Rua Reidh Lighthouse Melvaig, Gairloch, 01445 771263, www.ruareidh.co.uk Chris and Fran's friendly travellers' rest operates as a self-catering hostel (bunk beds. DlY kitchen. books and board games. etc). wrth en suite bedrooms and evening meals. The real Joy of this 'away from it' put—you-up. however, is the location. Rich in mldlrle. this stretch of ruggedly beautiful headland also boasts some fine. it vertiginous. walks and more than one secluded sandy beach.

Gairloch Marine Life Centre 8. Cruises Charleston Harbour, Pier Road, Gairloch, 01445 712636, www.porpoise-gairloch.co.uk You can't aly'A/ays be guaranteed a spotting of Minke Whale. Grey Seal or Bottle Nosed Dolphin but the trip is ilkOiV to yield some kind of water~ borne ‘.'.’li(i|li(3 encounter. An irmgorating and educational bob on the ocean “INT/(ES.

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Tourist Information Centre Gairloch, Ross-shire, 01445 712130 Tranquil and, at other times. bustling wrth fishing boats. pleasure craft. hill n'ralkers and ‘.’.’li(iili(} lovers. Garrloch is. ll‘ fact. a collection of settlements (Ill'(3|lli(} loch Galrloch. The main Village area sports a waterside golf course. a Heritage Museum (which contains the original tops of the now automated Rua Reidh Lighthouse). and an old graveyard

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RUA REIDH LIGHTHOUSE, an eight mile cliff top car ride from Gairloch, is one of the

most ruggedly beautiful wildlife locales on the west coast, as Miles Fielder discovers.

e arrive at the edge of the world at around a

quarter to seven on a windy evening. Built on

a rocky headland and exposed to storms coming in from the Atlantic to the north. Rua Reidh Lighthouse is a desolate place. But. as my friend (designated manhandler of the hire car for the seven hour drive up the West Highland Way into Wester Ross) and I quickly realise. the Rua Reidh headland is striking and teeming with yvildlife everything from Spotted ()rchids and pretty bright green fly traps to soaring (ireater Black Backed (Bulls and the (rarely seen) White Tailed iiagle to splashing dolphins. whales and even the occasional ()rca. It‘s a vvet dream for wildlife enthtisiasts. (‘hris. who runs the lighthouse with her partner l‘ran. tells us the headland is unique. not for any particular flora and fauna types. but for an unusually diverse combination of them. Rua Reidh. (‘hris tells us. is pronounced ‘roo ray". (iaelic for ‘smooth point‘. referring to the slabs of red 'Iorridonian rock that slope dovvn to the breaking \vaves.

After more than half a day spent navigating the seemingly endless twists and turns of the roads to (iairloch. it‘s time to take a look at the community life. ()r more specifically. the pubs. As it turns out. the best hostelry in the area isn‘t actually in (iairloch. It's across the hay. 20 minutes‘ drive avvay. in Badachro. There. in the snug. \velcoming vvaterside Badachro Inn vve unload the lirst of our pie-planned favourite film quotes on the locals. Paraphrasing an out of work actor named

Withnail. I tell the barman. as he shows us how to play ‘bull ring‘ (you throvv a brass hull's nose ring at a hook on the wall not easy). that vve city dwellers 'came on holiday by mistake'. He is nonplussed.

The next day we board the Starquest. marine biologist and sea cruise operator lan l-‘rench‘s modest si/ed vessel. hoping fora bit of ()rca spotting. l‘rench is a pro and the trip is exhilarating and fascinating. Back at Rua Reidh. we enjoy a bottle of red vvine as we dangle our feet off the sea-sprayed 'l’orridonian sandstone. squinting up through the setting evening sun. The lighthouse has been taking in \vildlifers. hill walkers and cyclists from all over [iurope for more than IS years. providing what they modestly call hostel accommodation (think more classy guest house). Built betyveen l‘)l() and 1912 by David Stevenson. cousin of Robeit Louis. the tovver is novv uninhabited. filled with engines and computers that fire tip the lamps each night.

To make the most of Rua Reidh and (iairloch the key is to get outside and explore the surroundings. With only one day to investigate the local area. we opt for one of (This guided walks. We are told about and shovvn the cliff nesting hierarchy of seabirds including l‘ulmars. Shags. (‘ormorants and the torpedo- billed ()yster Catchers. A la/y (or perhaps pregnant) (irey Seal basking on the seayveeded rocks is also on show.

For a short while. we city slickers feel \vildlife enthusiastic. At the lighthouse at the edge of the world.