A group of volunteers in a highland village have spent their weekends through the month of November rebuilding what surely must be one of the country's most distinctive Christmas trees.

Living in the bigger cities and towns can often mean you take simple things like Christmas lights and decorations for granted but for one small community in northern Scotland, the chance to enjoy a Christmas light switch on has been more than a few years in the making.

Thanks to the efforts of volunteer group Fire and Light in Ullapool – a village that hadn’t, up until last year that is, ever had any festive lighting – the Highland community will once again be able to enjoy their own Christmas light switch on.

Picture: Steven Gourlay Photography

Featuring an incredible 16ft tall Christmas tree made using fishing creels, the villagers will once again gather on the 30th of November – along with an increasing number of visitors – to watch as the Loch Seaforth, the local Calmac ferry, and many of the area’s fishing boats turn on their lights to signal the switching on of the festive light display.

Picture: Steven Gourlay Photography

Robert Hicks, who along with a team of around eight volunteers and the pier staff, collectively gave up many hours of their own time to build the upcycled tree, explained that the group had approached the local council but quickly realised there was no budget for any kind of festive installation.

Undeterred and inspired by story of Mousehole, a small village in Cornwall which draws in thousands of visitors every year for its own winter lights displays, Robert and the team looked to the success of Loopallu and the visitors to the popular music festival for donations, which along with a lottery grant last year finally helped them to realise their dream of lighting up the village’s shorefront for Christmas.

Picture: Murdo Macleod

Robert said: “Ullapool has never had festive lights before and when we approached the council, the ever dwindling budget meant that there was no money for it.

“So, off the back of Loopallu we wanted to start raising the money for both the fireworks in November and also for some festive lighting, we started the fireworks about 8 years ago and it’s just taken us a lot longer to save up to do the lights.”

“Helped greatly by a lottery grant we got last year, we managed to get it off the ground and it’s kind of grown arms and legs since.

Particularly the creel tree, one of the group came up with the idea and last year it went viral and we were inundated with people asking for advice on how they can do their own for their community.”

The idea for the creel tree, which has proved immensely popular on social media sites Twitter and Facebook, sprung from towns in the US where lobster creels are used but Robert explained that the Ullapool tree has a set design that uses smaller prawn creels, which are better for building with.

Robert added: “The plan is to continue lighting streets in the village, at the moment we are just focusing on the shore street and the retail street and now we are trying to work our way back through the village.

“We want to keep adding something every year so that there’s something new to look at and its something that becomes a real visitor attraction in its own right. Last year we had people driving from all over Scotland to see it.

“The thing about the lights is that they are so inclusive and last year all of the shops got involved with some providing mulled wine and most offering late night shopping, it was just a lovely time for the community and we are hoping to build on that.”

Last year, MV Loch Seaforth Master John Gillies posted on the Calmac website: “We’re more than delighted to be asked to be part of Ullapool’s special lights switch-on.

“We really feel part of Ullapool community – everyone was so supportive when we brought the Seaforth into service and have continued to play an important part – and we were absolutely honoured to be asked.”

The lights will remain on throughout December and over the New Year, with donation boxes available near the tree and in the village shops to give visitors and locals alike the chance to support this wonderful project.

About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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