Circular Highland Scenic Drive with Gairloch Hotel Stay & Review
Gairloch is a lovely spot on the West Coast of Scotland, blessed with a wonderful location and thanks to the Gulf Stream some warmer weather too, hence a few palm trees dotted about the place.
Here is our itinerary for a one night stay we took in the October school holidays. It’s a beautiful scenic drive that can easily be done in a day from the Inverness area or East coast area if you prefer. Likewise it could easily be amended to take it a little bit slower.
Scenic Circular Driving Route
We set off from the East coast and headed out on the A835 towards Ullapool. This is a main road and a lovely scenic route in itself. If you are travelling from the Inverness area you head North on the A9 and take a left turn at Tore roundabout onto the A835.
If you are looking for something to eat or drink for your journey then Tarvie is a good little stop. It’s been going for a long time and after a change of hands a while ago it has developed into somewhere that has nice homemade cakes and speciality burgers.
There has been a change since our last visit. Previously there was a window hatch where you placed and received orders. There was a little cafe inside but this has now changed and service is from inside the building, with the cafe having been turned into a shop.
If you are looking for some North Coast 500 items they have them here, alongwith various other items – everything from clothing to coasters.
There are outside tables at Tarvie if you want to sit and enjoy your food and drink on site.
This is a really lovely spot to stop off at and we rarely go past without stopping when travelling on this road. Black Water falls is a series of waterfalls pouring over rocks. While the waterfalls are particularly high the setting is lovely. They are easy to view from the old road bridge that crosses them.
There are a series of walks alongside the river, although these are accessed by some deep and uneven steps in places.
If you are feeling more adventurous then you can clamber down onto the rocks beside the river.
It’s a great spot if you fancy doing some photography too, with lovely colour contrasts along the bank.
Thankfully they have now opened up the public toilets which are located at the back of the car park area. This makes it a handy spot to stop off along the road to Ullapool.
These toilets do often close out of season, but this might change given the fact that we are having a very different season in 2020.
Turn Left on the A832 towards Gairloch
If you are looking to view a spectacular waterfall Corrieshalloch is impressive. It is viewed from a suspension bridge across the gorge. This suspension bridge has a limit for the number of people that can be on it at any one time.
Corrieshalloch can get quite busy so you may have to wait a little while to get your turn on the bridge.
Having turned left on the A832 you will see the car park for Corrieshalloch Gorge on your right hand side.
If you carry on a little past Corrieshalloch Gorge car park you will see a lovely viewpoint on the right hand side. There is plenty of parking here and it is a great spot to get a photo down with hills rolling down on each side and the River Broom in the bottom.
You should also find a map of toilets in the area, plus a plastic trowel. The trowels are a new feature and are there for anyone who gets caught short so they can bury their waste.
Blink and you miss it – Dundonnel is quite small. However, it is a nice spot to stop and take a photograph and if you park opposite the Dundonnel hotel (currently closed) you can take a wander down to the edge of the loch shore.
There are marshes stretching across from Dundonnel which I’m sure would make it a good spot for bird watching too.
We were very lucky to see a herd of wild goats on the shores of Little Loch Broom. This is the large loch that you pass on the right hand side after Dundonnel.
These goats are easily identified from their domesticated cousins by their longer horns, shaggy coats and colours. They have wonderfully coloured coats as well.
When I first moved up to the Highlands I saw many more wild goats but over the years have seen them less and less so it’s great to see a herd still roaming and living in this area.
You will pass Ardessie Falls on your left hand side. There is a house set down on the right hand side. There is no parking at the falls itself but a bit further on, just on the left there is a parking area so you can easily walk back.
The falls are lovely with the water disappearing down a dramatic drop under the road. It’s definitely worth a look and a photo if you are passing.
Aultbea is a small village on the edge of the coast. There are a some guest houses, a shop, a coffee shop and a stag roaming through the village when we visited.
This small exhibition centre is located on the outskirts of the village. It tells the story of the oft overlooked convoys that took place in the area.
It is due to close at the end of the season in October as it normally does. Entry costs £4 and visits need to be booked in advance to help deal with social distancing. Entry is timed at 10am, 12 noon and 2pm to ensure there aren’t too many people in the exhibition at any one time.
If doing a circular drive you come down into Gairloch and end up by the shore.
There is a little convenience store located by the shore. There is parking just along the road on the left hand side if you are coming down the hill into Gairloch.
Inside there is everything you would expect to find, snacks, food, drinks, newspapers etc.
McColls is open from 7am to 10pm every day.
We had already got something to eat for our evening meal but if we hadn’t we would have definitely tried this Chinese takeaway. We parked near it and the smells coming out of this little building were amazing and there was a queue of visitors which is always a good sign.
It’s open 4pm – 10pm each day and has good reviews.
We booked a very last minute room at the Gairloch Hotel. There had been a mix up with bookings and we thought we were staying in Aultbea but this turned out not to be the case. Thankfully there was WIFI available in the guest house so I was able to jump on the internet and book one of the last twin rooms at the Gairloch Hotel.
The Gairloch Hotel is a large hotel set beside the shore. It deals with lots of coach parties. It has 70 bedrooms and an on site bar and restaurant as well as meeting rooms and lounge areas.
We arrived around 6pm by which time the car park was nearly full. It was the October school holidays and the hotel was clearly busy.
After a quick and easy check in we headed to our room, number 6, located on the ground floor to the left of reception and just past the meeting rooms.
Gairloch Hotel Review
Things I Liked
The price was reasonable given the lateness of the booking and the demand in the area. We paid £76 for a twin room without breakfast.
The room was a good size with twin beds, bedside cabinets, a wardrobe, a desk, drawers as well as a chair and table.
The bathroom was a good size with a bath and shower over.
There were plenty of towels and the linens were fresh and clean.
There was a good supply of tea, coffee and milk. This was good to see given during a previous hotel stay the hotel had removed this due to Covid restrictions.
Biscuits were much appreciated by my nephew!
The hairdryer was OK and it had the longest lead I’ve ever seen.
The television was an OK size for the room.
There were two pillows for each bed which was helpful.
The view from the front car park was stunning with the sun setting behind the hills.
There was the option to have breakfast in the restaurant, which was £10.95 per person and needed an advance booking of course. There was also the option to have a grab and go breakfast.
Things I Liked Less
Outside the bedroom were two very bright spotlights. These were on all night, I think because they lit the fire escape exit. However, that meant they shone right into the bedroom window. The curtains were fairly thin cotton. That meant even with an eye mask on it was light in the room so it wasn’t a good nights sleep.
Changing these curtains to blackout blinds/curtains would make all the difference to the sleep quality for this room.
The restaurant serves evening meals. They need to be booked in advance.
Starters include soups including Cullen Skink, Bruschetta and Pate as well as Poutine, a mix of chips, cheese, gravy & haggis. Prices range from £4.50 – £6.50
Main courses include macaroni cheese, haggis, fish and chips and curries. Prices range from £9.95 to £23.50
Puddings include sticky toffee pudding, cheesecake and crumble. Prices range from £5 – £6.50
Breakfast needs to be booked in advance. It is £10.95 per person.
Breakfast includes cereals, porridge, yoghurts, toast and a full scottish breakfast.
Grab and Go Breakfast
These can be ordered via the order form included in the welcome pack.
It includes a choice of sandwiches (all cold), alongwith juice, tea/coffee, yoghurts, fruit and biscuits
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Gairloch Day 2
The view from the front of the Gairloch Hotel is lovely – a bay with hills to the left and out to Longa Island.
We decided to head out of the hotel to get breakfast.
Just along from the Gairloch Hotel there is a community centre which has a shop and lovely little cafe inside. There is seating outside with great views across the bay. Having been there before and had a lovely meal and cakes we decided to head somewhere different for our breakfast. However, we will visit the centre again!
There is plenty of parking alongside the centre and also inside is some tourist information and of course toilets. A great stop for coffee, cakes and soup too!
Gairloch Museum has recently won an award. It’s a small museum but with an interesting range of exhibits. It has a changing range of exhibits and at time of writing has a Romantic Scotland exhibition happening.
There is free parking outside.
Visits need to be booked in advance. Tickets cost £5 for adults and £2 for children. It’s open 10-5 from Tuesdays to Saturdays.
We went to Crumbs for breakfast. It’s a small takeaway located on the road out to Big Sand.
If you are looking for a hot breakfast roll instead of a full breakfast then this is a good place to go. The coffee is instant coffee but that was made up for by having a really nice piece of crispie cake which was absolutely delicious.
As a vegetarian it was nice to be able to enjoy vegetarian haggis for a change too!
After a leisurely breakfast we picked up the A832 and headed out of Gairloch. We stopped at Victoria Falls which is after Slattadale Forest. It is signposted off the main road, and after a short rough uneven track there is parking on the right hand side.
The falls are easy to reach by taking a short path signed from the car park. This leads to a little wooden viewing platform which not only gives lovely views of the falls but also over Loch Maree and the islands in the centre of the loch.
If you take a left off the wooden platform you can follow a short path uphill to the top of the falls where it is easy to clamber across the rocks for another view.
You can then continue along this path going uphill for another viewpoint before coming back down to the car park again.
It’s a lovely spot to stop if you are passing.
Having previously visited this centre many years ago I decided to stop. However, on arrival there was no cars in the car park giving it the appearance of being closed. It wasn’t which was great.
Benn Eighe Visitor Centre is in a small white building. On reaching the entrance I found no one inside so enjoyed reading the interpretation boards myself before wandering outside to the wildlife viewing hide.
There are some bird feeders outside the window but most interesting for me was a scratching noise in the roof of the hide. I think a mouse must have made a home underneath the cosy grass roof!
If you want to take a wander round there is a very easy flat level walk around the woods which has various sculptures along the way. It was a peaceful and pleasant walk on a hard path.
There is also an easy walk up to the wildlife viewing area too.
The path brings you back to the visitor centre where there are toilets at the back of the building, a welcome pit stop if you are passing.
If you are interested in finding out more about the local wildlife and area then it is definitely worth popping in.
If you are looking for a nice coffee, cake or soup then this is a great stop. There is an outdoor seating area where we spent a pleasant half an hour or so enjoying a lovely soup and one of the most delicious caramel shortbread’s I have tried.
It was nice to watch people coming and going at the filling station and it was a mix of locals and visitors.
If you want to enjoy a nice coffee they have options for gingerbread, caramel and other syrups too and the coffee was nice and smooth.
A quirky and unusual stop in the Highlands with lovely food and drink.
Glen Docherty Viewpoint
After leaving Kinlochewe you climb up a bit of hill. At the top on the left hand side is a small parking area and a viewpoint. It is well worth stopping here as there is a lovely view back down the glen.
When we stopped it was also the rutting season and it was magical to hear the stags roaring at each other across the glen too.
This beautiful lodge is situated at Achnasheen. If travelling from Gairloch back to the East you need to take a right turn onto the A890 and you will see the lodge, which is clearly signposted, just a short distance on your right hand side.
The hotel was full of guests so not open to non residents. However, in the grounds we met a very friendly chicken and saw a stag which was delicately eating some bread. A great close up encounter which my nephew adored.
I’ve visited Ledgowan Lodge a number of times with groups and love the interior. It’s chock full of interesting objects and furniture and it has the loveliest toilets as well.
We look forward to visiting again!
Continue back to Garve
Carrying along the A832 you come back to the A835. Turn right and you will pass through Garve which and then continue back to your starting point.
Inverness to Inverness
The total mileage for this trip starting in Inverness is 161 miles. There is one small stretch of single track road with passing places, otherwise the road is all one lane in each direction. A full day will ensure there is time for plenty of photo stops and something to eat. Two days will enable leisurely place with a visit to a museum or two along the way.
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