Hebrides: Days 2 & 3

“A description of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland”

240px-OuterhebrideslewisFollowing in the illustrious footsteps of Martin Martin in 1703, two weeks ago I was delighted to undertake on a snap return visit to the Outer Hebrides after an absence of five months, accompanied by friend Craig Stevens. I tweeted the journey with pics and map links.

The weather forecast for our trip did not bode well. Rain, rain and more rain according to Tomasz Schafernaker. And so it turned out on Day 2 as we headed north from Annandale Water in the border to Cairndow at the head of Loch Fyne for a lunchtime dining experience at the famous oyster bar.

After a swift but satisfying lunch we set off for Uig (Isle of Skye) via Inverary, Connel, Fort William and Kyle of Lochalsh. The rain sluiced down for most of the journey, and was compounded on Skye by low cloud such that the Cuillins were entirely obscured from view – much to Craig’s annoyance as he had wanted to see them up close!

Time was tight. I knew it would be a long long drive from Cairndow to Uig and we had a deadline, the 6pm ferry sailing. Travelling at sometimes breakneck speeds rather than the gentle bumble we had anticipated, and getting held up at various points by grockles and roadworks, we did however make it to Uig with just five minutes to spare before check-in was due to close. At which point we learned that the ferry was running half an hour late and hadn’t even arrived!

Once we were on board and departed from Uig, we made a beeline for the cafeteria and enjoyed a CalMac macaroni cheese (me) and chicken curry (Craig). These two dishes are legend on CalMac services! Both were scrumptious, although there was a problem with the curry as the chicken hadn’t been properly cooked. This was rectified swiftly and very professionally by the kitchen.

When we arrived at Tarbert on the Isle of Harris the low cloud remained. It was a murky drive over to the west side but once past Luskentyre the cloud lifted somewhat, although drizzle continued until we reached our overnight destination, Leverburgh.

We checked in to Sorrel Cottage for two nights around 9.15pm and took ourselves to bed for an early night. It was lovely to discover several tweets from islanders welcoming me ‘home’.  Next morning was wet again, but with a promise of some improvement (thankfully).

We drove up the Golden Road on the east side of Harris, back to Tarbert and thence headed to Stornoway on Lewis. En route we stopped off for a cup of coffee with SarahMac at Grimshader; it was lovely to catch up with her news though I was disappointed that N wasn’t there!

We met up with former colleague Myra at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and took her to lunch at the Woodland Centre at Lews Castle Park. It was great to see her and to catch up on all the CnES gossip.

After dropping Myra back at her office we set off for Carloway. En route we paid a quick visit to James Smith’s Oiseval Gallery at Brue as I wanted to purchase a copy of his magnificent Achmore photograph to frame as a memento of my six months living there last winter.

Craig had particularly wanted to revisit Dun Carloway Broch and we arrived in glorious sunshine. It was rather breezy (understatement) though. What a difference to the last time we had been there – he’d had the place to himself in January, but not in August!

Reaching Breasclete we dropped in for a flying visit to The Soaplady at Hebridean Soap. Linda was delighted to meet ‘The Blessed Craig’ and proceeded to give him a demonstration of soapmaking and cutting which he enjoyed enormously. Various purchases of soap and knick-knacks were made.

Having decided to give Callanish a miss because of the likely numbers of people to be found there, we headed straight Achmore. It was great to see Sundown again, but more particularly to look across the moor to the mountains of Harris. Oh how I miss that view, though now I have it immortalised on a James Smith picture.

And then it was time to head back to Sorrel Cottage. Stops were made on the way for Kodak moments and a walk on the machair at Seilebost. We had booked to have dinner at The Anchorage at Leverburgh Pier which had been recommended to us.

We feasted on fresh as can be seafood. Five minute lobster at The Anchorage doesn’t just mean its been cooked for five minutes. Five minutes before that it was living in the sea, having been fished out of a creel especially for Craig’s order. For myself I tried whiting for the first time – delicious.

After watching the sun set over the Sound of Harris (only marred to some extent by low cloud), we headed back to Sorrel pretty exhausted after a long but rewarding day, looking forward to crossing to North Uist on the morrow.

to be continued …

You can view a photograph gallery of our trip at http://gallery.me.com/x333xxx/100160.

Latha Hiort (St Kilda Day), 29.08.09

Bidh Latha Hiort a’ comharrachadh falmhachadh deireannach Hiort san 29 Lùnastal 1930.

Bheir e cunntas air beatha is dìleab nan Hiortach tro cheòl, fhacal is ìomhaigh agus togaidh e air soirbheachadh eadar-nàiseanta Opara 2007 Hiort airson sgeulachd nan Hiortach a lorg agus a thoirt dhachaigh.

Tha àrainneachdan talmhaidh is mara Hiort air leth luachmhor agus chaidh an àrainneachd mhìorbhaileach nàdarra seo ainmeachadh mar Làrach Dualchas Nàdarra an t-Saoghail aig UNESCO ann an 1987. Ann an 2005 chaidh inbhe Làrach Dualchas an t-Saoghail a bhuileachadh a-rithist air Hiort. Bha seo air sgàth a dhualchais shònraichte chultarach, ga dhèanamh mar an aon Làrach Dualchas mheasgaichte an t-Saoghail ann am Breatainn agus aon a-mach à 25 san t-saoghal air fad.

Tomorrow, 29th August 2009, the first ever St Kilda Day will celebrate one of the world’s truly spectacular places. It will be the 79th anniversary of the permanent evacuation of the island’s population.

St Kilda

St Kilda

St Kilda lies 65 kilometres out into the Atlantic to the west of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. It emerged from a huge volcano more than 50 million years ago and its cliffs are taller than New York’s Empire State Building.

The archipelago was inhabited for 3,000 years until its evacuation in 1930 and it is now home to more than a million birds.

St Kilda’s terrestrial and marine landscapes are of outstanding value and this magnificent natural environment was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. In 2005 St Kilda was again awarded World Heritage Site status because of its unique cultural heritage, making it the only mixed World Heritage Site in the British Isles and one of only 25 worldwide.

A programme of events across Scotland is marking the anniversary of the evacuation of the last 36 St Kildans on 29th August 1930.

St Kilda Day (Latha Hiort) celebrates the place and the people, their lives and legacy in music and song, words and images, storytelling and film and build on the international success of the 2007 St Kilda Opera to trace the St Kildans’ story and bring it all back home.

If you’d like to find out more about the evacuation story I can thoroughly recommend Tom Steel’s The Life and Death of St Kilda which is widely available.


Homecoming for last surviving St Kilda evacuee

In “An t-Hiortach” or “The St Kildan”, a documentary to be shown on BBC Alba (available on Sky) at 10pm tomorrow evening, the last evacuee still able to tell his story, Norman John Gillies, has been back one final time. video clip


Thwarted ambition to visit St Kilda this year

I set myself a goal to make a first time visit to St Kilda, and pay a long overdue return visit to Shetland.

Since I was living in the Outer Hebrides at the time St Kilda should have been easily achieved but because of my back problems this year it hasn’t happened, not least because the sea crossing from Harris to St Kilda is long and quite arduous, not a good recipe for someone feeling a bit delicate at times.

The closest to St Kilda I’ve managed to get is a very hazy view of it from the Isle of South Uist last Saturday (22nd August) morning!  I’m pleased to say that Shetland has been ticked off the list, but St Kilda must alas await for 2010 when I shall redouble my resolve to make the voyage.

Twittering to Stornoway & back

240px-OuterhebrideslewisI’m really looking forward to returning to the Outer Hebrides tomorrow after a five month absence. Unfortunately it is to be a short visit rather than a permanent return …

After an early appointment in Oxford (which was kindly rearranged for me) Craig and I will be hitting the M40 at the start of a long drive to Uig on the Isle of Skye, and then we’ll cross to Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris, on Tuesday.

We’ll return to the mainland from Lochboisdale, Isle of South Uist, on Saturday afternoon.

I’ll be twittering my way around, subject to mobile reception, complete with pictures and location maps. Look in the righthand column on this page for tweets/links, or follow me at twitter.com/x333xxx.

Canapé binges: health warning

There is a hidden health time bomb now ticking under the affluent middle classes – nibbles.

canapesHealth experts are increasingly worried about the effects of binge canapé-ing. This takes place mainly at Sunday lunchtimes at events known to the initiated as “drinkies”. Vast amounts of smoked salmon mousse are consumed on these occasions and guacamole is known to be freely available.

The authorities are bracing themselves for a massive increase in canapé consumption this autumn.

One observer in Weybridge commented: “It’s a nightmare. People are afraid to go out at midday on Sundays because the streets, drives, avenues, crescents and closes are full of members of the affluent middle classes who are high on filo pastry. They slam car doors and shout ‘ciao’. I gather it’s even worse in some parts of Kent.”

The tragedy is that these people do not realise what they are doing to their health. Many of them are so occupied with social banter at drinkies occasions that they will take a rolled-up piece of bacon from the plate held in front of them without bothering to inquire what might be wrapped inside it. Too often, they are surprised by a lurking prune.

Stab wounds from cocktail sticks have been the subject of numerous warnings, but, amazingly, they are still occurring. Men put used sticks in their pockets, then, two or three days later, stab themselves in the hand when reaching for their BlackBerries. Now, though, the numbers of cocktail-stick wounds have been overtaken by tortilla-chip injuries. Sharp corners of tortilla chips can damage throats, but they are a real danger when held by anyone who tends to gesticulate extravagantly.

Far too many men are ignoring warnings about telling anecdotes while eating a mini vol-au-vent. They not only run the serious risk of a pre-punchline choking fit, but they can also spray pastry flakes that may blind listeners standing too close. Caterers serving vol-au-vents are supposed to provide goggles.

Official guidelines from the Department of Health say the safe taramasalata limit for men should be five units a week and for women four. A unit is defined as a “moderate blob” on something the size of a Ritz biscuit. The trouble is that people at a social gathering are often unaware of how many times they have plunged their tortilla chip into the passing bowl of goo.

The Government will be running a pre-Christmas campaign to urge the affluent middle classes to observe the rules of “responsible dipping”. A poster campaign will show a picture of a queasy chartered surveyor with the caption: “Another mini sausage roll? You know you shouldn’t!

There may also be a series of shocking TV commercials showing people at a drinks party reaching for the nibbles tray, not noticing that it carries “triangles of death” – little triangles of toast with blobs of cream cheese and chives shaped into skulls.

Experts say something must be done to get rid of the “canapé culture”. Nibbles seem so harmless, but you wouldn’t think so if you saw the effects on a 40-year-old professional man who has gorged himself on 17 mini Scotch eggs.

There is now a dangerous fashion sweeping the socially ‘in’ village of Nether Wallop for potent canapé cocktails, such as the “Snog on the Millenium Green”, which is a blini topped with houmous, a roulade of smoked salmon smeared with parsley, a smidgin of a caviarish substance and two chicken satays – with a stuffed-olive chaser.

The most popular is still “Nichole’s Nuts” – three choux puffs in quick succession, a “more-ish” mini quiche, a cocktail sausage, a cube of pineapple and a “scampi thing”, all topped with a pickled walnut.

A concerted campaign to educate the affluent middle classes will soon be launched, with community workers giving talks at bridge clubs, gyms and Pilates classes and in the more expensive kitchenware shops.

Leaflets will be distributed in neighbourhoods that are known to be up and coming. The theme of all this will be: “Nibbles – Just Say ‘No, Thanks Most Awfully, I’ve Had An Adequate Sufficiency’.

Going ‘home’ (temporarily)

Next week I shall be making a spur-of-the-moment return visit to the Outer Hebrides, arriving on Tuesday evening.

I’m looking forward to catching up with a couple of friends during my short stay, and will include some time visiting the Uists and Benbecula which I didn’t manage to get to whilst living in Lewis last winter. Booking the ferries and accommodation has proven to be a nightmare; whilst I’m delighted to have found somewhere in Leverburgh, I should have preferred to be a little closer to Stornoway!

  • Tuesday and Wednesday nights – Leverburgh, Harris
  • Thursday and Friday nights – Daliburgh, South Uist

The blessed Craig of that ilk has jumped at the opportunity to see the Hebrides in summertime.  On his two previous visits (under different circumstances) the weather was less than favourable, so could someone please organise a couple of dry days or better still sunshine and blue skies? Thanks everso!

View a map of our route.

Silly season holiday snaps

gordonAs usual most members of the Cabinet are on their holidays abroad again, and Lord Mandelson is charge (in Corfu, apparently) whilst Gordon is having his break at home in his constituency, Kirkcaldy.

I’m not in charge, says Mandelson (BBC News)

What about those foreign politicians who choose to come to Britain?

I’ve been compiling a list:

  • Italy’s ambitious Minister for Minor Catastrophes, Paolo Gnocchi, is renting a semi in the suburbs of Ipswich again this year. The area has become known as Little Umbria because of the many members of the chatterati who go there, notably the editor of the political journal, Il Spettatore. They all network between strenuous games of bowls and quoits matches against the locals. Signor Gnocchi is often seen in the local Tesco, haggling over a packet of turkey burgers.
  • Scandal surrounds the Swedish Deputy Minister for Recycling, who is spending several weeks at the Northamptonshire farm of billionaire British vinegar distiller Ted Umbrage. Swedish newspapers have been denouncing this fribij and claiming it’s another example of slis, because Mr Umbrage is trying to establish a giant herring pickling plant near Jönköping. The Minister, Mr Torg, says he and Mr Umbrage share an interest in Strindberg, but admits he was given a pair of wellies and a loud tweed flat cap.
  • The Portuguese Minister for Statistics, Luisa Silva, has chosen to unwind by taking part in a “dig” organised by the University of Lochboisdale, somewhere in the Outer Hebrides. Her office says she will be working alongside a noted archeologist named Murphy and will be staying at the Balivanich campsite. She will be keeping in close touch with her office over the continuing crisis of the missing decimal point.
  • The EU Commissioner for Footwear has bought a timeshare at Dorneywood and will spend the whole summer there, recharging his iPhone battery, relaxing and playing croquet.
  • Fights have broken out in Knaresborough between the armed bodyguards of the Bolivian Minister for Single Mothers and the public relations staff of the Dutch Minister for First Aid. A dispute over a Mivvi ice lolly has been blamed. The nanny of the New Zealand Minister for Firework Safety is attempting to mediate.
  • Last year, the Scottish holiday of Mr Weens, head of the Belgian opposition party, the Progressive Anti-Social Alliance, was cut short after he suffered gunshot wounds in what was thought to be an assassination attempt. Mr Weens is returning to Scotland this summer, hoping to have better luck with his grouse-watching.
  • We also have some Chinese VIPs holidaying in Britain. The head of the powerful Bicycle Standards Committee is hiking with his family in the Midlands, walking the length of the historic trail linking five M&S stores. They will stay at Starbucks hostels along the way. Mr Hu, deputy chief of the Farmers Goodwill Movement, is rock climbing in Norfolk. His wife will take time to buy some authentic peasant handicrafts in Wymondham. Mr Hu’s office issued a statement saying: “He has for many years desired to visit Britain because it is the country with the second widest range of potato crisp flavours in the world.”
  • It’s a working holiday for Marcel Tisch, Luxembourg’s colourful Minister for Noise Abatement. He will be staying in a traditional boarding house in Hackney researching his biography of Jeremy Beadle, “father of British political satire”, who was born in the borough.
  • Ms Jerziwuk, the charismatic Minister Without Portfolio in the Polish Government, is not taking a holiday this year and is working with the disadvantaged in the Royal Yacht Squadron, in Cowes. She told reporters: “I also hope to have talks with my opposite number, Lord Mandelson.”