You know those places…. the where would you rather be places? Well I’ve got another one for you. And of all the where would you rather be places in the world this one is my favourite.
I’ve been going to this particular place every year since I was fifteen. That’s forty years, with only a few missed here and there. Kind of tells you something, doesn’t it.
At the end of July the King family heads north. We pack the car with dogs and children, wellington boots and picnic hampers, fishing rods and golf clubs. And we set off around the dreaded M25, along the M40 and onto the M6. If we’re lucky, as we get up beyond Manchester, the traffic begins to thin. When we get to the stretch of the motorway that runs through the sweeping hills and valleys of the Lake District I begin to feel like I’m on holiday.
We cross the border into Scotland, pass the sign to Gretna Green, where in 1928 my grandfather took my grandmother on the back of his motorbike to become one of the last couples to marry over the anvil. On up to Glasgow and beyond. We stopover for the night in Pitlochry. Then back into the car the next morning for the last stretch. Up through the Cairngorms, onto Inverness, and we drive across the bridge over the Moray Firth, and take the road heading north west to Ullapool.
Because this is where we are heading. Inverbroom Lodge, a sprawling white house on the southern edge of Loch Broom, seven miles from Ullapool on the west coast of the Highlands. It’s an old fishing lodge, rambling and comfortable. Sleeps 20, and we’ve had years where we’ve been 20 and more, with a caravan in the garden to take the overflow. But this year the ‘children’ are all working, getting married, gap yearing. So it’s just ten of us ‘grownups’.
I start the week the way I always do. Wake up early on the first morning. Dress quietly, creep downstairs, trying not to disturb the rest of the house, put on my boots, take my fishing rod and head down to the river. The sun is just beginning to touch the tops of the hills.
If you don’t fish you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. And it’s hard to explain. It’s kind of meditation and relaxation and thinking time, all tied up with excitement and anticipation and breathlessness. Because who knows, maybe the next cast…. and to catch a salmon on the first morning would be nice. It’s happened before.
This year there were no fish before breakfast. But much peacefulness and ‘glad to be here-ness’. And after a couple of hours it’s back to the house for porridge, and eggs and bacon and sausages and tomatoes and…. Planning the day ahead. Maybe the beach, Inverewe Gardens, golf, a trip into Ullapool to potter about the shops and stop for coffee at The Ceilidh Place. Maybe someone will do the the steep walk up the hill above the lodge to the ruins of the minister’s house. Maybe someone else will decide that this is the year for climbing Stac Pollaidh.
One of the best things to do is drive along the coast road towards Gairloch. We peel off at the wonderfully named Mellon Udrigle, park the cars, take the dogs and follow the path to the coast. If you want views you won’t find better than these. Three hundred and sixty five degrees of …. well actually words fail me. You kind of have to be there….
So I don’t know about you. But I know where I’m going….