Posted by: christinelaennec | May 2, 2014

Over to the Uists for a cup of coffee

The first time I went to the Outer Hebrides was 20 years ago, to Benbecula.  Benbecula is part of the Uists, the group of islands south of Lewis and Harris.  (WalkHighlands has a good basic map.)  I stayed with Annie and Alasdair, who welcomed me wholeheartedly into their home and taught me a lot of Gaelic.  From their kitchen window, you can see the hills of Harris, “beanntan na Hearadh”.  I wished that I could go there, but Annie told me that, as there was no ferry across the Sound of Harris, I would have to travel across the Minch to Skye, then back across from Skye to Harris.  It was another two years before I made it to Harris.

For a long time now there’s been a ferry that crosses the Sound of Harris.  It takes an hour to travel between Harris and North Uist.  Because the Sound of Harris is relatively shallow, the crossings are more affected by tidal changes and the weather than other routes – and thus sailings are more often subject to cancellation or rescheduling.  The only other time I had stayed in the Harris Hotel was when we’d vacated our holiday cottage, but all the ferries across to the Uists were cancelled for the day due to fog.  (This was in August.)

On my recent short trip to Harris, I very much wanted to see Annie and Alasdair if possible.  The tides had caused rescheduling of the ferry, but I was able to cross to meet them.  We had just over an hour to catch up over a cup of coffee!  Let me show you my excursion.

The ferry leaves from Leverburgh, the village in the south of Harris.  Leverburgh is more water than land, a very lacy township:

Coming into Leverburgh, Isle of Harris.  April 2014.

Coming into Leverburgh, Isle of Harris. April 2014.

The day of our rendezvous was just beautiful, sunny and calm.  I was able to knit outside while waiting for the ferry!

Ferry from Berneray, North Uist, arriving in Leverburgh.  Isle of Harris, April 2014.

Ferry from Berneray, North Uist, arriving in Leverburgh. Isle of Harris, April 2014.

I left my hire car on the Harris side, and went as a foot passenger.

Looking west towards the Minch as we cross the Sound of Harris.  The southern tip of the Isle of Harris on the left.  April 2014.

Looking west towards the Minch as we cross the Sound of Harris. The southern tip of the Isle of Harris is on the left. April 2014.

It was clear enough to see across the Minch, though I didn’t get any fab photos of the mainland.

Knitting on board the Loch Portain.  Crossing the Sound of Harris, April 2014.

Knitting on board the Loch Portain. Crossing the Sound of Harris, April 2014.

The ferry route zigzags across the shallow waters of the sound.  It’s a good route for seeing wildlife.  On this trip I saw cormorants and seals – and sheep, as I posted about recently.

Where we are headed:  North Uist.  April 2014.

Where we are headed: North Uist. April 2014.

The ferry docks on the small island of Berneray.  Berneray now has a causeway linking it to North Uist, but before that, like Scalpay off Harris, it relied on a ferry to connect it to its larger island neighbour.

Friends await me at the ferry terminal in Berneray, North Uist.  April 2014.

Friends await me at the ferry terminal in Berneray, North Uist. April 2014.

It was so nice to see Alasdair waiting by the car as the ferry approached.  He and Annie took me to the community cafe on Berneray.  Look at the beautiful views!  And I love the colour of the walls.

The community cafe on Berneray, North Uist.  April 2014.

The community cafe on Berneray, North Uist. April 2014.

Alasdair is about as difficult to photograph as the elusive corncrake, but Annie let me take her photo.  As she didn’t expressly forbid me to put it online, let me show you “Annag chòir”.  (Dear Annie.  Owner of a cabled hat.)

Darling Annie.

Darling Annie.

They are two of the kindest people I have ever known in my life – which is saying something, as I have been blessed with kindness from various people all my days.  They are also very wise, and really good fun.  We made the most of our time together and had a good catch-up.  All too soon it was time to catch the last ferry of the day back across to Harris.

Going back to Leverburgh, Isle of Harris.  April 2014.

Going back to the Isle of Harris. April 2014.

I believe that Chaipaval, which you might have seen in my post about the West side of Harris, is the hill on the left of the above photo.

Getting nearer...

Getting nearer… there’s Leverburgh

Leverburgh (an t-Ob in Gaelic) was a pet project of Lord Leverhulme in the 1920s.  He bought the South Harris estate after World War I, with great plans to revitalise the village’s fishing industry.  He invested a great deal in his scheme, but died suddenly in 1925.  His family had no interest in Harris so his scheme came to nothing.  The name, however, remains.

A girl riding her horse past the ferry terminal in Leverburgh - as you do!

A girl riding her horse past the ferry terminal in Leverburgh – as you do!

The area by the ferry terminal seems to be a pretty busy place these days, with a popular restaurant, the ferry, and a number of businesses nearby.  I was a little surprised to see a girl riding a horse through the busy landscape.  Can you see the aqua blue of the lobster pots on the ground, on the right of the photo?  There are more stacked on the left side of the photo as well.

So if you’re ever in Leverburgh with an afternoon to spare, check the ferry times – you might just be able to fit in a little visit to the Uists.

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Responses

  1. Yet another lovely looking cafe and what a cracking day you had with the weather. If it was that good all the time the islands would no doubt be swamped with tourists. It sounds as if that was a very special hour you spent with your chums, and an adventure going on the ferry, too. Benbecula made a big impression on me when I went to the outer isles, I felt it had an especially friendly and welcoming feel that I didn’t notice elsewhere.

  2. Another lovely post! Thank you so much! Your friends sound lovely!!! And I LOVE the tearoom. 🙂 What lovely weather you had for your trip over! It’s a very Scottish day here right now — cold and overcast. At least I’ve enjoyed pots of tea with friends while teaching them to make felt flowers. Off to visit another friend this evening while our husbands are away in Pittsburgh (her husband is N Irish, born in Scotland).

  3. So glad you enjoyed your time On Uist, and yes, Alistair and Annie are lovely.Xx

  4. Lorna, you’re so right about what would happen if the Outer Hebrides had fab weather all the time – I shudder to think of it! I’m really glad you had a good experience of Benbecula. Was the army base there at the time?

    Heather, I’m so glad you’ve been having tea. I hope your visit with your friend was really good.

    lancaster7, thank you!

  5. I would love to visit – and have a cup of tea at that community cafe! What a divine day, Christine – so happy for you! xo

  6. If I could live anywhere else other than Tasmania…it would be the Scottish islands!

  7. Stunning, a home away from home.

  8. I can almost feel myself on the ferry with you, Christine. Your wonderful photos take me along and to a beautiful place with precious friends. Thanks! xx


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