Before continuing my travelogue, I thought it might be helpful to show you a map of the Western Isles, a.k.a. the Outer Hebrides. Here you can see the mountains of the south of Lewis and North Harris – you can also see that the Isle of Harris is not actually an island unto itself, although at Tarbert – where the island squeezes to almost nothing above the “H” of Harris – the width of the island is about a mile. (The name “Tarbert” means “isthmus,” which means a narrow neck of land.)
Below Lewis and Harris are the islands known as “the Uists” (pronounced You-ists), and as you can see from this map, except for the mountains in South Uist, they are very flat. Below the Uists is Barra. What the map doesn’t show is Skye to the East of the islands.
The Sound of Harris is the body of water that separates Harris from the Uists. It is a very shallow sound, and it wasn’t until 1996 that Caledonian MacBrayne designed a ferry that could navigate it. When I first went out to the islands, in 1994, if you wanted to travel from Harris to the Uists, or vice-versa, you had to travel across the Minch to Skye (1 and 3/4 hours) and back across the Minch again. Even now the Sound of Harris route is a bit more susceptible to weather and tides than routes in deeper waters. Some of the sailings at the beginning of August had been cancelled, due to “exceptionally low tides”. Two years ago we were stranded on Harris in August because the weather was too poor to make the sailing. (We got a room at the Harris Hotel – such a hardship!)
This summer all went to plan, and we had a gorgeous crossing. I thought this canine passenger looked as if he was enjoying himself as well:
The day we crossed was warm, sunny and gorgeous, and on the drive down North Uist to Benbecula all the little lochans and inlets were sparkling like diamonds. We were so happy to see our friends again, and they welcomed us with open arms. They took me in to their home when I was studying Gaelic, all those years ago. They spoke Gaelic to me in exchange for some help (“help”!) with the Gaelic classroom in the school, and also French lessons. I got by far the better deal, let me tell you. Not only did I learn a lot of Gaelic, but we made some dear friends who have remained wise counsellors and loving supporters of us and our family throughout the years.
The next day, Sunday, was very rainy indeed. I went to church (although only the morning service, not the evening as well) and had a good old catch-up, in Gaelic, with the people I first met there years ago. The folks I’ve met on Benbecula strike me as people who truly appreciate one another, and also tolerate each others’ foibles. When you live on an island, that has to be the best policy.
Despite the weather, Michael and I ventured out in the afternoon for a walk with a wee dog that our friends were looking after. The wildflowers were very beautiful:
Even with his waterproof coat and eyebrows, our terrier friend got quite soaked and was glad to come back inside. Can you see him squinting against the rain?
I liked this mad splash of colour:
In the evening, after a sumptuous meal, we had a chat and a bit of dancing around to The Wanted, which our friends wanted to hear. Below is a photo of me and the Dafter in the kitchen – I like to think of it as atmospheric rather than out-of-focus:
The next morning, I took a photograph of a gorgeous knitted shawl that our friends owned. They told us it was knitted over 30 years ago, out of wool from the Falklands!
We said goodbye and drove back up to North Uist, to take the ferry across to Skye. I liked this inscription on a window of the ferry terminal in Lochmaddy:
We had our third beautiful crossing, with blue skies and the Minch very, very calm:
We had an uneventful drive back across the mainland. I’d seen water lilies in the lochans on the islands, but hadn’t managed to get a good photo of them. But when we stopped in Achnasheen, there were some lovely ones just waiting for me to put them on my blog. To my city eyes, it looks as if someone has planted these reeds and lilies. But this is actually how they occur naturally:
And so our summer holiday was at an end. But we came home with lots of great memories, some nice books, cards and prints, shells from the beach – and quite a lot of sand still in our clothes and pockets! I hope everyone is having a good weekend, thanks for reading!