Our journey from Garve in the Highlands of Scotland back over the border to England started on a rainy and misty day, certainly not the best travelling weather.
However, we had already decided to go back to the pretty port of Ullapool where we had enjoyed dinner the previous night, so the first leg of the journey was very brief.
Our second look at Ullapool was somewhat curtailed by the pouring rain but we did manage a dash from the car park to the delightful little museum there.
Housed in an old Church designed by Thomas Telford, the famous Scottish civil engineer and architect, the museum has a wonderful display depicting local history and heritage of Ullapool and Loch Broom (in Gaelic Lochbraon – quite fittingly means “loch of rain showers”. )
The first thing we noticed as we walked in was the very high and imposing pulpit placed against the long wall of the oblong Church in the traditional style of the Reformed Church of Scotland. Some box pews had been left to show how the Church would have looked in the past and the gallery where some of the congregation would have sat during services houses a good sized reference and research library.
Down by the pulpit you could sit in one of the pews and listen (through earphones) to the haunting sounds of the psalms sung in Gaelic in the traditional way. These visceral unaccompanied songs are started by the leader (preceptor) who first sings a line and this is repeated by the congregation but with much individual creative embellishment of the tune. The result is a primal cacophony of sound which surges and swells like the ocean. I was truly amazed by the beauty of this music and if you’re interested, you can hear recordings by the Isle of Lewis Singers on YouTube. .
Other things I really enjoyed about the museum were the stories you could read and listen to, about crofting and fishing – particularly the “klondyking era” in the 1970s and 80s when factory ships from Russia, Poland, East Germany and other Eastern European countries came to process the herring catch.
Also on display were a wonderful collection of ship models, a bi-centenary quilt and lots of other interesting artefacts.
We drove on from Ullapool towards Bonar Bridge where we stopped to take a look at a “stone circle” – not an ancient site but modern stones showing the wide range of different rock types that are found throughout Northern Scotland.
The following day our first port of call was the museum at the site of the Battle of Culloden, where the tragic climax of the Jacobite uprising played out. The museum brought the Battle to life and did an excellent job of presenting the events of this period from both the Jacobite and Government perspectives. There was a terrific 360 degree “immersive” cinematic display which made you feel you were in the battle ground. It was a powerful reminder of the realities of war in general and Culloden in particular. I found it chilling and devastating.
From Culloden we headed towards England marvelling at the stunning countryside and the sweet towns of Pitlochry and Coldstream before crossing the border.
We arrived at our resting place for the night – the Jolly Sailor, a pub on the Yorkshire moors not far from Whitby. We had planned to have dinner at the restaurant but it was a little early to eat so we went for a glorious tramp over the moors to work up an appetite.
By the time we got back the Pub carpark was absolutely full and we regretted not booking a table. Fortunately, they squeezed us in and we enjoyed an excellent meal.
Heading for Whitby the next morning the first glimpse of the bright blue sea was thrilling. We skirted behind the town which rises up from the lovely harbour that has scarcely changed since the time of its most famous resident Captain James Cook and made for East Cliff to the town’s oldest landmark- the imposing ruins of Whitby Abbey.
There has been a monastery on this site since 657 AD but the soaring, ghostly ruins that dominate the town today were originally built in the 13th Century, as a Church attached to a Benedictine Abbey founded after the Norman Conquest and vandalised in the time of Henry VIII and the suppression of the monasteries (in 1539).
From the early 19th century Whitby became a popular seaside resort and the Gothic Abbey became a beloved subject for many artists and most famously in 1897 as the setting for Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.
Walking through the ruins we could totally understand how these ethereal and romantic looking remains could provide so much inspiration to artists and story tellers.
Right next to the ruins is an excellent museum which has some fascinating exhibits including some wonderful Anglo-Saxon crosses and other stone work and a rare signed copy of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.
Before descending the flight of 199 steps into Whitby itself we had a look round the Church of St Mary’s – just a stone’s throw from the Abbey ruins and museum.
The Church was founded in the twelfth century but only the tower and transept date from those times – most of the building dates from around the late 1700’s.
The views from the Churchyard and the top of the 199 steps was superb – the blue sea was sparkling and the narrow lanes of Whitby and the perfect little harbour looked enchanting, enticing us to take the the well worn stairs to explore this lovely town.