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I enjoyed a three-day weekend break to Gairloch on Scotland’s north-west coast with Hubby G and a group of friends. Here’s what I discovered:
The recipe for a great weekend break with a group is…
Easy-going friends who are as happy sitting and chatting over a few beers, as they are eager to be doing outdoors activities; good humour; a relaxed atmosphere; good chat, good food and good wine; tons of snacks for kids; and getting lucky with the weather.
If you are also in a brilliant location with plenty of outdoors things to do on the doorstep to suit all ages and fitness levels then all the better.
Of course, I already knew about the right ingredients for a great weekend break with a group but when it comes together as brilliantly as it did with our friends – including myself and Hubby G, our friend Ben, a family of three including Stew, Jen and their daughter Niamh, plus a family of five, including Lynsey and Tony and their children Noah, Poppy and Finn – then it’s the sort of recipe you want to remember and replicate every other time you go away with a group.
RentaHostel is great for groups
Hostelling Scotland has almost 30 youth hostels that are part of a RentaHostel programme. These can be booked for exclusive use. This is a great idea for larger groups because it means you have all the bedrooms, living area and kitchen for your private use, rather than sharing with strangers.
Some RentaHostels are also #woofhostels
A #woofhostel is a Hostelling Scotland hostel that is dog friendly. I stayed at Ullapool Youth Hostel with Wispa whippet last October and enjoyed some great local walks. This time I took Wispa to Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel.
Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel is big enough for plenty of friends
Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel has six dorm rooms sleeping 31 people in total at the youth hostel. The two families had large dorm rooms each with multiple bunk beds, while G and I took another three-bed room with a double bed and a single bed and Ben had a six-bed room, including a double bed and two bunk-beds, to himself. There were still plenty of beds left if we had wanted to invite more people.
The hostel also has a well-equipped kitchen, generous dining room and a living space. There were male and female bathrooms on the first floor and another toilet and shower room on the ground floor.
Gairloch Sands hostel is home-from-home
The hostel is well equipped, comfortable, clean and functional. The fact that it is comfy rather than posh meant that we didn’t need to worry about the kids running and tumbling about, nor the dog. We were able to relax in the home-from-home style accommodation.
Hostel wi-fi is a bonus
You could choose not to use the wi-fi and I can see the appeal of being off-network but when there is a large group with kids and you want to make plans for things to do and also have options for chill out screen time for the children, wi-fi is a good idea. We certainly thought so and we were grateful for the modern technology.
The views from Gairloch Sands YH are tremendous
Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel is located on the B8021, a few miles west of Gairloch itself. The hostel looks straight out over the sea. From the hostel we could see across Loch Gairloch (a sea loch) to the northern end of Skye, as well as the northern end of the Outer Hebrides and also south-west to the mainland mountains of Torridon.
Whether morning, noon, afternoon or evening, we all spent time staring out at the fantastic vistas.
We also enjoyed fabulous sunsets and thanks to an amazing window of sunny early spring weather, the sunny vistas were breath-taking.
Big Sand is simply breath-taking
Since this trip, lots of people have told me about memorable holidays at Big Sand at Gairloch. I confess I didn’t know about this impressive sandy beach until our mini break. The beach is very close to the hostel and it really is fantastic, with a large expanse of white sand backed by dunes and lapped by clear waters.
The beach is perfect for a stroll, ideal for children to run free and burn off energy and also a place simply to sit and stare out to sea.
Gairloch has so much to do for outdoors fans
Whether you enjoy walking, running, cycling, swimming, or climbing, there is an array of choices. The hardest thing is deciding what to do each day.
Ben took Friday off to travel from Edinburgh to Gairloch and I took a half day off. This means that Ben could pick me up in Inverness en route. When we arrived at Gairloch we enjoyed a leg stretcher of 6.5km. Starting from the side of the B8021 above the northern end of Big Sand, we followed a signposted route on undulating trails.
The rewards included lovely coastal views and a chance to spot the remains of a crofting township dating back to the late 18th century.
That evening as a larger group, we strolled along to Big Sand as the sun set over the sea and islands.
Saturday saw our larger group split in two with Ben, Gordon and dads Tony and Stewart heading off to hike two challenging summits on iconic Beinn Alligin mountain. The fabulous high-rise playground of of Torridon and the wider Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve is less than an hour’s drive from Gairloch.
The rest of us, including myself, Lynsey and her three children Noah, Poppy and Finn, and Jen and her daughter Niamh, spent the day exploring locally.
A morning walk of 5km (3 miles) from Gairloch offered a gentle climb alongside a fast-flowing river on the Flowerdale Estate, passing a beautiful waterfall and to a height of around 130 metres where we were treated to superb views back towards the sea and islands.
After lunch back at the hostel, the kids requested we return to Big Sand beach so they could go for a paddle. “Paddling” turned out to mean “fully clothed immersion” and while it was warm in the early spring sunshine, the youngsters were grateful to have the hostel close by for hot showers and a change of clothes.
By late afternoon, as the guys returned from Torridon, tired but in high spirits, and the children were enjoying much-needed chill out time in pyjamas, on their choice of plentiful comfy sofas and including some screen time, Lynsey and I took the opportunity to head off for a run on our own.
Studying an OS Map earlier, I had spotted a 14km (8.5 mile) route from the settlement of Melvaig, north of the hostel, to Rua Reidh (Rubha Reidh) lighthouse at the top of the peninsula, then a narrow cliff path towards remote Camus Mòr beach.
After taking in the picturesque vista of turquoise waters lapping a perfect arc of white sand, Lynsey and I then headed south, up rough heather moorland to a mast at Maol Breac, before returning to the coast road and back to Melvaig.
As we ran and chatted, we chased the setting sun and enjoyed spectacular panorama west to the Trotternish peninsula on Skye, as well as the Shiant Islands, and beyond to the Outer Hebrides.
That evening, our group had a night off from cooking and brought in boxes of tasty fish and chips from The Beachcomber in Gairloch.
A lazy Sunday start gave everyone a lie-in and a late breakfast. With school and work on the Monday, the families squeezed in another trip to the beach before piling everything and everyone back into cars for the journeys back to the central belt.
Gordon and Wispa also took their time to leave, seeking out another walk at Gaineamh Mhòr beach, south of Gairloch and towards Charlestown.
For Ben and I, who often walk mountains together, the attraction of a sunny day sent us off to hike the Corbett, Sail Mhòr, from Ardessie. It was a bit of a detour en-route back to our homes but it was well worth the effort. The views from this Corbett, including the An Teallach ridge and the many summits of the Fisherfield Forest, were superb.
There’s even more to on a trip to Gairloch
There are plenty of other walks accessible from Gairloch – check out Walk Highlands for ideas.
For example, if you like mountains, you could walk Slioch, Liathach and An Teallach.
Local family friendly walks include the Fairy Lochs trail, which takes you to the site of a memorial to a crashed World War II bomber
Gairloch is on the famous driving and cycling route, the North Coast 500.
A 20km cycle from Gairloch to Rua Reidh – and the same for the return – follows mostly single track tarmac. It is relatively flat with some hilly sections towards the northern end of the peninsula. The views are superb .
The Alley At Strath Ristretto Bar in Gairloch for ice creams and other sweet treats.
There is also a cafe and bookshop, The Mountain Cafe Co and Hillbillies Book Shop in Gairloch.
A mini break with friends is good for your soul
Ten-year-old Noah eloquently summed up the weekend away with friends when he told his mum: “Being here makes me feel happy in my heart.”
- We were hosted by Hostelling Scotland for the weekend break at Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel.