One of the things I particularly enjoyed about my trip to Harris last month was observing and talking to other travellers along the way. The first leg of my journey there was the train from Glasgow to Inverness, about a three-hour journey. As we were leaving Glasgow, a mother and about 8-year-old daughter were talking to the train conductor. The mother wasn’t an experienced train traveller and hadn’t reserved seats; the daughter was very tired and grumpy. I welcomed them to sit across from me, as the people who had reserved the seats hadn’t shown up. The mother told me her daughter was very tired as they’d just been sleeping on a sofa the last few nights. The girl glared at me but was also interested in my knitting. As we went along, the mother relaxed and bit by bit the daughter also unwound. I asked the girl, had she ever played Treasure Hunt? I said that was a travel game my own kids had always liked. This got her attention.
I drew up a list of things we might be likely (or less likely) to see on our way: sheep, cows, a house, a river, a castle [thinking of Stirling], a crow, a stop sign. The daughter and her mother played this game for quite a while, and I was really happy when the daughter started smiling and laughing. At Perth we were joined by a woman who knew a lot about the countryside we were travelling through, and explained to me where the highest points were along the journey. She and the mother talked for quite a while about living near Inverness, and about musical opportunities for young people, such as the Fèis movement for learning traditional music.
From Inverness I took a bus to Ullapool, a journey of about an hour and a half. I sat next to a very interesting woman from India. She told me about her work with children, and asked what I did. I said I used to be a lecturer, but am now a full-time carer for my teenage daughter. She then told me a fascinating story: in her early twenties she became paralysed down one side, and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. One doctor told her that she might die from it. Despite (or because?) of this terrible diagnosis, she and her husband decided to have a child. And during her pregnancy, she healed completely. I told her that two separate people have said to me, “The cure for ME is to get pregnant,” which clearly isn’t a realistic option for the Dafter. This woman told me that in pregnancy, the body heals itself, in order to support the baby. When we parted ways, she said she would keep me and our family in her prayers. I think I will never forget her, she was a very special person.
The next leg of my journey was to cross the Minch. I did so on the new ferry, M V Loch Seaforth. (M V means Motor Vessel – not quite as poetic as “His Majesty’s Ship”!) The crossing time is now down to two and a half hours, instead of three. As you can see from the photo below, the new ferry is a lot bigger than the old ferry:
The Loch Seaforth had only been running a few weeks when I travelled on her. I sat in the dining room, across from a family with a very sweet little baby. As it so happened, the following Sunday I was present at that baby’s baptism.
In a way, the ferry itself was one of my travelling companions. Let me show you around:
I like the retro styling. Here’s the staircase to go up on deck:
Even the smokestack has that Art Deco streamlined aesthetic:
There was a lovely sunset, although let me tell you the breeze coming at me was very stiff!
The ferry was about 40 minutes late but the kind car hire man was waiting for me, and showed no sign of impatience. After an hour and a quarter’s drive, encountering only mist and some sheep, I was in Scalpay at the B&B.
On my return journey, I sat up in the observation lounge.
Next to me, in that front row of seats, was a lovely couple. They were probably in their 70s, and spoke Gaelic to each other. They didn’t have a Lewis accent, but I couldn’t quite identify what part of the Gaeltacht they were from. What struck me the most was how loving they were with each other. They had that easiness with each other that comes after years of jogging along side by side, but also they seemed really to delight in each other’s company. In their very understated way, they laughed a lot at each other’s jokes. It was really nice to be in close proximity to that atmosphere of quiet happiness.
The sea was stirred up from the storms of the previous day, but the new ferry rolled less in the waves than the old ferry would, being so much bigger. Downstairs, I ran into a former colleague from Aberdeen, and we had a chance to catch up on family news, and exchange email addresses.
On the bus from Ullapool to Inverness, I sat across from an interesting family. There was an exhausted mother, a father, and two young children. They had North American accents but the father also spoke French to the children. His French didn’t have a French-Canadian accent to it, however, so I was left a bit mystified as to where they were from. The mother fell into a much-needed sleep and the father managed to keep the children entertained. He certainly had an extensive French vocabulary, because as we went past forests he played a game with them, looking for various wild animals: “Tu vois un écureuil? Squirrel? Do you see a wild boar? Un sanglier? Any deer? Des cerfs?” and so forth. In Inverness they told the children it would only be an hour’s wait until the next bus, and they seemed to be upbeat and relaxed. Very experienced travellers, I thought.
The very last leg of my journey was the train back to Glasgow. I sat across from a table of extremely entertaining women. They were in party mode, but very elegantly so. They set their table with plastic stemware, plates, napkins, and brought out a cheese platter. They were very funny with the conductor, offering him a Prosecco, “or we have soft drinks if you prefer”. He kept up amusing banter with them throughout the journey: “Let me know when you get to the dessert course, I’ll be back then.” They were obviously old friends, celebrating something or other together.
Their conversation was very witty, and although they made no attempt not to be heard, I wished I could have laughed out loud at some of their quips. I knitted and kept quiet. After their meal they brought out a trivia game, and that made it even more challenging for me to keep my mouth shut. “She’s a singer, North American. From a fundamentalist Christian family. Initials A. L. Her name in French means The Vine”…. I wanted to raise my hand: I know this one! I know this one! (Avril Lavigne)
As with so many of my other travelling companions on that trip, just being nearby their party and the glow of their friendship was a lovely feeling. Really the world, and all the precious and unique lives here, is extraordinary!