August 29, 2008

Ullapool and the Highlands

August 23

Callanish standing stones
"Rose at 7am. Ate and packed for the bus to Callanish Standing Stones. Bus left at 9:15. Got to the stones at 9:42. Walked around the stones for half an hour and caught the 10:15 back to Stornoway. Took some pics of Lewis Castle and listened to some bag pipers. Walked to Tesco and got groceries. Went to the ferry terminal and ate and divided food. Ferry at 1:45. Read on the ride. When the bow hit the waves it splashed all over the windows. Arrived at Ullapool at 4:45. I wanted to finish my book (I bought five more in Stornoway). so we sat on the beach. It was an amazing book. Wrote two post cards and walked around to find a campsite. Found a good one in a park clearing. Ate chicken and noodles. Made Robbies with Muesli and went to bed.

Bookstore: £11.97; Bus: £3.77; Tesco £10.77"

The bus ride to Callanish gave us a good opportunity to see the center of the island. We were at the stones with only one other person who had also taken the bus. It gave us a good chance to get some photos without a crowd of other tourists in the frame. The stay was short and rather atypical for the our tour which daily moved at a walking pace. Still, I saw something remarkably unique. It’s fascinating to think of the reasons and beliefs that inspired such a bizarre monument. It gives me a sense of cultural continuity. Being part Scottish myself I realize that some of my savage ancestors may have played a hand in erecting the stones. As a modern man myself, it all seems quite absurd, especially since life at that time and place was not an easy affair.

We had decided to rest  at Ullapool in order to allow my foot, which was the cause of a less then distinguished limp, to rest and recover for our planned transverse of the highlands. It was sad to step off the ferry for the last time. We had depended upon it for two weeks. It had ordered our days and set our schedule, opening up to us what remains one of my favorite places in the world. Now we were finished with it and depended on buses and our own feet.

We rested on the rocky beach along the harbour while I finished The Count of Monte Cristo. We were elated to discover the large park clearing in the center of town, not far from the coast, the harbour, and Tesco. Across the open space was a strip of woods with a small highland stream that made it’s way down to the sea loch. With a freshwater kitchen and a tall grass bedroom, we had discovered an ideal place to call home for the next five days.

The first afternoon was reserved for exploring. That evening we took a break from the vegetarianism we had chosen by necessity. We also bought the first of what became a staple in my diet in England: chocolate.

August 24

The harbour at Ullapool, the site of much reading, relaxing, and eating
“Some clouds and some sun

Rose at 9. Ate power bars for breakfast. Packed up and stashed our packs. Went out on the town. Bought lunch at Costsaver. Got cheese from my pack and ate on the point. Walked around to the bookstore and backpack shop. Stopped at the beach for a while and started The Scarlet Letter. Went back to the clearing and set up. Made soup. (Got groceries from Tesco on the way.) Made power bars. Read and went to bed.

Groceries: £3.60; £2.00”

We began our stay in Ullapool with some caution. We didn’t want our belongings stolen nor did we want to get into trouble. In a short time we became comfortable enough in the town to leave our tent set up while we walked around. We didn’t make it to the grocery until after noon. It was the first one we found and turned out to be the smaller of the two in town. Since it was Sunday and since the Scots are apparently more old school we had to wait ten minutes for the clock to strike 12:30pm in order to buy a bottle of Gewurztraminer.

The point was windy, but it gave us a terrific view of the loch. One of my most distinctive memories of Ullapool is the wine, cheese, and baguette lunches. It sounds like some silly Americans who, while touring the highlands of Scotland, like to pretend they’re in France. It may sound that way, but the fact is, the Scotch was just too expensive. The day was not the most memorable from Ullapool; we were still settling in.

August 25

An old petrol station
“Rain most of the day; sun in the evening

Woke up to rain. Stayed in the tent eating, talking about my dream house and drawing until 2:30pm. Storm broke so we went out on the town. Left the tent up. Long process trying to call home but it didn’t work. Walked around aimlessly for a while. Got some Irn-bru. Walked more. Got fish and chips at The Chippy. Big fillet with lots of grease. I liked it. Walked back to the tent. Mailed a post card on the way. Realized I left my book at the Post Office so went back to get it and explored more of the town during  sundown to get pictures. Got back, read, and went to bed.

Irn-bru: 60p; Fish and chips: £5.25; Ice cream: £1.20”

It's hard to believe that we actually stated in the tent until mid-afternoon. It's also strange that I spent most of that time fantasizing about the mansion I would own sometime in the distant future. It was more or less an English manor. I drew many plans on some borrowed paper (thanks Ian). The irony of such a fantasy, entertained while crashing in a thin-walled nylon tent, only occurred to me later on. I wonder if the rough life we lived and all the reading I had done had made me susceptible to this kind of fantasizing.

August 26

“Cloudy; sunny in the morning; sprinkles

Rose at 9ish. Got breakfast at Tesco. Went to the harbour. Finished The Scarlet Letter. Dropped it off at the thrift store. Used internet 11 minutes. Got lunch at Tesco. Ate in the tent, planned my house. Got a burger at The Chippy. Went back and planned more. Had tea, went to bed.

Groceries: £3.39; Chippy: £4.85; Internet; £1.00; £2.50”

I'm embarrassed to admit that this day was basically what the day before had been. I became obsessed with my dream home. I even got Ian involved. Still, it was the rest that I required in order for my foot to heal.

August 27

Home for a while, our clearing in Ullapool
“Mostly clear/cloudy; mist; rain at night

Rose at 9:30. Got breakfast from Tesco. Ate at the harbour. Skipped rocks. Went back to the tent and laid around until lunch. Ate lunch by the creek in the park. Played in the stream: wading and skipping. Went back and played the whistle for a while. Got groceries for our hike. Brought them to the tent and went and got fish and chips around the corner. Ate on the shore. Weird guy talked to us. Went back to the tent via bookstore and read. Went to bed at 10pm.

Groceries: £23.85; Fish and chips: £6.00; £2.50”

It was a memorable day, no doubt. I think I had three giant chocolate muffins and a quart of orange juice for breakfast. Disgusting. Lunch was even better. A 1.5L bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon (for only £5!), a pound of Brie or Camembert, and a 24 inch baguette, split between the two of us of course. Playing in the creek afterwards was one of the silliest and most innocently fun times I had during my entire five weeks in Scotland. Afterward I felt inspired and played airs on my flute.

The weird guy who talked to us was very stoned. It was nice to mix with the locals. He also told us his opinion of various offensive words (he was mostly approving). Truth be told, I was glad when he finally left, despite the fact that the interaction gave us a nice laugh afterward.

August 28
Loch Fannich

Ready for wind
 “Cloudy all day, some mist

Rose at 7:30. Packed up to leave Ullapool. Bought insoles. Took the 10:05 bus to Braemore Jct. Ate something and took off cross country. My foot felt a little better with the insole. Very wet and uneven ground. Had to be careful about my ankles. Hiked from 11am-5:30pm. Saw a dozen deer in the first valley and a herd of around 10 dozen in the next. Had some trouble setting up the tarp. Eventually go it. Ate supper. Too much soya mince. Read a little and went to bed.

Insoles: £6.00; Bus: £3.00; Petrol: 43p”

I was sad to leave Ullapool. Even though our stay had been brief it had begun to feel like home. It was so ideal. There was the clearing we had lived in with only a few dogs to disturb our privacy each morning. Then across the clearing there had been our washing creek. By time we left we had a little trail from our tent to the water course. The harbour, the point, the bookstore, even Tesco had each won a nostalgic place in my memory.

But we had to move on. I tried to call home again before leaving the bus stop at Braemore, but without success. It was a wet day with a lot of midges. We stopped for lunch by a waterfall, had a  little Gruyere. The waterfall was impressive, but I don't think Ian was thrilled. It was definitely hard going. We made it through a pass and into the next valley. There was a lot of wind off Loch Fannich and this is where I devised my super-tight tarp set-up. The thing was a bomb shelter. No need to worry about wind anymore.

August 29

Ian looking for a place to cross yet another quagmire
“Cloudy almost all day; warm

Rose at 9:30. Took off at noon. It was very difficult to get across the creek. The peat mud was very deep, to my knees at least - and wide. We had to jump for it. Took a gravel road for a while. Went off trail at 3pm. It was very tough going. A lot of weaving to get around swamp. It took us several hours to go just a little distance and then we took a road. Very wet and bad for the ankles. Highway for the last 3 miles. Decided to train up to Inverness and take the Great Glen Way to Fort William. Checked rail times. Called Mom and Dad. Ate some snacks, read, and went to bed.

Cut and run, that's what we did. I have no regrets. It was the worst hiking I've every experienced. Beautiful, but agonizingly difficult. There is no dry place in the highlands, not even in a drought year. I remember passing the walls of an old stone house. I still have no idea who would have been crazy enough or poor enough to try to live in a place like that. It would have been a very hard life. On the bright side, I don't think they would have been in the path of conquering armies. Our ambitions to cross the highland from Ullapool to Fort William became comical. There was no way.

No comments: