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Gruinard Bay: A Perfect Beach Pit Stop On The NC500

Gruinard Bay: A Perfect Beach Pit Stop On The NC500

Gruinard Bay is a wonderfully remote beach of golden-pink sands in the northwest of the Scottish Highlands. The dramatic backdrop of craggy mountains and the wondrous Torridon giants in the distance make Gruinard Bay easily one of the most devastatingly beautiful beaches along the NC500. Looking out from the beach, you’ll spot the infamous Gruinard Island and beyond that, the Summer Isles. Indeed, Gruinard Bay makes for a wonderful stop along this particularly scenic section of the NC500. Or, if you really fall for this place, you might decide on a little Gruinard camping. We’ll cover all the information you need in this guide.

Read 25 Best Beaches Along the NC500 and Complete Guide to Hikes Along the NC500 guides.

Where Is Gruinard Bay?

Gruinard Bay is a wild and beguiling beach along the A832 road of the NC500 route between Poolewe and Ullapool. Gruinard Beach sits within the Ross and Cromarty area of the Scottish Highlands and is surrounded by a number of hamlets including Little Gruinard, Sand, First Coast and Second Coast. The popular North Coast 500 stop of Gairloch is nearby too.

The drive around this part of the Scottish Highlands is outstanding and Gruinard Bay could not be better placed for a quick pit stop along the NC500. That’s exactly what we did. There’s a small Gruinard Bay Car Park right on the beachfront. From here, you’ll have immediate views towards Gruinard Island.

Feel free to click on the Gruinard Bay Google Map below to see where this exceptional beach is located in Scotland.

How to Get to Gruinard Bay

The easiest way to get to Gruinard Bay in Scotland is with your own set of wheels. Of course, if you’re driving the NC500, then this shouldn’t be a problem. Gruinard Bay is accessed very easily along the A832. The beach is a 20 minute drive north of Poolewe and a 50 minute drive west of Ullapool and so a perfect stop off as you drive the NC500.

Parking is across the road from the beach entrance and is free. Please note, there are no public toilets at Gruinard Bay.

Car Hire

If you don’t have your own car, you should hire one using Discover Cars. Personally, we use Discover Cars and highly recommend them for finding your ideal car hire at an affordable price. Booking online is super easy and the free cancellation policy is great.

To find out more about renting a car with Discover Cars, read our Discover Cars review and Discover Cars Insurance review.

Public Transport

It’s possible to take the #707 bus between Gairloch and Ullapool to reach Gruinard Bay from both the Poolewe and Ullapool directions. But, this bus only seems to run on a Thursday. There’s also a #700 bus, but this only seems to run on a Friday. You can check the bus timetable here. At the end of the day, we recommend driving as it’s certainly more straightforward.

Dan walks onto Gruinard beach
Gruinard Beach, perfect for wild camping

Gruinard Bay

So, now you’re at Gruinard Bay, what to expect? Well, awaiting you is a beautiful crescent-shaped beach of golden sand, tinged with a slight pink colour due to the Torridon sandstone that Guinard Beach is formed from. Surrounding Gruinard Bay is the most breathtaking view of rippled mountains that are oh-so typical of the Scottish Highlands. This was easily one of our favourite sections of the entire NC500 road trip.

Flowing into the bay is Little Gruinard River, which passes through the hamlet of the same name. It’s also possible to take a short walk from Gruinard Bay to Eas Dubh Falls, upstream of Inverianvie River. You can see a GPS map of the Gruinard Beach to Eas Dubh Falls walk here.

Looking out from the beach, you’ll spot Gruinard Island and the Summer Isles beyond that. Keep your eyes peeled as you might be lucky enough to spot the odd seal or dolphin frolicking in the water.

Gruinard Island

Gruinard Island in Scotland isn’t just any island. In fact, it has a pretty colourful past. During World War II, the British Military trialled ‘germ bombs’ as weapons, with anthrax as the chosen bacterium. The bombs were tested on groups of sheep, who, of course, died within days of exposure. The anthrax spores proved extremely virulent as well as incredibly durable against decontamination.

The plan to drop anthrax bombs on German cities was abandoned as contamination would last for decades. As Gruinard Island was deemed contaminated, the island had to be purchased from the owner and quarantined for the foreseeable future.

So, can you visit Gruinard Island and is Gruinard Island safe? Well, yes, the island is now safe. ‘Operation Dark Harvest’, which involved demands on the government to decontaminate the island at last, involved spraying a seawater-diluted formaldehyde solution over the entire island, as well as removing the entire top layer of soil in 1986.

After sheep were reintroduced and survived, the Gruinard Island decontamination was deemed a success and in 1990, the island was declared safe. Locals will tell you there isn’t much to see on the island so there’s really no point in visiting. The island is used for sheep grazing, where they are transported over by boat. Of course, Gruinard Island is also a popular spot for ‘dark tourism’, where it’s often nicknamed, ‘Anthrax Island’.

And, just in case Gruinard Island hadn’t been through enough, in 2022, a huge wildfire ripped across the entire island. We think stay put on Gruinard Beach, and just enjoy the splendid views across the bay to the island.

Gruinard Bay Accommodation

Dan and I stopped off at Gruinard Bay as we travelled towards Ullapool on our NC500 road trip. But, I can’t help but think this part of the Scottish Highlands would be a fantastic location to spend a night or two. So, to that end, let’s take a look at your Gruinard Bay accommodation options.

Gruinard Camping 

Located in the nearby village of Laide, Scotland, is Gruinard Bay Caravan Park. This Gruinard Bay campsite has caravan rentals as well as pitches for motor homes and tents. The location is outstanding. As I mentioned, this part of the Highlands is jaw-droppingly beautiful and camping this close to Gruinard Bay means you get to enjoy the best of it. Being on the west coast, enjoying the sunset over Gruinard Bay before a night camping under the stars is particularly wonderful.

Gruinard Beach Wild Camping

If wild camping is up your street, then you can find spots around Gruinard Bay. Just be mindful of locals and take all litter away with you. The car park at Gruinard Beach is a great spot for the motorhome, as is another car park on the western side of the bay between Sand and First Coast. See the location here.

Gruinard Bay Hotels

If you’re not much into camping, you’ll find a few hotel options around Gruinard Bay. We’ll take a quick look below.

  • Coast House: the 3-bed cottage of Coast House in Little Gruinard is a perfect holiday home for a remote getaway.
  • The Lovecroft Guest House: this wonderful guest house is situated in the village of Laird and features private bathrooms and sea views. The Lovecroft Guest House offers guests a wonderful breakfast and is perfectly positioned for exploring the area around Gruinard Bay.
  • Ocean View Bar & Rooms: the Ocean View Bar & Rooms offers guests private rooms with a fab brekkie to kick off the day. The restaurant and bar are great for relaxing in after a day on Gruinard Beach, that’s for sure.
Gruinard Bay and Island

Where Next Along the NC500?

As Dan and I were driving the NC500 in a clockwise direction, we then visited Corrieshalloch Gorge Nature Reserve, Ullapool, Ardvreck Castle and The Bone Caves.

If driving the NC500 in an anti-clockwise direction, you’ll next pass into Poolewe and Torridon, where the hiking is world-class. Be sure to check out the Torridon big three – Beinn Alligin, Beinn Eighe and Liathach. You’ll also pass by Victoria Falls on the banks of Loch Maree.

Other Excellent NC500 Beaches

Although Dan and I loved finding epic hikes along the NC500, the beaches totally blew us away! Some particular favourites of ours include the following.

  • Balnakeil Beach: a truly stunning beach of white sand and undulating dunes.
  • Clachtoll Beach: one of our favourite beaches on the NC500.
  • Achmelvich Beach: a very popular NC500 beach that is perfect for sunset and watersport lovers.
  • Sango Sands: golden sands of toasted tones are waiting for you, along with the famous Smoo Cave.
  • Melvich Beach: close to Thurso on the north coast of Scotland is this beautiful dune-backed golden beach.
Dan on the beach at Melvich Bay Scotland
Melvich Beach

Travel Insurance For the NC500

Whether you’re from the UK or further afield, travel insurance is a necessary evil, especially if taking on a road trip like the NC500.

Heymondo is one of the best budget travel insurance providers on the market. They provide comprehensive travel and medical insurance that won’t break the bank. Whether it’s single trip insurance, annual multi-trip insurance or long stay insurance, Heymondo offers affordable travel and medical insurance to suit all of your needs. Personally, we use Heymondo travel insurance and highly recommend it. To find out more about Heymondo travel and medical insurance, read our Heymondo travel insurance review.

Travel Insurance

Heymondo Travel Insurance

Don’t leave for your trip without booking travel insurance. We all know accidents can happen and having Heymondo travel insurance could save you thousands of dollars if something goes wrong. Click the button below to receive a 5% discount!

Five Travel Essentials For Gruinard Bay

These are our five travel essentials for visiting Gruinard Bay Scotland. You should also pack water, snacks and sunscreen. Also, a picnic is a great idea on Gruinard Beach whilst you enjoy the island views and mountainous scenery.

Anker Portable Power Bank
Anker Portable Power Bank

Keep your phone, laptop and other accessories charged while you’re on the go with the Anker Portable Power Bank. We wouldn’t travel without this high-quality portable charger.

Sea to Summit DryLite Towel
Sea to Summit DryLite Towel

The Sea to Summit DryLite Towel is the best quick-dry microfibre towel. This compact, lightweight and super-absorbent towel is perfect for travel.

EPICKA Universal Travel Adapter
EPICKA Universal Travel Adapter

Having an EPICKA Universal Travel Adapter is one of the best accessories to travel with, especially if you’re travelling to multiple continents during your trip.

Noise Cancelling Headphones
Noise Cancelling Headphones

If you’re looking for the most budget-friendly yet high-quality noise-cancelling headphones for travel, then look no further than the Anker Soundcore Space Q45.

Wise Multi-Currency Card
Wise Multi-Currency Card

We use the Wise Multi-Currency Card to pay online and when we travel abroad. It’s really easy to use and a lot cheaper than using bank cards. To order a free card, click the button below.

To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite travel gear, camera gear and hiking gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.

Landscape around Gruinard Bay, island and beach
The landscape around Gruinard Bay

Bonus Tips

  • Midge watch: the Highlands of Scotland are renowned for their vicious summer midges. We encountered a fair few at Gruinard Bay, so a smidge net and Avon spray might come in handy.
  • Inverewe Gardens: about 20 minutes from Gruinard Bay, located outside Poolewe is Inverewe Gardens. This National Trust for Scotland heritage garden is a wonderful place to visit to see rare animals like the red squirrel, red deer and golden eagles.
  • Stress-free NC500: to have the hassle taken out of some of your NC500 trip planning, GetYourGuide offers some pretty spectacular tours around the famous route, including trips from Inverness to nearby Torridon.

Share this post with your NC500 road trip buddies!

Beck Piggott

With an art and design based background, Beck uses photography and writing to help inspire readers to climb mountains, hike coastal trails and chase waterfalls around the globe.

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