Feel a fresh wind under your kilt

18th August 2006 at 01:00
A walkers' paradise founded on fish. Steven Hastings finds out what it's like to work in Ullapool, north-west Scotland

What's the big deal?

There's a Safeway supermarket, a swimming pool, and a Boots on the high street.

Er, so what?

This is north-west Scotland. The most you can normally hope for is a two-shelf Spar, a dip in the loch, and a pair of wellies.

Ah, the Highlands! Nice scenery, then?

Mountains, moors and sea - stunning! And nestling on the shores of Loch Broom, Ullapool is a picture-postcard whitewashed Scottish town.

Dead or alive?

"Things happen here!" insists the Tourist and Business Association. And for a few months in summer, they do. You can catch live Celtic bands, mackerel off the pier or the ferry to the Hebrides.

And plenty of fresh air?

Straight off the Minch. If you love the great outdoors, you're spoiled for choice. If you don't, you're in the wrong place. Try hiking, cycling, climbing or kayaking. Those wanting gentler Scottish pursuits can take on the nine-hole golf course or the local trout.

Sorry, too much marking... No excuses! It's light until midnight, so you've plenty of time to clear your marking, slap on the midge repellent and head for the hills. Several teachers at Ullapool high school are part of the Mountain Rescue team.

Did you say "light until midnight"?

Yes, for a few weeks in June. Of course, what goes around comes around - winter is dark and wet. But the pubs are cosy, the whisky's warming, and because it's a working port, things don't shut down when the tourists go home.

A working port? I thought they'd all gone!

Ullapool was founded on fish. It was built in 1788 by the British Fisheries Society during the boom in the herring trade. The herring have gone, but there's still a fleet of about 12 boats. The catch is fancier now - prawns, lobster, langoustine and scallops - with most of it snapped up by posh restaurants and Spanish dealers.

What about culture?

Lots goes on in summer, but it's only an hour to Inverness, with theatre and art gallery. And if that's not highbrow enough, there are daily Easyjet flights from Inverness to London. It's a small world now, you know.

Nothing on the doorstep?

If you can tell a reel from a hornpipe, try The Ceilidh Place, which has regular live bands.

You're tempting me. Let's talk money Highland property prices have soared - you'll be looking at well over pound;120,000 for a family house. Still, cheaper than Clapham, eh? If you're feeling adventurous, there's a three-acre plot of building land across the loch at pound;145,000. Though you'd need a boat to get to work.

And some bricks, obviously.

I'm on my way!

Not so fast, Sassenach. If you're heading over the border, you'll have to get your teaching qualifications ratified by the General Teaching Council of Scotland.

Is that a problem?

Not usually. More of a problem might be the shortened summer break the year you move north. Don't forget, Scottish schools go back in mid-August.

So where can I work?

Ullapool has both a primary and a secondary, but jobs are few and far between. "Once teachers come, they tend to put down roots," says Ullapool high school head Peter Harrison. He should know - it's 26 years now since he moved up from London. Last year, the school advertised three posts - "something of a record".

A long wait, then?

Longer than most. But if you're willing to consider the Highlands generally, more than 50 jobs came up this year. Your best bet of landing one is to be under 30 and multi-talented. "Schools struggle to attract younger teachers," says Mr Harrison. "And if you can offer several subjects, that's a big advantage."

Handy hints for Highland life?

Whatever you do, don't admit to being able to drive the minibus. Not unless you fancy taking the shinty team on a six-hour round trip to Fort William.

Perhaps I'll pass... Don't let me put you off. Banbury-born Simon Gill, a 25-year-old physics teacher, has been in Ullapool for two years and loves it. "There's such a buzz here and a real community feel. I'd be happy to stay forever."

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