Adventures Along the NC500 and Beyond – Ullapool
Updated: Jun 23
Join us in this travel blog post where we enjoy the stunning scenery and the delights of the Ullapool stage of the North Coast 500.
Over the years, we have explored the sections of the NC500 route several times, although not necessarily the complete route in one single journey. Indeed, our travels in this area began well before it had been called the North Coast 500. Our travels have opened our eyes to the beauty of the route and has given us the opportunity to also find hidden gems off the beaten track.
Commonly known as “Scotland’s Route 66”, the North Coast 500 has quickly become an iconic, must-do tourist route, having only been formally marketed as such back in 2015. The NC500 is actually 516-miles long, starting and ending at Inverness Castle, running along a mainly coastal route through the traditional counties of Inverness-shire, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and Caithness. It has become so popular that has been described as "Scotland's Route 66".
Ullapool is a quaint town on the shores of Loch Broom, with a picturesque harbour, framed by the stunning mountains of Wester Ross. Ullapool is a relatively new town, in Scotland at least, having been designed and built by Thomas Telford in 1788 for the British Fisheries Society. The town was built to take advantage of the herring boom in the late 18th century, but due to overfishing, this bonanza declined throughout the following century. Today, we found that this beautiful little settlement is a great base for exploring Wester Ross and journeying along the North Coast 500 route. Ullapool has some great little tea rooms and restaurants, as well as some nice shops.
Ullapool's harbour designed and built in 1788 by Thomas Telford and the British Fisheries Society. The aim was to exploit a boom in herring fishing at the time. This peaked and then, in an early example of overfishing, declined from the 1830s. Fishing, however, has remained at the heart of the economy of the town. The town is also the terminus for the ferry to Stornoway. Today, there is nothing we like better than walking along the harbour, which must have one of the best views in Scotland, and sitting on the wall with an ice cream, or perhaps a pint from the Ferry Boat Inn.
The Seaforth Bar & Restaurant is very popular with visitors to Ullapool, being handily placed right on the harbour and the ferry entrance and has a wide menu of local delicacies. If you don’t have time for a meal, they also run a fish and chip shop at the side of the restaurant which is also excellent.
A relatively new addition to the Ullapool food scene, the Seafood Shack has a small, but ever-changing menu of the very best seafood the region has to offer, served in a contemporary way.
The Ullapool Museum is set back from the harbour area on West Argyll Street and tells the fascinating story of Lochbroom's history and heritage. The iconic church building that the museum is housed in was built in 1829 and was in use until 1935. During our visit, the museum had an interesting exhibition on the emigration of the local people during the Highland Clearances to Nova Scotia and their voyage on the Dutch vessel Hector in 1773.
An Talla Solais Gallery
An Talla Solais Gallery is Ullapool's visual arts centre and the gallery hosts a wide range of exhibitions of contemporary art. Every time we visit the gallery, there is always an interesting and colourful presentation of local artists and some that are from further afield.
If you are looking to stretch your legs while in Ullapool then look no further than Ullapool Hill, which seems to hang over the town. The Gaelic name for the hill is Meall Mhor, which roughly translates as ‘great bare rounded lumpy hill’. The start of the trail isn’t well signposted, so head towards the medical practice, and take a left up Broom Park and the hiking path will be in front of you. The trail is in good condition and suitable for most walkers. Steep at the start, the hike gets easier as you reach the top of the hill. However, Ullapool Hill has a surprise for you, since at the top, you realise that there is a hidden summit and bit more to go. The view is definitely worth it though.
Loch Achall is a scenic loch nestled on the north side of Ullapool Hill. There is an easy walk along the shores of the lock which also takes in the Eas Dubh waterfall. Most visitors to Ullapool won’t know about this hidden treasure, as it is not even signposted from the main road! At the road bridge over the Ullapool River there is a turning up to the Morefield Quarry. You can walk or drive up this road (parking at the bridge over the waterfall), being careful to avoid the quarry lorries as you go past. There are also trails leading from the summit of Ullapool Hill down to the loch below if you want a more taxing hike. If you are lucky, as we were on one occasion, you may encounter a large herd of deer which call this area home.
Located in the small hamlet of Rhue, just to the north of Ullapool, RhueArt celebrates diverse, contemporary art by established and emerging artists whose work encompasses painting, film-making, prints, photography, textiles and sculpture. You may even get an impromptu drum performance from the very friendly and informative gallery owner, that’s if he is not creating one of his amazing landscape portraits in his adjacent studio.
Stac Pollaidh Mountain
Stac Pollaidh is a mountain made of Torridonian sandstone that sits proudly over Loch Bad a’ Ghaill and Loch Lurgainn. Just a 30 minute drive north from Ullapool, this unusual looking mountain rises just over 2000 feet, and there is a relatively easy, but steep path that winds halfway up the mountain from the car park at the bottom. We hiked up to the mid-point and were rewarded with stunning views. The second half of the walk gets more difficult under foot and, although we did not have time to complete the walk, it is generally accepted that most hikers can ascend the summit if care is taken.
Carry on the road from Stac Pollaidh, driving through some beautiful and, at times, desolate landscapes, until you get to Achiltibuie. This small village is strung out along two miles or so of stunning shoreline. Views over the mouth of Loch Broom and the Summer Isles take your breath away. A little-known fact is that some of the film The Eagle, staring Channing Tatum, was filmed in this area. While in Achiltibuie, we had a great meal at the Summer Isles Hotel. Always very popular during tourist season, this hotel was built as a fishing inn for the Cromarty Estates in 1860.
Join us next time when our family adventures continue along the North Coast 500, travelling from Ullapool to Gairloch.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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