Once the T-junction by the stunning beach of Achna'haird on the north side of the peninsula is reached, you have a choice.
Turn left and you are on the shorter route to Achiltibuie, the main community on a peninsula of about 350 inhabitants, and to Polbain. You pass along the west shore of Loch Raa and the west and south shores of Loch Vatachan. As you do, the Summer Isles come into view. Continue on. The panorama opens back towards Ullapool and Achiltibuie stretches away in front of you. You will see a small, shingle beach to your right and you will arrive at a junction. Turn right at the junction and the road leads down to the beach and then climbs gain to the top of the next ridge. Swing down and round the bend and you are in Polbain.
If you turn right at the junction by Achna'haird beach, you are on the road that loops around the end of the peninsula and from where, in an area of outstanding views, you have some of the very best. The names along the road give a good idea of there is to see. The road passes through Achna'haird itself, in Gaelic, 'the field on the point' and then climbs gradually as you cross the moor to its highest point before dropping sharply down to to Altan Dhu (The Black or Dark Burn). Follow the road, ignoring the signs to the right to Reiff (The Reef) and Blairbuie (The Yellow Moss), and pass instead through Altan Dhu. You pass the Smoke House, where the Coigach produces its own smoked seafood. A little further along you pass the turnings to the harbour at Old Dornie and Dornie itself before approaching Polbain from the opposite direction.
Polbain too overlooks the Summer Isles. Tanera Mor, with its salmon farm, is directly opposite and the other islands fill the horizon.
The Summer Isles from our house
History and Geneology
The Coigach is a part of Gaelic-speaking, Western Scotland that until recent times was comparatively inaccessible. It was peopled mainly by Mackenzies, MacLeods and Campbells, who lived from crofting, i.e. subsistence-farming, and fishing, with anything from the outside world that was required being brought in by boat. A wide range of books on Scottish history and geneology is available on-line by clicking on the Scotch Corner graphic above.
The area has been inhabited from very early times. There are a number of prehistoric traces, but few from the period until more recent times. The various waves of the Highland Clearances until modern times badly affected the area and several generations of its people. Emigration has continued firstly to the West Indies and the American Colonies, then to USA and Canada and more recently to Australia. Ruins of settlements, both within and outwith the boundaries of the present five main villages and the 7 or so other places with inhabited houses, can still be seen. Pamphlets and booklets published by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland cover a number of these aspects. There are census records in the local museum in Ullapool and about to be published locally is a unique CD-ROM record of Gaelic place-names of the peninsula. This is mostly the work of the late Donnie Fraser, whose nephew, Alasdair, has been instrumental in map-referencing the information and then compiling the records first in book form and now on CD. The CD will soon be available for purchase on-line. For more details of what the CD contains and of where and how to buy it, click on Coigach Gaelic Place Names.
Immediately to the south of peninsula are the Summer Isles, more details of which and ways to enjoy them are given in the section on Activities and Attractions. Immediately to the north and across the border into the Sutherland is the Inverpolly Nature Reserve, which itself is borders to the north by the Assynt. There is an excellent print of the Inverpolly Nature Reserve available on-line from the Scottish Print Gallery. Between the Summer Isles and the Assynt there are islands, cliffs, rocky coast line and beaches, both of stone and sand, bog land and moor and the mountains of Stac Polly, Cul Mor and Cul Beag plus Beinn Mor Coigach itself. There are seals in the water, otters, bird-life from chaffinches to golden- and sea-eagles and deer in abundance. There are also amphibians, a host of butterflies, and a range of plants that is as broad as the habitat is varied.
Traditional music has remained a strong feature on the Coigach peninsula. There is a number of excellent pipers and fiddle- and accordion-players living here and more still now living away but earning those livings playing music. A taste of the local music can be got from the album "Single Tracking" from the Coigach Ceilidh Band. Recorded locally in 1996 it is available on cassette and CD on-line. Kevin MacLeod's much acclaimed album, "Springwell" is named after his family home here in Polbain and it has been followed up with "From Polbain to Oranmore, with Alec Finn. Ali "Beag" MacLeod, the "box" player with the Coigach Ceilidh Band has recently released his first CD, "The Sands of Achnah'aird", which also features Kevin Macleod and several other prominent musicians. In addition there are a number of CDs, produced locally of local musicians and singers, past and present. There are 6 archive CDs produced from recdordings held locally and at The School of Scottish Studies and one of more modern vintage. One of the singers from the past was Seodag Murray, whose great nephew, the singer James Graham, was the winner of the BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year and has produced his first CD, "Siubhal". In addition Roddy Macleod of Polbain has also produced a CD and book of the Gaelic poems of the Bard of Polbain. Neill MacLeod. All these CDs and the poems of Neill MacLeod can be purchase by clicking here on CD Shop.
The recent opening of the new Community Hall has now provided a venue for local and visiting musicians. The hall's superb acoustics mean that a range of musicians are now coming out of their way, even from as far as Canada, to play the venue. The result is a varied programme of music of traditional and other styles that can be enjoyed for much of the year. What can make a better excuse for a long weekend away on the west coast of the Highlands of Scotland than a concert or a ceilidh on a Friday or Saturday evening? A range of Scottish music is available on-line by clicking on the Scotch Corner graphic above. An enormous range of music of all types including a very wide range of Scottish music from classical to Runrig via Kevin MacLeod to Fergie MacDonald is available on-line by clicking here on 101.com or on the graphic. Alternatively you can use the search engine below to find the CDs, records or artists required.
Each year, normally in the first week of the children's school summer holidays there is The Coigach Gathering. Normally held, in good weather, at the fank behind Badentarbet Beach it features the Coigach Hill Race, sports and entertainment for the locals plus piping and dancing demonstrations and competitions.
Activities and Attractions
The Summer Isles
The Summer Isles are a stunning archipelago that stretches from out from Ullapool to the south of the Coigach. They are an area of outstanding natural beauty, rich in flora and fauna. There are seals, a wide variety of birdlife and, in season, dolphins, porpoises and even small whales. There is a boat service from the jetty at Badentarbet (The Thicket on the Isthmus), just between Polbain and Achiltibuie. It is well worth the trip.
There is a number of beaches on the peninsula. At Badentarbet there is a small, shingle one. At Reiff there is one which is small, sandy and very pleasant but the best is without doubt at Achna'haird. It is large, sandy and safe, ringed by small cliffs and backed a large, meandering burn and salt marsh. To reach it you drive into the hamlet of Achna'haird and then turn right towards the sea. Also worth a visit is the smaller but more sheltered beach of Acheninver, reached by driving through Achiltibuie to the Youth Hostel.
At Old Dornie there is a beautiful, sheltered anchorage that is used mostly by the local fishermen but also has a steady stream of private boats. It is reached by turning left between Polbain and Altandhu from the road that rings the peninsula.
There are three ways to enjoy the Coigach. The best of all is by doing as little as possible. If not an option, a car is always useful because distances can be great. Finally there is walking.
There are four major walks on or from the peninsula and several more, smaller ones. The local tourist association publish an excellent guide to several of the the lesser known ones.
The Old Postman's route is the track that the postman used to bring in the mail every day from Ullapool. It leads from the end of the tarmac road that stretches from Achiltibuie to Culnacraig (Behind the Rock). The path is narrow and at times difficult to follow. It passes along the cliff to Ardmair (The Sea Promontory) via Geodha Mor (The Great Creek), Leum an Fheidh(The Deer's Leap), the old fort at Dun Canna and Blughasary. From there are side paths to Strathcanaird and another by Maell nan Clachan (The Pile of Rocks) to Loch eader dha Bheinn(The Lake between the Mountains). Be aware, no matter what the season, this walk is not easy.
The second is the well-marked one from Inverkirkaig alongside and above the river to the falls and beyond into the heart of the Inver Polly Nature Reserve to Fionn Loch (The Pale Lake) and Uidh Fhearna (The Isthmus of the Alders).
The third and fourth walks are also in the Inver Polly Nature Reserve. Around Stac Pollaidh (The Pitted Stack) there are several, starting from the car-park below. There is the short Coire Gorm (The Grey Corrie), the route to the summit and the route to the back of the stack. Be aware that in winter or in wet conditions the route to the summit can be treacherous. A little further east along the road at Linneraineach (The Pool of the Ferns) there is the start of the path that climbs past Lochan Fhionnlaidh (The Small, Pale Lake), to Allt an Loin Dubh (The Stream of the Dark Glade) at Lochan Gainmheich (The Little Loch of the Fine Sand), or through Doire Dubh (The Dark Copse).
There is good trout and sea-trout fishing in the area. There is river-, loch- and sea-fishing. For the first two you have to have a permit, which can be obtained locally. More details and a description of the fishing can be obtained by clicking on the 'Where to Fish' site. For permits for the Inverpolly estate, contact:
The diving around the Summer Isles is some of the best in the country. Do not take my word for it by click here on the 'UK Diving' site.
In Achiltibuie there is the experimental, horticultural station where a wide variety of plants, including exotics, are grown under glass using hydroponic techniques. It is open most days for visitors. It is well-worth taking the guided tour. You'll find more details by clicking here on Hydroponicum .
The Coigach has its own smokehouse producing a full range of smoked sea-foods including some of the best salmon you will ever taste. For more details click here.
There are two shops, two bars, an hotel, a petrol station, a garage, a post-office and a mobile bank as well as a wide range of arts and crafts. In Polbain there is Polbain Stores and in Achiltibuie, Achiltibuie Stores. Between them they are able to supply pretty well all needs for goods and information. Papers are available from Polbain Stores. The petrol station is at Achiltibuie Stores.
Note that neither shop is open on Sundays so if you are arriving on a Sunday make sure you either order some provisions in advance or bring some basics with you.
When it comes to food and drink, they are centred on the peninsula round the two bars. In Altandhu and open all year there is the typically Scottish and very pleasant Am Fuaran (At the Spring) where there is good drink, a pool table and a good, basic menu. In Achiltibuie there is the Summer Isles Hotel, which has both a restaurant and a bar. The bar is open all-year-round but the restaurant is open only in the summer months. In the summer excellent food, typically featuring local sea-food, is served in the bar. The separate restaurant with its set 5-course menu and excellent wine-cellar is highly recommended. However, for non-residents the restaurant can only be booked, if the hotel, which is run on a half-board basis, is not full. In high season this is rarely so.
Hector Mackenzie has a very well equipped workshop, which can repair any problems you might have with your car.
The Royal Bank of Scotland has a mobile bank that comes to the peninsula every Friday. You can pay in or withdraw in the normal way, subject to applicable charges if you are not an RBS customer.
The Doctor comes from Ullapool each Wednesday morning and holds surgery in the village hall in Achiltibuie. There are two district nurses on the peninsula. The nearest chemist is in Ullapool, 25 miles away, but the doctor does have a portable dispensary to supply basic needs.
Bus and other Transport Services
Angus MacLeod runs a twice-daily bus service into Ullapool. In term-time it's is a school bus with an early morning run and a second in late afternoon, normally connecting with coach services to and from Inverness. Outside term-time there is still the early morning service with the late service replaced by one at midday.
Getting to anywhere in the Highlands, when you have no car, can sometimes be a problem but with a bus service right to our door, we have some uniquely fortunate solutions. For ideas of how to get to us, click on:
How to get to Polbain
To return to the home page, click here on Polbain .
To get more information on our letting cottages, click on Tigh or Bothan .