Summer 2011

we're back

from our first, long-delayed, much prevaricated

trip to the Eilean Siar, the Western isles.

Ten days across Lochaber and Skye to Harris, Lewis and North Uist. With a very brief foraging trip to Benbecula.

And now we’re back in the metropolitan hubbub that is Fort W...

Yachts on Loch Linnhe

... and it’s another regatta night at the yacht club. So it’s good to see the Lochaber light again, and yachts on the water below the kitchen window.

Backfill of blog with tales and pics from the Isles to follow in the next few days....

For tonight, no more. This being the tenth anniversary of Jim’s mother’s death.

a Harris journal : day 7 : dreaming of St. Kilda

when the skies cleared and the horizon came plain to view, Jim was surprised to discover

that the abandoned island of St Kilda was visible from the windows of our Hebri-gîte in Ardhasaig.

St Kilda Ahoy! (not)

Sadly not true, though. St Kilda is visible from North Uist, but not from Ardhasaig. Turns out that’s just some rock… shame!

So it’s back to Luskentyre beach, to see it one last time, and while the sun shines and a heron is patrolling the strand

Heron at Luskentyre

a Harris journal : day 6 : history day

back over the col to Lewis

and back in time, too, to visit some of the island’s heritage sites. (Click on pictures to enlarge)

Gearrannan Village from up the hill

The last inhabitants of Gearrannan blackhouse village left in the 1970’s.

Gearrannan High Street

Until recently it was, in part, a youth hostel. Today, some of the buildings are available as holiday rental properties.

Gearrannan : a wee place for a sit

But it does survive as a remarkable example of a recently-vanished way of life, and its setting is both beautiful and also rather exposed.

On the Atlantic coast of Lewis, this would have been a wild place on a stormy day.

Gearrannan : Outlook Canada

Inside, however, it’s a bit cosier than the style of blockhouse living we’d seen in the Highland Village at Newtonmore (see the sequence of pictures here)

By the 1970’s, blackhouse living had come on a bit: in the rooms lined wooden walls where in earlier times had just been rubble and turf; heating from a fire in a grate, with a fireplace and enclosed chimney, replacing the open peat fire smoking away in the middle of the floor which gave the blackhouses their name

Gearrannan : blackhouse interior (1) Gearrannan : blackhouse interior (2)

Gearrannan : blackhouse interior (3) Gearrannan : blackhouse interior (4)

and the tweed loom had replacing the cattle in the back room.

From Gearrannan we moved on down the coast of Loch Rog an Ear to Tolastadh a’Chaolais


and thence to Calanais, or Callanish…


As previously remarked, the Hebridean landscape differs from that of west Highland Scotland in the omnipresence of its human habitation: and that’s as true of the very oldest human corners as anywhere else. Unlike the similarly ancient Stonehenge, Callanish is today still directly adjacent to modern houses...

Calanais - the stones and the village

… as much a part of the village today as it must have been throughout the last 3000 years

Calanais: stones, ancient and pre-modern

Calanais: stones and a fish farm

From Calanais, it’s time to head back to Harris, but the stunning light developing means there have to be a few more photo-stops before we leave Lewis for the last time (this trip, anyway…)

So here’s four pictures to mark our farewell to Lewis for 2011…

Calanais lochs

By Balallan and Loch Erisort

Toward the mouth of Loch Seaforth

Farewell to Loch Seaforth


a Harris journal : day 5 : to Lewis

and in Stornaway, the economy seems to have run aground

Stornanway street sculpture (ho, ho)

though elsewhere in Lewis the island light is as pure and as stunning as ever

Ruin by Loch Shiphoirt (1)

these abandoned homes sit above Loch Seaforth (Shiophoirt) alongside the main Harris <-> Lewis road

Ruin by Loch Shiphoirt (2)

and there’s rain in the air once again as we climb back over the pass into Harris

a Harris Journal : day 4 : west to east

a fine morning in Ardhasaig, with the hilltops clearly visible for once

looking west at Ardhasaig

So off we head westwards, past the eerie remains of the old Norwegian whaling station
The Old Whaling Station

to the famous sandy beach to the west at Hushinish

Hushinish Panorama

Sometimes on days like this the chromatics of sea and sand seem more Caribbean than British

Ruth on the beach at Hushinish

As we head back towards Tarbert, though, the landscape is unmistakably Scottish

Above Amhuinnsuidhe

as are the fauna.

Having done the west route, we continued on through Tarbert and on over the bridge that links Harris and the isle of Scalpay off its eastern coast.

A major part of the character of the islands comes from the fact that, in such far flung places, broken down and unwanted properties of all kinds remain to rust and rot, until gradually over time they will simply be absorbed by the land or the sea.



So this is not a landscape wild or undisturbed. This landscape bears the marks of human presence and history at every turn. And for the most part it’s the history of ordinary island folk, whose relics linger after them and bear witness to their lives and struggles


Who lived here? And who allowed a habitation in such a beautiful spot to crumble and collapse?


a Harris journal : day 3 : South Harris

a day-trip around the southern part of Harris...

… an area renowned for its vast sandy beaches

Approaching Luskentyre

Looking back to Luskentyre

By reputation these expanses of sand are deserted. But it seems nobody told these surfers

Traigh Iar, South Harris

Surfing at Traigh Iar, South Harris

Traigh Scarasta

Northton,  South Harris, looking north


a Harris journal : day 2 : miracle at Luskentyre

our first full day on Harris is a Sunday. And as wet a Sunday as you could ever hope for

Best seen through the kitchen window, maybe

Ardhasaig kitchen outlook

So it’s quite late in the day that we decide to get out, and head for the famous beach at Luskentyre

Along the way, South Harris shows its lunar appeal

Road to Luskentyre (1)

and it seems the darkest time is just before the light as we descend towards the sea, and the beach at Luskentyre appears in the distance, glowing through the gloom

Road to Luskentyre (2)

The light here is quite extraordinary. The sea glows turquoise, and through it the sand seems illuminated by a light whose source is genuinely mysterious


If the sea is blue because it reflects the colour of the sky, then when is the sea here, today, this luminous green, when the sky is grey, going on black?


And there’s more. We brave the rain to go watch gannets playing in the surf. Really quite unusual to get so close to these creatures

Gannet at Luskentyre (1) ,,,,,,,,,, Gannet at Luskentyre (2)

We get thoroughly drenched walking half a mile from the car to the beach, but the rain stops and the wind dries us out again on the walk back!

Then it’s back to Ardhasaig, wher the evening light suggests we may have a better day coming tomorrow

Evening light at Ardhasaig

a Harris journal : day 1 : arrival

as we left Uig on Skye the rain seemed to sweep in and swallow it up behind us

Leaving Uig, Skye

When we reached Tarbert on Harris, the rain was horizontal

Arriving in Tarbert, Harris

No access to our cottage til later in the day, so off we head to Stornoway, where ancient fishing boats come to linger in reminiscence

Stornoway Harbour

of herring girls long-gone
.....................................................Herring Girl Statue, Stornoway

Then it’s back down to Harris, and there’s now some hope of sunshine in the afternoon air
Loch Erisort, Lewis

The boundary between Harris and Lewis seems as much a matter of geology as politics, as we cross it at the bottom of the pass over the North Harris mountains which lie between Ardhasaig and Loch Seaforth.

Loch Seaforth, Lewis, from the Harris road

Ardhasaig will be our base for the next week. We picked it for its apparent potential for stunning views of mountains, loch and ocean. For now, it’s enough to settle in as gloomy turns to gentle island gloaming

West Loch Tarbert from Ardhasaig

Some light, eh!!!

a Hebridean adventure

starts here

Down and out of Fort William, in the Cooper D Convertible

We're off!

and off to Skye. This time via the Glenelg to Kylerhea Community Ferry. The road to Glenelg gives a new perspective on the hills of Kintail, as we climb up above Loch Duich

Above Loch Duich

and as we look back from Skye

Above Kylerhea

The Ferry boat itself reveals its origin as the wee vessel that used to ply the waters of Loch Leven, twixt N. and S. Ballachulish, before the Ballachulish Bridge was built about 40 years ago now

The Ferryboat Glenachulish at Glenelg pier

The Cooper D purrs gently over the hills and (not very) far away, and we see the sun go down over the Minch from Uig at the western end of Skye.

The Uig Folly at Dusk

Tomorrow to Harris, and beyond!