This coast road is part of the Wester Ross section of the North Coast 500 (NC500) route.
For those unfamiliar with the NC500 it was a concept dreamt up by the tourism marketing people to provide some joined-up thinking to promote all areas of the North Highlands and was launched in 2015.
It was an immediate success and featured as one of the Top 5 Coastal Routes in the World by Now Travel Magazine.
Having covered the full 516 miles in stages over a period of time (most of it before the NC500 was conceived) I would have to say that some parts of the route deserve more time to cover than others, and Wester Ross warrants more time than the area around John O’ Groats for example.
The full route starts out from Inverness, crosses over to the West Coast, and then follows the road north, across the top, and back down the east coast.
The Wester Ross section includes Applecross, Torridon and Loch Maree, and the coast road to Ullapool, and here I’m covering the section between Gairloch and Loch Broom, so pack a picnic, put some Celtic music on, and join me for a leisurely drive around some fabulous coastal and mountain scenery.
Gairloch, although not very big, is the principal settlement along this stretch of coast, and although I’ve stopped here on two or three occasions I’ve never had an overnight stop, but plenty of people do as it has all the practical amenities you need. It also boasts a Heritage Museum and a harbour from where you can take dolphin and whale watching trips.
Five or six miles along the road from Gairloch is the village of Poolewe where the National Trust for Scotland’s Inverewe Gardens are located. As much as I like visiting gardens I still prefer the wild landscape, and consequently I’ve never found the time to visit Inverewe. (Already I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to have an overnight stop at Gairloch!)
The River Ewe is just two miles long and flows out of Loch Maree into Loch Ewe at Poolewe, and as you climb out of the village you come to a viewpoint which affords views over the loch towards the Isle of Ewe and back towards the Torridon Hills.
This road is littered with viewpoints and not too far along is another one with great views right out through Loch Ewe towards The Minch. During WWII this area was used as a base for the Arctic Convoys, and even today you can see a jetty that is still used as a NATO refuelling depot.
After dropping down into Aultbea the road cuts across to Gruinard Bay, an area of unmistakable Lewissian gneiss hills. In the bay is Gruinard Island where experiments with anthrax were carried out during the Second World War and was closed off to the public until it was made safe in 1990. There’s no village to speak of here, but the beach is lovely and seals can be seen basking on the rocks when the tide’s out.
The fine scenery continues as the road cuts across to Little Loch Broom, where a car park with picnic benches offers fantastic views up the loch and out across to Coigach and the wonderful Summer Isles.
Travelling alongside Little Loch Broom will bring you to the small village of Dundonnell and the 33,000-acre Dundonnell Estate, owned by Sir Tim Rice, the famous lyricist.
The road then passes underneath An Teallach, one of Scotland’s favourite mountain climbs, and then at the other end of the Dundonnell Gorge you’re confronted with snow gates that lead up onto high moorland with views of the ‘Great Wilderness’.
The A832 ends at Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Measach, which if you have time are well worth a visit. Turning left at the junction with the A835 will take you alongside Loch Broom to the ferry port of Ullapool.
The good news is, that if you’ve enjoyed this drive, then the road north of Ullapool is just as exciting.