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However you approach it, Ullapool comes as a surprise. From the south east you round a bend in the road and there it is, laid out across a bay in the side of Loch Broom. From the north, you crest a rise and, if your attention isn't still held by An Teallach to the south, you suddenly see Ullapool below you.
Whatever the weather, you are immediately struck by Ullapool's whiteness and by its regularity of design and layout. This is a legacy of the town's origins, being 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. By 1900 the enterprise was judged a failure leaving this nice grid plan town with little economic activity and fewer prospects. It took a couple more decades for the long distance fishing fleets from eastern Scotland and beyond to discover Ullapool's benefits as a safe anchorage on the western side of the country.
Since then, though the fortunes of the Scottish fishing fleet have ebbed and flowed, fishing has remained at the heart of the economy of the town. From the late 1970s - and well before the end of the Cold War - Loch Broom became the base for up to 60 Russian and East European "Klondykers" between August and January each year.
These were factory ships whose role was to process mackerel caught by smaller fishing boats, with the product being transferred to refrigerated vessels for return to home markets. The Klondykers are no longer a feature of Loch Broom, but for many years their crews added a very cosmopolitan air to Ullapool's streets. Today Ullapool remains home to a number of more locally based fishing boats.
The town is also the main terminus for the ferry to Stornoway, so the MV Isle of Lewis is a frequent visitor. The ferry offices have recently moved to the attractive new building on the pier, but the vehicle waiting area remains the remarkably effective arrangement of concentric lanes right in the heart of the town opposite the ferry berth. In 2009 the ferry began to operate seven days per week: until then there had been no Sunday service. Another regular caller is the small cruise ship Hebridean Princess.
As a base for exploring the north west of Scotland, Ullapool is ideal. It has accommodation to suit all tastes and pockets, including one of the best (and best located) campsites in this part of Scotland. And since the upgrading of most of the roads further north it is within reasonable reach of many parts of the region that twenty-five years ago would have needed a major expedition to reach.
Ullapool offers some very nice pubs, including the Ferry Boat Inn. It also has a range of shops from the smallest right up to a well-stocked supermarket: anyone on a self catering holiday is sure to be visiting the latter at some point during their stay.
For those wanting to know more about the area the excellent Ullapool Museum & Visitor Centre on West Argyle Street can be highly recommended. This is in the old parish church, and tells the story of the people of Loch Broom and the history of Ullapool. Finally, Ullapool boasts a coastal golf course.