You really can't miss Gairloch Museum. It occupies a square monolithic concrete structure painted startlingly white that looks out over the main A832 towards Loch Gairloch, a little to the south of the junction with the "B" road that leads into the centre of the village of Gairloch. And you shouldn't miss it, for Gairloch Museum is one of the very best small museums you are likely to find anywhere.
Though it's not all that small. The building it occupies was originally erected in the early 1950s as an Anti-Aircraft Operations Room (AAOR) to control Cold War air defences. At that time it was presumably finished in a more subdued tone than it enjoys today. It later served as a Highland Council roads depot.
Gairloch Museum re-opened in its current home in summer 2019, having previously occupied accommodation elsewhere in the village. It should be regarded as a "must see" by anyone staying in or travelling through this part of Wester Ross. It tells the story of the area in a way that really helps bring it to life: and it's fascinating to see how a building like this can find a truly useful new life. It also offers a cafe and a shop, plus gallery space for temporary exhibitions.
There's a model on display in the museum of the interior layout of the Anti Aircraft Operations Room and it's obvious that a huge amount of work has been done to remove interior structures to convert it into the Gairloch Museum that you see today. The same must be true of the exterior: cutting door and window openings into a building intended to protect its occupants from the heat and blast effects of a nuclear explosion could not have been an easy undertaking.
It doesn't take long to appreciate that the result is an absolute triumph. You enter into a welcoming reception area which is also home to part of the shop. Off to one side is a gallery space. Beyond is the main display area on the ground floor, a double height space which takes as its focal point, in every sense of the expression, the huge lens of the Rubh Re Lighthouse. Here are also displays about the area's Gaelic heritage and its early inhabitants. A fascinating exhibit is an outdoor pulpit used by the Free Presbyterian Church in Shieldaig from 1893 until an actual church could be built in 1920.
Most of the exhibition areas are on the upper floor of the museum, accessible by lift. The military past of the area is marked by, amongst other exhibits, a warning sign from Gruinard Island which was contaminated by anthrax during biological warfare experiments in 1942 and not declared safe until 1990. "A Walk Through Time" includes a recreated school room from the days of talk and chalk, a shop that will evoke memories in those of a certain age, and an illicit still once used in the area.
The "Crofting Life" is recreated in the form of a traditional croft house constructed within the museum, fully equipped with the necessities of life. There's also an excellent range of crofting tools and equipment on display. The natural world is not overlooked, with a large area given over to everything from the geology of the area to its flora and fauna. The museum also has a library and a collection of archives that can be viewed by arrangement, as well as an activity area for school visits.
On the hillside rising above the rear of the museum is a two mile long archaeology trail taking in the remains of a series of ancient roundhouses and stone circles.