Scottish Highlands: Ullapool



This summer, I spent two weeks staying in Ullapool, a small picturesque port on the shores of Loch Broom with around 1,500 inhabitants up in the Scottish Highlands. Before this trip, I have never travelled anywhere beyond Inverness in the Highlands. Since Ullapool cannot be reached by rail, I had to take a bus from Inverness, which took about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Although it is only a village, it draws many tourists as it serves as the gateway to the Western Isles. Large ferries and cruise ships can be seen at the port, and tourists can be seen embarking and disembarking all through summer. The village is also known as the centre for the arts and music, with several music festivals taking place here throughout the year.







Due to the peak season, I initially struggled to find accommodation for longer stay. After spending one week in a rental house, I went to the Isle of Lewis via ferry for a few days, then returned and stayed at a B & B up on the hill away from the centre. Luckily, the host told me that he has another rental studio by the loch in the centre, and that I could move over there after their guest had moved out. Somehow it all worked out, and I was more than happy to be staying in a studio facing the loch.

Ullapool is convenient as a base to explore the N.W. Highlands. I, too, used it as a base for my paper-making course in Elphin, and Geo Park tour. Hence, although I stayed in the village for 2 weeks, I did not get to visit the Ullapool museum, which was a pity.





ullapool  ullapool


Officially founded in 1788 as a herring port by the British Fisheries Society, Ullapool was designed by Scottish civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford. Although evidence of human settlements can be found along the coast and on the road side dating back over two thousand years. Some of the original 18th century buildings can still be seen facing the harbour.

However, the village is also associated with Scotland’s darker past as the harbour was the emigration point during the Clearances, where many crofting communities were evicted from their land by their landowners to make way for large-scale sheep farming from 1750 to 1860. During this period, many families in the Highlands left for the New World from Ullapool and never returned again.










Since Ullapool is a port, seafood is a ‘must’ when you visit this village, and the best seafood place here is not a restaurant, but a shack. The multiple award-winning Seafood shack (9 W Argyle St) offers fresh local seafood at affordable prices, and the menu changes daily according to what is being delivered on the day. I went there a few times for dinner, and the food was always delicious with a contemporary twist. I also had fish and chips from Deli-Ca-Sea (West Shore Street), a small fish and chips takeaway near the Ferry terminal, where they serve traditional fish and chips.

There is also a pleasant bistro facing the loch called The Frigate (6 Shore Street) that serves a variety of dishes made form locally sourced produce. And on the last night, I had drinks and dinner with a new friend at the friendly and bustling The Ferry Boat Inn (26-27 Shore Street). The Blue Kazoo Seafood Cafe not only serves fresh and tasty seafood, you can also enjoy live music there in the weekends. We had a brilliant last night there and loved the vivacious atmosphere.


seafood shack

seafood shack

seafood shack


The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn


The inspiring landscape of the Highlands is alluring to many musicians, artists and artisans. Hence it is no surprise that many of them have moved up to the Highlands to live and work.

At the paper-making workshop, I met Jan, a geologist/botanist/bookbinder who co-runs a beautiful art and craft shop in Ullapool. Ceàrd (21 West Argyle Street) focuses on locally made products by Scottish makers. You can find paintings, prints, jewellery, ceramics, textiles, crochet, carved wood and many wonderful items in their shop.


ceard  ceard





On the opposite side of the street is An Talla Solais Gallery, where they showcase practising artists across the North West coast of Scotland through their regular art exhibitions. I stumbled upon the opening night of local artist Peter White‘s exhibition and was intrigued by his nature-inspired work.

Peter collects stones from the hills he walks in, paints on them and eventually returns them to the summit of the hill they came from in memory of people who have died. Interestingly, I did encounter one of Peter‘s work when I was hiking up the hill one day (see below).








Further away from the centre, there is Highland Stoneware Pottery (North Road) where visitors can visit the pottery workshop and purchase unique pottery handmade by craftspeople in Lochinver and Ullapool. They have a vast collection of tableware, and an online shop where people who live outside of Scotland can order and get the items shipped to them directly.





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What I enjoyed most about Ullapool is that I could easily go for walks or strolls by the river and beach without leaving the village. Nature and wildlife is abundance.







ullapool  ullapool



ullapool  ullapool













If you enjoy hill walking, then a short ascent up the Ullapool hill and the Braes would enable you to enjoy the panoramic view of Loch Broom and Ullapool. The highest point is the outcrop of Meall Mor with views inland of Loch Achall and surrounding countryside.

As I walked up to the highest point, the rain cloud started to move towards the village and it was engrossing to watch from the top. Luckily, I didn’t get too wet when I descended.


ullapool  ullapool









Last but not least, a trip to The Ullapool Smokehouse (6 Morefield Indstrial Estate) is a MUST before you leave the village. Located in an industrail estate, this family run business sells smoke fish, cheese, meat and eggs, using traditional wood-smoking methods. I bought some smoked salmon and smoked cheese and the quality is much higher than what you would find in the supermarkets. You can also order online via their webshop.


ullapool smoke house

ullapool smoke house

ullapool smoke house


Papermaking with plants workshop in The Highlands


The scenery from Ullapool to Assynt


Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world. I love the landscape, wilderness, people and traditions; however, I am not so fond of its weather – a crucial element that has put me off moving up there. I have been traveling up to Scotland annually for the last few years to attend a meditation retreat in June, but I would only stay for about 1 week or less each time. This year, I decided to explore further and spend longer time there during my 6-month sabbatical. I stayed for three weeks in July. It started in Glasgow, then Fort Williams, Ullapool and and the Isle of Lewis.

I stayed in Ullapool to attend a paper-making with plants workshop at a local artist, Jan Kilpatrick‘s home/studio in Assynt, a remote area north of Ullapool. Since I wasn’t driving, Jan arranged her friend and workshop attendee, Jo, to give me lifts during the week as she happens to live in Ullapool. The commutes from Ullapool to Assynt were simply breathtaking, and I was capitivated by the sight of Cul Mor, Suilven and Quinag during these car journeys.






Jan is predominantly a landscape textile artist, but she is also a paper and mosaic artist. However, most of the courses she offers on her website are textiles related, so it was lucky that I managed to sign up to her paper-making course, which seems to be less in demand (as we were told). Since there were only a few of us, we got to know each other quite well during the week.

The reason why I signed up for this course was due to my passion for paper and interest in plants/botany. I have previously attended one/two paper-making sessions that lasted less than an hour, so my knowledge was minimal and I wanted to learn more about the technique and craft. Besides, the thought of spending the week sourrounded by nature up in the Highlands was a huge draw for me.



papermaking with plants workshop


highland flowers  highland flowers





Over the five days, we spent most of the time working outdoors as we were quite lucky with the weather (except for the last day and when the midges attacked). Being able to pick many fibrous plants and grass from Jan‘s wonderful garden and use them as the materials of our paper was fantastic. The process of paper-making involves soaking the plants overnight, followed by boiling the plants with soda ash (or washing soda) and water. Then it is necessary to break down the plant fibres into pulp using a blender, and we mixed the plant fibres with recycled paper pulp to create different textures and varieties.



papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

paper making

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop 

papermaking with plants workshop


The next stage requires a mould and deckle (you can make one using picture frame and mesh), a vat filled with water and a bit of pva glue. Then it is time to add the pulp mixture into the water and let it dissolve in the vat. What followes is the most difficult part – using the mould to scoop the pulp from the back and bottom upwards inside the vat. When the mould is lifted you, it is best to shake it from side to side to drain the water and even out the pulp. This process requires patience and steady hands for consistency, and it may take several attempts to get the pulp evenly rested on the mesh. Sometimes the paper may be too thick or too thin, and it differs depending on the plant fibres.



papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop


The final stage is to remove the deckle from the mould and place the pulp on the mesh safely onto a wet paper towel. Then you need to press the pulp down with a sponge, add another piece of paper towel on top and place a heavy wooden board on top to squeeze out any excess water. After some time, you can lift up the board and hang the paper to let it dry on a rack.


papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop


We used a variety of plants like nettles, horsetails, daffodils, montbretia, dock leaves, and grass as our pulp, and we also added some flower petals as decorations. Since the process of paper-making is the quite repetitive, Jan suggested that we try mono-printing with plants, as well as eco-printing by arranging the plants onto the paper followed by steaming it.


papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop


papermaking with plants workshop  img_5770

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papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop


After four days of making and experimenting, we spent the last day compiling everything together into a large portfolio book showcasing all the papers we made, and binded it together with some strings. We also created two mini plant books each featuring some of our handmade paper.


papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop


The five days went exceedingly quickly, and I found the workshop extremely inspring and enriching. It was also lovely to enjoy the vegetarian lunches that Jan prepared for us daily using many ingredients from her vegetable garden.

On Wednesday, we crossed the road and visited the Elphin market where there were vendors selling food and craft produced by local farmers and artisans. I learned that many artists and artisans chose to live and work in the Highlands due to its remoteness and landscape and nature, which I have no dounts would make one more creative being in this environment.

It was sad to leave this place behind, but there was more adventure awaiting, so I left feeling quite joyous and refreshed.


salad  img_5841




elphin market  elphin market

elphin market

elphin market