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Our journey to Wester Ross starts at Garve, the gateway to Wester Ross and the end of stress. From here there are two roads, the 'south road' and the 'north road'. We will go in a clockwise direction and start with the 'south road', which follows the railway across country to Achnasheen, through a strath so wild you will feel like you are entering another world. Which of course you are!
The railway heads south to Kyle of Lochalsh and the Isle of Skye at Achnasheen. This is the nearest railway station to Gairloch and Poolewe. A road follows the railway south but we turn right at the only roundabout in Wester Ross, and head west up over the pass into Glen Docherty.
The view from the viewpoint at the top is awe-inspiring, looking down onto Loch Maree. As you drive down the glen into Kinlochewe, the Torridon mountains are on your left and the mighty Slioch and the mountains of Fisherfield Forest on the right. At KInlochewe, a road leads into the Torridons, but we press on straight ahead to the west, past the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve on the left and Loch Maree and Slioch on the right.
The road affords wonderful views of the Torridon mountains, before passing the Loch Maree Hotel, famous for its visit by Queen Victoria in 1877. Just past is the Victoria Falls and Slattadale, popular spots to picnic and walk.
Once through Slattadale the road becomes single track with passing places, so take care. Loch Bad an Scalaig is on your left, dammed in 1951 and one of the first Hydro-electric schemes in the country. The road winds down into Gairloch, the main village in the area.
This part of Wester Ross is centred on two sea lochs, Gairloch and Loch Ewe with the villages of Gairloch, Poolewe and Aultbea at the head of the lochs, with minor single track roads leading along the coast to Red Point, Rubha Reidh, Cove, Mellon Charles and Greenstone Point.
Back to Gairloch, the main road, now two lane again, bypasses the various peninsulars over to Poolewe, with its world famous Inverewe Gardens, round the head of Loch Ewe to Aultbea, and finally to Laide before heading east again on the 'north road'.
From here the road hugs the coast until you reach the beautiful beach at Gruinard, and then heads along the shores of Little Loch Broom past one of the highest and most impressive mountains in the area, An Teallach with the village of Dundonnell at its foot.
The road from here is locally known as Desolation Road and was built to give employment in the years following the potato famine of 1846. Just before you reach the main road which takes you back to Garve, or, if you turn left, to Ullapool and the north, one of the areas big attractions lies on your left – Corrieschallach Gorge with its magnificent waterfall.
As an approach to Wester Ross, the 'north road' is just as impressive as the 'south road'. If you enjoy driving, you will enjoy the roads in Wester Ross – small wonder there are so many classic cars and motorcycles touring the area.
This single track road leaves the main road just south of Gairloch and hugs the shore of Loch Gairloch. There are a number of small hamlets along the road – Shieldaig, Leacnasaide, Badachro, Port Henderson, Opinan and South Erradale. The road ends at Red Point where there are two beautiful sandy beaches, in fact the name refers to the colour of the sand at the main beach. Badachro is the largest village on the road and is a former fishing village with a sheltered bay, now a haven for small boats and yachts. The Inn on the waterfront is in one of the most scenic locations on the west coast of Scotland and is popular with locals and visitors alike.
This road is particularly picturesque, being well wooded around Shieldaig and Leacnasaide, then changing to open croft land with beaches dotted along the coast. At Shieldaig is the impressive Shieldaig Lodge Hotel, a traditional Highland shooting lodge which still opens its doors to the public. From Red Point the views of the Isle of Skye, the Western Isles and Loch Torridon can be quite spectacular. At the end of the southernmost beach is a former fishing station which used nets to catch salmon.
This road goes along the north shore of Loch Gairloch and its crowning glory is the mile long beach at Big Sand, sheltered by Longa Island lying just offshore. There was a small fishing community on the island during the early eighteenth century but it was abandoned later that century and has been uninhabited since. After Big Sand, the road runs through the crofting townships of North Erradale, Peterburn, Aultgrishan and Melvaig, where there is an Inn. After Melvaig a private road leads to Rubha Reidh lighthouse. This was built in 1910 and when first lit in 1912 was lit by a paraffin lamp, which was subsequently converted to electricity. The lighthouse was automated in 1986 and since then the lighthouse keepers' accommodation has been privately owned.
The road is spectacular and in many places is high above the sea with cliffs and several beaches below, and the views towards the Isles of Skye, the Shiant Isles and the Western Isles are unrivalled.
From Poolewe, the road to Cove runs up the west shore of Loch Ewe and again consists of a string of crofting townships along the shore – Naast, Midtown, Inverasdale and Cove. Just past Inverasdale is another glorious beach at Firemore and at Cove there are massive gun emplacements from WW2 when Loch Ewe was the base for the Russian Arctic Convoys, also a war memorial to the crews lost at the time. On your return, there are good views of the hills of the Great Wilderness.
Running along the east side of Loch Ewe from Aultbea, this road comprises the crofting areas of Bualnaluib, Ormiscaig and Mellon Charles. Scotlands only working perfume studio is located in Mellon Charles. They design and make an original range of perfumes, toiletries and soaps which are sold in their gift shop, with its popular café next door.
This road runs through Laide, Achgarve, Mellon Udrigle and Opinan from where it is possible to walk onto Greenstone Point which is at the southern entrance to Loch Broom. The road is sparsely populated and the beach at Mellon Udrigle is a beautiful sandy beach overlooking Gruinard Bay and the mountains beyond. A track runs from just south of Mellon Udrigle to Slaggan bay, a perfect walk to a deserted beach with views across the open water to the Isle of Lewis. Many years ago, there was a crofting community here and there are extensive ruins of the old village. Reputedly, the Queen used to picnic on this beach during her cruises aboard the Brittania.