The British think of the kipper as a national breakfast dish but herrings were first eaten 3000 years ago, probably with olives, and the best are from the Baltic Sea. Ullapool was built to be a herring port in 1788. Scotsman Thomas Telford designed the neat grid street plan. Compact streets and the location at the tip of Loch Broome ensure that the town stays hidden to visitors until the last moment. The arrival, either by boat or car, is spectacular.
Ullapool has a population of 1500 but compared to the surrounding wilderness it feels like an urban centre. Nobody would dare call Ullapool a village. The 1500 population now includes immigrants from England and mainland Europe. The London born barman at the Ferry Boat Inn on the waterfront is a Chelsea fan. Every home game he travels to England to watch his favourite football team. For over thirty years, every home game at Stamford Bridge, he has made the journey. If a plane flight is not available because of bad weather, the loyal barman drives a round trip of over sixteen hours. I suspect he votes for Scottish independence. These days most do, Scots and immigrants.
Ullapool separates the rugged hill ranges of Torridon from the isolated peaks of Sutherland. The coastal route from Lochcarron to Ullapool is the finest scenic drive in Britain, and the road north to Durness might just be the second best.
The Loopallu Music Festival was formed by the American bluegrass band, the Hayseed Dixies, and every October there is a Guitar Festival. Ullapool also has its own radio station. This is called Lochbroom FM. The DJ must know all the listeners. The comfortable Ceilidh Hotel was voted the best music venue at the Scots Trad Music Awards. For those who like quiet the mountains stay around for the festivals and the Ullapool Bookshop is perfect for a good old-fashioned browse. The English lady who works in the bookshop likes a chat and is either left wing or is just polite to book buyers who hate the Tories. There is also a bookshop in the Ceilidh Hotel. Each room is television free and equipped with a small library.
The North Atlantic Drift is supposed to provide a moderate temperature for Ullapool and maybe it does but the climate includes plenty of Scottish rain. The fourteen day weather forecast I am looking at today predicts rainfall every day although there are a couple of afternoons in the next fortnight when the sun will appear and blink. Climbers and walkers needing to dry out can console themselves with a day on the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway which is on the Isle of Lewis.
Fishing boats can be seen at the harbour all days, and the local fish is fresh. Restaurants that offer fresh food can be pretentious but the Seaforth Inn, Bistro and Chippy is large scale, popular and anything but quaint. It has music throughout the year and it participates in the Loopallu Festival. I do not like to listen to music and be out of my head. But, for those that do, the Chippy serves 200 malt whiskies. The fish and chips are great and, like the view of the harbour, rank with the best.
Next week, really big cables and Guinness, Valentia Island
Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.
If you want to read more about his travels click here.