The village normally known as Gairloch is actually a collection of several small settlements on the north and east shores of Loch Gairloch, each with their own name. The most distinctive is the most southerly, Charlestown, which lies either side of the inlet that is also home to Gairloch's harbour.
Charlestown's relatively sheltered location was probably appreciated by the Vikings who settled in Gairloch. Their arrival serves as a reminder that, through much of history, seemingly remote west coast settlements were much more easily accessible by sea than overland. It is only in relatively recent times that harbours like the one in Charlestown ceased to be the centre of economic activity for the areas they served, as well as its main point of access and departure for visitors.
In more recent times the harbour here was the base for the area's fishing fleet. Gairloch was particularly renowned for its cod. Much of the catch was dried at Badachro on the south shore of Loch Gairloch before being shipped to Spain. Today the harbour is used to land crabs, lobsters and prawns. Much of this also goes to the Spanish market, but now it goes by road. A regular visitor to the harbour here is the small cruise ship Hebridean Princess.
Nowadays it is all too easy for the harbour simply to be overlooked by car-borne visitors passing through Charlestown en route to the remainder of Gairloch on the A832.
The course of the main road through Charlestown has changed over the years. 50 yards east of the modern road lies a narrow stone bridge probably originally intended for packhorses, but now providing pedestrian access from a car park, to the Old Inn. This is a traditional Highland coaching inn with views over the harbour. It specialises in local game and seafood, and the quality of its real ales has led to it being a regular feature in the Campaign for Real Ale's Good Beer Guide. If you are looking for somewhere for lunch while touring this part of Wester Ross we'd highly recommend the Old Inn.
According to folklore, the harbour here was the location of a remarkable feat of archery in about 1500. After two centuries of conflict with the MacLeods, the Mackenzie family were granted this part of Wester Ross by James IV in 1494. Ever since they have lived at Flowerdale House, a little inland. The clan chief had a bodyguard of archers and it is said that on one occasion the lookout high up the mast of an encroaching MacLeod ship in Loch Gairloch was hit by an arrow shot by one of the bodyguards atop the hill behind Flowerdale House. If true, this would have been a shot of fully 800 yards.
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