Don’t get me wrong, Ullapool in the Scottish Highlands is dramatic and beautiful without a doubt. But I grew up on an island in the West of Scotland; rolling hills, beautiful lochs with water the colour of liquefied ebony and quaint cottages et al were common place. I just couldn’t shift the feeling that walking around Ullapool on a Sunday was like time-travelling back to being a restless teenager walking around my home town (on a Sunday) desperately trying to find something interesting to do.
Back then we usually ended up in one of the few places that was open, a café, where we’d have a square slice sausage roll (lashings of butter and tomato sauce) and a glass of Irn Bru (made from girders obviously).
One of the first things that strikes me about Ullapool, apart from its Local Hero location, is that every establishment seems to have won, or been short-listed for, some sort of an award – winner of best UK takeaway; one of the UK’s top 10 outdoor towns (love to see who was on the list of indoor towns); finalists for Scottish music pub of the year; best use of local produce and finally, the cause of my Sunday discontent, Scottish square slice sausage champion 2008. The reason it’s the cause of discontent is that as it’s Sunday, the butcher shop is shut and I’m denied the chance to buy his prize-winning sausages.
With no option of buying sausages, we go for a stroll around the town instead. Putting my disappointment in my pocket I begin to succumb to Ullapool’s charms. The tiny centre around the port, where ferries depart to the Western Isles, is a bit on the touristy side with shops and cafés that cater for the day trippers. Subsequently prices seem a bit on the high side. But there is evidence of a more eclectic and interesting personality. One sign reveals Ullapool to be a Fairtrade Village; another advertises a Himalayan craft exhibition. As we stroll along the promenade beside soulful Loch Broom we pass inviting looking bars and a café that’s also a photograph gallery. We smile at a sign in the town hostel’s window that advises us whoever runs it has gone ‘for a peedie stravaig and a wee blether’.
At the end of the town we silently explore a small cemetery. The sign on the iron gate calls it the old burial ground, a term that seems strangely unnerving. We double back along the street running parallel to the main loch-side road until we reach a surprisingly ornate clock from the late 19th century. As this is the town of awards it’s no surprise to learn that it’s the most photographed clock in the Highlands of Scotland. Further on we pass a church that’s now the Ullapool Museum; small in stature but with a big heart and a character that captures life in these remote Highland beauty spots. The street ends with more views of the loch stretching epically into the distance and we follow it as it curves back on itself past a loch side camp-site and around the back of the town. There’s not much to see at the rear of the town so we head directly back into the centre of town to seek some rest and refreshment at a café where the prices seem less lofty.
The Tea Store on Argyll Street fits the bill perfectly. It’s small, friendly and feels real. The sort of place where I can imagine it’s really cosy to snuggle up in with a steaming mug of coffee in the depths of winter. We order something to eat and drink and casually read notices advertising concerts, exhibitions, lost dogs and lots of interesting little snippets of town life away from the Scottie dog chocolate bars in the tourist shops .
The waitress brings our order and on a sleepy Sunday afternoon in a west Scottish town I eagerly bite into my square sliced sausage before washing it down with a slug of invigorating Irn Bru.
Some things never really change.