Gairloch (// GAIR-lokh; Scottish Gaelic: Geàrrloch [ˈkʲaːrˠl̪ˠɔx], meaning "Short Loch") is a village, civil parish and community on the shores of Loch Gairloch in Wester Ross, in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. A popular tourist destination in the summer months, Gairloch has a golf course, a museum, several hotels, a variety of shops, Chinese and fish and chip takeaways, a community centre, a leisure centre with sports facilities, a local radio station, beaches and nearby mountains. Gairloch is one of the principal villages on the North Coast 500 route.
View towards Strath
|OS grid reference||NG803769|
|• Edinburgh||155 mi (249 km)|
|• London||484 mi (779 km)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
The parish of Gairloch extends over a much wider area, including the villages of Poolewe and Kinlochewe, and has a population of 950. The nearest railway station is located at Achnasheen, and the nearest mainland airport is in Inverness.
Gairloch is a loosely defined area of settlement along the shores of Loch Gairloch, but primarily comprises three main clusters of shops, houses and amenities: the Harbour area (including Charlestown on the south side of the harbour), Achtercairn and Strath. Approaching from the south (on the A832 road via Kinlochewe), the B8056 turning for Badachro, Port Henderson and other settlements on the south side of the loch leaves left from the main road over a narrow 'hump-backed' bridge. Continuing north on the A832 towards the Charlestown and the harbour are the first settlements of central Gairloch to be met. About 1 mile (1.6 km) further north Achtercairn is centred on the road junction with the B8021 coastal road that leads west along the north shore of the loch to Strath and on towards Melvaig on the west coast. The main A832 road leaves Gairloch, heading steeply up Achtercairn Brae leading out of the village to the north and on to Poolewe.
The coastal climate is affected by the Gulf Stream, bringing relatively warm waters in summer. These warm waters are ideal for jellyfish which can swarm the local waters, although most species in the UK are harmless.
Following a community campaign against proposals by Scottish Water to replace the existing treatment works at Fhasaich and discharge minimally treated sewage effluent into the loch, the main Gairloch beach (Gaineabh Mhòr) and the Sands beach were given Designated Bathing Waters status for 2017, and Scottish Water was asked to revise its plans to take account of the need to maintain higher standards of seawater cleanliness in the area. In autumn 2017 it proposed additional filtering and sterilization of the effluent, but only during the peak bathing season in the summer, with basic septic tank treatment for the rest of the year.
Beyond Gairloch to the northwest a number of small settlements can be found: Big Sand, North Erradale, and Melvaig. Beyond Melvaig the road narrows to a 3-mile (5 km) private stretch (which is open to the public and has right of passage for cars) and ends close to the Rua Reidh Lighthouse.
The lands around Gairloch have been mostly in the ownership of the Mackenzies of Gairloch since the 15th century, when they were acquired by Hector Roy Mackenzie (died 1528), with a family house in the sheltered glen of Flowerdale. The Mackenzies were clan leaders in the traditional sense and were known for their attachment to their tenants. During the 19th century, Sir Hector Mackenzie and his sons Sir Francis and Dr John Mackenzie refused to evict a single tenant during the clearances, despite the estate running at a loss. As a result, evicted Highlanders from other communities came to live in the area and has caused Gairloch to maintain a thriving community even today. The Mackenzies were also keen gardeners. The glen has a microclimate and vegetation that are home to a diverse range of natural life. Christina Byam Shaw states in her memoir Pigeonholes of Memory, that her father was able to grow fruiting peaches outdoors. Osgood Mackenzie created the famous Inverewe Garden in nearby Poolewe. There is a walk up the Flowerdale burn, going past the Mackenzie house, Tigh Digh, to an impressive waterfall at the head of the glen. With the aid of public grants, new and refurbished footpaths have been established which allow residents and visitors to enjoy the wooded areas. The Estate has also developed several micro hydroelectric schemes in recent years to take advantage of the natural resources of the area to generate additional income.
Gairloch and nearby Badachro on the south side (the "overside") have a strong history of creel shellfish fishing as well as small scale trawl fishing. The number of active boats has been in decline, however, and Gairloch has seen both of its shellfish processing businesses fall by the wayside over the last 10 years. There are still a few dedicated fishermen who work regularly for their living, but many have moved on; some have diversified into catering for tourism and visitor activities.
Boat fishing and marine wildlife trips can be arranged at the harbour, and there are many hill lochs in the area with trout fishing available. Trips are also available with a working creel boat based in Badachro.
Shops are to be found in Strath, Achtercairn and in Pier Road at the harbour. Also in the harbour area, near the golf course is a branch of The Bank of Scotland, the branch has limited opening hours. A mobile Royal Bank of Scotland also visits the area weekly. Post Offices are located in local convenience stores at the harbour and in Achtercairn. Public services such as police station, leisure centre, schools, library and health centre, as well as a small McColl's supermarket open 7 days and a home and garden centre, are in the central Achtercairn area.
There is a tourist information service, a 24-hour filling station (card-only payment outwith shop hours), and a dual electric vehicle charging point (free to use as of 2019) at the Gairloch Community Hall.
Wi-Fi facilities are available at several locations in the area, including most cafés, however mobile phone reception in the area is limited. Vodafone and O2 offer basic '2G' coverage in most of the area; EE and Three currently have no coverage at all, but 4G coverage by the EE network is currently (2019) awaited from a base station that was built in late 2017.
Two campsites take tents, caravans and motorhomes – one in Strath (Gairloch Holiday Park) and one to the west of Gairloch on Little Sand Farm (Sands Caravan & Camping). Carn Dearg youth hostel, situated on the headland shortly before Sand, has superb views across the bay towards Skye.
The Gairloch golf course is short and involves a lot of crossing and shared fairways. It has a dramatic setting by the beach and a very welcoming clubhouse which is also open as a café during the summer. The eighth hole is particularly dramatic and challenging.
A Pictish stone with a distinctive carving of a salmon was found in Gairloch in 1880. This is one of the westernmost sites where such a discovery has been made. The stone is now on display in the Gairloch Heritage Museum. From 2013 to 2017 raised funds for a major project to relocate to a new home in the former cold war Anti-Aircraft Operations Room building in Achtercairn. The museum reopened in the new building in July 2019 with expanded and improved exhibits as well as a gallery and shop featuring work by local artists.
The site of a 1945 plane crash at the Fairy Lochs near Gairloch is now a designated war grave. The hilltop crash site, south of the road to Badachro, has been preserved as a memorial to the USAAF servicemen who lost their lives in the accident.
The village was featured on the BBC One TV series When Love Comes to Town in 2007, and is home to the UK's smallest local radio station, Two Lochs Radio. It was first surveyed by the Google Streetview car in April 2009, with updates in 2011.
The area has also featured in numerous older educational and promotional films and TV programmes, most notably the 1955 film Crofter Boy, and the 1990s documentary "Last Postbus to Gairloch" (Channel 4), featuring the postbus (mini-van carrying passengers & mail) that was a valued additional link for various parts of the nearby community, before being withdrawn by Royal Mail. The programme also featured many aspects of local life at the time, prior to the extensive road widening programme part-funded by the EU.
Early, Primary, Secondary and Further education are provided at the education campus in the central Achtercairn area. Gairloch Primary provides both Gaelic and English medium learning and has an approximate roll of 75. Gairloch High School is a modern six-year Secondary providing a full curriculum with an approximate roll of 160. A limited range of further education courses is provided by The West Highland College UHI, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Two Lochs Radio
Gairloch is home to Britain's smallest local radio station, Two Lochs Radio, which is a community-run station serving the central part of Wester Ross. It can also be listened to on the Internet and attracts listeners from around the world.
Gairloch is the final resting place of the renowned Gaelic bard Uilleam Ros or William Ross (1762–1791), known as 'the Gairloch bard'. Ross was born in Broadford on Skye and travelled extensively throughout the Western Isles, becoming known for his knowledge of different varieties of Gaelic. He composed several famous romantic poems attempting to win the affection of Marion Ross of Stornoway, who apparently never responded to his attention. Perhaps the most famous of these is 'Feasgar Luain'. Ross settled in the Gairloch are and became a schoolmaster, and died at the age of 28 in Badachro. It is popularly believed that he died of a broken heart.
An annual festival is held in Gairloch commemorating John Mackay (1656-1754) piper to Mackenzie of Gairloch, blind from the age of seven as the result of smallpox, now known as the ‘Blind Piper’ ("Am Pìobaire Dall"), and grandfather to William Ross. He composed what some consider perhaps the finest Piobaireachd ever, of which about a dozen are still known and exercise the best pipers today.
- General Register Office for Scotland : Census 2001 : Usual Resident Population : Gairloch Civil Parish Archived 2012-03-07 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2009-11-18
- "Bathing Water Profile for Gairloch Beach" (PDF). Scottish Environment Protection Agency. 2017.
- "Melvaig". Undiscovered Scotland. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
- "Gairloch, Pictish Symbol Stone - Canmore". canmore.rcahms.gov.uk. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
- Gairloch Heritage Museum, http://www.gairlochheritagemuseum.org
- Westerbus route 700 timetable, https://www.travelinescotland.com/lts/#/timetables?timetableId=HIAO700
- "McIver, G". Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Gollancz. Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- Òrain nan Rosaich, A Collection of Gaelic songs from Ross-shire. Inverness, Highland Council publications 2005
- Wester Ross website
Media related to Gairloch at Wikimedia Commons