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.
To see footage of the wider NC500 road trip, feel free to watch our NC500 Hikes production.
For other epic beaches in Scotland and along the North Coast 500, read our post on Beaches Along the NC500. Otherwise, read our Complete Guide to Hikes Along the NC500 post, where we talk about 18 stunning NC500 hikes.
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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.
Of course, if you don’t have access to your own set of wheels, then we recommend hiring something. When hiring a car, we always get the ball rolling with a search on RentalCars.com. Booking a car with Rentalcars.com is easy and stress-free, plus they offer an unbeatable free cancellation policy too.
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.
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 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.
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.
Where Next Along the NC500?
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.
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.
SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Dan and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.
For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.
SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.
Five Travel Essentials For Gruinard Bay
These are our five travel essentials for visiting Gruinard Bay Scotland. For a more extensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Alternatively, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip to Scotland and the North Coast 500, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Swimmers: if the weather is good, you might want to take a dip.
- Beach Towel: natural partner to the swimmers!
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket, because you know, this is still Scotland after all.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for day trips, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm when the sun drops and you want to enjoy a sunset.
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.
- 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.
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