NC500….Durness to Duncansby Stacks…. .

Well, how lucky have we been?  Sun and clear skies have accompanied us on our journey north from Inverness to the top of Scotland.  It seems we picked the perfect window in the weather to explore a section of the NC500.  It was more an NC100 rather than 500 as we didn’t have time to do it all.  My nephew, who we met up with in Thurso, said he had never seen weather like it in the three years he has lived there.  Totes amaze!  We meandered along the section across the top of the Highlands from Durness in the west to Duncansby Stacks in the east before heading south for a few days in Edinburgh.  Now, I could blather on and on, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah about the spectacular scenery and beautiful weather but I’m not even going to try.  The pictures say it all.  So here they are………….

P1130232.JPG
Looking towards the campsite at Durness, the most north westerly village on the British Mainland.
P1130237.JPG
Remains of Balnakeil Church.
P1130246.JPG
Balnakeil Bay.
P1130253.JPG
Looking back towards Balnakeil Bay on a walk to Faraid Head.

 

P1130260.JPG
Lunch stop at Faraid Head……….almost (the triangle of land at the headland is owned by the MOD so not accessible).  We could just make out Cape Wrath lighthouse in the distance.
P1130266.JPG
Cairn on the top of the hill looking back to Balnakeil.
P1130221.JPG
Looking out at the limestone cliffs at Smoo Cave.  
P1130205
Ceannabeinne Beach.
P1130188.JPG
Ard Neakie on Loch Eriboll.

P1130191.JPG

P1130179.JPG
Looking across the Kyle of Tongue to the Rabbit Islands.
P1130280.JPG
The causeway crossing the Kyle of Tongue Loch.

P1130284.JPG

P1130291.JPG
This pig had fur not hair!
P1130292.JPG
The incy wincy post office at Skerray.
P1130297.JPG
Local produce for sale at the bus shelter near Torrisdale.
P1130307.JPG
Thurso……….it had turned grey by then but was still dry.
P1130309.JPG
The beach at Thurso.

P1130313.JPG

P1130321.JPG
Dunnet Head, a fantastic place to see Puffins close up.

P1130346.JPG

DSC05861.JPG

DSC05849.JPG

DSC05865.JPG
Had to be done!
P1130350.JPG
Duncansby Stacks.

P1130355.JPG

So there we are, a fabulous week all round.

Next up, Edinburgh.

Feasgar math!

 

 

The Great Glen…. .

You know you are firmly on the tourist trail when you pull into a viewpoint to have a brew and a random man appears from behind a gorse bush dressed in full kilt regalia….sporran, belt, buckles, spats, hat, the works….and starts puffing up the bag of his bagpipes revving them up for a full blown blast of pipe music.  Nearby a small table complete with tartan table cloth was set up displaying his wares.  The canny Scots do like a business opportunity.  Although I do like the whole pomp and ceremony of a piper all kitted out in his or her glory blasting out a few tunes I’m not sure I’d want to listen to a whole CD of it.  Not in one go at least.    Needless to say we drained our cups and left empty handed.

P1130114
Eilean Donan Castle near Dornie.

 

We were on our way up through the Great Glen which, thanks to a geological fault, creates a very scenic route through the valley from Fort William on the West coast to Inverness on the East.  We’d wanted to see the Caledonian Canal, built by Thomas Telford, which links four lochs (Loch Dochfur, Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy), giving a continuous watery route along the valley floor with a few locks thrown in effectively chopping the Highlands in two.

Wikipedia informs me there are 29 locks, four aquaducts and ten bridges along the course of the canal.  The canal opened in 1822 as a shipping channel but now leisure craft and gongoozler’s like us enjoy the spectacular scenery.

P1130122.JPG
The Calledonian Canal north of Loch Oich.

We cycled from the north-eastern end of Loch Oich along the canal into Fort Augustus which was a very scenic and stress-free way to arrive as when we reached the town it was very busy and we didn’t have the hassle of finding somewhere to park.

P1130120.JPG
On the way to Fort Augustus.

I have to say that we haven’t struggled to find anywhere to park in Scotland yet as the dreaded height barrier doesn’t seem to have reached here yet and there’s just more space here than further south.  Watching the boats go up and down the four locks is the spectator sport in Fort Augustus and with glorious sunshine it made for a very pleasant afternoon.

P1130128.JPG
Fort Augustus. 
P1130133.JPG
Pleasure Boats going out on Loch Ness.

It seems the legend of the Loch Ness Monster is still alive and well with tourist attractions like Nessieland and the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition competing for visitors.  Steve Feltham has been a full time Nessie hunter since 1991 and lives all year round in a converted van on the banks of the loch at Dores.  Now that’s dedication for you.

P1130135.JPG
The Nessie Hunters man cave.

With the loch being twenty three miles long, one mile wide and two hundred and thirty metres deep at its deepest point Nessie may well be out there somewhere.

P1130137
Loch Ness at Dores.

1528480226517.jpg

One of the top destinations to see dolphins in the UK is on the Moray Firth north of Inverness.  Conveniently our friends Sam and Chris live in Fortrose just a mile or so from Chanonry Point where a pod of dolphins come to feed on migrating salmon during spring and summer.  Our friends also, conveniently, have space for us to park up on their drive so we spent a weekend in glorious Scottish sunshine with them.

P1130149.JPG
So civilised when friends have space for us to park up.

Whilst having a cup of tea in their back garden, which has a view across the Moray Firth, we spotted a couple of dolphins in amongst the moored sailing yachts.  Sam said that they’d never, in the two years living there, seen dolphins from their back garden before so it was a bit of a coup.

We walked to Chanonry Point the following day to join the many other dolphin spotters hoping to see them.

P1130146.JPG
Hopeful dolphin spotters at Chanonry Point.

Well we waited………..and waited…………and waited………….and waited.  They finally appeared but were in sedate mood with just a few sightings of tail fins breaking the water.  We weren’t treated to the aerial displays that can sometimes be seen but we were happy that we’d seen them.

Having been quite disparaging about the humble bagpipe earlier on in this blog post we now have a new found respect for all the pipers everywhere.  You see, it just so happens that Sam plays the bagpipes and gave a resounding rendition on her pipes in the comfort of her back garden.

DSC05801.JPG
The piper pro.

Fortunately the house on one side is empty and the elderly lady living the other side is deaf.  Those pipes are blooming loud.  Playing out in the middle of nowhere is probably the only place you get to practice without complaints from the neighbours.  Imagine your kid coming home from school declaring they want to learn to play the bagpipes.  Jeez, it would be enough to push you over the edge.  The chap we saw at the viewpoint probably only gets to practice out there with nothing else around.  Still, we both fancied a go.

DSC05793
Having a go on a chanter which is apparently the first thing to start on when learning to play the bagpipes.

DSC05803.JPGWell, all I can say is it’s harder than it looks and takes a LOT of puff and coordination.  It’s like holding a cat under your arm whilst gently squeezing it remembering to blow into the blowy end and move your fingers on the chanter at the same time.  Not easy but highly entertaining!

DSC05811.JPG
Too many bits and pieces to think about!

After all that excitement it was time to move on up to the North coast but not without a pit stop in lovely Cromarty on the Black Isle.

P1130150.JPG
Excellent free parking at Cromarty.
P1130155.JPG
The Oil Rig Graveyard of Cromarty Firth.

DSC05826.JPG

P1130159.JPG
Pretty cottages on the seafront at Cromarty.

Onwards North then.

Happy Friday everyone!

Sunny Skyes…. .

Well the Isle of Skye has certainly come up trumps with the weather.  Apart from one misty morning it has all been wall to wall sunshine.  So much so I’ve burnt the back of my knees. Doh!  The first thing that struck us when we arrived on Skye at the ferry port in Uig is that we weren’t going to have the island to ourselves.  I suppose that’s not surprising as it is said to be the most visited destination in Scotland.

We started our tour off on the Trotternish Peninsular north of Uig to do some walking in the Quiraing, an area famous for its rock pinnacles, sheer cliffs and rock formations.

P1130039.JPG
Views from the top.

What a great couple of days walking we had amongst the rocks then up onto the top with far reaching views across towards the mainland.

P1130035.JPG
Over the top.
P1130049.JPG
The following day on another peak.

We saw several sightings of cuckoos perched on the rocks in those two days.  I tell you, from never having seen a cuckoo in the flesh before we have seen more than you can shake a stick at up here.

P1130050.JPG
Long range shot of a cuckoo.

Further south towards Portree the Old Man of Storr, the most celebrated column of rock on the island, is a real draw for visitors.  We planned on an early shin up the hill and back before all the crowds arrived but with the clouds down over the hills that morning we didn’t see much.  The low cloud/mist did clear in and out but we didn’t think the Old Man was as spectacular as all the hype makes it out to be.

P1130064
The Old Man of Storr.

The views on the way back down under the cloud line were impressive though.

P1130066
Views on the way back down from the Old Man.

We’d started our walk at about  eight o’clock and it took about an hour and a half to get up there and back but by the time we got down the parking areas on both sides of the road were full and a steady stream of people were on their way up. It was time to move on!

We made a quick pit stop in Portree at the free long stay car park for a wander round the harbour area followed by the weekly shop at the Co-op there.

P1130069
Portree Harbour.

The Co-op seems to have a monopoly on the Outer Hebrides and Skye as there isn’t really any other choice other than a few tiny mini markets dotted about.  It’s a shame because we’ve lost the will to live in every single one of them.  It’s not what they stock that is lacking but the fact that there always seem to be member’s of staff replenishing the shelves in virtually every single aisle taking up nearly all the space with cages of new stock and empty packaging all over the place.  All their shops seem to have narrow aisles making it extremely tedious to get round other shoppers and staff.  I don’t blame the staff as they are only doing their job but why can’t they restock when the store is closed or not a peak times?  Why?!  Even Tim who is normally patience personified has succumbed to trolley rage almost dumping a half filled trolley in an aisle and stomping off back to the van.  He probably would have done if he could have found a space in an aisle to park it.  Anyway, rant over.  And relax!

With clear blue skies and temperatures in the low twenties it was a chance to cook outside again.

P1130088.JPG
Time for a few Scottish Reels with a sausage curry on the go.

I grant you it’s not often you would see sausage curry on the menu of an Indian restaurant but in the absence of any other form of meat it had to do.  Try it, we recommend it!

P1130091.JPG
A spot of magnet fishing (a 2p and a 5p were the haul of the day)!

We walked the four miles or so from our overnight stop across open moorland to Dunvegan Castle, the seat of the Clan Macleod since the thirteenth century but at £14 each to go in we gave it a miss and had coffee and cake at Jann’s Cakes in the village instead.

P1130084.JPG
A very relaxed Highland Coo.
DSC05762.JPG
Shop in Dunvegan village.
P1130082.JPG
A walk through the woods from Dunvegan back to the castle.

The following day we cycled to Claigan Coral Beaches just north of Dunvegan.  The sand is made up of calcified maerl (seaweed) and tiny sea shells.  Our guide book says that ‘on a sunny day the white sands and aqua water could almost be the Carribean’ but that description is probably stretching it a bit as there wasn’t much aqua water to be seen as it was full of seaweed.

DSC05764.JPG
I wouldn’t say it’s quite the Carribean but very nice all the same.

It was a nice spot for lunch though.  I think we weren’t totally wowed by it after having experienced the beaches of the Outer Hebrides.

A big draw for walkers on Skye is the Cuillin mountain range which has over twenty Munros to be bagged.  The Munro baggers visiting Skye for the week must have been kicking their legs in the air on account of the clear blue sky weather we were having making for spectacular walking in the hills.  With not an OS map between us though we played it safe with a lovely circular walk around the coast of the Suisnish peninsular which gave us excellent views of the mountains in the distance.

P1130099.JPG
Suisnish Peninsular.

P1130102.JPG

P1130103.JPG
Cuillin Mountain Range in the distance.
P1130107.JPG
You can buy a holiday home like this one on Skye for £190,000.

Our final night on Skye we parked up at Kyleakin with a view of the bridge.  Whilst having a cup of tea with our door open a van parked up next to us with New Zealand flags adorning one of the windows.  A young lad appeared at our door to introduce himself and we spent the next hour or so hearing all about his travels.  At ten years old he is far more well travelled than we are having visited nearly every country in Europe.  He and his parents are on the last few months of an eighteen month tour of Europe before shipping back their van, which they’d bought in the UK, to New Zealand.  Marvellous.

P1130108.JPG
Sunset below Skye bridge.

So that was Skye.  Again, we didn’t have time to see all that was to see but time is marching on and we need to get a move on.

Feumaidh mi ruith!

Highs on Harris…..Lows on Lewis…. .

Numerous rocky islands and hidden rocks make the ferry ride from Berneray to Harris quite the obstacle course.  It is, apparently, Scotland’s most torturous ferry route. The ferry was swinging round left, right, left, right all over the place to get to Leverburgh on the other side.  Once again it was mercifully calm making for an enjoyable hour long early evening crossing.

Harris and Lewis are, in fact, two parts of one island – the division something to do with a falling out in the MacLeod clan back in the day.  Leaving the ferry terminal we struck out towards the west side of South Harris to spend the night overlooking a sandy beach and to watch the sun sink below the horizon.

P1120899.JPG
Sunset on West Harris.

The first thing that’s immediately obvious about Harris in comparison to the islands we have visited so far is that it is very hilly with more than thirty peaks above 1000ft.  And we could see them too which was a bonus.  The weather on our first foray onto the island was kind enough to allow me to do a thirty mile circular route on the bike to take in east, west and south Harris.  And what a fabulous ride it was too in bright sunshine with just a light breeze.  The up and down east coast road gives fantastic views of all the sea water lochs and freshwater lochans and there are plenty of artists studios dotted along the route to waylay you.

P1120914.JPG
Views on the east side of Harris.

P1120916.JPG

P1120917.JPG
Hebridean bus shelter!

 

P1120919.JPG

P1120921.JPG
Taking a break from cutting the peat.

With golden sandy beaches to my left and rolling mountain peaks to my right the west coast scenery is superb with some interesting quirky looking holiday lets.

P1120924
Soo cute.
P1120927.JPG
A holiday let on West Harris with views across the golf course.

P1120930.JPG

P1120929.JPG

P1120932.JPG

P1120934.JPG

We spent the evening parked up at one of the camping spots provided by the West Harris Trust overlooking the beach at Luskentyre.  £5 for the night paid either by paypal or you can send a cheque or cash to them.

P1120942.JPG
Our camping spot provided by the West Harris Trust over looking  the beach at Luskentyre.

What more could you want to end a perfect day?  A cracking view sitting outside on one of the benches.

P1120941.JPG
Enjoying the last rays of the sun in the evening!
P1120940.JPG
The wonderful beaches of Harris.

P1120938

P1120951.JPG
A walk across the moor on North Harris.

After a couple of days on Harris it was on to Lewis.  It started off well with afternoon sunshine accompanying us on the drive across the peat bog landscape to Stornaway.  By the time we arrived in Stornaway, the largest town on the island, the rain had started.  We weren’t feeling the love for Stornaway in the rain so after a quick pitstop to fill up with LPG, do the weekly shop at Tesco and eat take-away fish and chips we headed further north.

In windy, grey, rainy weather Lewis is, we felt, a tad grim.  The endless barren peat bog with nothing much to break it up other than housing strung out along the main road wasn’t doing much for our morale.  We did have a nice walk though around the headland at the Butt of Lewis, the northern tip of the island.  It was misty but miracle of miracles there was no wind.  Considering it has been mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records for being the windiest place in the UK I guess we were extremely lucky.

P1120957.JPG
The community still respect the Sabbath with everything closed on a Sunday……..including children’s play areas.
P1120964.JPG
The butt of Lewis.
P1120969.JPG
Fulmars at the Butt of Lewis.

I know when I started on this trip to Scotland I said I wouldn’t moan about the weather.  But….. ..more rain followed.  The west side of the island, though, did provide a few distractions on a rainy day.  We stumbled across a Moor Sheiling built in 2017.

P1120974.JPG
A reconstruction of a traditional Sheiling.

Most crofters had their own sheiling (5-7 miles from home) where some family members, typically mother, grandmother or aunt with the younger children would migrate to from May until July taking their cattle with them for summer grazing.  A simple dwelling with earth floor, peat fire and bed.

P1120975.JPG
The simple interior.
P1120981.JPG
Norse Mill and Kiln.

P1120977.JPG

Geàrrannan Black House Village, a cluster of nine restored thatched crofters houses, gives an insight into what blackhouse village life was like.

P1130001.JPG
Geàrrannan Black House Village.

P1120985.JPG

The second house has been restored to its condition at the time it was abandoned.

P1120988.JPG
1952!
P1120986.JPG
The loom set up in the byre.

Of the nine black houses, one is a Youth Hostel, another four offer self catering accommodation and the others are an interpretation centre, museum, cafe and finally…….loos!

There is definitely more to see on Lewis particularly on the western side around Uig but not enough time and too much rain put paid to that.  We were supposed to be doing a complete tour of Scotland on this trip but time is running out as we’ve spent three weeks on the Western Isles already.

P1130005.JPG
Spotted on a bike ride to Scalpay.
P1130009.JPG
Scalpay island on our final day in the Outer Hebrides.

After a bike ride from Tarbert to the island of Scalpay, connected to Harris by a single track bridge, it was time to get the ferry across the minch to Skye.

Bidh mi ‘gad fhaicinn!

 

The Uists, Benbecular and Berneray…. .

Across the causeway from Eriskay brings you into South Uist, home to long, white, sandy beaches on the west coast and rolling peat moors, inlets and rocky hills on the east coast.  There are sooo many deserted beaches on these islands.  Waking up in the morning and rolling out of the van straight onto a sandy beach all to myself to do my morning exercise routine has been another highlight of our trip.  Swinging about a couple of little yellow dumbbells whilst watching sanderlings skitter up and down the shoreline or listening to a couple of terns squawking their displeasure at having unwanted company sure beats wiping down the sweat of the previous occupant on the equipment at my local gym before using it.  Of course I don’t do this routine every morning as I’m really not that disciplined but when I do remember to do it and make the effort it is always worth it…….even more so on an empty beach without curious onlookers making me feel acutely self conscious and ridiculous…….except on one occasion when two gorgeous coffee and cream coloured young bullocks watched me with expressions that distinctly said WTF?

P1120786.JPG
A beach all to myself:)

After our first night on South Uist the fickle hand of the weather had us scuttling off to Lochboisdale on the other side of the island to seek some refuge from the wind which had battered us overnight at our exposed position right behind the beach.  As I’ve mentioned before high winds have us praying that our roof vents will still be intact when we wake up in the morning.  Being made of plastic they really aren’t the best and the wind manages to get under them constantly making them rattle.  Tim has solved the problem on three of them with a simple system of elastic bands and suckers to hold them in place but we have one which is a wind up affair with an integral fan within it which makes it impossible for that solution to work without taking it to bits and punching a hole through a fly screen.  On the second night of the ruddy thing rattling and constantly waking us up Tim got up in the early hours to deal with it.  I woke up a few hours later to find the temporary solution in place.  Mmm, not ideal but it did give us a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

 

P1120794.JPG
The temporary fix to the rattling roof vent.

Cable ties have sorted the little blighter out now.  We can’t open it or use the fan and the fly screen is in tatters but that’s the price we have to pay for a better nights sleep and it’s preferable to a hole in the roof.

 

P1120795
Lochboisdale on not such a good day.

Once at Lochboisdale we found some shelter behind a couple of containers in the harbour and sat out the inclement weather until it was time in the early evening to visit the hotel bar, sit round an open fire and upload the last blog post.  As there are next to no trees on the islands I asked the lady behind the bar if it was expensive to import wood or coal.  She said they buy a tonne of coal at a time which a few years ago cost them £700 but now costs £1300 and they sometimes mix it with peat if they’ve cut any that year.  Peat used to be an important natural fuel source here on the islands but now electricity, oil and gas have largely taken over.

 

A couple of days later we were waylayed by the most perfect pile of peat we’d ever seen before.  It was a work of art I tell you.

P1120802.JPG
The perfect peat pile.

We had to stop and take a photo of it.  The owner of the house was pottering about outside and after checking it was OK to take a photo he very happily answered all our questions about it.  He gathers it once a year from the moorland which has been allocated to him and it takes six people just one day to cut enough peat to supply his home with free energy for cooking, hot water and heat for an entire year.  After it’s cut it’ll take him three to four days of numerous trips to get it back to the house where he spends the next two weeks of his spare time building his masterpiece to dry it out before it can be used.  Marvellous.  The actual pile in the pictures is half of what it was and he showed us a framed picture of the completed work of art.

 

P1120801.JPGHe also told us all about how the peat is cut and showed us the tools they use which he keeps submerged in water all year round.  We were so glad we stopped and it is good to see an old tradition alive and well.

DSC05662

Two consecutive days of clear dry weather had us out on the bikes again.  Apart from the punishing wind it really is a great place for cyclists and we’ve seen many a happy smiling cycle tourer blasting along with a tail wind heading north.  Those heading south are generally grimacing but I’m sure they’re enjoying every minute of it.  For us, as we are doing circular routes or out and back routes, it’s fifty fifty for the wind with or against us…..grimace on the way out and smile on the way back.

P1120805.JPG
Loch Druidibeag.
P1120810.JPG
Shetland ponies?  Not being a pony afficianado I wouldn’t know.
P1120806
Overlooking Loch Sgiopoirt.
P1120827.JPG
Shame about the car in front!
P1120825
A novel way to hold down the wire netting covering the thatch.

A day of walking followed where we had intended to walk to Uisinis Bothy and back on the eastern side of the island but was curtailed when we realised, when the path fizzled out after an hour or so, that we’d taken the wrong fork earlier on so retraced our steps and spent a while listening to the birds over a long lunch overlooking the sea.

P1120830.JPG
Peat cutting.

P1120836.JPG

P1120841.JPG
Striding out on the wrong path to reach the bothy…..or not reach the bothy.
P1120840.JPG
Overlooking Loch Sgiopoirt again.

 

P1120843.JPG

P1120848.JPG
Ah well, back after retracing our steps to just relax and listen to the birds.  We saw two cuckoos here.  We’ve heard them often enough but it’s the first time we had actually seen a cuckoo in the flesh.

The cycle of the weather has been such that a couple of days of decent weather have been followed by a wet and wild one.  Either a library or a museum come in handy on those days.  The Kildonan Museum on the A865 is a very pleasant place to while away an hour or so followed by coffee and cake in the attached cafe.  It tells the story of Island life through its exhibits, collections and pictures.

DSC05663 (1)
Another restored croft house.

Benbecula gets quite an unkind write up by our guide saying ‘the only reason to come to Balivanich, Benbecula’s grim, grey capital, is if you are flying into or out of Benbecula airport, or you need an ATM or supermarket’. As the weather had closed in again with mist and drizzle I confess we did what most people probably do and that is drive straight across it to get to North Uist.  It is apparently pancake flat but we couldn’t tell as the mist denied us seeing it.  We did stop at the Co-op to do our weekly shop though to spread our spending on all the islands less one feel left out.

North Uist is more of the same landscapes as we had seen on South island but I don’t mean that in any disparaging way at all but I’m running out of superlatives to describe how fabulous these islands are.

P1120849.JPG
Moorcroft Campsite on North Uist.  They’ve thought of everything here.  Well kept grounds, spotless facilities, campers kitchen,  washing machine, tumble dryer, bunkhouse and three little hobbit houses to hire. 

You see some curious things when out either walking or cycling.  From a couple of fields away, through the binoculars, I spotted a sheep with all four legs in the air.  I dimly remember reading something somewhere that said if a sheep is on its back then it’s not that way deliberately and will die if it’s not turned over.   Well we got to her and got her turned over but she was too weak to get up so we went to the nearest house to let them know.

P1120800.JPG
If you see a sheep in this position it needs to be turned over.

The very friendly lady who answered went next door to talk to who she thought was the owner.  We didn’t linger around as there wasn’t anything else we could do so hopefully she was saved.  I looked it up later and, when the sheep is in the upside down position like that, it’s the gasses in their stomach from all that grass eating that swell up and eventually press on their lungs eventually suffocating them.  They don’t get into that position on purpose but it can happen if they are carrying lambs or their fleece is heavy with water.

P1120853
Traigh Ear beach when the tide is out.

Another curious sight also involving sheep happened after we’d done a long walk around the peninsular at Granitote.  Traigh Ear beach at low tide is a vast expanse of hard packed sand.  Just as we were finishing our walk we watched a ewe with her two lambs trailing behind her wander down onto the beach.  She then just kept going.  And going .  And going.  She was on a mission.  She must have walked a mile or so to get to the grass on the other side of the bay.  Obviously ‘the grass is greener’ isn’t just a human thing after all.

P1120865.JPG
Traigh Udal beach – that’s Tim in the middle above the seaweed line!

Later, when the tide had come in creating a vast expanse of knee deep water, the farmer with his dogs, rounded up his flock and walked them all down into the water where the dogs held them there for about ten minutes or so.  They were only in up to their knees so I doubt it was a swimming lesson. The dogs looked to be thoroughly enjoying racing around in the water making sure they kept together.  They then all ambled back up the beach to recommence eating grass.  Maybe the salt water stops them getting foot rot?

 

P1120870.JPG
It was polystyrene but it was still quite heavy!

The final island before getting the ferry across to Harris is Berneray linked by a causeway to North Uist.

DSC05671.JPG
Berneray.

It is just a wee thing measuring two miles by three, with a population of just 140.  It is just delightful.  I think it could be my favourite island so far.  Mind you, that could be because the constant blasting wind we have had everyday had finally tempered down to a light breeze and we could actually hear the silence .  I even had a burnt face by the end of the day.  Sun burn in the Outer Hebrides.  Who’d have thought?

P1120887.JPG
Restored Black houses.

P1120889.JPGThe little museum run by volunteers tells the story of island life with hundreds of donated photos to peruse.  Seals bask off the rocks close into the shore without seemingly a care in the world.

DSC05674.JPG
Who couldn’t love a seal?

As our friend Chris would say………..happiness on a stick!

Time for a ferry ride to Harris and Lewis, the last island we’ll be exploring on the Outer Hebrides.

Feumaidh mi ruith!

 

       

 

 

 

Eriskay…. .

The forty minute boat ride to Eriskay with a tail wind and sunny skies, making it actually pleasantly warm out on deck, proved to be a very enjoyable one with seals spotted basking off the rocks.  Such is the fickle nature of the weather here that the ferries were cancelled the following morning due to inclement conditions (aka: it was blowing an absolute hooly).  If you get some bright weather here you have to make the most of it immediately as it’s sure to change in a matter of hours…….or minutes.  I’m not whinging, just making an observation.

 

P1120773
A dozen or so seals came into the beach for more sheltered waters.

In the week or so we have been on the islands we have had sunshine, wind, rain, wind, cloud, wind, mist, wind, drizzle, wind, sunshine, wind and wind.  As you can see the wind has been the only consistent element within the mix.  The windswept look is definitely ‘in’ up here.  Again, I’m not moaning I’m just letting you all know that even though it looks all sunny skies in the photos they don’t portray the full picture so to speak.  I’m not about to go out taking pictures of greyness just to show the other side of the weather and anyway even if I’d wanted to I can barely get the door of the van open at such times.  It’s too windy.

P1120769.JPG
I wonder how much washing is lost to the wind on the Islands?

On these occasions (about fifty fifty so far) you’ll find us hunkered down in the van, in our sleeping bags, reading our kindles whilst gently swaying in the gusts.  ‘3’ doesn’t seem to have reached the islands as our mifi hasn’t had a signal since we have been here.  It has actually been really good for me to have an enforced lay-off from the internet as I’ve enjoyed reading a whole lot more when I’m not constantly distracted by the thoughts of ‘oh, I just need to look up such and such’.  There’s too much else to look at anyway.  For example, last night I spent a good couple of hours just enjoying watching two Hebridean lambs frolicking around together on the grass outside the van.  They were having a whale of a time skipping around playing together it was just a joy to watch them.  It had me thinking out loud ‘do only lambs miss out if they don’t have a sibling or do they make friends with other lambs’………..’what, like on Fleecebook’………..très drole Tim, très drole.  The two were joined by another two later in the evening which, I guess, answered that question.

P1120792.JPG
The quartet of quadrupeds who kept me entertained for a couple of hours (photo take from inside the van on South Uist late into the evening).

Back to Eriskay.  Although only measuring just over two miles by one it does have some interesting stories to tell.  Probably the most famous was the sinking of the SS Politician in 1941 on her way from Liverpool to Jamaica which inspired Compton Mackenzie’s book Whisky Galore.  264 000 bottles of whiskey were on board at the time.  Great, finders keepers thought the islanders but Custom and Excise officers thought otherwise and nineteen islanders were found guilty of illegal possession and imprisoned in Inverness.

P1120745.JPG
View to South Uist from Eriskay.

The only pub on the island, the Am Politician, has one of the original bottles.  An Olde Worlde pub it is not but it is welcoming and has a conservatory that heats up nicely when the sun is out which it was when we were there.  Handily, it also has free wifi which was pretty fast so I could upload my photos and the last blog post.  If you have a dog though there is no room at the inn as they aren’t allowed in which is a shame as with all those deserted beaches to play on I can see why dogs would choose the islands as a holiday destination.  Equally the Polachar pub on South Uist (owned by the same people I think) doesn’t allow dogs in either which is a shame if you are either a dog, have a dog or are a dog lover.

P1120752.JPG
More fabulous beaches and coastline.

As an aside, we went to the only pub on Barra at Castlebay and hardly flinched when we were charged £9.80 for two pints as we thought it must be the going rate for the islands.  Later though, and after a change of barman, we were charged £7.20 for two pints of the same beer.  Mmm, odd.  After being charged £6.80 for two pints in the Am Politician the beer barometer says that £9.80 was extortionate and we will be more vigilant next time.

P1120759.JPG
The Post Office within the well stocked village shop which also has a tiny coffee shop.

Another of Eriskay’s claims to fame is that Prince Edward Charles Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie to his friends, landed on the islands main beach in July 1745 at the start of his campaign to regain the throne of Great Britain.  Following his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746 he fled into hiding on the Outer Hebrides with a price of £30 000 on his head.  After a couple of months keeping a low profile he escaped to the Isle of Skye helped at great personal risk by Flora MacDonald.  You can follow his story by visiting various places associated with him on the islands along the Bonnie Prince Charlie Trail.

P1120747.JPG
Another lovely, simple Hebridean dwelling.

We walked up to the top of Ben Sciathan, the islands highest point, which gives views as far as the islands of Skye, Rhùm, Tiree and Coll.  We were lucky to have clear weather even if it was a tad blowy.   The semi wild Eriskay ponies that roam free on the island can, apparently, often be spotted grazing in the centre of the island around Loch Crakavaig which is the islands only source of fresh water.  Alas, we didn’t spot them.

 

P1120742
Views towards the causeway which has linked Eriskay to South Uist since 2001.

So that’s Eriskay.  Onwards now across the causeway to South Uist.

P1120770.JPG
Not a sign you see everyday 🙂 

Feasgar math!

The Outer Hebrides…. .

Arriving on the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond just north of Balloch on a calm day in bright sunshine I just thought why?  WHY?  WHHYYY?  Why have I never been to Scotland before now?   What have I been doing all my life to not have experienced this before?  What was the matter with me?  I’ve been all over England and Wales and parts of Southern Ireland so why did I leave out Scotland?  Strolling along the Loch shore into Balloch I started to lament all the missed opportunities over the years.

P1120651
A tranquil Loch Lomond.

With all the rugged hills in the distance contrasting with the stillness of the loch I almost felt like I’d found my spiritual home.  I’d been living half a century in the Westcountry when I should have been born in Scotland!

P1120650.JPG
The sea plane comes in for a smooth landing.

Two days later my questions were answered.  Scotland isn’t green for no reason.  Plenty of rain helps to keep it the way it is.  After a bracing windy walk across the hills near Oban the rain came in and stayed for twenty four hours.  Ah yes, I remember now, that was why I’d never been to Scotland before, the unpredictable weather.

P1120653.JPG
The ferry bound for Barra at Oban.

Living in the South West it’s a looong drive to the Highlands and every time we’d mooted about doing a tour of Scotland for a one or two week holiday we’d always decided against playing Russian roulette with the weather and opted to visit areas closer to home.  Why we were put off by the drive really is beyond me as Tim had many a family holiday in the Highlands in his younger days travelling from Devon with half a dozen other family members crammed into a Hillman Imp borrowed from the next door neighbour!  With more modern transport and road networks it’s hardly the end of the earth but we always found an excuse to go somewhere closer to home.

We had originally planned to ‘do’ Scotland last year but chickened out and went chasing the sun instead.  This year, though, we are ready for it!  Fear not, I am not going to be a whining, whinging, moaning Minnie about the weather whilst we are here.  We are embracing Scotland and all the wild weather it has to throw at us.  The waterproofs are out, we’re layered up and we are ready.

Our first stop in Oban served as a jumping off point for visiting the islands of the Outer Hebrides.  Over two hundred islands make up the Western Isles as they are officially known with just a handful being inhabited by the 28000 or so hardy residents. The plan for the first couple of weeks is to island hop our way from South to North taking in the islands of Barra, Eriskay, Benbecula, South Uist, North Uist, Harris and Lewis before jumping across to the Isle of Skye for a week or so.

P1120655.JPG
Leaving Oban.

Although I usually HATE trips by ferry I was actually quite looking forward to the nearly five hour journey to Barra across the Minch at the southern end of the Isles as for the first half of the journey the boat meanders through a narrow stretch of water flanked on one side by the coast of Western Scotland and on the other by the islands of Mull and Coll.  We’d been lucky that the weather had cleared up and was clear and sunny for the trip over giving us fabulous views all around.  Once out into the open sea though my queasiness took over and I spent much of the time outside on deck trying not to bring up the contents of my lunch.

Arriving on the island in the early evening it struck us almost immediately that the bobble hat is alive and well on Barra.  They are everywhere!  Barra is certainly a bijou island at just eight miles long by four miles wide but it is known as the Western Isles in miniature boasting sandy beaches backed by machair, Gaelic culture, prehistoric ruins and a few mountains thrown in for good measure……….and……..quicksand!

P1120705.JPG

Over the last week we have got out to explore Barra by boot and by bike.  Nearly all the roads are single track but with passing places every few hundred metres or so and little island traffic it has been completely stress free getting from place to place.  Everyone seems to drive at a sensible speed and gives a little wave on passing which is all very civilised and a welcome change from our usual type of driving.

P1120696.JPG
Island residents.
P1120702.JPG
A walk on the western side of the island.

P1120703.JPGOne of the islands claim to fame is that the airport that sits on the edge of Traigh Mhór bay is the only beach runway in the world receiving scheduled flights.  It is quite the attraction.  The runway is tide dependant and the public aren’t allowed on the beach when the windsocks are flying.  Whilst we were walking on the other beach behind the airport a little twin otter plane circled above us in the squally wind and rain getting ready to land but because the dunes are in the way obscuring our view we didn’t see it touch down on the sand.  When we  arrived at the airport cafe fifteen minutes later, the place alive with steaming waterproofs and steaming people, the three cheery ladies working at the cafe were  belting out Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will survive’.  I guess it must have been a bit of a bumpy landing.

P1120663.JPG
The only scheduled flights in the world to land on a beach.
P1120664.JPG
The tide goes out a looong way.

The plane taxis right up to the airport building to drop off its passengers where they can then take a short walk to the bus shelter around the side of the building which also doubles up as the baggage reclaim.  Fantastic.

P1120665.JPG
Be careful not to slip on the seaweed as you exit the plane.
P1120669.JPG
The baggage handlers go to work.
P1120716.JPG
Also doubles up as the bus shelter!

We whiled away a couple of hours over coffee and cake drying out and soaking up the jovial atmosphere of the place only leaving after the plane had taken off again.

We’ve tramped around various areas of the island in some interesting wild weather but we’ve enjoyed every minute of it.  The beaches are some of the best we have seen on our travels so far with the ground up sea shells giving them their distinctive light colouring.  Learning that the crushed cockleshells are used to make harling (the rendering used on many Scottish houses) changed my opinion of what I deemed to be ugly pebbledash which I had assumed was imported in.

P1120690.JPG
The shells are also used in other ways.
P1120691.JPG
A scallop sea defence.

 

P1120672.JPG
The beaches are all empty.

P1120674.JPG

P1120675.JPG
I love the contrast of all the colours of the fishing paraphernalia.
P1120676.JPG
Lobster kennels.
P1120678.JPG
You don’t come to the islands for the picturesque villages.

Cycling round the island yesterday in beautiful sunny weather was an absolute treat despite being against the wind for half of it.  Stopping to take photos at low tide with the seaweed revealed captured some of the iconic views that the islands are famous for.

P1120688.JPG
A spring lamb taking five. 
P1120686.JPG
We were going to walk across this field until Tim spotted the bull.
P1120711.JPG
Some of the best beaches we have seen on our trip so far.
P1120720.JPG
That could just be my dream house……
P1120722.JPG
……or that one!
P1120724.JPG
Fab…..u….lous.
P1120731.JPG
Views don’t get better than this.

So far our Scotland trip has already surpassed our expectations and I’m still bashing myself over the head for not having visited before.

Today we hopped onto the ferry which took us, in the warming sunshine, across the water to Eriskay  where we docked forty minutes later scraping our back end on the tarmac coming off the ferry (roll eyes).  It doesn’t take much of an angle to ground out the electrics on our tow bar!

P1120733.JPG
Off to Eriskay.

Happy days 🙂

Mar sin leat!