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© 2020, The Boon Companion

With foreign travel currently falling into the “More Trouble Than It’s Worth” category, The Boon Companion and I have been using the brief periods between travel bans to enjoy what are nowadays called staycations, but when we were growing up were called “proper holidays”—that is, leaving home and staying in another part of the country for a few days.

Ullapool was the venue for the first “proper holiday” I can remember—a week in a caravan at Rhue Point*, enlivened by the fact that my father’s car blew a cylinder-head gasket on the way north, and it took the entire duration of the holiday for a replacement part to arrive. And it rained every day. I contentedly read through a vast stockpile of espionage thrillers, blissfully assuming that this was what a “proper holiday” involved, while my parents went quietly stir-crazy.

No caravan, this time. We stayed in a spacious self-catering place above the town, and largely avoided the rain despite the lateness of the season.

Curved Stone House, Ullapool
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© 2020, The Boon Companion

From Ullapool, we made short drives north, south or west and then got out of the car, wandered around, and looked at stuff. Very much the way a “proper holiday” was supposed to be, back in the day.

To the north is the mad landscape of Coigach and Assynt. We made a little circuit of the Coigach peninsula, lurching frequently off the single-track road at random flat bits as each new photographic opportunity arose.

Stac Pollaidh and Loch Lurgainn
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Stac Pollaidh and Loch Lurgainn, © 2020, The Boon Companion
Summer Isles from Altandhu
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The Summer Isles from Altandhu, © 2020, The Boon Companion

And we wandered around the path network on Knockan Crag, which is full of interpretive signboards explaining the geology, interesting geology-themed sculpture, and really jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains.

Stone sphere, Knockan Crag
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Stone sphere, Knockan Crag, © 2020, The Boon Companion
Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh from Knockan Crag
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Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh from Knockan Crag, © 2020, The Boon Companion
Coigach panorama from Knockan Crags
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Coigach panorama from Knockan Crag, © 2020, The Oikofuge

South lies Leal Forest and the Corrieshalloch Gorge. Leal is a “forest garden”, deliberately planted in groves of native and foreign trees during the nineteenth century, so there’s plenty of mature timber to gawp at. Corrieshalloch is a surprisingly spectacular slot, carved by the Abhainn Droma, hidden away right next to the A835. In the past, its presence was heralded by busloads of tourists wandering obliviously back and forth across the trunk road from a conveniently placed lay-by, but that access has now been shut down, and a proper car park constructed on the opposite side of the gorge, off the A832, which doesn’t involve death-defying mass road crossings.

Red cedars, Lael Forest Garden
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Red cedars, Lael Forest Garden, © 2020, The Boon Companion
Poplars, Lael Forest Garden
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Poplars, Lael Forest Garden, © 2020, The Boon Companion
Old wall, Lael Forest Garden, Ullapool
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© 2020, The Boon Companion
Falls of Measach, Corrieshalloch Gorge
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Falls of Measach, Corrieshalloch Gorge (note footbridge for scale), © 2020, The Boon Companion

West took us to the beaches of (successively) Gruinard Bay, Loch Ewe and the tautologous Loch Gairloch. I can never get these three inlets straight in my head, in part because each of them contains its own right-of-centre island—Gruinard Island, Isle of Ewe and Longa Island. The first-named is the notorious site of a British bio-weapon test in 1942, which left it uninhabitable for fifty years. The old warning signs along its beaches used to be easily discernible with binoculars from the mainland. Since the alleged decontamination of the site, they seem to have been removed—but I saw one behind the bar of a local hotel a few years, which was disconcerting.

Gruinard Bay
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Gruinard Bay, © 2020, The Boon Companion
Torridon and Flowerdale hills across Loch Ewe
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Torridon and Flowerdale hills across Loch Ewe, © 2020, The Boon Companion

On the wildlife front, we were regularly visited by a couple of young red deer, one of whom I managed to catch teetering across our patio at dead of night, investigating (and then rejecting) some sliced apple I’d left out as bait. (Calum the Stag at Torridon is very partial to a bit of sliced apple.)

Red deer calf, Ullapool
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© 2020, The Boon Companion
Red deer calf by night, Ullapool
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And that was that. Home just in time for another travel ban. Oh well.

* A bilingual tautology, Rhue being derived from Gaelic rubha, “promontory”.

5 thoughts on “Ullapool”

  1. Looks to have been a nice getaway. I don’t know what the temperatures were but the weather seemed to have been reasonable. Your self catering place looked like a nice spot to spend a few nights.

    I followed your link for the Weal Forest and the presence of Wollemi pine in the plantings there was a bit of a surprise. There was a lot publicity here in Australia when its existence was publicly announced.

    I was intrigued by the sphere at Knockan Crag hoping that it was some ancient leftover from mystical rites and was almost a little disappointed to find out that it was a modern artwork.

    1. I didn’t find out the story of the Wollemi pine until we were home again and I started to read around the history of Lael. So a bit of a missed opportunity there. We’d certainly have sought it/them out if we’d known–most of the groves are labelled.
      The artwork at Knockan was interesting, but all modern as you say. There’s a glimpse of another piece in the photo of Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh–the vertically orientated slabs at right of frame are actually supported on a low steel arch.

  2. Great photographic images from BC . Many calendar worthy .. Liked your high end self catering digs and glad you got the deer pictured at night. (they like carrots too, according to hunters here who bribe them with that )
    I think “gawp” should be “gawk ”
    The spherical rock, on first glance, appears like a giant wasp’s nest about to fall over .
    While you were there did you go into town to pick up a feed at the “chippie ” wrapped in newspaper ?

    1. The local chippie was doing a good trade, and we had it in mind to pick up a couple of fish suppers some evening, but never got around to it.

      With reference to gawk/gawp, they’re two different words. The Oxford English Dictionary has gawk as “to stare foolishly” and gawp as “to gaze in astonishment”. The former originated in the US; I’m guessing the latter is British English if you haven’t previously encountered it.
      The Boon Companion and I (of course) gawp much more frequently than we gawk.

  3. Thanks for the elucidation of gawp / gawk. I had never come across gawp . Interesting but splendid difference

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