I was very sorry to say goodbye to Harris after my short but eventful stay. However, I felt hugely restored for having had such a great break and I was keen to get back to my family. The day I left, spring was very much in the air and change felt immanent. The buds on the trees by the wall of the Harris Hotel were just about to burst:
And the larch trees were greening up again:
I love larch trees – they are a mix between deciduous and evergreen. Their new cones are bright red; there’s one in the photo, left of centre and up a bit.
Whereas I’d arrived by plane, I wanted to go home over sea and land. The first part of my journey was to drive back up to Stornoway. After you leave Tarbert, you come through Ardhasaig. The road turns, and before you are the mountains you’re about to drive over on your way north:
They are indeed spectacular:
Coming down the other side, there are some beautiful views:
Before I knew it, I had returned my trusty wee hire car, and was at the ferry terminal in Stornoway. You might be surprised to know that palm trees are a fairly common sight in Lewis and Harris. They don’t seem to mind the wind:
I showed you Stornoway from the grounds of Lews Castle in the first post of this series. Here is Stornoway from the ferry terminal:
Once I’d bought my ferry ticket, I had some time to spare. I went to An Lanntair (the modern building with a pink round tower in the photo above) for my lunch. An Lanntair is an arts centre with a cinema, gift and book shop, exhibition space, a restaurant and a bar. I heard quite a lot of Gaelic spoken there, although instead of overhearing discussions about the lambing and tweed, I heard what you might call “professional Gaelic”. People were talking about grants and media coverage. Gaelic is an ancient language, but it has kept up with the modern world as well.
I had a delicious lunch of lentil soup. In front of me was a fascinating mural. It is the coastline of Lewis, drawn from memory by an 82-year-old fisherman named Dolishan. He marked down the name of every rock, bay and island, and also noted what kinds of fish or shellfish you could hope to catch in a certain spot, and whether by rod, creel or net:
Such a precious document! It’s wonderful to capture this knowledge of the landscape.
After I’d finished my lunch I went downstairs to see an interesting exhibition. It’s called “Between the Web and the Loom,” and is a collaboration between Joan Baxter, tapestry artist, John McGeoch, moving image artist, Claire Pençak, choreographer, Shamita Ray, dancer, and James Wyness, composer. I found the tapestries very arresting, especially the ones with faces looking out:
I had a little bit of time to go for a walk in Stornoway before boarding the ferry. When you’ve been out in the countryside and small villages, Stornoway seems like a metropolis! I like the colourful buildings:
Just after I took this photo, I ran into a friend from Aberdeen who was returning from a visit to her family in the islands. We agreed to meet up on the ferry once we were under sail.
I went up to the top deck as we left Stornoway:
And I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this sweet dog, nestled in his owner’s arms:
Dogs (except for assistance dogs) have to stay out on deck, and there were a few dog owners travelling this way. I was grateful to have access to the indoor areas, as it was pretty brisk out there.
To match the photo I took of myself when I began my getaway, I took another:
Then I went indoors to warm up! I spent the next few hours chatting to my friend (in Gaelic, which was nice), knitting, and catching up on news of mutual acquaintances. Oh and we had a few cups of tea! Right until the end my getaway was laced through with company and friendship.
As we approached Loch Broom, I came back up to the deck to show you the view of the mainland from the ferry:
I’m not knowledgeable about these hills, so can’t tell you their names, but many people in Scotland would be able to name each peak:
Some were still snow-capped. This has been one of the best winters for snow sports that Scotland has had in while.
I hoicked my suitcase down the gangplank and joined the queue for the bus from Ullapool to Inverness. The day before, I had discovered I probably should book a place on the bus, so I bought a ticket over the phone, and it was texted to my mobile! Very modern.
Here is a small part of the busy Ullapool pier, taken from the window of the bus as we swept out of town:
The bus ride took about an hour and a half, and we went past beautiful scenery – hardly any of which my camera was able to capture through the window. Imagine springtime valleys, snow-capped hilltops, lambs cavorting, calves with their mothers, bluebells, daffodils and primroses… And then we were coming into Inverness. The sky was amazing. It was about 6 pm:
I went to the station, bought my train ticket for Glasgow via Perth, and a bit of a picnic tea. It was the first time I’d ever travelled from Inverness to Perth by train, and what a beautiful journey it was, down past the Cairngorm mountain range. I thought you might be interested to see that what looks like a milk truck/lorry is actually full of whisky. See the “Chivas Regal” on the back?
I arrived home before 11 pm, and was welcomed with open arms by the Dafter and Michael. Although it was late, and though we’d been in good touch during my absence, they wanted to hear all about my trip, and I wanted to hear about how they had fared. I also had come back with a few things:
You will recognise books, cards, tweed phone cases, soaps, and oatcakes from Benbecula. But you might be surprised by what was in the plastic bag:
Catrìona had given me a quarter of her “clootie dumpling”. This is a spicy cake that is boiled in a cloth (cloot) rather than baked in the oven. For many years, we’ve had a bit of her clootie dumpling at New Year’s in Aberdeen, but this year that wasn’t possible. So Michael and I were both very happy to have such a big piece. It was delicious! Note the use of the past tense…
My ones had done well during my five-day absence, but Michael was exhausted. He had never been the full-time carer for more than an overnight, so it was quite a stretch for him. The next day he hardly said a word, but silently handed me back the reins and went off to recover. “It’s a full-time job, isn’t it?” was all he said. We all agreed that, with things as they are, four nights is the most I can be away. But the Dafter and Michael both commented that I was so much less exhausted, and said that I must take more short breaks. That was very nice, because my five days away did do me a world of good.
So this brings to a close my rather lengthy series of posts about my brief but delightful visit to Harris. Normal service (such as it is) will now be resumed – except that I do have one last Harris-related thing up my sleeve: a wee giveaway. Stay tuned!