After cancelling 3 times previously, due to bad weather, I bravely ventured forth to the Ullapool Book Festival last week. It’s a 5-hour drive north through the mountains and history of Scotland. Fancy a trip? Buckle yourselves in. Off we go.
5 minutes from the motorway, we’re soon speeding up the M74. Onto the M73 and 40 minutes later we’re on the M80 and passing Bannockburn, a name which rings with Scottish pride. It’s where the Scots led by Robert The Bruce gave the English a darned good trouncing in 1314. It was the decisive victory in the First War of Scottish Independence. The hero of the hour William Wallace, the chap known as Braveheart to the rest of the world. His achievements honoured by the Wallace Monument, which we spot on our right.
I have to say it is well worth climbing to the top – all 246 steps – for on a clear day (as here in December (!) 2001) the views over Stirlingshire and The Ochil Hills are spectacular.
I often find that when I’m driving north, the light changes at Stirling. Wet in South Lanarkshire, sunny in Stirling. It was no different last week. Sunny in South Lanarkshire and lo and behold, just north of Stirling, the skies thickened and it began to rain.
30 minutes more we’re driving past Perth and beginning our ascent to the Scottish mountains. We soon reach Killiecrankie, the site of another Scottish victory over the English. This time the Jacobites triumph over the government forces in 1689. Unfortunately this victory is a a pyrrhic one – the Jacobite commander is killed and with it the driving force behind the insurrection.
Another 15 minutes and we’re passing Blair Castle. Its owner, the Duke of Atholl, the last person in Britain permitted to maintain a private army.
Just as we’re passing through the border from Perth and Kinross to the Highlands, the munros (mountains) of the Pass of Drumochter rear up to guard the entrance. Only faint traces of snow on the summits at this time of year. Driving through in winter is a different matter altogether.
There’s no time today to take a 6-mile diversion at Dalwhinnie, to visit the distillery, as we’re running out of time. So I’m pressing my foot to the floor so that we speed past the distractions offered by Rothiemurcus and Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park. I’ll slow down long enough as we pass Inverness for you to give Nessie a wave.
Only 1 hour to Ullapool now. As we turn onto the A835, I notice that the road signs are bilingual – Gaelic (pronounced Gallic – be warned the Scots are touchy about that!). We now begin to pass through the centre of villages and drive along the sides of the lochs. Another 30 minutes and we’re dropping into Ullapool. At last the harbour is in sight.
Another 10 minutes and we’ve arrived safely at the B&B. Get out of the car and freeeeeeeeeeze. It’s blowing a gale and pouring with rain. Seems like Ullapool is aptly named!