I have to say I should have thought more closely about the title before I started. We’re now on Day 3 on the Western Isles…and it’s Tuesday. As time goes on the title will become even more outdated. Never mind, we’ll press on regardless.
When we returned to the B&B on Monday evening (after our decidedly pleasant visit to the pub) we received an unusual request from our farmer host. Would we mind having breakfast later, say…at 9am? He was off to the abattoir early the next morning and would not be back until then. No problems for us, we enjoy a leisurely start to the day. The Galloway cows had a different take on the situation though.
So, as we sat down to breakfast at 9am, our genial (and by now somewhat frazzled) hosts shot out the kitchen door into their car and disappeared up the road towards Galson in a trail of dust and smoke, hot on the trail of cowpats and their rebellious steers. Later the farmer insisted these normally placid animals had broken out because they’d been moved from their favourite field – the utopian one overlooking both the sea and the road. We reckoned they’d heard the “A” word being mentioned!
Half way through coffee and toast the milkman stuck his head around the door, puzzled by the absence of both the farmer and his wife. After a bit of debate, and in the absence of anyone with a clue to what was actually required, we agreed that he leave “the usual” milk delivery.
It wasn’t long before our hosts arrived back, having assured the wayward beasts that the rumours of their imminent demise were only that…rumours. Now back in their favourite field they went back to munching grass, taking in the view…and plotting their next escape!
We Move South
It was Tuesday and time for us to say goodbye to Lewis. Today we would be driving down through the mountains of Harris to catch the ferry at Leverburgh (on the south of the island) which would take us to our next major island, North Uist.
The sunny weather of the past few days had departed and the remnants of last night’s mist were loitering over the peat-lands beside the road. Our drive south was marred by low cloud and the odd spot of drizzle. We must have been south of Tarbert when it began to lift and allowed us a decent view of the local scenery.
J was given her shopping “fix” at a tiny Harris Tweed shop a few breathtaking miles along a twisting single track road that wound its way around an incredible landscape of low lying hummocks and dark peaty lochans. J bought herself a tweed handbag…and I received a free Harris tweed bookmark as a reward for not moaning every 2 seconds.
The cloud gradually lifted the further south we travelled, the mountains of Harris finally putting in an appearance on the final stretch of road down to the ferry at Leverburgh. A viewpoint provided us with our first glimpse of what is the popular conception of true Hebridean colours. Under pale grey skies the coastal landscape was dominated by washed out sands, soft greens and that incredible pastel turquoise of the shallow bays. Over the next few days it was a sight we would be treated to time and time again, a sight that makes us both want to return to these incredible islands.
I know this may leave you in a state of shock but – the restaurant at Leverburgh was closed! I know, it’s hard to believe, but there you have it, our third day on the island and still nowhere open to buy lunch. By now we were resigned to the fact that open restaurants were as scarce as trees on the western isles. The local plumber, who was working in the building, explained that most of the restaurants closed at the end of September. His wife worked in one in Tarbert which had closed for the season a few weeks earlier…mainly due to the absence of customers. It seemed odd because there appeared to be enough tourists dodging about, in fact I was speaking to a car load of Aussies as we waited for the ferry. They too were trying to find somewhere open for a snack and were having a problem similar to our own. However “The Butty Bus” was open for business …and was doing a decent trade.
Normally J would never entertain the thought of eating from a mobile café…but she was hungry. I was sort of hungry but couldn’t face another fry-up, having been eating a variation on the bacon and egg theme for breakfast for the past 3 days. I settled for my last piece of…flapjack!
I thought I’d better photograph the remains for posterity, after all it had provided me with a fairly substantial lunch for the past three days. The Fatdog eyed the flapjack hopefully. The Fatdog had no chance! This was all I had left other than packets of biscuits.
Seated at a picnic bench just outside the restaurant and overlooking the ferry pier, I picked up my coffee and flapjack and settled down to my somewhat repetitive lunch. I don’t know how it happened but as I raised the flapjack to my mouth it split, about three quarters the way down, leaving me with but a few crumbs in my hand and The Fatdog with a huge smile on her face. The 5 second rule doesn’t apply when you have a Fatdog; there was no way I could reach that chunk of flapjack before the black hairy jaws enveloped it.
Lunch was going from bad to worse!
The Ferry Journey to North Uist
The ferry journey was one of the many highlights of the trip as the boat weaved its way between a plethora of tiny islands, following the convoluted lines of guiding buoys that avoided the shallow sand banks between Harris and North Uist. Black feathered seabirds skimmed the surface of the water then packed themselves onto these rocky islets, watching with interest the passage of ferry across the treacherous straits.
Even today, under the breaking grey skies of mid-afternoon, the light on the near still water was special. It must be fantastic at either sunrise or sunset.
It only took an hour and we were rolling off the ferry onto the small island of Berneray, connected by a stone causeway to North Uist. Our plan was to take FD to a beach on Berneray before heading to the hotel. Ever the optimists, we were still hopeful of finding somewhere open for a cuppa and a snack…and this time…we…were…successful! Decent coffee and home made carrot cake at the store/café/tourist shop only a minute or so from the ferry. At last!
The beach on the west side of Berneray was well worth the visit. We crossed a huge swathe of cultivated/grazed machar before reaching the dunes. This west facing farmland is hidden from the ferry so that your view as you approach Berneray is of a typical rocky western isles island with no suggestion of farmland. It’s not until you leave the eastern inhabited strip and take the 2 minute drive across the rocky spine of the island that you are faced with this expanse of flatness. It’s a bit like finding the island equivalent of the “Lost Valley”.
We were in luck. The herd of cows inhabiting the strip of machar between the road and the sea was well away from the path through the tall dunes to the beach. The Fatdog enjoys her beach visits and would have been greatly disappointed to have missed this one. It was stunning…the archetypal Hebridean beach as seen in the publicity photographs.
While The Fatdog rampaged happily after her ball I went to look at the wee seabirds scavenging along the edge of the shore.
The late afternoon light was beginning to go…and time for us to leave Berneray for North Uist. We were off to Langass Lodge.