Things to do in and around Gairloch, Wester Ross

Gairloch is a small coastal village in Wester Ross, in the north west highlands of Scotland.  We chose it as a holiday destination because of its fantastic scenery, wildlife watching and walking opportunities. The downside is usually the rain, but we were incredibly lucky as our trip coincided with the UK heat wave. We camped at Sands Caravan and Camping; there’s plenty of other accommodation if camping isn’t your thing.

Looking back over Gairloch beach
Looking back over Gairloch beach

Gairloch village

The village is strung out along the shores of Loch Gairloch.  The harbour area, also known as Charlestown, has several operators offering boat tours.  If you’re lucky you might see the Sammy the seal, who follows the boats in and hangs around the pier area.

Sammy the seal in Gairloch harbour
Sammy the seal in Gairloch harbour

From the harbour you can take a path up and over to the beach behind the golf course.

Gairloch beach
Gairloch beach

Jellyfish are pretty common in the waters around here as it’s in the warming path of the Gulf Stream, so you certainly need to keep an eye on the beach when you’re walking.

Keep an eye out for the jellyfish!
Keep an eye out for the jellyfish!

Away from the beach you’ll find the aforementioned golf course, a few cafes and inns, beach shops, a leisure centre and a tourist office (with free wi-fi).  There are no large supermarkets in the area, so we stocked up at Strath Stores.  The shop has a very popular sandwich bar, which we made use of every day of our holiday. Gairloch also has a Heritage Centre, which I’d saved for a rainy day, but the weather was so great that we didn’t get around to visiting it.

Sealife glass bottom boat

Gairloch is one of the best places in the UK for marine wildlife watching. I’d have loved to go on one of the whale watching tours, but the cost was prohibitive for our family, and I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed the reality of a day at sea in a small bumpy boat. We therefore settled on a glass bottom boat tour around Gairloch harbour. Whilst this didn’t initially sound so exciting it turned out to be a great decision.

Sealife boat trip
Sealife boat trip

The tours are run by Richard, an enthusiastic and knowledgable Lancastrian. The boat is converted so that everyone can have a viewing portal into the sea under the boat. The underwater viewing works best in shallow waters, in deeper areas you just see your reflection in the window. The kids were given an ID sheet and tick list to record the wildlife. Amazingly within about 5 minutes of setting off they were able to tick harbour porpoises off the list!

Underneath the boat we saw several different types of jellyfish, starfish, sea urchins, anemones and a variety of seaweed.  We were also lucky enough to see common and grey seals. At one point Richard scooped a jellyfish out of the water, to give everyone a closer view. The kids were given an opportunity to carefully touch it, before it was released back into the sea. The highlight for the kids happened on the way back, when they were given a chance to steer the boat. Both thought this was amazing and had huge smiles on their faces.

Trusted with the tiller!
Trusted with the tiller!

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

We set out to walk to Rua Reidh lighthouse from Melvaig one evening.  It’s only 3 miles to the lighthouse along a straightforward track but after a mile or so we almost had to admit defeat.  The midges were horrendous!

Sunset at Rua Reidh lighthouse
Sunset at Rua Reidh lighthouse

At the lighthouse we immediately spotted minke whales through our binoculars. After a while the whales moved on so we walked the last short stretch down to the lighthouse.  It’s still a working lighthouse, but also has a guesthouse and self-catering apartment. It looks like a lovely place to stay, but is 12 miles from the nearest shop, so probably not for everyone. No facilities are available for casual visitors, and the private road can only be used by those with an accommodation booking.

Beaches near Gairloch

You can head north or south from Gairloch and find deserted beaches in the most stunning locations.

North from Poolewe
North from Poolewe

We drove to Poolewe, which was used in the Second World War as a base for convoys to gather before sailing to Arctic Russia. We took the road out to Cove, to visit the remains of gun emplacements and a memorial to the sailors who took part. It’s difficult to imagine how different this peaceful area would have been 70 years ago. The local community is campaigning for a new museum in the area to tell the story of the convoys.

Beach near Cove, Wester Ross
Beach near Cove, Wester Ross

Another road, heading south from Gairloch, took us to the village of Badachro and then onto Opinan Beach. The view over to Skye was stunning, and the beach itself had lots of interesting shore life to discover.

View out to Skye
View out to Skye

Walks

There are plenty of mountain walks for experienced and well-equipped walkers, but we found the walks more limited for family rambles. Apart from strolls along the beaches we walked up to the waterfall in Flowerdale Glen, which was named by the estate owners for its displays of wild flowers. The walk was enjoyable but marred slightly by the abundance of horse flies at the falls. We decided not to stop for our picnic, and headed back to Gairloch to eat near the harbour.

Kids view:

The boat trip was fantastic, I didn’t realise we’d see so many things. Steering the boat was epic! (Highest praise indeed).

More info:

  • The only downside to our holiday was the unwelcome wildlife. Midges, ticks and horseflies abound.  Midges are active on calm evenings and early mornings from May-August.  We used insect repellent liberally but were still bitten in places that we didn’t think to use it (inside ears, under watch straps). Our son also managed to pick up a couple of ticks, whilst rolling around in long grass. These should be carefully removed as soon as you find them. 

Costs

Seven Sisters Country Park, near Seaford, East Sussex

Whilst visiting friends on the south coast we made a quick trip to the Seven Sisters Country Park, near Seaford.

The park is easily accessible from the A259 and offers walking trails, canoeing on the Cuckmere River and a valley floor cycle route. Most visitors come here to see the Seven Sisters, the name given to the chalk cliffs.  If you’re hoping to photograph the classic postcard view of these, ensure you take the footpath to Seaford Head on the opposite side of the Cuckmere River.

As it was a sweltering hot day we decided to walk the 2 km easy access path down to the shingle beach at Cuckmere Haven.  This appears to be the most popular option, as there were many other families and groups of language students walking the same route.

Walking in the Seven Sisters Country Park, near Seaford
Walking in the Seven Sisters Country Park, near Seaford

After reaching the beach, the lure of walking to the top of the first cliff was too great to ignore.  The kids had no intention of walking any further on such a hot day, and stayed on the beach (with a responsible adult of course).

Seven Sisters
Seven Sisters

The path up was straightforward, although rather steep in places. We took a short break half way up, supposedly to admire the view but really it was just a convenient excuse for a breather.  Looking back down we could see the artificially straightened River Cuckmere and the salt lagoon just north of the beach.

View back down over the beach
View back down over the beach

The view from the top of the cliff is one of the best in southern England. At this point I was very glad not to have bought youngest son up with me as the cliff edges are completely open and accessible to all. Visitors are, quite rightly, left to judge the safety themselves rather than be faced with fences or keep out signs.

From the top of the Seven Sisters
From the top of the Seven Sisters

We sat on top for a while, reluctant to leave such a magnificent view. Eventually the prospect of a cold drink at the cafe appealed and we headed back  towards the park entrance.  Despite it being late afternoon a bus deposited another large group of visitors just as we were leaving – I hope they enjoyed their visit as much as I did.

We visited the Seven Sisters again in 2017, this time as part of our South Downs Way walk. The view was no less spectacular!

More info:

  • There is a seasonal visitor centre and cafe next to the car park.  You can pick up leaflets with walk routes and a map from the car park and bus stop.
  • The bus stop is opposite the visitor centre, with frequent buses from Brighton, Seaford and Eastbourne.
  • The trail to the beach is designated as easy access, and is suitable for wheelchairs and buggies.   Once you reach the beach you’ll have to contend with shingle.

Further info: http://www.sevensisters.org.uk

A day trip to Herm

Small islands have always held an attraction for me. Perhaps it’s because we live as far inland as possible on this island of ours that we often choose to holiday on an island. And if there happens to be another island nearby that’s even better!  So it’s probably not surprising that on our recent trip to Guernsey we spent a day on Herm, the smallest of the Channel Islands open to the public.

herm coast
The north coast beaches of Herm

Herm island is 3 miles from Guernsey, and reached by a 20 minute crossing on the Trident ferry from St Peter Port.  As soon as you step off the ferry it feels like you’ve been transported to a different era.  Most noticeably, cars and bicycles are not allowed on the island, although there is a tractor luggage service for those staying the night.

herm nrmermaid
Fisherman’s Beach, Herm

Upon arrival we only just managed to make it past the gift shop, as the kids discovered that it hid a large toy selection with lots of options to spend pocket money on.  After dragging them out, with the promise of a return visit, we headed off along one of the signposted trails.

Our first destination was Shell Beach on the north coast of the island.  As you may guess, it takes it’s name from shells, which are washed up by the Gulf Stream.  Don’t get too excited though, as these are generally fragments of crushed shells rather than large tropical conches!

acrosscommon
View across the common to Shell Beach, Herm

This beach often appears in lists of ‘top beaches to visit’ and it didn’t disappoint.  It was stunning; with white sand, turquoise waters and a rather cold sea breeze – so we ate our picnic hidden in the shelter of the sand dunes.

herm
Kayaking territory

After lunch the kids spotted kayaks for hire, and persuaded dad to take them out, in turn, on a double kayak. Neither had been kayaking before, but the sea was calm (albeit freezing) and there were plenty of islets to explore and yachts to look at. They both agreed it was the highlight of their entire holiday.  Being a non swimmer, I took advantage of the small beach cafe whilst the kids were kayaking.

herm2
I couldn’t stop taking photos of the beaches….

Further along the coast is another popular beach, Belvoir Bay, which is smaller but in a sheltered position.  We bypassed this on the cliff path as we wanted to walk around the island but it looked just as inviting as Shell Beach. Herm island is only 1 1/2 miles long, and 1/2 mile wide, and in theory takes about 2 hours to walk around.  However, I defy anyone not to get waylaid at one of the beaches!

walkingisland
Walking the cliff path on Herm

At the aptly named Puffin Bay we were lucky enough to see 5 puffins bobbing in the sea.  Take binoculars as they’re tricky to spot, although once you’ve found them they’re easy to identify.

All too soon it was late afternoon and time for the ferry back to Guernsey.  After another visit to the gift shop, we boarded the ferry, and waved our goodbyes.

herm coastalpath
View from the coastal path

If you’ve enjoyed reading about our day trip to Herm you might also like to read more about our family walks in Guernsey and the beautiful wildflowers which adorn the island in early summer.

Kids view:

The kayaking was awesome!

General info:

  • The boat to Herm runs 5 or 6 times per day during the April-October season.  Check where the return journey is from, as it picks up at a different spot at low tide.
  • Try to visit on a sunny day. It would be a very different experience on a wet or windy day.
  • You can stay overnight on Herm island.  There is a hotel, self-catering cottages and a campsite.

Costs:

The return ferry from Guernsey to Herm costs £11.50 for adults, £5.50 for children and £1 for infants.  There are slightly cheaper fares if you visit on the first ferry of the day.

Kayak rental on Shell Beach costs £10 per hour for a single or £15 per hour for a double seater.

More details: www.herm-island.com

Fossil hunting on the Isle of Wight

Earlier this year the Natural History Museum named the Isle of Wight as dinosaur capital of Britain. With the Bank Holiday weekend looming, and fond memories of previous trips to the island, we decided to see whether we could discover some dinosaur bones ourselves.

A browse through Trip Advisor suggested the Fossil Hunting trips run by Dinosaur Expeditions. My inner child was immediately captivated by the name, and putting aside all thoughts of Jurassic Park I booked us onto an afternoon ‘hunt’.

Walking the Tennyson Trail to The Needles
Walking the Tennyson Trail to The Needles

We caught an early morning ferry so had time spare to walk a stretch of  the Tennyson Trail. It was a gentle uphill walk, along a broad trail over West High Down to The Needles. Newly arrived swifts swooped along the trail, and with the gorse bushes smelling of coconut (suntan lotion) it really felt like summer had arrived.

needles
The Needles

The walk ended at a viewpoint over the white cliffs out to The Needles.  A coastguard helicopter was practising below us, adding a touch of excitement to the otherwise serene spot.

Dinosaur fossil hunting
Dinosaur fossil hunting

Back in the car, we managed to fit in a quick picnic at Freshwater Bay before heading over to start our fossil hunt. Oliver, our guide, met us in the car park near Brook Chine on the south coast of the island.  He started by explaining the types of fossil we might find, and handed round samples for us to familiarise ourselves with.  The children listened attentively to the ground rules (no paddling, no cliff climbing and don’t throw stones) before we walked down to the beach to start our fossil hunt.

The group consisted of 6 families, and I’m pretty sure the adults were as excited as the kids, I know I was! We trawled our way through the stones on the beach, picking up anything that looked fossil like and taking it to Oliver for identification.  We quickly became adept at identifying flints, sandstone, fossilised wood and sea sponges.

dinosaurfoot

After a while, Oliver took us on a walk to see some dinosaur footprints. He also explained the geological history of  the beach, and talked about the various strata in the cliffs behind us.  The tide wasn’t quite low enough to visit the footprints, instead he pointed out dinosaur footprint casts. I’d have never realised these were the slimy green rocks we’d been clambering over earlier but it was obvious the minute he showed us!

The walk back along the beach provided more fossil spotting opportunities.  My daughter was desperate to find a dinosaur bone, but sadly it was not to be.  However, at the end of trip Oliver surprised the children with a small fragment of dinosaur bone each.

We rounded off our day with a cream tea at Chale Bay Farm.  Our first of the year, it was a delight to laze in the sunshine, and feast on fruit scones, jam and cream.

Back home the kids had fun washing and sorting their finds.  You might think this just looks like a selection of stones, but we know better!

Not just any old stones!
Not just any old stones!

Kids view:

The dinosaur fossil hunt was very good because the man knew the names of all the things we picked up.

General info:

  • Take a bag or bucket to collect your fossil specimens in.
  • There are no toilet facilities at Brook Chine, so ensure you pay a visit before arrival.
  • The beach isn’t accessible for either wheelchairs or buggies.

Costs:

We travelled with Red Funnel from Southampton to East Cowes; a family day return cost £32. The family ticket for the fossil hunt was £12.50.

wavingatship
On the way home