Saturday, 1 August 2009

A Chilled Week

Before I start the boring journal bit, a couple of thank you's:

to P for her comprehensive (and enthusiastic) guide to the Hebrides
to team TTT for lodgings & company
and to the other P for giving me the push to go and do it instead of just talking about it.

Day 1 (Friday)
Finished work at lunchtime and headed off to Perth where I'd been offered lodgings by TTT. Thankfully traffic wasn't too bad so I was there by 7. At something past midnight I crawled into bed having spent an enjoyable evening with TTT & hubby and Flute.

Day 2 (Saturday)
Woken at 6 by the sun streaming into the room and spent the next hour trying not to be awake, without much success. Eventually admitted defeat and got up. After a hearty breakfast courtesy of TTT it was time to hit the road.
The drive from Perth to Skye was lovely, passing through some wonderful scenery. Just after 1 I crossed the Skye bridge and started my drive across the Isle of Skye. I now have another entry on my list of places to visit. Skye is stunning, with some truly amazing mountains. I'd allowed 8 hours for the trip to Uig, but even after stopping to do some shopping and refuelling I was still there 2 hours early. Nothing for it but to relax and wait for the boat, which was ½ hour late arriving.
After a nice smooth crossing we landed in Tarbert just after 8. Following a 90 minute drive through some amazing, and at times remote, scenery I reached the site
and parked up. The good thing with the van is that it takes no time at all to set up on arrival, so 10 minutes later I was stood on a beautiful white beach watching the day fade to night. A little later, after a wee dram, I snuggled into my sleeping bag and drifted off to the sound of gently falling rain on the roof.

Day 3 (Sunday)
Woken by the sound of rain on the roof, only now it sounded like a deluge of biblical proportions. Oh well, the forecast was rain for most of the week so went back to sleep. Woke again about 9 and apart from a little bit of rain all was quiet. After a shower and breakfast I settled in for an easy day of not doing much. For those who don't know Lewis & Harris are one of the centres of the 'Wee Frees' (Free Church of Scotland) and they still hold the Sabbath to be sacred, no work, nothing open, etc. so I decided to do the same (when in Rome....)
By 11 the rain had stopped so I went for a walk along the beach. It's beautiful, about a mile long, glistening white sand and strewn with shells of all shapes,sizes and colours, especially razor shells. It was also more or less deserted. The water is crystal clear and I sat watching Gannets circling around before dropping like an arrow into the water for fish, while the terns skimmed along the top.
Eventually I reached the end and followed a path up into the dunes, then walked back to the camp site through the machair . It's hard to do it justice, calling it a meadow or wild flowers is like saying a Bentley is a car. It is everywhere, a sea of wild flowers in all colours; great swathes of blues & yellows, purples & whites, the occasional splashes of red or orange and alive with birds and insects. When the sun comes out it is breathtaking.
The rest of the day was spent in similar vein, wandering around the beach, paddling in the surf and watching the world go by. Eventually the sun set and the rain returned so it was back to the van for a glass of wine, a book and bed.

Day 4 (Monday)
Woken by the sound of wind and rain (again, I'm sensing a pattern here). I lay there and listened to it for a while as it's quite relaxing in a way. Eventually the rain stopped but the wind was set for the day. Pottered around for a while and stowed the van and then headed off for Stornoway. It's not a huge place, and didn't take too much exploring but it gave me a chance to stock up at the Co-op and the butchers (World famous Charley Barley's). I followed that with a drive out to Tiumpan Head to see the lighthouse and watch the boats.
On the way back I drove over to the island of Great Bernera to see the Iron Age house and yet another gloriously deserted beach. The house is well worth a visit and as I was the only visitor at the time I was able to find out plenty about it from the lady who was staffing it.
Back at the site somebody had taken my previous pitch, so I'm now parked further on, with a view out over a splendidly multi-coloured field as I type this.

Day 5 (Tuesday)
As usual I fell asleep to the sound of rain, and woke up to the same. Thankfully it followed the usual pattern and calmed down after a while. Had breakfast and set off for a day of exploring. First stop was the reason I've travelled this far north – the stone circle at Callanish. I've always wanted to visit since I first saw pictures of it. I've never felt the urge to go to Stonehenge, and Avebury is ok but this place is much better. There's more than one circle at Callanish, or Callanais to give it it's proper title, but it's the main circle I've come to see and it wasn't disappointing. I was lucky to arrive as one coach party as leaving and the next hadn't arrived, so I had the stones to myself for a short while. There's a good feel to the place, quiet and welcoming and I think it still retains some of it's spirit, because it's remote enough not to be totally over-run by tourists. From the site it's possible to see the Cailleach na Mointeach or 'Old Woman of the Moors' on the horizon, but although she was visible to the eye it was too hazy for a decent photo.
After wandering around the visitor centre and a spot of lunch I headed north to visit the old Norse
Mill & Forge at Shawbost which are just off the main yet apart from a small tourist sign not marked in any way. A short walk over the hill leads to the 2 buildings which have been restored. There's no guide, no explanatory notice boards, just a ring-binder with some notes in them and a honesty box for contributions.
After leaving there it was a nice run up to the lighthouse at Butt of Lewis, next stop – the Arctic. On the way back I stopped off at Steinacleit to visit the stone circle and cairn (and get drenched – it had to happen sooner or later). I decided to leave the smaller Callanais circles and Carloway until tomorrow as the evening was closing in.
One thing that has surprised me is the variety of scenery in the islands. I'd expected it to be mostly rugged mountainous terrain with winding narrow roads, and there is plenty of that, but there are also vast tracts of open moorland with long straight roads disappearing over the horizon, and around Stornoway it's tree-lined roads. Amazing.

Ah well, time for a shower and bed I think (before the rain starts again).

Day 6 (Wednesday I think)
Woke to the sound of wind but no rain. I think this may be a good thing (or a trick). Received a text from P asking me if I'd been anywhere near the tornado! Apparently Stornoway had been hit by a mini-twister. Had breakfast and stowed the van, then the rain arrived (I knew it was too good to be true).
Decided to go and visit the 2 smaller circles at Callanais as I'd not had time yesterday. CIII is a small circle with 3 inner stones which apparently represent the Celtic triple goddess. There was a good feel to the place and I took my time to enjoy it before moving on. CII is only a couple of hundred yards away and is just a few stones which remain from a burial cairn. It had a completely different feel from CIII and I didn't stay.
After that I went on to Carloway Broch, a large tower which has partly collapsed but is still imposing. After walking up the hill it was howling wind and horizontal rain, yet inside the broch walls it was completely still and hardly any rain at all. It's an amazing structure and the remaining section is still solid (although some restoration is required from time to time).
After leaving there I drove down to Laxan to visit the art centre but it was closed, so headed back to camp. By this time the rain had stopped, the wind was down to breezy, and the sun was out so it was time for a stroll on the beach and a paddle in the surf before tea (dinner). My usual spot had gone again, so I finished up between two empty caravans, with a view over the beach. After tea I sat on the edge of the dunes, with a glass of wine watching the birds fishing and the tide rolling in. It's my last night here, and I'll be sad to leave, but I'm heading down to Harris & Tarbert tomorrow and it seems daft to come back here just to drive back to Tarbert on Friday morning, so I'll find somewhere to park up near Tarbert if I can.

Right, that's the diary up to date, time for one more stroll & paddle before bed.

Day 7 (Thursday)
The last full day on the islands. It took ages to drop off to sleep last night, maybe because I didn't have the soothing sounds of the rain, or maybe not. I woke up at 6 this morning to peace and quiet, and the rising sun reflected in my wing mirrors, closely followed by the morning deluge. Ate the last of my world famous black pudding for breakfast and then stowed everything away ready for the last bit of exploring. Apart from a couple of showers earlier on it's been a lovely day, a bit of cloud here and there, but mostly sunny and warm.
First stop today was Luskentyre, which is breathtaking in it's beauty, not too mention it's size. Yet another glorious white beach that remains thankfully almost deserted.
After that it was a case of following
the coast road round to Rodal to view the restored St Clements church with it's magnificent engravings.
The final destination was Tarbert, ready for tomorrow's ferry, and I decided to take the Golden Road. It's a narrow switchback road that was built at considerable cost to connect the coastal community. It's a road which really tests your clutch, brakes and, in some places, your nerves. I arrived in Tarbert just to see the last ferry of the day heading off into the distance and set off to have a wander around. An hour later I'd bought the obligatory gifts and mementos, had lunch and needed somewhere to park up. After a quick detour to see what was on Scarpay (not a lot) it was back to Luskentyre to park up for the night.
It's now 8.30, my phone and watch are set for 6 ready for the 7am ferry and the return to the mainland. Time for a quick glass of wine and a few pages of a book and then an early night.

Day 8 (Friday)
Caught the ferry, drove home.


  1. Oh Nigel. What an amazing read of your week away in the 'Islands'! Sounds idylic, even with all the weather! The pictures are stunning, especially the one of the beach looking a particular nice color of blue, awesome! I haven't done the 'islands' have travelled as far to a wee place called Drimnin - totally stunning in my eye. I reversed into a ditch and the wheels of my car were spread flat to the floor!!!! Thankfully the car was built to withstand such things and once pulled out by the tractor the wheels just went back into place and all was ok :-) The driving sure tested my skills .... as did driving through Glencoe! Oh my .. not sure my nerves could stand much more of been tested with such roads and with only one wrong move it could so easily land you in trouble! not very confident at the wheel so a major achievement for me. So I can perfectly understand you saying that on some parts of your journey your driving skills really were put to the test! I am sure you will remember your week away for many yrs. to come.
    Carole :-)

  2. It's Calanais (one L), Scalpay with an L not Scarpay and other less-hyped butchers in Stornoway make much better black puddings.

  3. Loved reading about your week ..... sounds wonderful ..... neil is not quite ready to tow our van in that area of the UK .....
    That Woman!

    (PS....Anonymous ..?)

  4. Thanks for the comments ladies, glad you enjoyed the blog :)

  5. I really enjoyed reading that and the pictures are just stunning indeed.

    That definetley looks like a wonderful place to visit.