We travel to Ullapool by bus from Inverness – a spectacular journey, passing through rugged countryside – hills, mountains, silver streams of water carving paths through rocks, swathes of unpopulated land. That evening we eat in a pub where musicians and singers gather - the highlight for me a woman singing, unaccompanied, a haunting Gaelic song.
The next morning, climbing Ullapool Hill, we stop to watch a ferry leaving for the Outer Hebrides. The path has regular run-offs for water, ensuring earth can breathe when the rains come in. Ullapool from above resembles a toy town - school, shops, harbour, camping site, rows of houses.
We reach a viewpoint with a metal face which carries words that seem at one with the setting - Hills of rugged heather, cairns of crumpled rock, the loch glistens in the sunlight and the sky sends the birds flying.
Clouds grey over, casting distant shadows. Hill tops and islands merge with far away mist. Waves of wind and water sweep towards us. A large shadow moves through the sun on the hill opposite, shape changing with the landscape from dinosaur to whale.
Ullapool is on Scotland’s north west coast and lies on the shores of the sea loch Loch Broom. Exposure to waters from the Gulf Stream ensures weather mild for the Scottish Highlands. It is likely the earliest settlers in the area arrived by sea. At Rhue, a few miles from Ullapool, you will find the remains of a prehistoric round house which could have been established up to 3,500 years ago.
Designed by Thomas Telford, Ullapool was established in 1788 as a fishing village - the main catch herring. The area is cradled by hills and mountains and offers a host of opportunities for gentle rambles, hill walking and climbing.
In the eighteenth century a lot of the trees around Loch Broom were cut down for ship building; many of the trees you see now will have been planted in the last century. Landowners started to evict tenants and create large farms/estates which they believed provided greater economies of scale during the Highland Clearances. Some hill farms lost their traditional sheep and cattle stock in favour of deer, providing rich hunting grounds for the wealthy upper classes.
Men from Loch Broom were involved in the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and some died there. Many inhabitants of Loch Broom emigrated to Pictou in Nova Scotia on The Hector in 1773. The hard conditions of the trip claimed eighteen casualties (mainly children), and the settlers faced a tough life when they reached their new land.
From Ullapool you can get a boat to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides – well worth doing if you have the time. The journey passes through some beautiful scenery – wrap up warm if you want to get the full benefit by standing or sitting on deck for the trip.
Ullapool attracts musicians, writers and artists. The Ullapool book festival takes place every May. The music festival Loopallu (Ullapool spelled backwards) draws late summer crowds. To enjoy the best of the village visit between April and September, asking the weather gods will bless you with sunshine!