Ullapool

As we are nearing the end of our time in Scotland, I can now confirm that it rains a lot here. It poured on us many times the last two weeks, with at least some rain it seems every day. We gather that this amount of rain is somewhat unusual, and while a bit of a damper on the hiking, it does make for some spectacular rushing rivers, gorges and waterfalls (even if the treacherous drives and flooded roads made them difficult to access).

We stopped on the drive to Ullapool to appreciate some of these waterfalls a bit closer up. Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Measach are impressive. I wasn’t a huge fan of the wobbly suspension bridge and precariously placed overlook, but who couldn’t appreciate the views?

We also stopped a few times to snag photos of these awesome highland cows. Looks like this guy was sick of the rain too, no?

We did little in the little town of Ullapool, and this felt appropriate.

Chief among the handful of things we did accomplish was the drinking of much Scotch whisky. I know this might come as a shock after my recent post in which I referred to the stuff as firewater, but…I’m kind of getting into it. I suppose it’s inevitable when trying to be a good sport for your husband who visits four distilleries, and tries nothing short of 20 some odd single malts. Or maybe it’s just that I like identifying scents in a drink’s bouquet (is a Scotch’s fragrance still called a bouquet?). I may be the only person to smell linseed and cotton candy in a dram of Glenmorangie, but at least I’m getting something more than the smell of jet fuel now. And the whisky paired well with our meals, especially at The Arch Inn. We went with some Scottish classics. Alan finally tried Cullen Skink (and the award for weirdest food name ever goes to…), which is basically thin clam chowder with smoked haddock in lieu of clams. He enjoyed. I tried the scallops with black pudding, which, in small doses (the bloody sausage, that is), is not half bad. But the highlight was definitely the braised ox cheek. I don’t know if it was the ox, or the Scotch, but after the first bite I found myself idly mumbling to Alan, “cheeks are so good. If you die and I have to eat you to survive, I’m totally gonna eat your cheeks.” For my sake, let’s hope I learn how to braise before Alan dies and I’m forced to eat him to survive.

P.S. For a little behind-the-scenes peek at our life on the road, and some of our not so gourmet meals, here’s a lunch in the life of round the world travelers: PB&J in the car. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many times this has happened.

We also checked out the live music scene one night, and this was surprisingly impressive. We got tickets to see Rab Noakes and Kathleen MacInnis in the tiniest venue that ever was. I was blown away by this performance. Rab has a very folksy sound, and a few of his songs are Dylan-esque. (In fact, he covered one Dylan tune). On his own, he’s great, but when accompanied by the angelic and ethereal coo of Kathleen, it’s transporting. Incredible performance. They have sadly not yet recorded anything together, but I’m holding my breath that they’ll release their version of “Two Sisters,” an eerie song about murder, that’s surprisingly sweet and beautiful.

Walking home after the show, we happened to hear the tail end of an accordion performance at a larger, but emptier hotel lounge (the Caledonian). We stumbled in and sat with the one other couple in attendance to listen to this man’s last few songs, having a lovely chat with the three of them afterwards. Our man on the accordion even played Bonanza for us when he found out we are American.

Our efforts to hike were somewhat hindered by all the rain (and, who are we kidding, all the whisky), but we were able to motivate to make the quick trek up to the top of Ullapool Hill, which offered a pretty view of the town and surrounding waters.

Practical Info

Ullapool is a popular base for exploring Wester Ross/the North West Highlands. It is a small town and easy to walk around; the often-present ferry seems to dwarf its surroundings. I can’t say exactly why, but Ullapool seems to be the kind of place where younger international folks post up for a while and work in the hospitality sector.

Transportation: We drove from Isle of Skye, taking the bridge across and then turning left onto A890; then left on A896 past Torridon and through Glen Torridon to Kinlochewe; then left on A832 past Loch Maree and up to Gairloch, continuing on past Dundonnell; and finally left on A835 and into Ullapool. Just before the junction with A835 we stopped at Corrieshalloch Gorge for a short walk to a suspension bridge and viewing platform for the Falls of Measach. It was windy and pouring much of the time, which meant that some views were obstructed but the rivers and waterfalls were superb. I said “that’s effing awesome” countless times. A bit of water made its way onto the road, but we were fortunate to avoid any of the serious flooding or landslide activity that has recently hit these areas.

Accommodation: We stayed at Riverside guesthouse (B&B) on Quay Street. Charlie is a very friendly host, it is easy walking distance from downtown and the room is spacious. On the other hand, it is styled a bit more like a motel than a quaint B&B, and the walls are very thin. When booking only a week or two out in August, our options were extremely limited.

While hiking up Ullapool hill, we came across The Stonehouses, which might be great for those on a bigger budget wanting self-catering luxury. The Ceilidh Place offers accommodation, in addition to a bar, restaurant and small events venue. Something we haven’t mentioned yet is that there are campsites all over Scotland. I think beyond the formal sites, there are liberal regulations allowing you to camp all over. Anyway, there seems to be a campsite just about in the middle of town here.

Food and Drinks: Dinner at The Arch Inn was very good. I tried Cullen Skink for the first time and we shared a delicious braised ox cheek. Jenni also began her career as a Scotch whisky taster, finding floral notes in the Glenkinchie, cotton candy and linseed in the Glenmorangie, and some sort of Christmas candle in the Balvenie DoubleWood (where I got vanilla). Dinner at The Ceilidh Place was also good and the space is maybe a little nicer, though I preferred the food at The Arch Inn.

Activities: A relatively short hike up Ullapool Hill is a perfect way to get some exercise and savor views of the town and water. We walked straight from our B&B and it took about an hour and a half. One night we went to a concert at The Ceilidh Place’s event space, which cost £9 and was terrific.

We were more in errand/relax mode here and the weather continued to be poor, so we didn’t do much else. You might check out a boat trip to the Summer Isles, one of the myriad hikes within easy reach, or a visit to Ullapool Museum.

August 17-20, 2014 (Sunday-Wednesday)

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