In my last blog I shared the highlights of our stay at Ullapool Youth Hostel with you. After leaving Ullapool we headed further north to stay at Hostelling Scotland’s award winning Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel near Lochinver. The hostel is located beside Achmelvich Bay, one of Scotland’s most stunning beaches and a popular stop on the North Coast 500 (NC500).
This blog features the highlights from our Achmelvich stay.
Achmelvich Itinerary – day one
Walk – Clachtoll Broch
After a short drive north from Ullapool we were ready to explore. We made our first stop at Clachtoll, just north of Achmelvich. Like Achmelvich, Clachtoll boasts a beautiful beach, and like Achmelvich there’s a cool castle-like structure by the beach that can be reached after a short walk. Achmelvich’s castle is teeny (more on it later), but at Clachtoll the structure is an Iron Age broch which would’ve stood fifteen metres tall in its heyday.
A broch is a stone tower, built using a dry stone technique. The people who lived in Clachtoll Broch would’ve lived off the land. They were probably important members of the local community, given their impressive stone abode. Little is known about the people who lived in brochs, but the one at Clachtoll has given archaeologists a fascinating glimpse into the past.
Clachtoll Broch was occupied until 2,000-years ago. It’s known to have caught fire, causing the occupants to flee in a hurry. The broch was excavated in 2017 and archaeologists found dozens of artefacts which shed light on the layout of the broch interior, the items the people crafted, the tools they worked with and even what they ate.
I love castles, but love brochs more and Clachtoll is one of my favourites. The location is dramatic and the broch is remarkably well-preserved. Inside there’s a staircase, two small rooms, stone flooring and even a knocking stone which would have been used for processing grain (it was filled with carbonised grain when Clachtoll Broch was excavated).
Coffee break – Stoer lighthouse
After combining walking with history, we decided to try combining wildlife watching with coffee and scones at Stoer Lighthouse a short distance away from Clachtoll.
The last time we visited Stoer the coffee van wasn’t there but we spotted a pod of dolphins doing acrobatics just off the shore. This time round there was coffee but no dolphins, or any other wildlife for that matter – other than the ever present sheep. Och well.
We enjoyed a potter round the headland, then grabbed coffees. Mr G went off to ramble along a clifftop with his, while the boy and I found a bench with a view and gazed out to sea. Having grown up by the sea, I feel most at home in coastal locations. There’s something really hypnotic about watching waves ebb and flow.
When Mr G returned from his clifftop wander, it was time for us to leave Stoer in search of somewhere dog friendly for lunch.
Food and Drink – An Cala Cafe, Lochinver
We fancied a sit down meal rather than takeaway sandwiches for lunch, so headed to Lochinver to eat at the dog friendly An Cala Cafe. We’ve eaten there a few times before and the food and service are always good.
We ordered soft drinks, Cajun chicken burgers with chips. The burgers had a nice spicy kick and were really tasty.
Shop: Highland Stoneware, Lochinver
After lunch we visited Highland Stoneware, also in Lochinver. The working pottery/shop has some fun artworks outside, made using shards of pottery. There’s a life-sized car and a living room complete with TV, armchair and settee.
Every time we visit the TV makes me sing “Ally’s Tartan Army” (Scotland’s 1978 football World Cup song. Those were the glory days of Scottish football and for a while that summer, we were a nation that dared to dream. “And we’ll really shake them up when we win the World Cup, cause Scotland are the greatest football team”. A tad optimistic and sadly not to be – it was a great song though.
The Highland Stoneware shop is dog friendly so we popped in to “browse” their gorgeous ranges of table and homeware.
The hand-painted items feature Scottish landscapes, wildlife and wildflowers. When I spotted a bog cotton range (my favourite wildflower) I knew a little piece of Highland Stoneware would be returning to Edinburgh with me (I bought the tear-shaped dish displayed on the lower left shelves below).
I’m a big advocate for shopping local and supporting Scottish businesses. It’s a win, win really, because our house is full of lovely reminders of our travels.
Outside, we spotted two young stags watching us from a rocky vantage point behind the shop. We watched them for a while, before paying the local store a visit to stock up on goodies for our stay at Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel.
Stay – Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel
Now it was time to check out our beachside accommodation for the next couple of nights.
Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel stands a stone’s throw from one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches – Achmelvich Bay. The small hostel stands in an enclosed garden full of wildflowers and gorgeous scented herbs.
The dog friendly hostel has four rooms (a mix of dorm and private) and can sleep twenty guests. There are shower and toilet facilities (inside and out), plus a well-equipped guest kitchen/dining room/lounge with complimentary tea and coffee and a good selection of books, maps and games. There’s a wee honesty shop too selling toiletries, snacks and drinks.
Andy greeted us on arrival and gave us a run down of the facilities, then showed us to our twin room. It was small but clean, comfortable and located next to shower and toilet facilities – perfect.
Beach fun – Achmelvich Bay
Once we’d settled in, we took a wander down to the beach to stretch our legs.
It doesn’t matter how many times I visit Achmelvich Bay, I’m always wowed. It’s one of the most scenic locations you can stay on the NC500.
On our way back to the hostel we popped into the ranger’s hut in the beach car park to find out what wildlife had been spotted in the area recently.
The hut is a great source of information about the local flora and fauna and can save you a whole heap of pain too if you don’t know your jellyfish. There are wee models hanging from the hut ceiling – there’s the non-stinging moon jellyfish who I swim with regularly.
Then there’s the blue jellyfish which can sting a bit and the mother of all jellyfish – the lion’s mane jellyfish. They can grown to a diameter of two metres and have a really painful sting.
Relax – Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel
Now we were ready for some chill time back at the hostel. We settled in the guest lounge where we grazed on snacks and chatted.
Achmelvich Itinerary – day two
It was a warm, muggy night, but we slept soundly with our room window open and woke the next morning, raring to go.
Normally, when we stay with Hostelling Scotland we book one of their breakfasts but we’d stocked up on provisions in Lochinver, so I rustled us up morning rolls filled with sausage, bacon and tattie scone and we washed them down with coffee and orange juice.
The breakfast of champions – now we were ready to spend the morning outdoors.
Beach fun – Achmelvich Bay
We had our stand up paddleboards with us and planned to spend the morning having fun on and in the water.
It was drizzly and grey but warm so we were undeterred. Mr G inflated our boards and on we hopped.
If I SUP the boy won’t join me, so I reverted to kayaking to he could join in. Mr G stayed on his feet, as he’s a die hard SUP fan these days.
I like paddle-boarding but prefer kayaking. It’s faster, easier to manoeuvre and better for spotting marine life.
There were loads of moon jellyfish in the water. The boy peered at them curiously as we glided by. There were blue jellyfish and lion’s mane too. And that kiboshed my swimming plans.
We spent a lovely morning at the beach and the dreich weather didn’t dampen our spirits any.
Back at the hostel, we changed into our land lover clobber and headed out for lunch.
Lunch – Delilah’s Restaurant & Bar, Lochinver
We were looking forward to trying Lochinver’s newest dog and family friendly eatery. Delilah’s Restaurant & Bar opened in May and is proving popular with locals and visitors alike.
The restaurant is run by a local couple and the menu features lots of lovely locally sourced Scottish produce. The restaurant interior is stylish with a distinct Highland vibe, but it wouldn’t look out of place in Edinburgh’s elegant George Street or Glasgow’s trendy West End.
We started with a hearty bowl of minestrone soup each. It was the perfect warmer after spending a morning on the water.
For his main course Mr G had panko and sesame crumbled local haddock goujons with lemon aioli, salad and a portion of homemade fries.
I had a creamy linguine pasta dish with wild mushroom and parmesan shavings.
Our food was served on Highland Stoneware tableware, so the ingredients weren’t the only thing that’d been locally sourced.
The food was fab and Delilah’s Restaurant & Kitchen was every bit as good as we’d hoped it would be. It was both style and substance.
Shop – Rockpool, Lochinver
Having fallen in love with a gorgeous reed diffuser in the restaurant loos, I dragged the boys into a fab wee Lochinver gift shop to look for said smelly item.
Rockpool sells a good range of Scottish arts and crafts, including a selection of candles and diffusers made by Coigach local Ali Mac. Ali’s ‘Coigach collection’ smells like heaven and I took a little whiff of heaven home with me in the form of her No 5: Stac Pollaidh reed diffuser, which smells like jam sandwiches, raspberry and black pepper.
Walk – Culag Wood, Lochinver
The sun finally made an appearance when we left Rockpool, so we decided to do a local walk we’d done before and enjoyed.
Culag Wood is a gorgeous area of community woodland on the outskirts of Lochinver. It’s a lush green haven rich in flora, fauna. There are shaded trails there too – perfect for the boy and I because we’re not compatible with hiking in the heat.
We started out on the ‘Are you brave enough path”, Mr G and I willingly and the boy reluctantly.
He soon got into his stride though and was right to be cautious because an unusually large spider had built a huge nest in the woods.
Next, we followed the Viewpoint Path which twists and turns its way uphill to reach a clearing with a fab view of the mighty Suilven – Scotland’s answer to Sugarloaf Mountain.
It’s a pretty spot and a real sun trap. Besides the gorgeous view, we spotted dragonflies, butterflies, bees and a bright green tiger beetle. When I pointed it out to Mr G he said it was GREEN. Whenever we see something brightly coloured we’ll ask each other, what colour is that and the answer is always GREEN, RED, YELLOW etc in tribute to an old Billy Connelly sketch when he described someone’s trousers as BLUE.
It’s not everyday you can climb up to a pretty viewpoint, spot wildlife then play a game of giant noughts and crosses, but if you visit Culag Wood you can do all of these things.
Mr G and I battled it out, determined not to let the other win. The result was a cat’s game, with no winner, loser or boasting rights earned.
Lochinver Larder – so many pies
Before leaving Lochinver we popped into Lochinver Larder for one of their famous pies – the best in Scotland. They come with all sorts of fillings from meat, to veggie, savoury and sweet. We chose pear, almond and chocolate.
Look for Hermit’s Castle
Back at Achmelvich, we visited a favourite spot of ours near the beach. Remember at the beginning of the blog I mentioned a small castle-like structure? I was referring to the Hermit’s Castle, which is Europe’s smallest castle.
I won’t tell you where it is, as half the fun of visiting for the first time is trying to find it. Grab a map, study the coastline round the bay – seek and you shall find.
Hermit’s Castle was built in the 1950s by a newly qualified architect from England. He spent a summer living by the beach and building a mini fortress. Once it was finished he spent one night there, then left and never returned.
Inside Hermit’s Castle has a sleeping platform, shelves and somewhere to sit. It’s sheltered but probably a tad bijou to be comfortable, even for one night.
Food and drink- champagne and pies on the beach
After visiting Hermit’s Castle we popped back to the hostel to heat our Lochinver pie in the oven and pick up some provisions. We then headed back to the beach to find a good vantage point where we could sit and eat our famous Lochinver pie as we sipped champagne (a recent birthday gift).
The sky was blue, the sea turquoise, the champagne perfectly chilled and the pie like manna from heaven.
And if that isn’t a perfect way to spend an evening, I don’t know what is.
Achmelvich Itinerary – day three
We spent another comfortable night at the hostel and woke the next morning, sad that our stay at Achmelvich had come to an end.
I rustled us up bacon, sausage and tattie scone rolls again for breakfast and our spirits quickly lifted.
We were in no rush to leave, so after checking out, we walked to another of our favourite local beaches.
Walk – Achmelvich to Alltanabradhan (3 miles there and back)
A rocky coastal path links Achmelvich Bay and Alltanabradhan.
As we hiked along the beautiful coastline from one gorgeous beach to another, we spotted wildlife and wildflowers but no other humans.
As we approached the sandy cove at Port Alltan na Bradhan the path descended steeply, crossing a burn beside the ruins of Alltanabradhan Mill. The meal mill was built in the 1760s and used by tenants living at Clachtoll and Achmelvich. It remained operational for over 200 years, before falling out of use in the late 19th century.
A couple of minutes after leaving the mill we reached the beach. It’s small (especially at high tide) but beautiful. It’s one of many hidden gems dotted around the NC500, just waiting to be discovered by those who slow down and explore the route properly.
After soaking up a healthy dose of vitamin sea, we retraced our steps back to Achmelvich Bay.
It was time to head home to Edinburgh.
Our accommodation at Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel was provided on a complimentary basis as part of a paid partnership with Hostelling Scotland, however all opinions are my own.
If you liked this post, you may also enjoy the following, featuring hostelling breaks on the NC500:
Until next time …