North of Poolewe the A832 runs above the shore of Loch Ewe as far as Aultbea, before striking out across country towards Gruinard Bay, whose shores it meets at the tiny crofting settlement of Laide. Most people just sweep through Laide in their cars, their attention caught by the magnificent views across Gruinard Bay to the mountains of the far north and the interior.
But like many other small settlements in Wester Ross, Laide repays the little time and effort it takes to get to know it. Its focus is the village shop, post office and garage, which overlooks the junction between the A832 and the minor road to Mellon Udrigle.
The rest of the village is spread out along the first few hundreds yards of the minor road, and a small jetty gives access to Gruinard Bay from below the north end of the village.
Laide's Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland lies a little way back along the main road. This is far from being the first church in the area. A much earlier one can be seen in views from Laide across Gruinard Bay. These take in Gruinard Island and a magnificent vista of distant mountains. But in the foreground they also include the remains of an old chapel, standing within a graveyard that remains in use.
Some claim that this chapel was built by St Columba in the late 500s. Others that it was constructed in 1713 by George MacKenzie of Gruinard. The reality seems likely to lie somewhere between the two: that the work in 1713 was a restoration or rebuilding of a chapel that dates back to medieval times.
It remains possible, of course, that St Columba did build a chapel here, which was later replaced by the building whose shell you can see today. The gables of the medieval chapel still stand proud, but the north and south walls are down to the level of the bottom of the windows. Efforts are under way to consolidate and preserve what is left.
It seems likely that this chapel remained in use until the early 1800s. What happened between its demise and the appearance of the current church is unclear. It is said that a local cave was used for worship and that the last person to be baptised in the cave was still alive until quite recently.
Gruinard Bay In Fiction
Bloody Orkney by Ken Lussey (29 June 2021).
It’s November 1942. Bob Sutherland, Monique
Dubois and the Military Intelligence 11 team fly in to review security in Orkney. But an unidentified body has been found.
It becomes clear that powerful men have things they’d rather keep hidden and MI11’s arrival threatens the status quo.
Bob and Monique visit Gruinard Bay in the novel.