The second of my three days on Harris was rainy. Not as rainy as it might have been – you can get soaked in a few minutes in a real downpour – but gently rainy most of the day. However, that didn’t stop me from enjoying myself. I decided to go to the Episcopal church, which is about 5 miles out of Tarbert. From the road, you see the sign but wonder where it could be:
At the top of the drive, there is the most unusual sight of a grove of trees, surrounding a small wooden building:
Inside, the church is small but very appealing. The wooden building and the trees surrounding the church (and the rain!) reminded me so much of Oregon. They were delighted to have a visitor, and welcomed me warmly. I enjoyed the service very much, especially as we all came to stand in a circle to receive Communion. After the service, trays with tea, coffee and biscuits were brought in, and the folks I sat next to were very kind to me. People clock my American accent pretty quickly, but then are often surprised, if they ask, to find out that I’ve been going to Harris nearly every year for 20 years now.
After church I drove back into Tarbert, and went to the Hotel Hebrides for a welcome coffee. (Hotels are the only commercial establishments that are usually open on Sundays on Harris. You can read my thoughts about keeping the Sabbath on Harris here, if you’re interested.)
There I changed from my Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes into my Sunday-go-climb-up-a-hill clothes. I’d decided to drive out to a very remote village, Huisinis. (Pronounced: HOO-shin-nish.)
I hadn’t been there since we went with Our Son the summer of 1996, just after he came to us. I remembered the road as being rather terrifying, but it didn’t seem too bad at all this time. I concluded that in the intervening two decades, I must have become much more used to driving on Harris. From the main road to Stornoway, it’s a mere 14 miles to Huisinis. But it takes an hour. Perhaps you can see why:
Then you come to a surprising thing:
To your left is a very impressive waterfall, and once through the gate, to your right is another surprising sight:
I can only imagine the labour that must have been involved to create the gardens from the rocky moonscape of this part of Harris! You follow the road around a bend, and see:
The road takes you right bang in front of Amhuinnsuidhe Castle. (Pronounced: AH-vin-SOO-yah. ‘Amhuinn’ means river and ‘suidhe’ means sitting / site / situation.) This is the headquarters of the Amhuinnsuidhe Estate, which I believe owns most of the land that the road passes through. Fishing and shooting parties stay at the hotel, but apparently you don’t have to be a fisher or a hunter to do so (check out their website here).
Past the castle, you go through another large gate, and pass terraced houses where the estate workers live.
Driving carefully along, I was very intrigued to find a sign saying “Shop Open” – a glaring exception to Sunday closing. The shop is called The Stables, for obvious reasons:
The place seemed very quiet, and then I saw this sign:
There was another sign stating: “In the case of an emergency, or if you wish to purchase our own label whisky…” I wondered how often those two events coincided! The cooling cabinet was full of salmon and venison from the Estate.
This is the view of the castle from near the shop:
I drove along some more:
Until I turned a corner and was looking down into the village of Huisinis:
As you see, it is a very small hamlet! Behind the narrow point of land that you see above with a beach on one side, there is the Isle of Scarp. I decided to walk across to the pier where the boat to Scarp used to leave.
If you have ever wondered what “machair” is, this is a good cross-section to show you: very sandy soil, which supports grass and in the summertime a profusion of wildflowers. And, all year round, a good number of rabbits! The machair (pron. MA-char – ‘ch’ as in ‘loch’) is a very precious environment, and there are signs up asking people not to drive on it or damage it.
After a short walk, you reach the pier where in former times the boat would sail to the Isle of Scarp. Scarp was inhabited until the 1970s. Apparently in the 1940s there was a population of 100, but within a few decades there were too few people to sustain a community there. Scarp is famous for attempts to deliver mail there via rocket – there’s a film called “The Rocket Post” about it.
After admiring the crystal clear water at the pier, I walked back across to the beach in front of the village. I remembered Our Son kicking his football – despite our warnings – into the sea, and how it was quickly carried away. He was enraged!
On this day, the drizzle was steady and there was only me, and later on a man and his collie. The collie dropped a tennis ball in front of me and stared fixedly at it – the man nodded that I could throw it for him.
I found some shells:
By then it was about 3:30 or so and I said goodbye to Huisinis until another time, and set off for another adventure. But I will tell you about that in my next post!