I have a special affinity with Gairloch and have been holidaying there ever since I was 12 yrs old and used to go on school trips to do hiking in the mountains of Wester Ross. In those days, we stayed in a very basic “bothy” which had an outside loo that the sheep used to crowd into for warmth as the loo also doubled up as the drying room and had an old iron radiator in it. Fighting your way past sheep to get to the toilet at 7 in the morning was, I guess, character, building if not up to today’s strict Health & Safety regulations for school kids.
Since those distant days, I have returned many times to this part of Scotland and always enjoy visiting. Not just because of the beautiful scenery, but because of the great people that live there and the real sense of community that they have in this remote corner of Scotland.
One of the highlights of our trip this July was going out with Ian McWhinney on his wee fishing boat to pull up creel pots. We’ve known Ian and his wife Jess since 2006 when we stayed with them on their own private island which has been in Ian’s family for many generations. Ian has a wealth of local knowledge about the area and keeps his passengers entertained with lots of interesting facts about the wildlife and history of the area, including some random things like the origins of the phrase “Pot Luck”. You’ll understand this when you start pulling up the creel pots!
On our 90 minute fishing trip, we hauled in a good number of crabs including the very sought after velvet crabs which have a strangely “furry” feel to their shell. The velvet crabs command the highest prices and, when cooked, their shells turn from a murky green shade to a glorious scarlet red colour. Another local delicacy that we pulled in was squat lobster. These are a sort of stumpy looking crustacean that is not too dissimilar in taste and size to langoustine. At the end of our trip, Ian presented us with a very generous selection of the days catch which found its way from sea to dinner plate in under 8 hours. How’s that for fresh!
Back on dry land, well sort of dry, we took the opportunity of christening my recently purchased hiking boots with some rambling. Within less than an hour’s drive from Gairloch, you have a great range of hill walking opportunites to satisfy the gentle low level hiker or the more adventurous ridge walkers. Beinn Alligin is a particularly spectacular mountain climb as it involves a traverse of a narrow ridge and there is a dramatic cleft in the side of the mountain. With a 3 yr old son in tow, we couldn’t take on the more challenging ascents, but he did a very good job at keeping up with his Mum and Dad and he managed to complete 3 good hikes lasting between 1 ~ 2.5 hours. The most rewarding of these was the climb up through the forest of native Scots Pine trees on the Glas Leitir trail. The area around Loch Maree & Glen Torridon, was designated the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve in 1951 and was the first area to be designated as such in Scotland. Part of the motivation for this protected status was to try to reverse the terrible deforestation which had happened in World War 2 when large numbers of Scot’s Pine trees were felled to manufacture ammunition boxes. The forest is slowly, but steadily regenerating and these majestic trees greatly enhance the landscape around Loch Maree.
If you asked our son what his highlight of the holiday was, I’m pretty certain it would be playing on the beaches. The coastline of Wester Ross is blessed with some very fine beaches indeed and each has its own special feature. Redpoint has a soft pinkish hue and is usually quite empty as it is at the end of a twisting and undulating single track road. Mellon Udrigle has clean white sands and panoramic views across the sea to the distant Summer Isles and the distinctive peaks of the Inverpolly Nature Reserve. Gruinard Bay is sheltered by surrounding hills and its ease of access from the A832 means that it is usually the most popular beach in the area. There are lots more, but we have to keep some of them secret and quiet for ourselves.