Dear Readers, this will be the first of a series of posts about my recent trip away. I was badly in need of a break from my caring duties, and it had been far too long since I’d been to a part of Scotland that is very, very dear to my heart. Between 1996 and 2011 our family spent at least week every year on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides – usually in the summer, but sometimes at Easter. The Dafter fell ill just a few weeks after we visited in August 2011, and we haven’t been able to go back since because it would be impossible for her. Although for this trip I was on my own, it was the best thing I could have done – it was hugely restorative.
I want to tell you all about my getaway – I was only gone for five days but packed a lot in, and have so much to show you. I’ll try to post more frequently than usual, so if non-stop photos of island scenery isn’t your thing, check back in a couple of weeks!
My journey began in a very unusual way, for me: I found myself in an airplane. This is not my preferred mode of travel, but it was the only way I found I could get there in a day.
The flight was fine, and an hour later, I was in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis:
The first thing I did was pick up a wee red hire car – imagine that! A first for me, that’s for sure. The car was the reason I had to come via Stornoway – there are no cars for hire in Harris at the current time. The second thing I did was to go to the supermarket. This is a familiar stop, as we would often come here to load the car up with groceries for our week in the cottage in Harris. I stocked up on picnic-y foods for myself, and a few treats to take to my friend Catrìona. I always enjoy the English/Gaelic signs, and indeed I heard a little bit of Gaelic spoken while I was there.
I should say I resisted the temptation to buy briosgaidean or crispichean! My next stop was to a place I’d never been before, the Woodlands Centre, which is in the castle grounds in Stornoway:
Do you see the lichen on the trees? An indicator of how clean the air is there. I had a delicious soup lunch – the place was packed, with lots of children as it was their Easter break.
I’d always looked longingly at the tree-ful grounds of Lews Castle, which is an unmistakeable landmark in the town, but I’d never had the chance to go there. As you’ll understand if you follow my travelogue, trees are a rarity on the Outer Hebrides. From the castle grounds, there’s a good view of the cheerful buildings of the town. You can also see the bright orange lifeboat in the harbour.
The castle itself looks forbidding to me. You can read about the history of the castle and its owners here.
It was lovely to walk through this wee woods, down a daffodil-lined path:
I then set out for the Isle of Harris. You would think that in order to go from the Isle of Lewis in the north to the Isle of Harris in the south, you’d need to cross some kind of body of water. But no – the two are in fact one “long island” (as it’s sometimes called) and are separated only by a dotted line on the map. (Scroll to the bottom of this page for a very basic map of the Outer Hebrides. This map is a bit more detailed.) The two “islands” remain quite distinct despite this – the accent in English as well as Gaelic is quite different between Harris and Lewis, for one thing. This is no doubt a linguistic indicator of the mountain range that divides the two.
Once out of Stornoway, which takes about two minutes from the supermarket, you find yourself in this landscape:
Ahead, depending on weather conditions, you can see the hills of Harris in the distance. You cross the dotted line on the map in a certain place, and begin a long ascent up the side of the Clisham, a mountain (in Scottish terms) that is to be respected.
I stopped here, in driving rain, to take a photo of the road going up the mountain ahead of me. You can barely see a white van near the top of one of the hills:
My little car was a great deal buffeted about by the very strong winds. In fact, I had to be very careful getting out of the car to take photos, as the wind nearly tore the car door off. As I drove on, I was glad that it was springtime, daylight, and that I know the road very well. In winter, this road can be quite frightening. Here you can see the posts that guide the snowplows:
Mind you, I have seen snow in Harris in April before.
You come down the other side of the mountains and almost immediately are on the narrow strip of land (isthmus – try saying that quickly a few times) where the town of Tarbert lies.
My destination for the next few nights was the lovely Harris Hotel. I “reached,” as they say, about 4 pm. Isn’t my room lovely?
And guess what sight greeted me as I put my bags down? The ferry coming into the pier at Tarbert! Such a very familiar thing.
And, just to prove it really was me who was here – to my astonished self as much as anything else – I took a selfie:
It was wonderful to be back in Harris after a long absence. But my circumstances were decidedly strange! No unpacking the family car with a week’s worth of groceries and rainy-day supplies. None of the usual settling-in tasks to do, no fire to build, no meal to make. I was free to do exactly as I pleased, without having to think about anyone else at all! As I texted to Michael, I felt as if I was my own Sim. (For those of you familiar with the computer game.) I made myself a cup of tea and put my feet up. And then, drawn irrestistably, I went out for a rainy walk around Tarbert. Before I’d gone far, I met the son of the people who rented us “our” holiday house for 12 years in a row. It was really good to have a catch-up. And upon my return, I was very glad I had brought two raincoats with me.
In my next post, I will tell you about the Harris Hotel, where I stayed.
Til soon! Chì mi a rithist sibh!