Most of Gairloch's shops are found in Strath, a short distance along the B8021 from its junction with the main A832. Most visitors only follow the minor road as far as the shops: but for those with the time and a sense of adventure, the road beyond Gairloch is well worth exploring.
For its first few miles the road follows the north shore of Loch Gairloch as far as the attractive Carn Dearg Youth Hostel, and offers views south across the loch to Badachro and Port Henderson, and west to Longa Island, which lies a little over a mile off the coast. There are also some excellent views back towards Gairloch from the road.
Just past the youth hostel the road rounds a corner and heads north. Here the views are dominated by the wide open spaces of Big Sand, one of the more literal place names you are likely to come across in Scotland. Here you find a broad white beach facing south west across Caolas Beag to Longa Island.
Actually, Big Sand is technically the name for the scattered settlement to the north of the beach: but the distinction is probably not important to most people who stay at the holiday park to the east of the beach. From here on, the road becomes single track, so drivers need to focus more on the road and any oncoming traffic than the views. For more information about Scotland's single track roads and how to drive them, visit our feature page on driving single track roads.
Further on, after a slight detour inland, the road approaches the coast again near another small scattered settlement, North Erradale. It then stays close to the coast as it twists and turns its way to Melvaig. This is the most significant settlement along the road, and comprises a scattering of houses and crofts, plus the Melvaig Inn, in a converted chapel.
By the time you get to Melvaig you have come some eight miles from Gairloch. Three miles beyond Melvaig is one of the main attractions of the area, the coastal scenery at Rubha Reidh.
The lighthouse here was built in 1910. A path heads east from the lighthouse for a few hundred yards to the old landing stage alongside a rocky cleft originally used to service the lighthouse. It is difficult to believe today, but this path once carried rails to allow the easy transport of supplies to the lighthouse. Further on the coastal path becomes rough and in places difficult to follow above cliffs, before leading to Camas Mor beach, a beautiful and secluded place.