Ullapool, Scotland

I am not sure if there is anything really special about Ullapool up in the highlands of mainland Scotland, on its western coast, that that makes it more notable than other towns in the highlands.  In a sense, all of these towns and villages are notable just because of where they happen to be, and what you can do in these places.  But we did happen to spend an evening in Ullapool and came to appreciate it a little more than some of the other places that we simply drove through.

Ullapool lies at the end of the approximately two and a half hour ferry ride from Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides.  Since we were getting there on the ferry in the evening, we decided to spend the night in town before proceeding further north towards Durness.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting there was an experience in itself. The ferry boat was huge and carrying a nearly full complement of vehicles and passengers, to the extent that our car was carried on an elevated floor/deck in the ship that was suspended from a roof, a floor/deck that could be retracted when not in use.  This was above the level that vehicles traveled on when the ship was not that full.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUllapool gave the impression of being a typical village by the waters, with Lock Broom  facing it, its harbor with the fishing boats, and the waterside main street.
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince we had enough time before sunset, we decided to find a hiking trail to tackle that evening.  The trail that was selected started behind our hotel and the steep climb started almost immediately.  It was unexpected!  Soon we were on a hillside covered with gorse, with a view into Loch Broom and the little town of Ullapool below us.  Our ferry boat was heading back out of Loch Broom to the Sea of Hebrides and on to Stornoway with the sun beginning its descent in the clouds behind the mountains.
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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe climb continued and did not let up.  We went beyond the initial destination of a bench that we had seen on the mountain from the bottom of the hill.  In the distance we sighted another challenge, the rocky top of Meall Mor.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of us could not resist the challenge.  We made it to the top of that hill.  Loch Achall came into view on the other side of the hill, and towards the north stretched a rocky plateau.  One could imagine the Cape Wrath Trail running through this  challenging terrain all the way up to Durness.  Something to consider for another day, perhaps another life.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the other direction lay the end of Loch Broom.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stopped for a minute to enjoy the view and add another rock to the cairn at the top.  We then turned to head back to town.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun was low in the sky when we got back and we set out to find a place to eat.  The pubs were busy but we did find a place to set our butts down and get a dram of the local nectar, a pint of beer, and some pub food.  After that we walked through town looking for the grocery store that we had seen on the map.  We then headed back to the hotel, enjoying the cool evening and the ice-cream bars that had just been purchased.  Folks settled down for the night to watch a horrendous movie called Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.  Some of us rushed out of the room during the movie and ran through town trying to find a good place to experience the colorful sunset that I had gotten a hint of through the hotel window.  We were not very successful.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next morning we went down to the hotel’s restaurant for another filling Scottish breakfast (which can include haggis, black pudding, sausage, bacon, eggs and beans). We then packed our bags and headed out.  The only other stop in town before we set ourselves on the road to Durness and our next round of adventure was at the petrol bunk.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spare

My response follows Krista’s interpretation in her blog presenting the challenge.

The following pictures are from our recent trip to Scotland.  I thought the sparse landscape was “elegantly simple”.  You have to immerse yourself in what you are seeing to get an appreciation of the grandness of the somewhat stark landscape.  If you click through these pictures and view them on a screen with sufficient resolution, you might get a better sense of what we felt.

The first picture is of the landscape along the shores of the mainland as we sailed into Ullapool on the mainland from Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next picture is of the landscape and the road taken during our trip to Hushinish in a remote corner of the Isle of Harris in the Outer Herbrides.  The drive on a single lane road under adverse weather conditions was quite challenging and thrilling.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis last picture was taken when passing through the Cairngorm mountains of the Cairngorms National Park.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hope one gets a better sense of the rugged beauty of the country of Scotland.

The Sun Rises Early in Scotland These Days

We just returned from a long vacation in Scotland. There were too many highlights for me to try to cover in a single posting.  It all started with our experiences in the vibrant city of Edinburgh.  This was followed by our travels around the country, including the Highlands, the Isle of Skye, and the Outer Hebrides.

Scotland is a beautiful land with a unique landscape including:
Rugged coastlines – with their massive weather-worn cliffs and their lonely lighthouses; beaches of white sand and clear blue waters; and meadows of soft wet grass above the cliffs that your feet sink into, with streams of water running through the meadows, with content sheep, and sometimes cows,  grazing in them;
Impressive rock-faced mountains towering over the landscape, sometimes with their tops in the cloud, their lower levels littered with  patches of yellow gorse at this time of year, and including trails that would  challenge the fittest person;
The numerous streams and rivers flowing through the valleys amidst the hills and mountains;

The landscape inter-spaced with its many lochs and firths lending a unique charm;
The numerous castles and ruins that surprise you at many a turn in the roadway;
and so on and so forth….

I should not leave out:
Walks and challenging hikes taken in our beautiful surroundings;
The thrill of the challenging drives through the narrow winding roads of the highlands, with single lane roads, timing yourself to pass cars going the other way in the occasional passing areas;

The experience of being at the Gordon Castle Highland Games.

Perhaps I should also not fail to mention:
The welcoming and easygoing people that populate this unique country;
Evenings at Bed and Breakfast establishments with their gracious hosts;
The family dinners at the pubs after long tiring days, accompanied by a pint of beer and/or a dram or two of scotch whisky;
Falling into a state of deep slumber at night that nobody could disturb, knowing that there was more to be experienced the next day;

Waking up early in the morning to start your explorations once again, only because the sun rises early in Scotland these days.

It all comes back to me in an jumbled and perhaps incoherent flow of thought.  Words will fail in any attempt to present a more organized picture of what we experienced unless I take a long time going about it.  So, for now, I will just show a sample of some of my pictures, with the hope that I will continue to feel the glow of the experience and am able to talk more about Scotland in future blogs.  Life will now return back to its regular pace, but the memories will not go away.

This picture of Edinburgh Castle taken from Holyrood Park. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
This picture was taken near Glencoe in the highlands.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The following are from Cairngorms National Park.
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This is the Eilean Donan, reputed to be the castle most photographed. The weather did not cooperate for the picture.
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This one is from our walk at the Butt of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
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This is from Hushinish in the Other Hebrides.
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We climbed Meall Mor outside Ullapool.
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Early morning in Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides. (I awoke at 4am that morning because I could not sleep!)
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People awaiting the sunset on Calton hill in Edinburgh.
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From the Gordon Castle Highland Games.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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These are a small sample of pictures taken.  I hope to share more of them in future blogs.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Jubilant

We were about to leave Edinburgh for home, and were having difficulty calling up a taxi to take us to the bus station.  So we left the apartment prepared to walk all the way to our destination in City Center dragging our luggage. We found a crowd in green  gathering on Leith Walk, on the route we needed to take to our destination. Without realizing it, we had stumbled on to the victory parade for the Hibernian Football Club from Edinburgh who had just won the Scottish Cup final.  The last time they had won was in 1902.  This was the reason for a parade, and much jubilation in the streets. We had to pause our travels and take shelter beside the local bus stop as the crowds streamed passed us following the players who were on a bus.

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As a postscript, the team’s victory the previous day had been marred by an ugly scene at the end of the game where some of the team’s supporters stormed the field after their victory.  Some players in the opposing team were beaten up.  The situation got out of control very quickly, with the danger of people getting seriously hurt, and the post-game ceremonies had to be cancelled.  Things were brought back under control and some of the troublemakers (yobs as they are called in those parts) were rounded up.

The Young Lady from San Francisco

The sun was out for a change and it was the perfect weather for a walk after a week of constant downpours.  The river and the creek were running high. The puddles along the trail did little to dampen the spirit, perhaps they added a positive element to the experience in spite of our complaints.

We met her on the trail while walking north of Riley’s Lock on the C&O canal towpath.  She overtook us on her bicycle shortly into our walk.  The panniers on the bike were loaded with stuff, and I remember thinking to myself that she must be riding a long way.  She seemed to be riding at a very relaxed pace.

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We found her again when we reached the Horsepen Branch Hiker/Biker campsite where she had stopped for a break.

It was just coincidence that we had decided to leave the trail to try to find a way down to the river side from this campsite. As we were walking by I asked her where she was going.  She informed us that she was headed for Pittsburgh.  We got to talking.

She was from San Francisco and she was doing this ride on her own.  She thought she might complete the ride in 8 days, but she really was not stuck on a schedule.  She was camping out at the Hiker/Biker sites along the towpath during the nights.  She was not clear yet on where she was going to stay along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP).   Her bike could be folded and she figured that she could pack it up and take a bus if anything went wrong anywhere along the way.  When I spoke about the possible challenge crossing the mountains after Cumberland, she informed us that she covered those kinds of elevations when biking to work in the mornings.  This ride should not be a problem!

We heard that she had just biked from Washington DC to Richmond and Williamsburg in Virginia.  She was really enjoying the experience of riding the trail after having been on the roads during that ride.

We thought she was pretty gutsy to do this kind of a ride on her own, and her mindset in tackling something like this was quite refreshing.  She did not appear to be naive about the kind of risks involved in this kind of an endeavor, but I could not be sure.  In the end we wished her good luck and parted ways.

This encounter was a bonus to the wonderful walk that we had.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

Is there any other place that you would rather be?

With its wondrous landscapes:
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With its everyday offerings that we take for granted:
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With its smallest and most vulnerable lifeforms:
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It is the only place that we know to live in.  I hope we have the sense not to mess it up any further!

See other submissions to the weekly photo challenge here.