The north west coast of Scotland truly is my favourite place and, if not for the small issue of work and accessibility to the rest of the country, I’d be happy to live there. On Monday we decided to take advantage of the fantastic weather (and early season lack of midges) and head west again. This time we headed to Gairloch about one and a half hours drive away. We knew we’d have a short day as due to son’s van being off the road we agreed we’d drop him off and pick him up from work in Strathpeffer.
The drive west is most picturesque and takes you through some dramatic scenery. Along the way we kept saying “we really must come back and climb…” (insert name of practically every hill between Garve and Kinlochewe!) As we drove along Loch Maree we spoke about a return trip to climb those Torridon hills we’ve still to tackle – and which we had originally planned to do today except for son’s work schedule. Little did we know that 5 climbers had to airlifted from Liathach today due to wildfires.
The road into Gairloch is the usual Highland single track road and as usual was busy with tourists – including very many Dutch and German cars.
We stopped briefly on the cliffs overlooking Strath Bay and as we gazed at the empty beach we mentioned how in many other places around the UK the beaches would be mobbed today. We saw precisely one man and his dog!
Leaving Gairloch the road gets even narrower as the no-through road skirts the edge of Loch Gairloch and heads north past the Big Sand camp site and Lunga Island. As typical for many minor roads in the Highlands and road is unfenced and motorists have to slow down occasionally to allow the sheep the right of way.
The approach to Melvaig again is ‘typical’ west coast scenery with scattered crofting townships on narrow flat ‘shelves’ above the Atlantic Ocean.
Looking to Melvaig itself we see some of the cliffs on this rocky headland.
This land is scattered with empty croft houses and a selection of styles of modern replacements.
According to the OS map the road finishes at Melvaig and the remaining 5km (3 miles) to Rua Reidh lighthouse is a track, so we parked here and set off on foot. However we soon found out this ‘track’ is in fact a tarmac road and we were passed by about 20 cars. 20 cars in about an hour and a half is not busy, and as we had passed a sign stating “vehicular access is for lighthouse customers only”, maybe all the vehicles were visiting the lighthouse. We did not intend to, and did not mind the walk.
The walk gave us time to admire the wild flowers and natural sea stacks and arches we passed along the way.
We passed another sign reminding us the access was for lighthouse customers only – there is a accommodation available at the lighthouse as well as an Outdoor Centre.
We were relieved to catch our first glimpse of the lighthouse, but surprised to see it tucked down below the level of the road.
However once were beside it, we could see it was quite open to the sea and would be visible for miles out to sea.
A lighthouse on Rubha Reidh Point was first proposed by David Stevenson in 1853. Building was started by his son, David Alan Stevenson in 1908 and the light was first lit on 15 January 1912. The light came from a paraffin lamp, subsequently converted to electricity. The original Fresnel lens is now in the nearby Gairloch Heritage Museum.
Since the light became automatic in 1986, the adjacent accommodation is no longer required for keepers. It is run as a hostel and Bed and Breakfast business – Rua Reidh Lighthouse. Since 2004 the lighthouse has been protected as a category B listed building.
To the north of the lighthouse is the remains of an old quay and ramp which provided access from the sea at high tide. This was the only access for supplies until the road from Gairloch was built in 1962.
Paraffin was pumped from the quay and other goods were transported on a small trolley on rails.
We peered over the side of the ramp and saw the old winch and railway wagon lying down in the natural rocky inlet.
Since there is an interesting information board on the end of this concrete ramp, we were surprised they had not hauled these old artefacts up from this gulley and put them on display.
The kelp forest in this inlet was amazing.
There is no track heading east from the lighthouse, but there are several small paths – some sheep tracks and some obviously made by curious walkers keen to have a look at the northern coast of the headland. We wandered on past the amazing sloping rocks to the crags further east.
At the top of a small rise, Cnoc nan Stac you can look down into the next bay, Camas Mor.
The map shows ruins at the bay and a track running inland to a couple of lochs. We’d like to return here and backpack into the ruins and lochs. But that is for another day, Today we had to head home.
Back to the small village of Melvaig.