Welcome to Ullapool
The largest town in Wester Ross, Ullapool lies on the shores of Loch Broom, a sea loch on Scotland’s broken and rugged west coast. Ullapool is about an hour’s drive north west of Inverness, where the closest airport and rail connections can be found. Its remoteness is one of its advantages. All around unspoiled scenery; forests, mountains, waterfalls, hidden valleys and beautiful sand beaches, wait to be discovered. It is also known for its ferry terminal, which provides the major link between the mainland and Stornoway, in the even more remote Outer Hebrides.
Sunset over Wester Ross
The earliest settlers in the area, who arrived over 8000 years ago, left very little behind except scraps of rubbish, or “shell middens”. The skill of the Ullapool area’s prehistoric settlers begins to be revealed in finds from the late Bronze Age. A sword, found at Inverbroom, and a highly decorated bronze pin, found at Ruigh Ruadh, are two items which represent this skill in the Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh. There are remains of four Iron Age forts in the vicinity of Ullapool, the most interesting of which may be the ‘semi-broch’ opposite Dun Lagaidh village on the shore of Loch Broom (a broch is a circular tower fort, with three metre thick walls, found all over coastal Scotland). The site at Dun Lagaidh is unusual as a natural cliff face completes the artificial semicircular enclosure. About two and a half miles north of Ullapool, at Rue, lie the remains of a late Bronze Age/early Iron Age settlement: two stone circles and other clusters of stones that would most probably have been a round house, storage area and other minor buildings.
Evidence for the early settlement in Ullapool Town is sketchy at best. In the 670s St Maelrubha arrived in Wester Ross from Ireland and founded a church at Applecross, which he used as a base for evangelical missions throughout the area. From the 17th century there is record of a monument to the Saint in a settlement at ’Lochbroome’, which we may suppose to be on the site of today’s Ullapool. If there was a monument to the saint here it may suggest that this was a settlement the saint himself visited, which means we could date the town to some time before the end of the 7th century. The modern name of the town provides more concrete evidence. Ullapool is derived from the Norse ‘Ulla-Bolstadr’ meaning ‘Ulla's steading’. From this we can surmise that the town was settled by Vikings: who arrived in the area at the end of the 8th century and dominated Scotland’s western seaboard until the 13th century. ‘Steading’ also suggests that the site was principally an agricultural centre and not the thriving fishing port which Ullapool became in later centuries. In 1596 Ullapool’s existence was confirmed when it appeared as a settlement on Timothy Pont’s map of Scotland.
One important event in Ullapool’s history occurred in 1773. In June of this year the Dutch cargo ship, The Hector, called in its bay. In Ullapool the last of the ship’s 189 passengers, all sharing a desire to flee government persecution in Gaelic Scotland in the aftermath of the collapse of the Jacobite uprisings, came on board. The ship was bound for the Americas (to modern day Canada) where the passengers went on to be elemental in the founding of Nova Scotia. In 2000 the 14,000 Canadians and Americans, who owe their origins to these few passengers, and the people of Ullapool via an internet link, celebrated the launch of an exact replica of The Hector in Pictou Harbour in Nova Scotia.
Until the late 18th century Ullapool was an insignificant loch side hamlet with just over 20 houses. This changed following a visit by the British Fisheries Society, who selected the site for development as a base for the booming herring trade. They employed the famed Thomas Telford to redesign the entire town. By the end of the century the Ullapool that we know today was more or less in place: with its distinctive white buildings built to a grid plan. Ullapool’s harbour has been the focus of town life ever since. In the heyday of the herring industry the harbour was a hive of activity with boats arriving from all over Scotland and Ireland to fish in the waters of Loch Broom. Alas, over-fishing meant that in the 1830s Ullapool went into decline and by 1900 the industry was in ruins, leaving Ullapool a pretty little ghost town.
Loch Broom, Ullapool
During the second world war Ullapool saw a revival when the mining of the waters off the east coast made fishing too dangerous: resultantly, the industry switched to the west. Following the war, advances in fishing techniques allowed Ullapool again to thrive. Over fishing led to a ban on the fishing of herring, and so the fleet diversified, especially into mackerel fishing. Today the majority of the small fleet of boats registered in Ullapool are predominantly used for catching Norway Lobsters. The discovery of Ullapool harbour by long distance factory ships has given the town another boost. In the 1970s it was not unknown for Loch Broom to be jam packed with these massive vessels, which came from as far away as Ireland, Eastern Europe, France, Nigeria and occasionally even Japan. On such occasions the town was a chaotic, international no man’s land. At New Year ‘the bells’ would be marked by the deafening blasts of horns on over fifty ships. While the presence of large factory vessels is less and less common, visitors may be surprised on their arrival in Ullapool to find that it can be a busy and cosmopolitan town, as well as a pretty and beautifully located one.