HIGHLAND BLING – Leckmelm Gardens

Leckmelm Gardens

scottie clothWhen you drive up to Scotland from England and approach Carlisle, you suddenly realize the light has changed. A clean northern element has entered. The air seems thinner, but with more oxygen in it, and you know you are in Scotland, or near it. The clouds part, and the sun breaks through with startling warmth. There is a profusion of sea life, seals, porpoises and a profusion of water birds. The beaches are clean and pure, the water Norwegian. The mountains moan with the bellowing of rutting stags.

In Scotland you don’t wait for the sky to clear. You head out in every weather boating, hiking, fishing or, if your host has a shooting estate or has rented stalking rights on the mountain, deer stalking. If you are going for stags, you need the right kit: rugged boots, plus-four’s, knee socks, waterproof jacket, and a hat. Your stalker will be waiting by the door with his Land Rover and a sturdy young New Zealander to carry the rifle. You will take a shot at a stag target to show the stalker you are not completely aimless. Then it’s up the mountain for rigorous sport and incomparable views.

While casting for salmon, a gust of wind whipped my favourite felt hat off my head and into the water. My incredibly fit and nimble host scrambled over the rocks and attempted to hook it with the crook of his walking stick, but the river was too wide. The hat floated past and tumbled into the rapids. It was like losing an old friend.
WestieGlassy Loch Broom, the largest sea loch in the Western Highlands, is shadowed by gigantic, strangely named mountains and checkered on their lower slopes by luminous patches of the crofters’ fields. On the northern face of the hour-glass entrance to the sea stands the fishing village of Ullapool. The south side belongs to the stags. This is the end of the line. You may proceed further by ferry to the Hebrides or visit the Summer Isles by excursion boat. In the afternoon glow the village resembles a collection of children’s blocks cast randomly on the treeless shore. When the fishing fleet is in, you can drive onto the pier and may be offered fat crabs and mackerel by the burly and friendly fishermen. The piece de resistance is the Dublin Bay prawn, or langoustine, a mini lobster-shaped creature with long claws and a fat, tasty tail. These are immediately shipped off by refrigerated truck to seafood-loving Spain.
To swim in the loch you will require rubber slippers to protect your tender feet from the stony beach. The air is not warm. You wade through masses of grey-green seaweed that cling to your legs. Then you plunge into the freezing, gin-clear water. How Westielong you can stay in depends on your endurance. The young charge in and swim far out into the loch. My tolerance of the cold can be measured in seconds. I flounder out, give myself a vigorous rub-down with a towel to restore my body temperature to something approaching normal and stand there naked, on the naked beach, by the naked loch, with the naked mountains all around, like the first man on the earth, or the last.
In Scotland a fire burns in the hearth during the summer. My sons learned to drink Scotch whiskey in Scotland. A dram of single malt after dinner is taken either neat or with the peaty water from the burn. Our American equivalent is bourbon and branch.
What is not to be missed is the Leckmelm arboretum, a mysterious and magical Garden of Eden. It occupies eighteen acres on a Westiesouth facing slope on the shore of the Loch, five miles east of Ullapool. Nursed by proximity of the Gult Stream and drenched by heavy rains, trees brought from all over the world, including the Redwood or Sequoia from California, grow to massive heights at a latitude north of Moscow. New species are added continually, and fresh paths loop through them down to the water’s edge. The atmosphere supplied by the gigantic trees is religious, timeless, you feel you are treading on a virgin planet.

 

— John Hopkins
Leckmelm Gardens
Loch Broom
Ullapool
Wester Ross-shire
Open April to October
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day
Entrance fee: Honesty Box

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