Ramble On: The Heart of the Wester Ross Coastal Trail

by Keith Savage

On the Wester Ross Coastal Trail

Ramble On is a series highlighting the most beautiful and interesting drives around Scotland.

The North Coast 500 is a marketing initiative that invites visitors to explore Scotland’s northern highlands from behind the wheel. It is a massive, 516-mile scenic ramble along the coasts of the northern highlands, including Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, and Easter Ross. I was instantly sold. I’ve long known that driving is the best way to ensure a magnificent trip to Scotland. A vehicle gives you the flexibility and serendipity to travel at your own pace and find those unexpected places that will remain golden in your memory long after you’ve returned home.

There were many beautiful drives along the North Coast 500, like Applecross and the Bealach na Bà, and one of my favorites is the heart of the Wester Ross Coastal Trail from Gairloch to Corrieshalloch Gorge. This beauty highlighted Wester Ross’s varied scenery, from gloriously vacant beaches to towering mountains, and provided quaint towns for rest and refreshment.

Well enough preamble. Let’s hit the road!

Beginning at pretty Gairloch, follow the A832 over the hills towards Poolewe. Just before Poolewe you’re rewarded early with a stunning view southeast down the length of Loch Maree. Take a moment, then continue through Poolewe and past the Inverewe Gardens toward Aultbea and Drumchork. The road begins to snake along the coast, each turn toward the sea providing gorgeous views of shadow-dappled hills rising above Loch Ewe and rocky beaches reaching into the cold waters.

After Drumchork the A832 cuts across a small peninsula wedged between Loch Ewe and Gruinard Bay. The villages up here and the white-sand Mellon Udrigle beach make a nice diversion before you reach Laide and begin yet another sojourn along rippling coastline. This stretch of the A832 becomes quite austere with only a smattering of houses here and there to compose blips like First Coast, Second Coast, and Mungasdale. You brought a flask of whisky, right? Just about anywhere on this stretch makes a good place to pull over and stare at the beauty for as long as you like.

After Mungasdale the A832 turns southeast and runs along the western shore of Little Loch Broom, which, strangely, seems bigger than nearby Loch Broom. The hills are very close on your right as you drive this section of the route, and they may not be visible unless it is a perfectly clear day. Don’t fret. As you pass beyond the head of the loch into sublime Dundonnell vale you will be rewarded with views of regal An Teallach. This is another great place to stop and level up your inner aesthete.

Dundonnell is filled with streams and small waterfalls coming down from the hills. Enjoy this mountainous portion of Wester Ross before reaching the terminus of this drive, Corrieshalloch Gorge. If you’re heading further north and moving on to new destinations, Ullapool is an easy jaunt up the A835. Otherwise, turn around and follow the A832 back to Gairloch. It’s an entirely different drive going east to west. The Perfume Studio (also a café) beyond Aultbea is the perfect place to stop and have some tea while you look out over the glittering waters and process the natural beauty of Wester Ross.

Assume this ramble will take you 2-3 hours one way (do not listen to Google Maps, which says just over an hour). You will be stopping often, and it could take even longer if you decide to settle in and simply admire the scenery. The return trip will naturally be much shorter, but I’d still allot two hours. This drive is an all-day activity. You’ll be glad you didn’t rush it.

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