The shop at Sands is possibly the most remarkably stocked campsite store in the country. So much so that, as you check in, you might think the owners James and Marie have gone a wee bit over the top. But then you pitch your tent, breathe in the sea air, look out through the dune grass at the islands and mountains and realise that venison steaks, champagne and colourful kites are EXACTLY what you need right now.
That’s the thing about Sands, it keeps surprising you. The winding road that leads north out of Gairloch seems to be heading nowhere, then a sliver of grassy land gradually unfolds into a wide and welcoming apron bordered by swooping dunes and an epic seascape. Driving in, your first impressions are of a large caravan site, but campers have their own area of rolling duneland with plenty of tent-sized pockets for you to hide away in. This starts just down a winding track from the shop, and it’s worth continuing along to check out the whole site before choosing your spot. Pitches range from secluded hollows to breezy eyries, while the spots in the southern corner are ideally placed by the site’s own slipway – perfect for launching kayaks and other watery adventures.
There are also 12 heated wooden pods should you fancy taking it a little easier. These come with firepits (campfires are not allowed anywhere else on the campsite; though right down by the waterside is fine) and sublime views of the sunset as standard. Wherever you are, though, it won’t be long before you’re winding your way through the dunes and down on to the beach to paddle in the irresistibly turquoise water. And even if this is surprisingly cold, don’t worry – the shop sells wetsuits, too.
The beach, of course, is the campsite’s glory. During the day its gently sloping sands call one-and-all for a happy shift of castle-building, swimming and general larking about. Then, when your work is done, you can perch in the grass at the top of the dunes, taking pride in your achievements and watching the blazing sunset over the far tip of Skye. This is a dreamer’s place, and as the sun finally slides into the western ocean, the island of Longa drops into shadow, becoming a humpbacked sea monster, settling down to rest for the night.
With a beach to dig up, dunes to jump down, rocks to graze knees on and woods to go heffalump-hunting in, it’s ironic that the campsite also has an adventure playground – it’s not like it needs one. However, it’s a beauty, and is set right in the middle of the site, forming the perfect spot for young teens to gather and eye each other sheepishly while their parents read the paper. Arrive when the sun is shining and you might also wonder why there is a games room. Well, it has been known to rain in the north-west of Scotland, and you may find yourself very glad of the owners’ foresight. There is also a large indoor cooking and washing-up area, complete with several benches, and a small on-site café where you can pick up your morning cuppa. James and Marie are also planning to lay out a few mountain-bike tracks on some adjacent land. Like there isn’t enough to do here already....
2 of the 3 washblocks were recently refurbished and facilities are well kept. There is a large indoor kitchen and dining space, the barn café, a dishwashing area, electrical hook-ups, a laundry, a games room, plus bike and canoe hire and a children’s adventure playground. The (fully licensed) shop is very well stocked. Campfires permitted on the beach only, plus in the pits outside the 12 wooden pods.
Tents, campervans, caravans, dogs on leads – yes.
The beautiful path to Flowerdale Falls, which are located a mile south of Gairloch (3 miles from the campsite), offers an energetic family ramble. The Gairloch Heritage Museum (01445 712287) is a great local museum that will have you stepping back in time to soak up some local history. Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve (14 miles), Scotland’s oldest reserve established in 1951, offers woodland trails and mountain walks, all situated within the expansive and beautiful ancient pine forests surrounding Loch Maree.
Food & Drink
The Mountain Coffee Company in Gairloch (01445 712316) has a terrific selection of outdoor and adventure books, and the cakes are pretty thrilling, too. The food at the Old Inn at Flowerdale (01445 712006) is worth seeking out, and tastes particularly delicious if you sit outside and enjoy it under the trees by the river. Tootle around the loch to the Badachro Inn (01445 741255), which snuggles by the seashore in a sheltered bay, where you can choose from 50 malt whiskies or simply enjoy a pint of the local ale by open fires and watch the boats come and go.
April–end of October.
Pack your wetsuit, bring the bucket and space and prepare to get water happy. The beautiful beachside location of this family campsite is matched only by the serene views of Skye and the Hebrides.
There is a daily bus from Inverness to Gairloch. From there you will need to walk or hitch a ride to cover the 4 miles to the site.
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