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

Chapter X.—Excursions from Gairloch


THE following drives may be taken from the Gairloch Hotel. 1. To any of the places on the road on the south side of the Gairloch (see " Tables of distances "). Leaving the county road at the Kerry bridge, an estate road strikes off to the right, and passes picturesque natural birch woods, with a fine view of Bathais or Bus Bheinn over the moorland to the left. In the narrow ravine as we approach Shieldaig is an interesting "junction" of the Archaean gneiss and the Cambrian conglomerate. It is described in Part III., chap. ix. At Shieldaig is the pretty lodge leased by Mr J. Bateson, the Marquis of Bristol, and Mr A. Hamond. The garden is brilliant with choice flowers, even as seen from the road. Shieldaig is placed in a secluded little bay called Loch Shieldaig, in which are two islands. The road ascends, and a mile further the hamlet of Leac nan Saighead lies to the right Close to the shore at Leac nan Saighead may still be seen the spot where Donald Odhar and his brother Iain Odhar concealed themselves and nearly four hundred yards away is Fraoch Eilean, or "the heather island," where so many of the M'Leods were slain by the arrows of those Macrae heroes (Part I., chap. xii.). Kenneth Fraser, who has probably as large a store of the old traditions and legends of Gairloch as any other inhabitant, lives at Leac nan Saighead. The road now strikes inland, and skirts Loch Badachro, at the northwestern corner of which the rocky Badachro river leaves the loch for its short course to the sea. It is a remarkably picturesque little river, with its rocky bed and banks, and its overhanging trees. The fishing of the loch and river are let with Shieldaig. Passing the farmhouse of Badachro we soon come in sight of the village of Badachro, at the head of an almost landlocked bay shut in by islands, one of them the considerable Eilean Horisdale or Thorisdale, so called after the Norse god Thor. The Dry Island is joined to the mainland at low tide. Here are two fish-curing stations, Badachro being the centre of the important cod-fishery of Gairloch (Part II., chap. ix.). After leaving Badachro the road again strikes inland, and passes a loch, fully half a mile in length, called Loch Bad na h' Achlais. Another mile brings us to the straggling village of Port-Henderson; and again another mile over a rugged and boulder-bestrewed moor and we are on the sandy hill overlooking the pretty bay of Opinan, where there is a fine sandy beach. On the headland between Port-Henderson and Opinan is the Uamh nam Freiceadain (mentioned in Part I., chaps, xii. and xxi.). A short distance to the north of this place there is on the seashore a large cave, which is worth a visit; it is called Uamh an Oir. It has a fine entrance; it branches off right and left; the branch to the left can be followed for about forty yards, that to the right is not so deep. In the village of Opinan are the board school and volunteer armoury, the latter an iron house. A little beyond the village, to the south, is the new Free church, which is a mission church or chapel-of-ease in connection with the parent Free church of Gairloch. It is a plain and substantial building of recent erection. You cannot drive further than South Erradale, but the road beyond is well worth exploration on toot. Some of the inhabitants can point out the green spot in a hollow where the two Macleod fratricides were slain and buried (page 26). The village of South Erradale, with its stream called the Red River, is about a mile beyond Opinan. Two of the dwelling-houses are built of turf. At the upper end of the crofts are the Garradh Iaruinn, or "iron dyke," and other evidences of bog iron (see page 87). About three miles further we come to the farm of Point, or Red Point, where is also much bog iron. Along all this route are magnificent views of the Torridon mountains, of the island of Rona, and of the shores and mountains of Skye, which last are much nearer and more plainly seen than from the Gairloch Hotel. The rocky coast, with the primitive houses of the people, the rough moorland, and the background of rugged mountains, give to this expedition the charm of great wildness. Your charioteer can rest his horses at Opinan or South Erradale whilst you walk further on.

2. To any of the places on the road running along the north side of the Gairloch (see " Tables of distances "). This expedition may be done by carriage as far as Melvaig. Leaving the Gairloch Hotel by the county road going in the direction of Poolewe we turn off to the left at Achtercairn. Passing the police-station and the board school on the right, we are quickly on the sea-shore. Turn to the right, and cross the curious narrow wooden bridge over the Achtercairn river or burn. To the right, a little way from the road, is the manse of Gairloch (Part I., chap, xvi.), and then the fishing village of Strath or Smithstown is entered, at the back of which there was formerly much bog iron. There are two good merchants' shops, a boat-building yard, several shoemakers' shops, and a meal-mill. The straggling village of Lonmor lies to the right of and above the road after we pass Strath. Here plenty of bog iron is still to be met with (Part I. chap. xx.). Except for the views of the Gairloch, with Skye in the distance, the road is now uninteresting for a mile or two. It bends to the north at Cam Dearg House (Mr Corson), which is a peculiar building, close to the road, with an enormous red-tiled roof. Below the house is a low rocky cliff, of a reddish colour. About a mile inland are the Sitheanan Dubha, or "fairies' hills."

A little beyond Cam Dearg is a fine sandy bay, and half a mile from the shore is* the island of Longa. It is more than a mile in length; in ancient times it was a retreat of the Norse vikings (Part L, chap. i.). From Cam Dearg the road strikes, inland due north, passing the farm of Little Sand on the left, and beyond that again around a large sandy bay the village called Big Sand. Among the first sandhills you come to on the farm of Little Sand may be seen some thin pans of bog iron (Part I., chap. xx.). More than a mile further on, close to the new board school, the road bends again towards the west. The hill to the right is Meall na Glaice Daraich (522 feet), and then further on, to the left between the road and the sea, lies the township of North Erradale. The building near the road, with its clump of trees, was formerly the schoolhouse ; it is now used as a place of worship. Among the crofts of North Erradale some remains of bog iron pans are met with (Part I., chap. xx.). At the shore, below the village, is a rocky cove enclosing a shingly beach, where the people keep their boats.

A little to the north of this is a wonderful cave, known as Uamh an Oir. It is said that ages ago twelve men, headed by a piper, marched into the cave, the piper playing a lively strain; they were to search for the precious metal; the party are believed to have wandered for miles among the windings of the cavern; the music of the bagpipes was heard underground as far away as the village of Strath, Gairloch, but neither the piper nor any of the men ever came back; it is supposed "they forgot to turn." Further details of this story are given by some, who connect it with an old song well-known in the Argyleshire and other Highlands. I have explored the cave, candle in hand, as far as to where the passage narrows. Before the narrow part is reached there is a large chamber, in which are traces of fires said to have been used for the illicit distillation of whisky. The cavern appeared to expand again beyond the narrow place. They say the cave may be explored a long way further, but Mr Corson tells me he cannot discover any passage. The cave is well worth a visit. Lights must be provided, and care be taken that return to the outer world is not delayed by the tide, which for two hours before and after high water prevents access to or from the cave unless a boat be at hand.

From North Erradale a long stretch of road conducts the traveller towards the north. The hamlets of Peterburn and Altgreshan are passed, and at last the village of Melvaig is reached. It has a good school, and is placed on the top of a rocky cliff, of no great height but so steep that the shore below can only be safely reached by those who are acquainted with the place and have a ladder. There is a cave on the shore, which has been used for illicit distillation. There are magnificent views of the Minch and its islands from Melvaig and near it. It is well worth walking three miles north of Melvaig along the cliffs to Rudha Reidh, or the Seann Rudha as it is often called by the natives. About a mile from Melvaig any inhabitant will point out the 4< leac," or large flat stone, from the shelter of which Fionnla Dubh nan Saighead and his friend Chisholm let fly their arrows at the crew of Macleod's birlinn (Part I., chap. xii.). Two or three picturesque burns are passed, and the cliffs gradually rise to a height of 300 feet. Rudha Reidh itself is a fine headland of reddish rocks, with a very picturesque bay to the right, exhibiting on a sunny day remarkable contrasts of colour, the sands being white, the rocks and cliffs black and red, and the sea intense emerald green streaked with purple. Looking over the cliffs some detached masses of rock are seen standing in the sea. One square rock is called Stac Buidhe, or "the yellow stack," from the brilliant orange-coloured lichens growing upon it. It is the breeding-place of a few gulls and other sea birds. Twenty miles away due west trie Shiant Isles are visible. Return by the same route. Your horses will require a rest at Melvaig. These are the principal drives from the Gairloch Hotel, but several shorter drives may be made with great advantage on the county road in the direction of the pass leading to Slatadale on Loch Maree. I can recommend the drives to Kerrysdale or to the Kerry Falls, or still further to Loch Bad na Sgalaig and Feur Loch, or to the head of the pass, whence a magnificent view of Loch Maree and its islands is obtained.

It is a good drive also to Poolewe (Part IV., chap, vi.), and the drives recommended in the next chapter to be made from Poolewe may be conveniently taken from the Gairloch Hotel (Part IV., chap. xi,).

Undoubtedly the chief excursion to be made from the Gairloch Hotel is that on Loch Maree. Carriages leave the Gairloch Hotel about ten a.m., and convey passengers to Tollie pier. The road to Tollie is described in Part IV., chap. vi. Hence the voyage of the Mabel is made (Part IV., chap, xiii.), and the party can return to the Gairloch Hotel by five p.m. the same day.

There are very pleasant expeditions to be made by boat on the Gairloch, not only by anglers but by those who wish to explore this fine bay and its interesting shores and islands. You may land on the island called Fraoch Eilean and see the graves of the Macleods, nearly three centuries old (Part L, chap, xii.); or you may go into Loch Badachro and learn all about its cod fishery; or you may venture as far as the rocky shores of the wild island of Longa. The angler will get good sport in the Gairloch, either trolling or with hand lines (Part IV., chap. xvi.).

Of walks there are many about Gairloch. A short but steep stroll, affording splendid views, is that up the hill behind the hotel, called the Kirk hill. Another short walk is to explore the villages of Achtercairn and Strath. If the salmon fishing be going on, a visit to the salmon station at Achtercairn may lead to the acquisition of interesting information on the subject; or the sergeant-instructor of the Gairloch volunteers will obligingly show the armoury he has charge of. Other strolls are to Strath and Ixmmor, or to the large sandy beach below the Gairloch Established church. This latter may include the old Gairloch churchyard, where so many of the Gairloch family of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are buried, as well as many of the bards and pipers, and where is also the tombstone of John Hay, discussed in Part I., chap, xviii.; this walk may also include an examination of the Cnoc a Croiche (Part IL, chap, iv.), and of the Dun, and remains of the vitrified fort (Part I., chaps, vi., vii., xi., and xxi.) at the further end of the large sandy beach. Below the rocks, and on the face of them, at the extreme east end of the sandy beach, is a remarkable junction, where the Archaean gneiss and the Cambrian conglomerate or breccia actually touch each other. This stroll may be prolonged to Port na Heile, where the Gairloch pier is situated. Another and a longer walk is to take the old road, to the left, at the south end of the bridge at Ceann an t* sail, where the post-office is, and then follow this old road until it joins the county road a little below Loch Bad na Sgalaig. The return walk from Loch Bad na Sgalaig may be varied by taking the present county road back to the Gairloch Hotel vict the Kerry Falls, Kerrysdale and Charlestown. The old road is rough, and most visitors will find it best to walk both to and from the Kerry Falls by the county road, and I certainly advise this as preferable in every way. Other rambles in the neighbourhood of the Gairloch Hotel may be made along the sea-shore, in both directions, and on the nearer parts of the roads already described. Anglers will enjoy the fishing on Loch Tollie.

Students of geology will find many places about Gairloch that are well worth examination (see Part III., chap. ix.). Dr Geikie, in his "Geological Sketches," writes as follows of the interesting geological facts of the neighbourhood of the Gairloch Hotel. He says :— "Behind the new hotel at Gairloch the ground rises steeply into a

[Pages 332 and 333 missing from the book]


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