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

Chapter XII.—Excursions from Aultbea


THREE drives are recommended to be taken from Aultbea.

1. To Mellon Charles.—After leaving Aultbea Inn the road crosses the burn, which gives its name to the place, and after passing the post-office, and further on the Free church and its manse, reaches Aird House, on the promontory which forms the bay and is called Aird Point. The tiny hamlet below Aird is called Cuilchonich. Further on the village of Buaile na luib is reached, with its board school. The road now becomes rough, and the rest of the journey may perhaps be better accomplished on foot. The first village after leaving Buaile na luib is called Ormiscaig, and then the township of Mellon Charles is entered, with its sandy beach. It is an interesting Highland place, and, like Cove on the opposite side of Loch Ewe, gives one the idea of being near the end of the world. There are fairy stories connected with this neighbourhood (see Part II., chap. xiii.). Above the village rises Craig an Fhithieh Mhor, or " the great raven's crag," 395 feet in height. The rocky coast on either side of Mellon Charles contains some fine caves inhabited by blue-rock pigeons. This excursion may perhaps be better made on foot.

2. To Mellon Udrigil.—Take the road leading north-east from Aultbea. On the left is Tighnafaolinn, a straggling township on the hillside. On the right, after crossing the burn, is the hamlet of Bad-fearn. The road ascends for about a mile and a half. On both sides are rough moorland, with moraines of ancient glaciers. Soon after passing the brow of the hill the road descends to Laide House, a small but neat dwelling, with a few trees about it, noticeable more for their present rarity in this part of the country than for any merits of their own. The straggling village of Laide, or more fully the Laide of Udrigil, is now entered. The first building, on the left, was used as a place of worship some few years ago, but has been lately unroofed. A little distance from the road, to the right, is the board school. At the merchant's shop turn to the left, leaving the ruin of the ancient chapel to the right below. The road is rather rough, but quite passable. For about a mile it runs along the top of low cliffs; the picturesque salmon station of Mr Hogarth, of Aberdeen, is seen on a small promontory. The curious red cliffs (the only trias hereabouts, Part III., chap, ix.), the picturesque ridges of rock jutting into the sea, and the salmon station itself, are well worth an exploration on foot. The road descends as it passes round the base of the hill called Meallan Udrigil (298 feet), and then ascends, passing Udrigil House, a little way above which is the hamlet of Achagarve. The road now strikes somewhat inland, behind the hill called Meall nam Meallan (478 feet). On the left is the Loch of the Beast, the haunt of the celebrated water-kelpie (Part II., chap. xiii.). A mile further, through a narrow pass, we enter the little village of Mellon Udrigil, with its board school, which, though small, is sufficient for the place. An examination of the village, and a stroll on the sands, will be found interesting. Meall nam Meallan forms a series of fine cliffs along the coast to the south of Mellon Udrigil. During the whole of the drive from Laide there have been magnificent. views of the hills and islands around and within the bay of Gruinard. On a fine day, at any time of the year, these views are enchanting. It was from Mellon Udrigil that the vision of the great fleet, with boats manned by red-jackets, was seen (Part II., chap. xv.). The bay of Gruinard, or Loch Gruinard, is described in a separate chapter by Mr Jolly.

3. To Second Coast and intermediate places.—The road to Laide is the same as in the last drive, but instead of turning off to the left at the merchant's, keep straight on in an easterly direction. The scenery and surroundings are described in Mr Jolly's chapter on Loch Gruinard (see page 355). The ruined church or chapel of Sand (Part I., chap, xxi.), standing in a crowded graveyard, is well seen to the left,

and is worth a visit. In my memory there were the remains of a mullion and tracery in the little window in the eastern gable. This little church, called the chapel of Sand, is said to have been one of the earliest Christian churches on the west coast (see illustration, J>age 70). The straggling collection of cottages called Sand adjoins Laide; here, as the name implies, there is a fine stretch of sandy beach, beyond which a wonderfully diversified rocky shore extends. A little beyond Sand, in a cove on the sea-shore close below the road, and accessible from it by a winding footpath, are two caves and some curious detached rocks. One rock is a sort of rugged pyramid, and another resembles a sphinx {see illustration). This latter is particularly remarkable, and is overgrown with beautiful lichens. The larger cave is used for public worship, and the small one as a dwelling. The first hamlet or village after Sand is called First Coast, and the other, further on, is Second Coast. The Gaelic name of the former is "Bad an t' Sluig," or "the clump of the gullet;" and of the latter, "An t' Eirthire Donn," or "the brown side or edge." The word "eirthire" is here spelt according to the local manner; it is in other parts of the Highlands spelt "oirthire," which is said to be more correct.

The villages of First and Second Coast differ from most of those in the parish of Gairloch in having the habitations all together, instead of being scattered in their respective crofts or allotments, as is the usual arrangement. This is due to the "run-rig" system of cultivation having been retained here to a comparatively recent date (Part II., chap. viii.).

Second Coast is bounded by a considerable burn, which joins the sea in the bay below the village, sometimes called Mill bay, because of the mill which formerly stood at the foot of the burn: Proceeding" by a long ascent the summit of Cadha Beag is at last attained, with a most lovely view of the horseshoe bay of Fisherfield. At the foot of the steep road down Cadha Beag is a bridge over the Little Gruinard river, which flows out of Fionn Loch, and is the northern boundary of the parish of Gairloch. Here, on the Gairloch side of the river, is a black bothy, which is a licensed house, kept by one William Gunn, the humorous father of a numerous family. The farm, with arable land on both sides of the river, is called Little Gruinard.

The continuation of this drive to the Meikle Gruinard river is well worth taking; a picturesque burn is crossed half-way between the two rivers, and the horses may perhaps be baited at the Fisherfield farmhouse. This road may be used as an exit from Gairloch (Part IV., chap. ii.).

The return journey to Aultbea is by the same route. All the comparatively low ground of the Greenstone Point is called the "Laigh of Loch Broom," i.e. low ground of Loch Broom. It is curious that this part of Gairloch parish should be spoken of as if it were part of the adjoining barony of Loch Broom. In former days Gairloch and Loch Broom were considered to form one district, and this may have originated the confusion perpetuated in this name. "Laigh" is a Scotch, not a Gaelic, word.

Excursions by water from Aultbea are mostly what can be made by boat on Loch Ewe, and may be either for the purpose of sea-fishing, which is very good, or with the object of exploring the rocky headlands and numerous caves at the north end of Isle Ewe or on the mainland beyond Mellon Charles. There is a fine sandy bay, with an out-of-the-world little village called Slaggan, where the great bard of Slaggan (Part II., chap, xxi.) had his abode, and this may be made the subject of a boating excursion. In fine weather a sail on the wide bay of Gruinard will reveal magnificent views of the mountainous coast round its shores, and further north and east.

For walks I can recommend either shore of the Greenstone Point. Mr Forbes, at the inn, will suggest pedestrian rambles, as well as make arrangements for boats on sea and on fresh-water lochs.


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