343. Poolewe to Gairloch (Strath) via Rubha Reidh

July 2019

I knew that this was going to be a tough walk and I had puzzled over how to tackle this stretch of coast for some time. A minor road runs up the west side of Loch Ewe to the end of this peninsula whilst a road runs from the lighthouse at it’s north western tip (Rubha Reidh) to Gairloch. The middle section, along the top of this peninsula, joining up these two roads has no path marked most of the way. Given this, the distance and the time it would take to try to find my own route I felt trying to do it at once was too much.

I could split it into 3 there and back walks, but I prefer to avoid walking both ways if I can, as it doubles the distance. Or I could stay overnight on the way but the only suitable accommodation was at the lighthouse, which I gathered was exceptionally unfriendly to walkers (more on that later). Instead I came up with another plan, I’d do this part of the coast as 2 walks, a longer walk (this one) and a shorter one. My plan was to walk north on the west side of Loch Ewe along the B8057. About half way along this road I’d reach a place called Midtown and from here a path was marked heading diagonally north west over the peninsula to the beach at Camas Mor, a short distance from Rubha Reidh. From there I hoped to be able to make my way down to the lighthouse and follow the road back. Essentially, I was going to cut off the north east corner of the peninsula, which I’d come back and walk a different day, in order to reduce the days mileage.

I was staying in Ullapool so it was now quite a distance to drive to Poolewe, so I made an early start and parked beside the public toilets at the south end of the B8057. The first part of the walk should be easy, just follow the road north.

The road initially ran beside the river Ewe but soon turned left onto the shores of Loch Ewe by the Poolewe Hotel. This would have been a far more convenient place to stay for today’s walk, though it looked a bit run-down (but then, the hotel I was staying at was extremely run-down).

Poolewe

The waters of the loch were calm and I could see the woodland on the other side, around Inverewe Gardens. Rounding the corner the road now ran along the south side of the loch and I had a fine view along the length of the loch, out to the open sea.

Loch Ewe at Poolewe

The weather was brightening nicely and I could make out the houses of the various villages along this road.

Loch Ewe at Poolewe

Loch Ewe

I kept with the road rounding the corner to now begin heading up the west side of the loch and crossed Lochboor burn.

Loch Ewe

I passed through the hamlet of Boor and continue along the road soon passing an odd structure on the right, where a concrete platform had been built on top of some rocks. I presume a remnant from World War II, perhaps a gun was mounted on this platform during the war.

Old World War II structure beside Loch Ewe

The road began to climb and head a bit away from the shore but it’s height meant I still got a good view as I headed through the next small village, Naast.

Loch Ewe

The B8057 north of Poolewe

Near Naast

From Naast the road returned to running just above the shore and I was soon approaching the next village, Brae.

Near Naast

This was a little larger than the other villages I had passed through and seemed to have a small fishing community.

Near Naast

The various burns flowing out from the lochs inland had created a short but surprisingly wide river here, which the road crossed via a bridge.

Near Midtown

Near Midtown

Once over this it was only another 500 metres or so to my turn off point. Parking along these single-track roads is difficult so I was very pleased to see a small car park signed here for walkers. That would be perfect for the 2nd part of this walk (on another day), so that was a nice bonus, since it was not marked on the map.

Now I turned left along the minor road which ran for about 500 metres before ending and the path I wanted to follow should continue from the end of this road, if the map was to be believed. The road ended at a farm but the track marked on the map was visible ahead through a gate. I went through the gate and followed this track through a couple of fields where it approached a run-down looking house with lots of junk around it. I was a bit reluctant to get too close but spotted a gate in the other side of the wall which was obviously where the path was meant to go.

I headed to the gate and found a feint path onwards. The path was quite tricky to follow, a mixture of rocky or boggy under foot. At times the path was almost a stream and at others it practically disappeared. Still I was always able to find it even if at times I could only see a step or two ahead. Over to my right I soon head the waters of Loch Sguod, an inland loch.

Ford near Midtown

I had already had to cross several fords but now I met a bigger one at Allt a’ Choire Odhair, which was trickier to cross as the water was pretty fast-flowing. I nearly fell over when the rock I stepped on turned out to be covered in a thin but invisible layer of slime from the water that meant it was like stepping on ice, but fortunately I managed to regain my balance and make it across dry.

Ford near Midtown

Ford near Midtown

I had another couple of fords to cross and soon came to a trickier part.

Loch Sguod

The path began to head near areas of woodland, mixed with bracken. Inevitably, I seemed to end up losing the path here and trying to find my own way through often following what turned out to be deer tracks, or not really tracks at all. Fortunately I usually only seemed to lose it for fairly short distances before spotting it again. The path was however pretty wet and boggy and by now I had damp feet.

Loch Sguod

Continuing along I soon reached the small Loch na Feithe Dirich. This is a small freshwater loch but was beautifully blue and backed by trees, it was very pretty. Part way around however the path re-entered woodland and I soon lost it again.

Loch Ceann a'Charnaich

Path near Lochadraing

At the end of the wooded section was another ford and here I was able to spot the path again. The path opened out for a while to reach another small area of woodland with a stream to cross within, but I didn’t lose the path this time. Another brief open section and I was then passing beside Loch Ceann a Charnaich.

Once past this the path went again into woodland and once again I got lost. I had to back track a couple of times but then ended up beside the waters of the much larger Loch an Draing. This loch is over half a mile long and the water was lovely and blue on this calm sunny day. At the south western end was a little rocky and pebble beach. Since this was dry underfoot, I decided to stop here for lunch. It was a lovely spot and I could sit part in the shade from the trees overhead.

Loch an Draing

Loch an Draing

After lunch I had some difficultly finding the path again and the area to the left of the loch was pretty boggy, but soon I managed to find it again and the path soon headed a little uphill away from the loch, but also climbed meaning it became a little drier underfoot and I could see for a greater distance.

Loch an Draing

Loch an Draing

I had another couple of fords to cross and then, as the map indicated the path was now running beside a dry stone wall, which was presumably something to do with the now abandoned settlement of Lochadraing I could see on the map ahead.

It was a lovely part of the walk with far-reaching views over the lochs and to the sea beyond. The path continued soon near a second, slightly smaller loch, Loch nan Eun.

Loch an Draing

I hadn’t seen anyone for a couple of hours but I suddenly could hear distant voices. I couldn’t see anyone on the path but looking to my right I spotted a couple of fisherman beside the waters of Loch nan Eun. A path did split off the path I was on to the right that seemed to run in the tiny strip of land between the two lochs and heads to a remote bay and I had just passed this. I wondered if they had followed the path I was on earlier today or if they had perhaps been camping overnight at the remote bay. Either way I wasn’t going to go over and ask them, but in some ways I found it re-assuring I wasn’t the only person out here!

A short distance ahead I came to the remains of the tiny village of Lochadraing.

The ruined village of Lochadraing

Little remained now but the outer walls of a couple of houses, now roofless. I don’t know why the village had been built here, or why it came to be abandoned, but it had clearly been abandoned for a very long time. (I couldn’t find much on the internet either, but suggestions are it was likely abandoned around 1900).

Beyond this village the path continued at a higher level with fine views to Loch nan Eun, dotted with a few tiny islands.

Locn nan Eun

Locn nan Eun

Locn nan Eun

This is a remote, wild and beautiful place and I was lucky to see it under such lovely conditions.

The path was a little easier to follow now and I made better progress towards the coast and another abandoned village of Camustrolvaig. Just before the coast I came to a bothy, known as Ivor’s Bothy. I couldn’t resist looking inside despite not wanting or needing to spend the night.

Near Camas Mor

Ivor's bothy, Camustrolvaig

Ivor's bothy, Camustrolvaig

The roof of the bothy was plastic sheeting held down with netting and stones. I later read a fire had destroyed the original roof. It looked comfortable enough with a couple of chairs and benches, one of which had cushions. A jolly roger flag hung from the wall whilst various cooking equipment was left around including a saucepan and even some mugs hanging up from a shelf! There was quite a collection of condiments too (I’m often surprised people choose to carry such things out here, it must be heavy enough to be carrying sleeping bags and so on, without adding a collection of sauces, too!). There was even a bookshelf with such eclectic volumes as a Holy Bible and Barack Obama – Dreams from my Father. It was certainly an interesting little place.

However the weather was fine and I still had quite a way to go so after a brief sit down, I was on my way again. The map suggested there was a sandy beach ahead, at a place called Camas Mor. I know to not always trust this, as often they turn out to be shingle, mud or only visible at low tide.

Soon however I had a view of the beach and – wow!

Camas Mor

What an absolutely stunning beach it was. Beautiful golden sand in a sweeping bay with high, mostly grassy cliffs behind and a beautiful turquoise sea. There was no one on it.

Camas Mor

However there didn’t seem to be an easy way down to it, which probably accounts for that. I stood enjoying the view for a while, enjoying being back on the coast again, after the inland section.

It’s coming to places like this that makes walking the coast so enjoyable. I could also hear the sounds of rushing waters and yes, there was a waterfall flowing down the rocks to the beach.

Camas Mor

I would have to go above this and hope the water was easy to cross in order to continue my walk. Fortunately, once at the top it wasn’t too tricky to cross. This part of the walk had no paths, but in fact through the heather there were reasonable paths along the cliff top. There were several paths a few metres apart, I was not sure if created by other people walking, sheep or both, but I could see some footprints so I knew others had at least walked here.

Camas Mor

Above the beach the view was even more stunning. I began to regret that I hadn’t made more effort to get down there, but I had now climbed away from it and didn’t want to spend the time and energy going back down again. I would enjoy it from here instead.

Camas Mor

Camas Mor

Camas Mor

This bit of the coast actually reminded me of Cornwall a bit. The shallow sandy bay meant the water had a beautiful turquoise colour which stretched for quite a way to the east. I suspect at low tide this beach is very large.

I continued and was surprised to see another walker heading towards me. Where had he come from? He turned out to be German and was trying to get to the beach and told me he was staying nearby (at the lighthouse, perhaps?) and was relieved when I told him it was just ahead and he was indeed going the right way.

The narrow path I was following began to descend with the coast above the little rocky islands at Stac Dubh.

Near Rubha Reidh

Near Rubha Reidh

Here I began to see other people. They weren’t dressed as walkers, so clearly I was near the lighthouse (and car parking) and these were people who had walked a short distance here from their cars. Sure enough, soon I had the lighthouse ahead.

Rubha Reidh lighthouse

It was a wonderful sight. I was pleased to see it too because I knew the hardest part of the walk was done. I still had a long way to go, but it was all along minor roads now, so route finding and conditions under foot should both be a lot easier.

This lighthouse was, for a few years, notorious. I’m not sure if the light itself is still commissioned but I know that for a good while the buildings that surround it (the former lighthouse keeper cottages) had been an outdoor centre, after the light was automated in 1989. (It’s still marked as such on the Ordnance Survey maps, but hasn’t actually been used as that for a number of years). At some point it had been sold to a couple who ran it as a B&B.

They weren’t exactly friendly or welcoming. Despite the “right to roam” in Scotland they seemed to consider that all the land around the lighthouse was their own and the only people that should be allowed to come here were people staying at their B&B. The road leading to the lighthouse has a slightly unusual setup in that it is a private road, but one over which the public have a legal right of way to drive along (as well as walk). Another land-owner provided a small car park for the public to use and I think it was quite a popular place for the locals and visitors to come. The owners of the B&B however regarded it as their own. They began putting locked gates along the road, removing signs indicating public access was allowed, aggressive notices declaring it was all private. They also, from what I can gather used to come and shout at anyone they saw walking nearby, demand they leave and insist that it was all private and they were trespassing (despite the law saying otherwise).

I remember the slightly odd character I found waiting for a bus in Ullapool on a previous walk (to Lochinver) telling me how he had arrived here by Kayak, unaware of the reputation of the owners and immediately pounced on by the owners who demanded to know how he had got here and again gave him the lecture about he he was trespassing and it was all private. He warned me I might have trouble when I got here.

The owners seemed to get in a long legal dispute with the Council over public access along the road (and were removing signs belonging to the Council). I believe it was confirmed that the public do have a right to be here. It does puzzle me why people move to somewhere so remote and immediately fall out with the local community by blocking access (illegaly) to a much-loved local beauty spot. Fortunately for me (and the locals) I believe the previous owners had sold up in the last year to 18 months and moved on. Whilst the new owners did prevent access to the immediate surrounds of the lighthouse on the grounds of privacy (which is fair enough) they were otherwise far more welcoming, restoring public access to the land around, the fine coastal views and the car park. I was glad the previous owners had gone as I was a bit worried about being confronted about being here otherwise.

I could however get a lovely view of the lighthouse from a path above and the coast behind it.

Rubha Reidh lighthouse

I now picked up the road and followed that south. This track, the one over which there had been much dispute over access in previous years would now take me along the western side of the peninsula to the end of the B8021 at Melvaig, which I could then follow to Gairloch.

Near Melvaig

The road undulated a bit, crossing a few streams on bridges, but it was at least dry underfoot so my damp feet were beginning to dry. The views from the road were lovely, with views west along the coast and a few small pebble beaches visible.

Near Melvaig

I could see the top of the lighthouse for a while, even after the rest of the buildings were out of sight. Further out to sea I could see islands on the horizon. Harris and Lewis, I think, which was an unexpected sight.

Near Melvaig

Another private road branches off this road to the left (inland), up to some telecoms masts. Probably a great view from there but I didn’t have the time or energy to walk the mile there and back to look.

North of Melvaig

I continued south along the road, crossing more pretty burns. In a couple of miles, the first houses of Melvaig came into view.

Melvaig

Like many in this part of Scotland, Melvaig is a scattered community and I assume many or most of the houses are crofts. The road ran a couple of hundred metres inland, but was high enough I still had good views over the coast and at the end of the village it then ran largely along the cliff tops.

Near Melvaig

Melvaig also had a good beach. Whilst in the village itself it is marked as pebble, south of it, it becomes sand. I could see that the map was accurate and it was now a lovely sandy beach, called Seana Chamas.

Near Melvaig

Again though, I couldn’t see an easy way down, so opted to enjoy the view from here (I suspect you can get down in Melvaig and walk along the beach, but again I didn’t want to go back to see).

I continued south as the road began to climb further and turn a bit more inland, but I still had wonderful views of Lewis and Harris.

Near Melvaig

I was now approaching the next village, North Erradale. Again, it was a scattered community of I suspect mostly crofts (or former crofts).

Near North Erradale

I could, according to the map, follow a dead-end road further west and then a path connected it to the next village south (Big Sand). It didn’t run right along the coast, but it did run closer to the coast than the road. However I was hoping to get to Gairloch in time to catch the one and only bus of the day back to Poolewe. Whilst the path covers less distance I know from past experience it will probably take longer so reluctantly, I decided to stick to the road here (Fellow coastal walker Ruth did follow this path and it sounds like it was actually pretty good most of the way, in fact I mistakenly told her I used it too, but I now realise I was mistaking it for another path further south I got mixed up with).

Near North Erradale

Near North Erradale

I soon reach the road junction for the village of Big Sand. A sign underneath it warns me “No Beach Access”.

Big Sand

Hmm. Well whilst I didn’t feel too guilty about missing out that path, it wasn’t right along the coast, but the map suggests there is a good beach at Big Sand (and I would presume this beach is how the village it got it’s name), and I would like to visit it. I hope the sign is only referring to vehicles perhaps in an attempt to deter people driving along these single-track roads and finding nowhere to park, so I head along the road.

At a T-junction I turn left and then 100 metres later right to follow the most easterly road towards the coast, as the map shows a path heads east along the shore at the end of this road. The road passes a few bed and breakfast and ends at a “Turning Place” only sign. I don’t see a footpath sign. Ahead there is what looks like a private drive leading down to a house just at the back of the beach. To the right another gate into a private garden. The map suggests the correct way is ahead and I can pick up the path beside this house, but I’m a bit reluctant given it looks like a garden and there isn’t a sign. However on the left there is another gate that is in front of a dilapidated barn in a field. This isn’t someones garden, so I go this way, climbing over the gate, turn right and make my way along the steeply sloping grass bank down to the path and onto the beach.

So there is beach access – sort of! The beach is initially not very sandy and I follow it east to the river Sand. From here I can head a bit inland along stones at the waters edge to a bridge over the river, that also has a ford over it. I cross the bridge into a camp site and follow paths from here back to the beach.

Big Sand

Well the beach is big. And sandy. Big Sand therefore seems an appropriate name. (Though I suspect it’s actually named after the river Sand. Or maybe the river is named after the beach. Oh, I don’t know).

Big Sand

Given the fact it’s summer and there is a campsite behind I am pleasantly surprised that the beach is pretty quiet.  By now however it’s just after 6pm so I suspect many of the families have gone back to their caravans and tents. The number of footprints in the soft sand certainly suggest there have been a lot of people here during the day.

Just off short I can see another island, Longa Island. It is only half a mile away but it is uninhabited and I don’t think there are any boats going there so it’s not possible to visit unless you have your own boat.

Big Sand

I think it’s just used for sheep grazing in the summer. I followed the beach east, passing many sandcastles and some families still on the beach. There is a wonderful backdrop to the beach – many mountains, over in Torridon I think.

Big Sand

Big Sand

At the end I make may way up back through the campsite to the road.

Big Sand

This is a lovely spot with a good sandy beach – there aren’t that many sandy beaches on this part of the coast (though I have passed two of them on this walk!).

It had clouded over a little in the early evening, but cloud was now lifting again. At the south end of the beach the road, and coast, turned to the east into Loch Gairloch. This was very beautiful, with a good number of mountains visible on the other side of the loch. These are the Torridon mountains, I believe.

Loch Gairloch

Gairloch

Gairloch

I had just over 2 miles to go now. My legs and feet were tired and my pace was dropping but I didn’t have a massive amount of time to spare before the bus, so I couldn’t afford to slow down too much.

Soon I saw the houses of Gairloch ahead, which gave me a bit of a second wind!

Gairloch

My destination was in sight! Well actually this part of the coast is fairly developed as there are several villages before Gairloch – Lonemore, Smithstown, Strath and then Gairloch that almost merge. I’m actually only going as far as Strath. This is because the bus lists it stops at “Gairloch Strath Square”. I’m going to pick the bus up from here as it’s closer (and the bus stops there later, giving me more time), though I’m not quite clear if Strath is part of Gairloch or a separate village (and the bus timetable doesn’t help!).

Loch Gairloch

As I head east the road gets busier I suppose no surprise because I’ve passed several villages now, though it’s never that busy and soon I am relieved to find a pavement begins, though it only continues intermittently, sometimes forcing me back on the road. Strath feels quite the metropolis!

Gairloch

I pass a greengrocer and butcher, estate agent, newsagent, a couple of restaurants, a bookshop, a coffee shop, convenience store and also a chip shop. (I later found it even has it’s own radio station). I come to the small car park which I think is the square. Here there is also a proper marked bus stop with a shelter (what luxury!) so I know this is where the bus stops. I can relax now as I’m before the bus is due, in fact a little over 15 minutes time. Just enough time to get a drink from the shop and some chips from the chip shop! I manage to finish my chips and throw the wrapper away just as I see the bus coming in the distance. Well actually it’s a coach. I don’t think it goes any further than here along the B8021 so I presume the bus must turn around here, but it looks a bit tight to do so.

The driver duly reverses into the entrance to the car park. It looks tricky to turn a large coach here but she manages it with apparent ease, watched by a lot of people sitting on various benches eating chips. I am pleased to get on the bus and have a sit down for the brief journey back to Poolewe. My backup plan if I had missed the bus was another 2 hours walking along the main road back to Poolewe. It being the summer I’d have managed that in the light (just), but i was glad it was not necessary. It was only a 15 minutes journey back to Poolewe and then a short walk back to the hotel and my car (though I still had quite a long drive back to Ullapool).

This had been a fantastic walk. One of those really memorable walks with some really stunning and scenery over the remote path to Camas Mor, that beautiful sandy beach and then a short distance to the spectacular lighthouse and it’s views of the islands of the Outer Hebrides (something I hadn’t expected to see). I was lucky the weather was so good, which helped to make it a special walk and the last part, though all along the road was also through really stunning scenery with the mountains of Torridon visible ahead. I was pleased to have made it and my long route had worked out well. Of course, I’d need to come back to miss out the north east corner I had cut off on this walk!

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. There are two bus routes (neither daily) but between them, they provide one bus per day each way between Gairloch (Strath) and Poolewe most days except for Thursday and Sunday.

Westerbus 707 : Gairloch – Poolewe – Inverewe Gardens – 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).

Westerbus 700A : Laide – Aultbea – Inverewe Gardens – Poolewe – Gairloch – Kerrysdale Junction – Loch Maree Hotel – Kinlochewe – Achnasheen – Lochluichart – Garve – Strathpeffer – Dingwall – Inverness. 1 bus per day each way on Tuesday and Saturday only.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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