Day 5 Ullapool and Gairloch – January 15th

During the night the gale force winds gradually subsided, but that didn’t stop us checking out of our  bedroom window at frequent intervals to check the the van was OK. In the morning at breakfast, we were joined by others who had unexpectedly had to stay the night, most of whom had been booked onto the cancelled Stornoway ferry.

After breakfast we had a quick wander around Ullapool. As the sun rose over Loch Broom, we watched the Caledonian McBrae ferry arrive. We discovered wonderful Hardware Store in the town, which seemed to sell absolutely everything you could ever imagine – a refreshing change from the normal run of the mill high street shops. We stocked up on more bungees, in fear that if we suffered more strong winds our bike cover would get blown away in tatters. We also discovered some wonderful (?!) midge jackets – similar to the hats made of midge proof netting, but like cagoules. Fearful of the reports of swarms of small flies in Iceland and Scandanavia in the summer, we decided they could be a wise investment. We may look like the stupidest tourists ever sighted, but we could perhaps turn out to be the smartest if the jacket actually work. Only time will tell, but at least we’ll be prepared!

We then set off to explore Gairloch, a part of Scotland neither of us had previously ventured. Had been inspired to see this part of the world after watching the wonderful film by Billy Connolly entitled ‘What We Did On Holiday’, set in Gairloch and it’s surrounding area. The film tells of three small children who, when their grandfather (Billy Connolly) dies unexpectedly on a Gairloch beach, rather than tell their parents, opt to float him out to sea on a raft and set fire to him, like a Viking funeral. If you haven’t seen the film, I would thoroughly recommend it, and the stunning scenery in the film is what had urged me on to explore this area.

However, today the weather was unlike that portrayed in the film. It was bitterly cold, and we spent the day dodging rain /sleet showers. Our first call was Gruinard Bay, overlooked by Gruinard Island, where the MOD exploded anthrax spores during the war, and was only cleared up as recently as 1987. We stopped at Aultbea on Loch Ewe, the site of the World War 2 Russian convoys, and still to this day a NATO re-fuelling station. We then proceeded on to Gairloch itself, and took a brief stroll between the heavy showers on Big Sand. We were fortunate to catch twenty minutes of so when the sun broke through the clouds, so howard took as run on the beach, whilst I took some photos.

Re-tracing our steps, we stopped at the Mountain Cafe in Gairloch, a fairly New-Age establishment, full of self help and travel books, where we had a very welcome coffee.

Our final stop of the day was along the shores of Loch Gairloch on the road towards Redpoint. There we were entertained by about fifteen seals, very close to shore, clearly fishing in the shallows. They seemed inquisitive, and come over to us – them looking at us, as we looked at them. A couple of them started doing acrobatics in the water, with their fins and tails flipping over and over. They were clearly catching fish, but I have never seen seals put on a display like this before – quite special.

Our plans for tomorrow had been to visit Torridon, Sheildaig and Applecross, but heavy snow is forecast, and the locals advise us that Beach na Ba pass will be closed with the snow gates across. Consequently we will probably just head back towards Inverness, ready to head back down the A9 the following day.

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