hotel car park. Time to get going, I’ll just have to get wet. Which I did!
Now I was at the point where the river was opening out into the loch, now with a large area of salt marsh beside the road and the river out there somewhere in the mist.
Continuing along I fairly quickly reached the end of the marsh and now had open water of the loch beside me. The loch was beginning to widen but this meant I could also only just make out the other side in the drizzle.
I stopped at a small parking area a bit further up the road to check the weather again which suggested the rain would stop in 15 minutes (again). I carried on, there was nowhere to shelter there anyway.
The road beyond soon got a crash barrier which is a pain was a walker, I always feel more vulnerable walking next to these barriers as the crash barrier means that if I have to jump out of the way of traffic it’s another obstacle to me getting out the way quickly.
Ahead I had soon reached the small village of Camusnagaul. There were a few houses here and the map suggested also a youth hostel but I gather the youth hostel had closed down for good the previous year.
I continued along the road with a few widely scattered houses and in half a mile the map suggested I was now in Ardessie though it is hard to tell where Camusnagaul ended and Ardessie started. Here the road crossed another river and the river was quite wide with fast-flowing water (I guess no surprise given all the rain) and a waterfall. The waterfall was much bigger than I expected. You just don’t notice things like this driving along the road, it was actually a really beautiful waterfall.
The road now ran directly alongside the loch again which had a couple of fish farms out in the waters of the loch (I find it odd these are never shown on maps as I think they are pretty permanent structures).
I was pretty wet now but as I neared the start of the next village (Badbea), where the road begins to head inland a bit from the loch shore again the sky ahead looked noticeably brighter. I was hoping the rain might, at last end.
The road now began to climb, giving me a good view back along the loch where I could see the cloud was now lifting and the rain had reduced to drizzle.
Just ahead of here I had a decision to make. The main road ahead turned more inland, about a mile and a half inland at one point. However I had reached a junction and a more minor road ran off to the right, closer to the coast, to serve the villages of Badcaul, Durnamuck and Badluachrach (well the map actually shows two different spellings of this last place). This road is much closer to the coast, but the trouble is this road runs for about 2 1/2 miles but is a dead-end. So if I followed it I’d have to come back, but if I stuck to the main road I’d not have to double back but also would not be following the closest route to the coast.
Another nice feature here was at the junction there is a bus shelter which contained a seat. That meant it was somewhere I could sit down that was dry and out of the rain. I decided to stop for lunch here whilst I decided what to do next. I put my bag down on a plastic box in the bus shelter and began to eat my lunch. Within a couple of minutes a car pulled up in the parking area in front. Then the engine stopped and the occupant got out and started heading towards me. I was hoping for a peaceful and un-interrupted lunch and feared I was about to get moaned at for sitting in here. The next (and only) bus to stop here today wasn’t due for literally hours so I didn’t think I’d be bothering anyone sitting here.
The explanation turned out to be more simple. The box I had put my rucksack on (which wasn’t transparent) contains newspapers. The local newsagent (well not that local, I suspect in Gairloch or Laide) delivers the newspapers for the residents of these three small villages to this plastic box that they leave in the bus shelter, where it’s dry, for them to come and collect. The lady simply wanted to collect her newspaper not come to moan at me! I apologise for putting my bag on the box and she assured me the weather would be better this afternoon and I’d have a good walk. I hoped she was right!
When I had finished lunch the rain had indeed stopped. By this point I had formulated a new plan. I would follow this dead-end road but when I got to the end, rather than come back I’d make my own way across the open ground (well the map suggested it was open) back up to the A-road. No need to double back. It didn’t look steep or rocky and there was an area of woodland right beside the main road that ended roughly parallel with the end of the road, so as I approached the main road I could use that to help navigation.
The first village along the road, Badcaul had a school and church as welll as some houses.
Only a few hundred metres later and I had reached the next village, Durnamuck. The map suggested this contained a post office. It had clearly closed sometime ago (it is now the Old Post Office, a holiday rental).
Just past this another small dead-end branch off this road turned right down to the loch but I didn’t follow it since I could see the end from here. Onwards the road opened a bit more soon passing too small areas of woodland and then I reached the last village, Badluachrach or possibly Badluarach (the Ordnance Survey shows both spellings with a / between them so even they don’t seem sure what it’s called!).
I don’t think there was a road sign welcoming me either, as I was hoping that might settle the name debate! Part way along this road was another dead-end turning for the little jetty.
This serves the isolated community of Scoraig I had visited on my last walk, which isn’t connected to the road network.
I squelched my way to the end of the road (my shoes still wet) where there was a turning place and actually the road seemed to continue ahead as a path just behind a gate. A check of the map though showed this continued for another 300 metres or so then ended. What purpose it serves I’m not quite sure since there were no further buildings.
So instead I turned left over the open ground. This was a mixture of short heather and very tufty grass and was very uneven under foot and also boggy in places so I had to take it slowly.
I could not even see the area of woodland I was aiming for ahead. But I figured if I turned 90-degrees to the road and maintained that direction I’d get to the main road sooner or later.
It was a bit tougher than expected but soon I began to see the tops of trees on the horizon ahead as I climbed away from the road. Ah good the woodland, as hoped for. I aimed for it’s right hand end and headed alongside the fence between the open area and the woodland. Soon I could hear and then see the traffic ahead. One last irritation – there is a fence between me and the road (of course) and a water-filled ditch. I climbed the former and jumped over the latter, just wide enough I could jump it to end up back on the road.
I was quite pleased now I had made the diversion so not missed out any coast but avoided having to double back, but I had got pretty wet going through all that water-logged heather and grass after the morning rain.
I was now nearing the mouth of Little Loch Broom and could look over to some of the Summer Isles beyond. The road now ran alongside a stream for a while and bought me back to the coast. Here the map suggested a beach at the village of Mungasdale. Here a gate in the fence provided access to the beach. By now not only had the rain stopped but the sun was beginning to come through and it was warming up.
This is Mungadale Bay and it is a lovely sandy beach, backed by some dunes with a little stream flowing down it. I followed the short path down to the beach and sat here for a short break.
A mile or so off-shore from this beach is Gruinard Island. This has a rather grizzly past. The islands population had gradually dwindled and it had been uninhabited since some times in the 1920s. At the height of World War II, in 1942 a chemical warfare test was carried out here by scientists from Porton Down who released anthrax spores here. As it was recognised such a test could cause long-term contamination to surrounding areas, this remote and uninhabited island was picked. 80 sheep were released onto the island as part of the test and began to die within days of the anthrax being released. The Government deemed this a successes and suggested that the tests showed that if Anthrax was released in large German cities it would render them uninhabitable for decades. It had a long legacy when it was discovered how difficult and expensive it would be to now decontaminate the island. At the end of the war in 1945, the islands owner wished for it to be returned but the Government realised it wasn’t safe until decontaminated. The Government decided to acquire the island on the condition that the owner could buy it back for £500 when it was deemed safe.
This dragged on for decades with the Government doing nothing other than periodic testing and forbidding people to go to the island. In the 1980s things took a rather more sinister turn. A group calling themselves Opertion Dark Harvest demanded the Government decontaminate the island. They stated they had been to the island and collected contaminated soil and would leave soil samples from the island “at appropriate points that will ensure the rapid loss of indifference of the government and the equally rapid education of the general public”. Sure enough a package of soil was left outside Porton Down. On testing it was found to contain anthrax. A few days later another package of soil was left outside the hotel in Blackpool where the Conservative Party conference was taking place. This certainly bought the matter to the public’s attention and whilst nothing immediately changed, by 1986 efforts to decontaminate the island had begun. By 1990 it was deemed safe and was re-purchased by the heirs of the original owner for the agreed £500. I’m not sure what it’s used for now. Normally I’m keen to walk around islands but, funnily enough, I’m not so keen to go to this island. I was happy to look at it from here instead.
Anyway after a nice sit on the beach I returned on the path to the road to continue my walk. The road continued along the shore and rounded the corner to reach Gruinard Bay. This is a rocky and pebble beach which had a small jetty. Presumably this is, or was, used by boats to get to Gruinard island.
At the far end of the bay is the large Gruinard house and the road passed some of it’s garden.
The Gruinard River flows out to sea here and is quite wide so the road heads inland half a mile or so to cross it so I followed the road to the bridge.
This bit was rather pleasant with the sounds of the rushing water down to my right and views of the river intermittently through the trees.
I soon reached the bridge over the road and once over, on the landward side a track ran down beside the river.
From the map this track seems to run for several miles, ending at a boat house on the shores of Loch na Sealga. Presumably the track is used by fisherman who have boats in the boat house. I wasn’t sure but I dropped off the road to get onto this track and sit beside the river for a minute.
What a beautiful place this is, with the fast-flowing river and the mountains in the distance. It was a lovely spot to rest for a few minutes next to the rushing waters of the river.
Soon I decided it was time to move on and return to the road. This heads west, on the landward side of a large hill (Torr Mor) and reaches another lovely beach. This is Camas Gaineamhaich.
It is another glorious sandy beach and I headed from the road down onto the shore. The tide was out so it would be nice to walk along the beach instead.
I was able to follow this lovely beach for about half a mile. to the point the Inverianvie river flows out onto the beach. Here I headed up to the road bridge to cross it (my feet had largely dried out now, so I didn’t want to get them wet again) and crossed via the road.
I didn’t bother to return to the beach since there didn’t seem to be an easy way back to the road which now climbed very steeply.
I huffed and puffed my way up the road to a view point at the top of the hill. This offers a magnificent view over this beautiful beach. What a stunning place it is and quite a few drivers had pulled over to enjoy the view, too.
Out to sea I also had views of the now more distance Gruinard island.
The road climbed and then dropped down to a second smaller river (Allt Bad an Luig) and began to climb up the other side.
Soon I passed an odd road sign telling me I’d now reached “Second Coast”. What, Britain has a second coast?! Well no, but I don’t know why this village has such an odd name. Just after I came to another sign telling me I was now at First Coast.
What strange names. Both places seemed to just consist of half-dozen or so houses so I’ve no idea how they got these names.
I was getting tired now (miles of tarmac walking can be hard on the feet). The road now dropped back down to sea-level beside a rocky beach, but with some sand too.
Ahead I could see the headland of Rubha Mor (though I’d actually walked that bit of coast already by this point as I didn’t do the walks on this trip in order).
The weather had improved now after all the rain in the morning and with the sun now breaking through it was absolutely stunning. Another dead-end road on the left served the small village of Sand and ahead was a caravan site, at the edge of Laide. It looked rather a nice site right beside the beach and with such lovely scenery.
I continued, coming to the turning off the main road where I could follow this back to my (hired) car I had left here many hours earlier.
This had been a walk of two halves. The first part had not been that enjoyable, following an A-road beside the loch (but often hidden from view) in all that rain, but the second part had been wonderful. The weather improved, the sun came out, I passed a couple of spectacular sandy beaches, a couple of impressive rivers and then had the lovely scenery of the last couple of miles into Laide, in the changing light.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Westerbus 707 : Gairloch – Poolewe- Aultbea – Laide – Badcaul – Dundonnell – Braemore Junction – Ullapool. 1 bus per day each way, Monday, Wednesday and Friday only. (Connection is available at Braemore Junction to/from Inverness).
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk: Main Link.