Starting mileage: 22415 km
Day started: 10:00/11:00
Day ended: 19:00/20:00
After being forced to spend two nights at Stornoway, we spend further two nights at Ullapool, on the other side of the CalMac ferry route, as we wait for the repairs to our wind-torn car at the local garage. Luckily, the battered suspension needs only some adjusting, rather than replacing, and we’re finally good to go – and there’s not even a day’s delay to our schedule!
Other than being the twin termini of the Hebrides ferry, and both having a large Tesco’s in the middle, the two towns have little in common. Stornoway, with its near 10,000 inhabitants is a metropolis by the local standards: the third largest in the Highlands. It had grown up as a major herring harbour – old photos show thousands upon thousands of barrels stacked in what is now a car park at the southern wharf, and a monument nearby commemorates the Herring Girls – women employed in the thankless job of clearing all that herring before curing.
Nowadays, there are factories, industrial estates and office blocks all around Stornoway – an unusual sight after miles of empty, sparsely populated landscape. There are not one, but two well-stocked delis, a couple of pubs, and at least one museum; the old part of the town is deceptively small – just when you think there will be a maze of tiny narrow streets at the back of the harbour, like, say, in Hastings, the cobbled stones just end past the Superdrug display. From the harbour you can see towers of the Lews Castle, “the Seaforth Mackenzies” who received ownership of the Isle of Lewis from King James VI. It’s also worth noting that famous 12th-century walrus ivory chess pieces were discovered on this very isle, although you’d need to pay visit to British Museum to see them.
Ullapool, by comparison, is positively tiny; it consists mainly of two parallel streets, with a small network of alleyways spreading from it towards a riverside park. The town is pretty exclusively oriented at tourism, with very little other business; there are mainly B&Bs, restaurants and tacky souvenir shops, both along the seafront and the smaller streets. Ullapool was also originally a herring port; both towns had lost their original purpose when the herring shoals disappeared from Northern Atlantic. Nowadays, most tourists pass through the town on their way from Hebrides to Inverness and further south – the leaflets and maps at the tourist centre tell mostly of that area, a mere hour drive’s away. Some stay a while to take a cruise towards Summer Isles at the mouth of Loch Broom. Only a few are mad enough to go even further north – like we are.
Ullapool has a rather unusual, scientific claim to fame, in that the rocks around it had helped to discover plate tectonics in Victorian era; north of the town spreads the North-West Highlands Geopark, and that is what we hope to discover next.
Ardmair Point is perfectly positioned, at the end of a cape jutting out into Loch Broom, a few miles outside Ullapool; the pitches – £20 per night – are right next to the sea, separated only by a feeble fence. The facilities are on the average side, but not missing anything you might need. The views are brilliant, especially towards the north, where giant black crags block the horizon, like the walls of a fortress of some Dark Lord.