Loch Sunart and the surrounding woodlands are justly recognized for their wildlife interest. For many visitors, the chance of seeing an otter or a pine marten is a great draw and if successful, will be a highlight of their holiday remembered for years to come.
This interest from visitors to the area in wildlife watching is growing all the time, and the value of a dedicated site devoted to this had been acknowledged. At the same time, it was recognized that forests were not the easiest places for people with disabilities to visit, especially wheelchair users.
Out of these circumstances arose the project to establish the Garbh Eilean wildlife hide, which now provides a purpose-built facility for wildlife watching, and at the same time is accessible to all abilities.
The hide is situated on a rocky knoll on the shore of Loch Sunart about five miles west of Strontian on the A861, surrounded by Oakwood. The site was carefully chosen to provide easy access while at the same time the near certainty of seeing interesting wildlife. Offshore lie two islands in the loch, the hide being named after the larger one, Garbh Eilean (Gaelic for Rough Island), on whose rocky common shore seals often haul out. The smaller island, Eilean a’Chuilinn, is home to a heronry and similarly a haunt of common seals.
A range of seabirds can be seen from the hide depending on the season, and although much less frequent, rarer species such as eagles (both golden and white-tailed) and otters can be seen on occasion.
Access to the hide for able-bodied visitors is via 600m of specially-engineered footpath from the existing Ard Airigh picnic site through regenerating woodland.
Wheelchair users and other disabled visitors should use the specially constructed car park 650m west of this, from which a short path suitable for wheelchairs leads to the hide.
This small car park is reserved for disabled visitors, and we would respectfully ask others not to use it, but to park in the main car park.
The hide itself is a curved design allowing sweeping views through 270 degrees and more. Windows are situated at various heights allowing viewing by everyone from children and wheelchair users to tall adults.
The construction makes maximum use of timber as an illustration of the uses it can be put to. Much of this is locally sourced – timber for the oak flooring came from neighboring woodland, with the Douglas fir interior cladding also local grown, and both were prepared at a sawmill on the peninsula. Together with the use of reclaimed timbers and a turf roof, it truly is a ‘green’ building!