The third and last day of my time on Harris dawned very promisingly indeed:
My plan for the day was to drive to the south end of Harris, and take the ferry across the Sound of Harris to meet up with some dear friends.
So I set off to the beautiful West Side. Each time I’ve visited recently, this road has been further improved:
The tide in the estuary was out, and the sheep were grazing on the marshy islands. I don’t know what plants grow there, as it is covered with the sea twice a day. I know sea thrift blossoms in places like this in early summer:
I have stopped at the below viewpoint many times in the past twenty years, but this time I understood it just a bit differently. Do you see the sharp point of Sròn Scourt on the horizon? I had never known that peak before my hike the previous day to the eagle observatory. As one reader commented, that peak features in many of Willie Fulton‘s paintings – including, I now realise, one that hangs in our dining room.
I really like knowing the names of hills I see on the horizon. In fact, just before this trip I had invested in an Ordinance Survey map of Glasgow, to help me identify and understand what I am seeing off in the distance. Curiously, the taxi driver who took me to the station as I began my journey told me the name of one such hill; later that day a lady I was sitting next to on the bus volunteered the name of one of the hills we passed. Hmm!
As I say the tide was low. The water was beautifully calm and I loved watching the colours change and shift before my eyes. This is one of the great pleasures of the landscape of Harris.
I didn’t have time to go down onto Traigh Iar, one of my and our favourite beaches, but I enjoyed it from the lay-by above:
Soon I was in Leverburgh, waiting for the ferry. I was lucky insofar as the ferry times were due to be disrupted the next day, because of tidal shifts. The day I went across, the ferry was bang on time both ways. It was a beautiful day!
I watched an oystercatcher busily pecking away on the stones near the slipway. She didn’t seem to be the least bit bothered when the ferry approached and the ramp came right down next to where she was. Waiting for the ferry with me was a man who was going home after an early trip across to Harris to do some work. When he asked what my journey involved, and I mentioned my friends, naturally enough he knew them.
The crossing takes an hour. I knitted and read very happily.
It was incredibly calm, except when the birds on the water took flight at the approach of the ferry:
Is there any better sight than friends coming to meet you?
The funniest thing was that, as I and the man walked up the ramp, both of us greeting my friends, there was a film crew filming! We joked, There was no need to make such a fuss over our arrival!
My friends, who have appeared on several of my Isle of Harris blog posts over the years, whisked me off on a tour of the West side of North Uist. We had a delicious lunch at the Claddach Kirkibost community centre. This is in a former school, and contains a café, a shop, a library, and a nursery (among other things). It was a lovely place:
As you see, there were fresh flowers at the tables, picked no doubt from the garden just outside. The water was sparkling on that beautiful day:
It was wonderful to see my friends again, and have a catch-up. They first hosted me in 1994, when I was learning Gaelic, and they taught me so much – not only a new language, but their compassionate and relaxed attitude towards life. We have looked to them for guidance and example as we’ve raised our children. In fact, they still give us huge support as we traverse these years of the Dafter’s illness.
On our drive from the ferry, I had seen many fields of black sheep. My friends told me that they were Hebridean sheep, and that a man they knew had worked hard to keep the breed going. Obviously his efforts were not in vain, because there were so many of them! I was intrigued to see wool from the Hebridean sheep for sale in the shop at Claddach Kirkibost. I didn’t actually buy any while we were there, because I needed to think out what I wanted and how I would use it. However, once back in Glasgow, I was able to find a suitable project and order four skeins of wool from the woman who rears the sheep and spins the wool on Berneray:
I will certainly let you know what I eventually make with the wool. It looks like Harris Tweed wool but is far softer. I have knit with Harris Tweed wool (see Michael’s jumper here – he wears it a lot!) so I am very keen to see how this knits up. I love the fact that this wool comes from such a special breed of sheep, whom I saw in the fields on my visit.
After lunch, my friends drove me to Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy. There was a very poignant travelling exhibit of five chairs from Passchendaele and a huge book listing all the names of people in the British Isles who lost their lives in World War One – many of them in battles fought a hundred years ago this year. The names are all printed on the left-hand page, and on the right-hand page people in the various communities the book visits are invited to write their memories and stories of the people listed. There were photocopied photographs pasted in, and personal testimonies about those who lost their lives so long ago.
We walked out to where a large concrete fish was covered with glass and shells:
And all too soon it was time to head back to the ferry. I felt very sorry to say goodbye. All during our visit we had talked about people whom I had known who had gone on, and the younger generation whom I knew when they were in P1 all those years ago and who now have their own families. I had a huge sense of nostalgia – how precious each moment and season is – and at the same time, of continuity. Underneath it all, love, community and family continues, albeit with problems, losses and occasional fractures. While we waited for the ferry, a young man came up to embrace them – someone their son had gone to school with. His own children were waiting in the car: a living illustration of what we had been thinking and talking about!
On my way back the weather was very changeable. Here you can see the rain, but also sun still shining in the distance:
After a picnic tea in my little hire car, I drove back up the West Side. I couldn’t resist taking photos of this young calf and its mother:
More signs of continuity and change at the same time!
In my next post I will share my last evening on Harris – for this visit anyway. Thank you for all your comments, for reading, and for coming along with me!