Monday, 15 October 2012

Our second week in the Western Isles, moving on to Harris and Lewis.


Tuesday 9th October

Traditional hay bales near Balranald 
My mum would have been 106 today!!!! Happy birthday Lil!
We had a good night's sleep at Balranald and were up breakfasted and out by 10.15 am. Ok, not early but early for us...well we are retired you know!
We walked around the reserve under predominantly grey skies but it was dry with only a light wind, pretty cool though. The highlight was undoubtedly really good views of a peregrine perched on a large rock about 100 meters away, suddenly take off and hunt for its lunch. It pursued several small birds getting very close but not quite close enough, a fantastically agile aerial display. We watched it for several minutes before it disappeared from view. We also got good views of St Kilda and the stacks, 41 miles away! Belle spent almost the whole walk with her nose to the ground sniffing out smells, enough for us to wonder if dogs ever get sore noses! 
After our walk we had our lunch, the bread was quite stale so we put some in the bird feeders and the starlings and sparrows were having a feast when we left. Just before we were leaving, the Yaris that we had seen overnight on last nights beach arrived, the occupants overjoyed to have found hot showers in Lochmaddy.
We carried on in a clockwise direction around North Uist, passing a small Co-Op where we stocked up our fresh food again, had a ball throwing session for the dogs on a beach along the way and then made our way to the ferry terminal on Berneray just in time for the last ferry from Harris to arrive, threading his way skillfully between the rocky islets. We will certainly have no excuse for not catching the early ferry tomorrow, arriving 14 hours ahead of time! I cooked tea and we then had showers with the hot water from travelling. The ferry terminal although unmanned is well set up with toilets water and emptying facilities for MH's and caravans.

Wednesday 10th

Up early for the ferry but awake an hour and a half before necessary owing to “someone” setting his watch alarm for 5.30am!
Took a thermal cup of fresh coffee each aboard the ferry which was a nice treat. A pleasant hour's crossing took us to Leverburgh, sunrise over Skye was quite spectacular in the otherwise grey sky.
Once we had disembarked we took the road towards Stornaway, finding a very pleasant picnic spot to have our breakfast opposite the island of Taransay (scene of the 2000 BBC reality TV series, “Castaway”).

Breakfast spot

We then carried on to Tarbert where we bought the missing OS map that they didn't have in Lochmaddy and did a bit of research in Tourist Info about places to visit. We were told that the caravan site at Shawbost is open all year so we will head there in the next couple of days to do some washing and get some electricity into the batteries. Way hey, I may be able to use my hairdryer and feel “normal” again for a day or two instead of resembling a boiled egg!
We decided that we would head towards Husinish on the B road just outside Tarbert and then head back again towards Stornaway for gas in a day or two. Little did we know that the B road was narrower, steeper and more windy than any of the yellow roads we have been on on any of the other islands. But we wanted to go to Husinish as it looks idyllic in the guidebook and also we were drawn by the possibility of seeing eagles. We walked the supposed 2km up the track to the North Harris Eagle Observatory at Glen Meavaig. We think that Scottish kilometres must be longer than English ones! It seemed a very long 2k! The observatory is impressive, very light and spacious and comfortable but sadly devoid of eagles. We stayed an hour but saw none, not even any other bird either. On the way back I spotted a stone chat, very pretty but not what we hoped for. We carried on the rest of the way to Husinish....I found it quite a hair raising drive (and I was only a passenger) and was very glad to arrive except that turning round and parking was equally hairy. Anyway, we're here now, dogs had another run on the beach, a good tea and now Nigel is zzzzzzzing away while I finish this and soon, I hope to be zzzzzzzing too!


Thursday 11th

Well the weather forecast was right, it rained cats and dogs during the night and was still raining when we got up. Nigel took the dogs for a wet walk while I did the washing up etc, then I had my first drive.........reversing off the ramps. Probably about a metre. Well we all have to start somewhere.
We set up off the spectacular but hairy road again, this time in the wet. I didn't like it any more than yesterday and we were both relieved to see the main road to Stornaway hoving into view......an hour to do 13 miles! Only one vehicle met coming in the opposite direction, the mobile library van which was parked in a passing place, we had to wait for him to pull over before we could pass. We call Liberté Too a mobile library sometimes, we think she looks like one!
Eventually we arrived in Stornaway and I rang the filling station to get its postcode so that we weren't driving round and round looking for it. When I mentioned we were in a motorhome, the girl said “Oh, we've no LPG, the pump's broken.” Our hearts plummeted, it was really the sole reason for coming onto Harris and Lewis to be able to fill up with gas as we have been eeking it out and quite cold. We would have been perfectly happy staying in the Uists for another week and then going over to Skye but the cold was getting to us! But then she said there was another filling station which had just had their LPG pump mended....great relief all round and off we went to fill up. Job done. We had a look at the ferry port, doesn't look too friendly for staying there the night before an early ferry....will have to think about what to do.
Next stop we decided would be the campsite to get some washing done. Thankfully there was a good road over to the other side of the island and within 40 minutes we reached the campsite. There was no-one about so we had lunch and a read and then realized we were not level so moved to another pitch. Within a few minutes a vehicle came speeding up to us, apparently a neighbour keeping an eye on the place for the owners who are away.....the campsite is not open all year and closed at the end of September but we could stay! We hooked up and I got the key for the laundry room and got two loads of washing and drying under way. Made garlicky fish soup for tea which we have not had yet, no signal on my phone but Nigel had a weak one on his and has set up his phone as a mobile hotspot to which I am now connected....very slow but at least we can get online.
It's not stopped raining all day and the forecast is for more rain tomorrow and Saturday morning......hmmmmm.

Friday 12th October

True to the forecast, it rained all last night and all day today, the becks are very full, noticeably more so than when we arrived. Had a very lazy morning...N had breakfast in bed and then stayed there till almost lunchtime! We both had lovely hot showers, the Alde heating system is running on electricity and is very effective.
After lunch we walked the dogs to the beach but it wasn't very nice there..........we couldn't go down on the sand as there were massive swarms of flies, very unpleasant. Still, it was out and exercise and it did actually stop raining briefly while we were out. Back “home” we had a cuppa and a biscuit or two and then went to the local garage (6 miles away) to get some cash so we could stay here another night. We visited the blackhouse at Ancol on the way back, a pretty impressive thatched roof house from the Middle Ages. Didn't go in, heaven forfend....you had to pay! It's not really fit to go exploring far in this dreary weather so we may as well be warm and cosy and know we don't have to worry about battery charging etc.

Blackhouse

A treat for me....Nigel made omelettes for tea....it is so nice to have a plate of food put in front of me without having to have cooked it myself. We had on and off connections to the net all day, very slow but nice to feel in touch.
Watched an episode of Luther in the evening.
Forecast is better for tomorrow so we'll move off, perhaps to see the stone circle at Calinish and the black house village and then maybe overnight at Point of Ness, the most northerly point on Lewis.
Oh, I had a couple of little drives today, just in the campsite grounds, including a perfect reverse park back onto our pitch!

Saturday 13th

It rained heavily again during the night but hoorah, had stopped by the time we got up. Tied the dogs up with a chew each outside the MH prior to leaving, then brushed and hoovered throughout to try and get rid of the sand and dog hairs. All spic and span again but meanwhile Dash had chewed through his lead and wandered off. Naughty boy! He hadn't gone far as it happens, just into the field behind, played his favourite game of , “I'll come up close to you and then run off again” a couple of times, but after a few minutes he rejoined us, lead halves tied back together and we were off.
First stop was just a few miles down the road, we stopped at a brown sign for “Norse Mill and Kiln.”
A very well maintained footpath led over the moorland to two beautifully restored blackhouses, one a mill, one a kiln! They were open and once our eyes adjusted to the gloom we could appreciate the work involved and the design behind building these structures which would have helped feed many generations of crofting families, the kiln for drying the grain and the mill for grinding oats and barley. The explanatory folder with diagrams which I took out into the light to read was very interesting and it was good to read that these buildings had been restored with much practical help from local schoolchildren finding out about their heritage.
Then we went on a few miles further and found the restored Blackhouse village of Gearrannan. These houses were lived in until 1974 when the last four elderly ladies had to leave them as they were in a bad state. They were rehoused in 'modern' council houses where there was no more thatching to do or water to bring in from the pump. The houses were modernised over a period of time and turned into a museum and some of them into holiday lets. Fascinating place and another very hard way of life for many generations of families.
Just a few miles further on we came to the ruined Dun Carloway Broch which was built over 2000 years ago, again much history associated with its remaining stones. Dogs weren't allowed here so they stayed in the MH while we walked up to have a look and take some photos.

Dun Carloway Broch

Next stop were the standing stones of Calinish. By now it was very chilly with a wind that bit right through! Dash christened several of the stones which for some reason which will never be known, do not align up to sunrise or sunset as most stone circles do. These for me, did not emanate the same sense of history that the other places we had been to did even though it was the oldest site we had visited today. I've never been to Stonehenge and don't really “get” it...being quite a pragmatic person I like to have a concrete reason for something's existence! Must have been hard work getting them there in the first place though!
Calanish standing stones
Then we had to decide where to spend the night, we were tempted to go further south to a beach campsite on Uig but it involved a 26 mile drive along single track roads and after our “Hushinish” experience neither of us were too keen on that, so we retraced our steps and camped in the Norse Mill and Kiln car park where we still are. It is a dry and bright start to the day, a little windy but looks pleasant. Now to decide where to go today, ferry is booked for Tuesday morning, Stornaway to Ullapool.

Sunday 14th

No rain first thing, so off we set towards Ness point. Another “proper” road all the way. We parked in a picnic spot on the dunes at Eoropaidh where there was a fantastic adventure playground for local children and families to enjoy. After a sandwich and a cuppa, we walked over the dunes and onto the beach where the dogs had a good charge about. 


Dash digging for victory


It was very rabbity so when we walked over the headland to the lighthouse they were on their leads most of the way. It was a superb walk, fine most of the time, we got drizzled on slightly but not for long. We had a little sit on some rocks and saw a seal swimming about quite close to us. We were also treated to the sight of hundreds of gannets elegantly sweeping around the headland, all in the same direction, singles, pairs and sometimes flocks of twenty or more.
We read the blurb about the light which was the last one in the UK to become automated, we also found out that the point it is at is officially the windiest place in the UK. Still we decided if the track was suitable, we would bring the MH here for an overnighter.
After the lighthouse it was a kilometre or so up said single track road back to the MH and we had no hesitation to go back there! As expected it was a windy night and we had disturbed sleep but what a view to wake up to!

Butt of Lewis Lighthouse


Monday 15th

We enjoyed a spectacular sunrise and leisurely breakfast before moving back to our previous stop and having a walk to the ancient chapel which had been restored in keeping with its past.
On towards Stornaway we found a lovely picnic spot for lunch and then continued almost to the end of the road for a walk with the dogs on Traigh Mor beach. We parked at the top of a steep hill and walked down and once on the beach, started throwing the balls for the dogs but Dash had other ideas and took himself off over several fences and through fields of sheep to chase rabbits. I had not heard the request to pick up the whistle so we had to shout. Eventually he decided he had had enough but not before Nigel had climbed over a barbed wire fence and ripped his trousers that he had put on new that morning. Tempers were frayed all round and Dash spent the rest of the walk on his lead in disgrace. Back at the MH we had a cuppa and one of us had a nap...(wonder which one that would be?) and then we set off back into Stornaway. The ferry car park was empty so we pulled in thinking we could stay there overnight but were told after we had got our tea and had some wine that we couldn't! We walked round to Tesco's for a few bits and then found an Indian Takeaway where we brought back a meal for two......twenty two more like....more than enough for tomorrow as well. After the effects of the wine (thankfully only a small glass each), we moved the MH into an adjacent car park and have set our alarms for 6am.

I have loved the Hebrides, we have been fairly lucky with the weather, the dogs have taken to Motorhome life very well, especially Belle, her not being travel sick is a great relief! Now after a few refinements, we feel ready for our Morocco trip...bring it on!