Travelogue – 17 September 2023

Discovering Ullapool

It is a chilly, beautiful morning with lovely toned red and yellow colours to the northeast, the sun now almost rising in the east because the autumnal equinox is only a few days away.

Looking at the top of the hills, I think about the work of Fabienne Verdier, a contemporary French artist who works in France after years of studies in China to master the art of calligraphy. In one of the films on her website, she cruises along the shore of the Norwegian fjords and is just drawing the skyline of the mountains with a single line of black ink. I am moved by this kind of uncomplicated, straightforward, plain art.

I am preparing breakfast at a slow pace. Cloud is coming from the south, and grey masses are blocking the sun’s rays before the sun reaches the top of the hills. It won’t be a sunny day today. In the morning, I explore Ullapool. You can walk east to west and north to south in ten minutes. There is a good bookstore, and I buy a Gaelic-English dictionary. Of course, there are plenty of online solutions. Still, I prefer to browse the pages of a paper dictionary when writing my future articles for this website about the then and now photographs referring to the Gaelic names of the landscape element, like the mountains, hills, rivers, streams, cores, glens, lochs, lochans and place names.

A few days behind, I work on my travelogue, writing on a picnic table in the open air with a view of the marina and harbour. It is fascinating to observe what is happening. A few fishermen prepare their boats for a sea fishing trip. People preparing for an adventurous sea trip put on overalls and straps. They will leave soon in an RIB, a rigid inflatable boat, with about 20 people on board and the skipper at the back. Raindrops spoil the fun of writing outside, so I go to the car for a while.

At late noon, I have an Orkney crab sandwich – what a delight – and then hit the road for the Braes to explore some Thomson photographs. As often happens, trees and scrub make scouting and retracing places challenging. The Braes is a part of Ullapool, just southeast outside the village, a steep winding road on the north shore of Loch Broom.

Ullapool and Loch Broom
Published as a colour postcard (digital) – Back of the postcard: Ullapool and Loch Broom / #733 / Logo: COLOUR W.S. THOMSON PHOTOGRAPH / Published by W.S. Thomson (Colour Photographs) Ltd, Edinburgh / Printed in Scotland by Robert MacLehose & Co Ltd, Glasgow
Ullapool and Loch Broom. In the distance are Ben Goleach and the Summer Isles
Postcard: Ullapool and Loch Broom. In the distance are Ben Goleach and the Summer Isles / No number / No logo / Colour Photograph by Wm. S. Thomson, Fort Wiliam | Collection David Pearman

I park the car and hike, looking for clues and features in the old photograph, and hope to recognise houses and other features scanning the landscape. A cruise ship has arrived.

A telecom mast towers above the village all the way up where the Braes end, from where a path leads to Park Mhor and Ullapool Hill. Although I enjoy a fine view, it is immediately clear I am too high up the hill and far too far from the village centre.

Back in the harbour, one fisherman I have seen leaving in a smaller boat this morning is already returning.

My next search is a view of Ullapool taken from the east, up the hill. After studying the map, I hike to Cnoc na Croiche, a popular track to visit Loch Achall. When I reach the top of a ridge, a few benches welcome me to rest.

I look down on Ullapool and reckon I have to go more to the south for a match, so I tramp over the heathered bog just before reaching another ridge.

Ullapool from the east
Published in W.S. Thomson, Let’s See the Northern Highlands (Fort William: William S. Thomson, Late 1940s), p. 34d.

It still needs to be a perfect match. I suspect Thomson was on the other side of that ridge further south, taking another path (does it still exist?) up the hill. I take a few remakes anyway and will find out how close I am or not when editing the images.

Rain is coming from the south, so I pack and get ready for a walk down. Because of the mild rain, the path, which is full of rocks, is becoming slippery. I have to be careful. More down the hill, scrub and trees cover most of the path. When arriving at the car, I brush the raindrops off my coat. That will do for the day. I stop for groceries at the supermarket, drive to the campsite, cook dinner and hop into my sleeping bag. Tomorrow is another day.

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