A road gives way to water and classic Scottish hills Alternative North Coast 500 Route

WIT: Alternative NC500 Part 6 (Ullapool to Gairloch)

Driving from Ullapool to Gairloch you’ll be approaching the end of your NC500 trip. But that’s only if you’re following our North Coast 500 Alternative route, of course. If you’re heading the opposite way then you’re only at the beginning. Lucky you!

Whichever way you’re heading, there are still an awful lot of things to do from Ullapool to Gairloch. We hope you’re not getting bored of mainland Scotland’s most spectacular beaches, because there are plenty of them on this stretch. That being said, there’s much more than just beaches in lively Gairloch, a great holiday base for any traveller.

Things to Do Ullapool – Gairloch

Mellon Udrigle Beach

Lovely Mellon Udrigle is the first beach of the day and a cracking start on the Ullapool to Gairloch stretch. If you’ve followed our advice from Part 5: around Ullapool, then you’ll have camped on Gruinard Beach last night. From here, you’ve little reason not to visit Mellon Udrigle: It’s only a 15-minute drive away.

This is a great little beach and another one which is well worth the detour from the ‘official’ NC500 route. There’s (newly created) free parking just next to the beach and a gorgeous wee bay to explore. There are outstanding views back to the Fisherfield 6 and the peninsula you’ve just travelled around.

Different colours of water in the sand at Mellon Udrigle, Scotland
Amazing views of the hills from Mellon Udrigle

WEE TIP: unfortunately, this car park also displays signs stating that no overnight parking is allowed. Some tents were pitched up on the grassy areas next to the beach. We assume they parked their car overnight. We also assume that they didn’t get any trouble from doing that, but we’ll leave it up to you.

The Perfume Studio

Don’t worry. We wanted to skip The Perfume Studio too. We had little interest in, well…. perfume. Turns out they also sell organic soaps and traditional craft. Again, lovely, but it wasn’t exactly our bag. Luckily, their café serves up some of the best views you’ll get on the way from Ullapool to Gairloch. 

You’re heading to the other side of the peninsula in Mellon Charles. It seems like a very strange location indeed as you take all sorts of turns to find it. But, on a nice day, the views from the beer (coffee?) garden in the Perfume Studio are outrageously good.

Sit with the sun on your skin and sip back the coffee. The quiet water laps the bay and all sorts of seabirds dart around you. We tried to count the munros in front of us but there were just too many. And that’s not an exaggeration. Yes, the prices may be above average, but the views are phenomenal.

A small scottish cove with several hills in the distance
Let’s play ‘count the munros’

We also timed our visit perfectly. As we were preparing to leave, the Fish Man and his Fish Van turned up. He was selling all sorts of fresh fish from the back of his refrigerated van. We got three chunky fillets of hot-smoked peppered mackerel for just £1.80! That was lunch sorted for the next beach.

A van with refrigerated boxes of fish
The Fish Man’s fish van
Poolewe

Poolewe is the next place you’ll come across. There isn’t specifically anything to see in Poolewe, but it’s absolutely worth the stop on the way from Ullapool to Gairloch.

When we were in town it was a scorcher of a day. We ordered some coffee from the friendly staff at Coffeebox just outside the campsite. Ruth spoke to locals, we enjoyed the view and we skipped stones on the loch. We were amazed (and gutted) to hear that we’d just missed a stormer of a ceilidh last night.

Every Wednesday there’s a ceilidh in Poolewe. Entry is £10 and this covers your entry and even your buffet for the night. It’s a bring-your-own-alcohol policy and sounds like a lot of fun. If you haven’t been to a ceilidh yet in Scotland, then this is the perfect way to start. We wish we’d planned it a little better so that we were in town on a Wednesday night.

Firemore Beach

So, after The Perfume Studio hopefully you’ve rocked up in Poolewe and enjoyed a traditional ceilidh. If like us you’ve not quite timed it right, then Firemore Beach is the next place worth checking out.

A huge grassy parking area leads to Firemore Beach. We saw some old boys with huge telescopes that looked like they hadn’t moved in an awfully long time. Turns out, Firemore is also a great spot for whale-watching.

Green dunes lead to the beach sand and water at Firemore
Firemore Beach. Like a bath. Honest

It’s a nice beach, but won’t make any ‘best beaches in Scotland’ lists anytime soon. We were keen to check it out because we had three fillets of mackerel to dig in to. But we’d also heard that the water at Firemore Beach was some of the warmest water in Scotland to swim in.

Well, we’d heard wrong. It was freezing. Freezing water’s fine, just not when you’re expecting Mediterranean heat! The drive back to Poolewe is spectacular. Plan in some time for camera stops.

Hillbillies Coffee & Bookstore

Full of character and crammed full of amazing reads, Hillbillies Bookstore is a must-visit when you’re in Gairloch. We actually found it totally by surprise, because for some reason we thought it was in Torridon. Silly us. Needless to say, we jumped straight in.

There’s an amazing collection of novels, photography books, cookbooks, history books and more within Hillbillies. It was great to see a huge collection of novels by Scottish authors, and even a section dedicated to Scottish biographies and autobiographies. There’s bound to be something in there that’ll grab your attention.

We never tried the café next door, but they use the highly rated and organic Marley Coffee. Combined with the sea views, there’s certainly reason to visit if you’re looking for a caffeine fix and a new story in Gairloch. Oh, and the view’s not bad either.

Gairloch Beach

This was probably our favourite beach on the stretch from Ullapool to Gairloch. Gairloch Beach (Gaineamh Mhòr) is an absolute beauty for locals, visitors, swimmers and dogs. It’s perfect.

The tide going out on Gairloch Beach, Scotland
Apparently you can see dolphins too

Pack a couple tins and relax in the sunshine. On a sunny day, this is about as good as it gets. The water cleanliness and quality at Gairloch Beach is well documented and makes for a fantastic swim when you’ve had enough of the sand.

It’s also, apparently, a great area for spotting dolphins and whales. We weren’t quite that lucky but for once, we didn’t mind.

An empty beach in Gairloch with blue sky in the distance
Gairloch Beach is a beauty

WEE TIP: we had a quick drive round to Big Sands, a popular caravan and camping resort in Gairloch, but didn’t fancy it at all. It seemed incredibly cramped and half the town was there. Probably a great place to pitch up for a while if you have kids, but for us, Gairloch Beach was a far better alternative.

Badachro

You know you’re having an easy day when the trickiest decisions are which beaches to swim in and which pubs to drink in. The Old Inn sounded amazing, but we decided to head a little further around the peninsula and we’re so glad we did.

Boats sit in a jetty at Badachro, Scotland
Views from the glorious Badachro Inn

The Badachro Inn is a very special pub. It oozes tradition inside and has an incredible outdoor seating area, perfect for watching the water and all the boats in the dock. The atmosphere’s fantastic and the dark décor inside would be amazing on a cold, rainy day too. If you’re lucky, you’ll even see the famous swimming dog on his long journey back to the jetty.

They have a good selection of beers and although the prices for food are a little high, the quality of fare makes it worthwhile. Fish and chips from £14.

Red Point Beach

The final stop of the day is gorgeous Red Point Beach. This is basically the end of the road, and what a way to end the day. For us, this was the end of our trip and couldn’t have made for a better final night.

Red point beach with hills in the distance
Raasay’s the closest island, with the iconic Isle of Skye in the distance

As you park up and grab all the things you’ll need for the night, you can prepare for a 15-minute walk to the beach. And it’s an absolute beauty too. Red Point is a small, quiet cove with perfect soft sand and gentle waves lapping up on to the shore.

As you set up your tent for the last time you’ll do so with phenomenal views of Rona and Raasay. The unmistakable Isle of Skye is in the near distance. Turning west you’ll see the Outer Hebrides and, time it right, you’ll get to go for a sunset swim with glorious pink and purple rays reflecting on the water.

Pink and purple skies as sun sets on Red Point Beach
Has a camera ever done a sunset justice?

There were two other tents in the area, camping in the dunes behind us. We might as well have had the place to ourselves. Again. Drying off from our favourite, most colourful sunset swim, we sipped back the whisky by the campfire.

The End of the Road

We’d been swimming every day but hadn’t showered in over a week. Our trip had taken us to the remote extremes of Scotland and we’d stayed in stunning bothies. We’d found some of our new favourite beaches and glistening road trip views, lochs and hills. Incredibly friendly locals added to the trip and our ‘to-do’ list for the hills seemed to change daily. We’ve already made plans to come back. We couldn’t believe we hadn’t done this incredible trip sooner.

The sands of Red Point Beach with nobody on the beach
Not a bad view to wake up to

If you’re heading in the opposite direction, then you’ll of course be looking for things to do around Ullapool. Check out everything to see in the area with our NC500 Part 5: around Ullapool.

Otherwise, you’ve come to the end of our North Coast 500 Alternative Route. What did you think of the trip? Did you enjoy focusing on the West? Or did we miss a few cracking spots? Leave a Comment below and let us know if we missed anything!

Shops Ullapool – Gairloch

Poolewe

There’s a good Spar-like shop in Poolewe called Mace. There’s fruit, bread, decent local cheeses and even some alcohol too. Importantly, they also sell Smidge. Closes at 6pm.

Gairloch

Gairloch has a very well-stocked McColls store, and you’ll get everything you need there. Thankfully, it’s even open until 10pm. There’ll be no expensive pub carry-outs in Gairloch. They also sell firewood.

The Farm & Garden Stores, just next door, is also a great shop. They had a surprising amount of organic fruit and vegetables, and an astonishing craft whisky and gin selection. As well as that, you’ll get all the firewood, fire starters, camping equipment and outdoor kit you need too.

Bars, Cafes, Restaurants & Pit Stops

Poolewe

Coffebox, just outside the Inverewe Gardens Camping and Caravanning Club Site, do their best to pull fresh espressos on the NC500. Decent prices and tasty coffee with lovely views. The Perfume Studio, a little further back, is well worth the detour for the views alone.

Gairloch

We’ve already spoken about the Badachro Inn in Gairloch, and we would highly recommend it. The Old Inn, however, also comes highly recommended and will be our choice next time we’re in town.

Wild Camping

  • Red Point Beach

Official Accommodation

  • Inverewe Gardens Camping and Caravanning Club Site
  • Big Sand, Gairloch (Caravan & Camping, BnBs and cottages)
  • Hotels, BnBs and cottages in Gairloch
Tents, cars and campervans are parked at Big Sands resort, near Gairloch
Big Sands, up the road from Gairloch

Ullapool to Gairloch Budget Breakdown

Getting There:
  • (included in Overview costs)

Total: n/a

Accommodation:

  • Red Point Wild Camp
  • free

Total: n/a

Attractions:

  • x

Total: n/a

Local Costs:

  • the Perfume Studio £6
  • Fish van £2
  • Coffeebox Poolewe £6
  • Spar Gairloch alcohol £18
  • Badachro Inn round £20
  • Kinlochewe petrol station food/snacks £13

Total: £65

Total for 1D/1N: £65

The above budget is for x2 people. Food and alcohol prices are likely to vary. We drank our fair share, and had plenty of pub food.

This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent, but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.

If you would like to see a total of our spendings for our the whole trip, then check out the Budget Breakdown on our Alternative NC500 Route Overview.

 

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