Ullapool Museum & Visitor Centre, to give it its full name, stands on Ullapool's West Argyle Street in a reused church. This is the street that runs parallel to, and just behind and above, the seafront Shore Street, and the museum's location puts it very much at the heart of the community.
This excellent museum tells what it describes as the Lochbroom story: covering the lives of people who have lived and worked in this part of Wester Ross for many generations. It also tells the story of the many people who were forced to leave for new lives in the new world, either through wider pressures or as a result of the Highland clearances.
The church housing the museum was built in 1829 to a standard "T" plan design produced by the engineer Thomas Telford, and stands as an example of the many similar churches built across the Highlands. It ceased to be used as a church in 1929, and became Ullapool's Museum in 1996. The building itself seems fairly modest in size from the outside, but as you enter you begin to appreciate the Tardis-like qualities which make it seem much larger on the inside.
Both the ground floor and the galleries which wrap around three sides of the church remain in use, and more than anything else it is the depth of the church which equips it so well to serve as a museum. Most of the fixtures and fittings of the church remain, including the pulpit high on the south wall, where the preacher would have commanded the attention of every member of the congregation.
Ullapool is a great place to visit for anyone with an interest in the history and the people of this beautiful part of Scotland, and of the Highlands more widely. In addition it is intended to be, and is used as, a serious place of research. Files are available addressing every aspect of local history, and when we visited visitors from the USA were going through some of the museum's extensive genealogical archives tracing their family's roots in Scotland. Meanwhile, one end of the gallery is home to various computers and microfiche readers.
The south side of the gallery, which takes in the leg of the church's "T" plan, is now used as an audio visual theatre in which visitors can view a presentation of the story of "The People of the Loch". This gives an excellent introduction to the story of Ullapool and Loch Broom more widely.
Other highlights include a superb set of large scale model boats and ships, many representing the various types of fishing boats that have operated in these waters over the centuries. Their modern counterparts can still be seen at the nearby pier today, but as you look at the model of a Zulu type fishing boat from the late 1800s under full sail, it becomes obvious why fishing has always been one of the most dangerous ways in which to earn a living.
The story of the Highland clearances and the wider Scottish diaspora is well told by the museum. There is a particular focus on the ship Hector. In June 1773 this remarkably small Dutch sailing ship moored in Loch Broom. She was already carrying some passengers who had boarded on the Clyde, but at Loch Broom she took on board a further 189 passengers, made up of 25 single men, 33 families, a shipping agent and a piper. These were people displaced by what amounted to a wave of ethnic cleansing that had swept across the Highlands in the wake of the Battle of Culloden 28 years earlier, and they were setting out to find a new life in the new world. After a rough three month crossing they landed in Pictou in Nova Scotia just as winter was setting in. Despite many difficulties they went on to found a Gaelic speaking community that survives to this day and which in many ways is more Scottish than Scotland itself.