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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part IV.—Guide to Gairloch and Loch Maree

Chapter V.—Talladale to the Gairloch Hotel


THE road from Talladale to Gairloch passes for more than a mile through the woods which here skirt Loch Maree. Pretty peeps of the loch are obtained here and there where the trees permit.

As the natural birch wood grows thinner, its place is taken by a thick plantation of larch. This is bounded by the Garavaig burn, which is surmounted by a substantial bridge. Crossing the bridge we get a glimpse of the Victoria Falls (Part III., chap. i.). On the right begin the fields or parks (as enclosed cultivated lands are always called in the north) of Slatadale. In the angle formed by the loch and the Garavaig burn, at the corner of the first park, was the old Garavaig iron-smelting furnace; and if this field should happen to have been lately ploughed, the traveller may notice that parts of it are stained black with charcoal burnings (see page 93). The house of Slatadale, which is distant two miles from the Loch Maree Hotel, is a neat building, prettily situated near the margin of the loch.

Along the shore at Slatadale commences the section of the old road, which follows the line of the loch for some two miles further, and then strikes up the depression to the south-west of the Craig Tollie range, and so reaches Poolewe. Remains of this old military road have been visible all the way from Achnasheen, except in some parts where the present road is oh the same track.

From Slatadale the road to Gairloch rapidly ascends, winding round the base of a hill named Meall Lochan a Chleirich (1319 feet), which rises to the left; on the right, but further away, is Meall an Doire. As we approach the summit, lovely views are obtained of the range of mountains on the north-east side of Loch Maree (including the conical peak of Slioch), and of the wide part of the loch with its numerous islands, which from this point of view stand out distinctly separate from each other.

A little above the road, on the left, is a large detached fragment of rock, which bears a curious resemblance to an old stage coach, or perhaps, more accurately speaking, to one of the old lumbering diligences of France.

Just beyond the apex of the watershed is a small loch, on the left, called Fear (or Feir) Loch, and a little further a larger and very picturesque loch called Loch Bad na Sgalaig; in the distance is the superb peak of Bathais or Bus Bheinn. For an account of the introduction of pike into these lochs see Part IV., chap, xviii. The good bag of eagles recorded in Part III., chap, iii., was made on Bus-Bheinn; and Iain Liath's well (see page 39) is at the base of the mountain. Near the road, but on the other side of the River Kerry where it leaves Loch Bad na Sgalaig, is a keeper's house ; and a little beyond it the old road diverges to the right, at the foot of a hill called Meall Aundrairidh (1068 feet).

The road now rapidly descends, and in half a mile passes alongside the Kerry Falls (Part III., chap. i.). Another mile brings us to Kerry bridge, where Her Majesty Queen Victoria, on 17th September 1877, graciously met above two hundred and fifty Lews people, who had come over by steamer from Stornoway to see their beloved Queen, accompanied by the Rev. Mr Greenfield, their minister.

The road over this bridge leads to Shieldaig and the other places on the south side of Gairloch. Beautiful patches of natural wood are seen on all sides, and the colouring of the lower hills is very fine.

A little further, Kerrysdale House is passed. It is a small farmhouse, with very picturesque surroundings, but is placed rather low.

The road now enters a large larch plantation, and runs for some distance along the Kerry river. This was a well-known resort of the fairies. The Gaelic name of Kerrysdale is Cathair Bheag, or the " little seat" of the fairies. Emerging from the wood, look back at the remarkably fine view of Bathais or Bus Bheinm It rises beyond the centre of the deep gorge, which has dense woods on either side. In the dark depths of this gorge the River Kerry is seen gleaming far below. Another mile brings us to the bay and hamlet of Charlestown, in an inner recess of the Gairloch sea-loch. The houses clustered about the head of this bay (called in Gaelic Ceann an t' Sail, or "the head of the salt water ") are now generally included in the term Gairloch, as applied to a village or place. The first house we come to is Glen Cottage, the residence of Mr Donald Mackenzie, west coast manager for Sir Kenneth Mackenzie. Before arriving at the post-office several houses are seen below the road and near the sea to the left, where are some trees of remarkable size, considering that they actually overhang the tide. The best of these houses is a lodging-house kept by Miss M'lver ; another is the only bakehouse in the parish. On the other side of the little bay is the Gairloch pier, with its storehouse and several houses beyond, called Port na Heile.

The post-office (which was formerly the Gairloch Inn) is at the head of the bay of Charlestown. Close by is the burn or small river which comes from the Flowerdale glen.

Immediately over the bridge that spans this burn is the road, to the right, leading to Flowerdale House and farm. This road is private. About a quarter of a mile up it is Flowerdale House, on the left. On the right, in a field below the road, may be seen the remains of the garden walls of the Tigh Dige and Stank-house, recalling memories of the old chiefs of Gairloch, and in a paddock beyond is " the island of justice," all described in former pages. Among the farm buildings is the old barn with the Mackenzie coat-of-arms, including the figure of Donald Odhar, the great Macrae archer.

After passing the end of the Flowerdale road, the short road leading to the pier at Port na Heile turns off almost immediately to the left. Just beyond this point the main road passes the well called " the Gairloch," from the story told on page 30.

Before leaving this picturesque little bay, the view up the Flowerdale glen, with the rocky Craig a Chait rising above the woods immediately behind the house, ought to be particularly noted. Think of Donald Odhar's wonderful shot recorded on page 46. Looking out towards the sea-loch, Fraoch Eilean is seen, celebrated for the slaughter of so many Macleods in the affair of Leac nan Saighead, the story of which is told on pages 45 and 46.

It is about a mile further to the Gairloch Hotel. Mounting a "brae," we pass the Caledonian Bank on the right, and a little further the Established church, also on the right. Just below the road on the left, alongside of the Established church, is the hollow in the turf-covered sand called the Leabaidh na ba baine, or "bed of the white cow," where the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is dispensed twice a year. The gathering on these occasions is well worth seeing; it is described on pages 118 et seq,

A little further, to the left of the road, in a flat hollow in the sand hills, is the Gairloch churchyard or burial-ground, where lie the remains of the older lairds of Gairloch, and of many of the bards, poets, and pipers mentioned in this book, as well as of a great number of the less-known inhabitants of Gairloch. Here also was formerly the church of St Maelrubha, probably a thatched edifice. Perhaps the most remarkable gravestone in the churchyard is that of John Hay (see pages 82 and 83), said to have been the last manager of the Letterewe ironworks. Outside the entrance to the churchyard some fragments of slag may be seen (page 95). Between the churchyard and the road is the monument erected to the memory of John Mackenzie of "The Beauties" (Part II., chap. xxii.). The road now mounts the shoulder of the hill called the Crasg (mentioned on page 40); and fine views open out of the largest sandy beach at Gairloch, and of the wide expanse of the bay or sea-loch of the same name, with the hills of Skye, and some smaller islands further north, in the distance. At the south-west end of this sandy beach, a little to the right of the volunteer targets, is the hillock on which the Dun, the ancient castle of Gairloch, often named in the traditions given in Part I., and described on page 98, formerly stood. Some traces of its foundations are still to be seen, as well as slight remains of a vitrified fort, which is supposed to have occupied the same site before the castle stood there. On the side of the Crasg overlooking the churchyard, and a few yards west of the high road, is the Cnoc a Croiche, or "gallows hill," overhanging a steep ravine (see page 116).

Surmounting the Crasg we rapidly descend, and passing the new Free church (which actually contains a stained-glass rose window) on the left, and the Free church manse with its well-kept garden on the right, we reach at last

The Gairloch Hotel.

This hotel was erected in 1872, and enlarged in 1881. It has a large coffee-room, a good drawing-room, a reading-room, a smoke-room, a billiard-room, and several good private sitting-rooms, whilst nearly one hundred and fifty beds can be made up. The hotel is conducted on the best modern system, and no one should object to the charges, for when the highest degree of comfort is provided it should be ungrudgingly paid for. The season is short, and the crowds of visitors it brings are necessarily a great tax on the resources of the establishment.

During the season services according to the form of the Church of England are conducted in the house, whilst those who prefer the Presbyterian churches will find the Established and Free churches in close proximity.

There is a stall in the hotel where Gairloch hose, photographs of the district, and other souvenirs can be purchased.

There are excellent gardens and hothouses on the slope behind the hotel, which is well supplied from them not only with vegetables in season, but with grapes, flowers, and decorative plants.

Near the hotel is a lawn-tennis ground, which may also be used as a bowling-green.

Sea-bathing may be had on the sandy beach below; a suitable bathing-machine is provided. Those who prefer to bathe al fresco and are able to swim, will find a retired nook immediately to the south-west of the eminence where the Dun and vitrified fort formerly stood; here there is a sort of natural swimming-bath, into which a header may be taken, and which gives space for a good swim. The sea is always as clear as crystal on this rock-bound coast.

Boats may be hired from the hotel for sea-fishing, or for expeditions on the Gairloch. The smaller islands may be visited, and the coast on either side examined.

Loch Tollie is appropriated for anglers staying at the hotel. There is a boat on the loch, and good trout-fishing may be had on its waters.

There is a small shop in the vicinity of the hotel. In the neighbouring village of Strath, about a mile from the hotel, are good general merchants' stores where most things may be purchased.

The Gairloch Hotel is remarkable for the fine view of the broad bay which is obtained from all the front windows of the house. Beyond the bay is the Minch, bounded in the extreme distance by the Isle of Skye. Every atmospheric change invests this beautiful view with a new character.


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