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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
And that was that. Home just in time for another travel ban. Oh well.
* A bilingual tautology, Rhue being derived from Gaelic rubha, “promontory”.