St Lucy and the fish pot

Yesterday dawned sunny and bright, just like every other day here in paradise.  But before dawn I found myself awake at 4.25am and decided to have a swim in the pool which, by now, I consider to be deliciously warm. A far cry from my first experience of it.

Of course, at that time of the morning you don’t have to worry about onlookers, so I threw caution (and my bathers) to the wind …

Then it was back to bed after a towel dry, and I slept for another couple of hours before getting up for some more pool dipping (appropriate attired now) on and off during the morning.

Swimming was interspersed with grilling on a sun lounger. I’ve dropped the high protection sun cream in favour of a medium one now as I’m managing not to burn.  Or is it because I’m being very careful not to grill for longer than 5-10 minutes at a time, and consequently I’m not grilling very much at all with all that slap on?

Throwing caution to the wind (a lovely, fairly constant, easterly breeze is a most welcome feature of Barbados) I took a walk down the street to explore the locality a little. This from someone who until recently was very wary of walking anywhere away from the sanctuary of home lest I hurt myself.  If nothing else this week in Barbados has been a truly liberating experience, I’ve come to realise that I can indeed do more than I thought I was physically capable of just now.

I wasn’t out long, maybe 20 minutes, and I certainly felt the heat, but I enjoyed the stroll (as much as you can stroll in flipflops that is), and then back home again for another dip in that by now familiar pool.

Around 1pm we set off on the day’s tour, this time heading for the parish of St Lucy in the far north of the island. I joked that St Lucy is the coldest part of the island because it is closest to the north pole, but really it wasn’t anything of the sort. Apparently St Lucy is renowned for its country bumpkins as there is much agriculture up there and I suppose yes I did see quite a bit of evidence to that claim, although Barbados is rather notable for the lack of mass agriculture apart from sugar cane for rum production.

We stopped for lunch at a delightful beachside restaurant called The Fish Pot at Little Good Harbour on the north of the west coast. The view was faultless (see picture). From our table we had, for entertainment, a couple of fitties who swam out to the sunbathing pontoon – oh how I envied them – and I captured the lovely photograph just as a brightly-coloured dinghy sailed past the pontoon.  I didn’t really notice her much, but I reckon I could pick him out in an identity parade in ten years time!

My camera, unfortunately, wouldn’t zoom quite well enough for me to share a close-up pic of the two fitties, so you’ll just have to use your imagination on this point. My camera is also playing up at the moment, I’m finding my pictures are often coming out blurry – much to my considerable annoyance.

The Fish Pot, as you may imagine, specialises in, er, fish! I’m not really a fish eater, indeed I’ve gone out of my way to avoid eating it for many years apart from the odd smoked salmon sandwich, etc.  But back home TSM has got me into enjoying poached salmon, and fish pie, and various other bits. The Blessed Craig last year introduced me to whitebait (that, I can tell you, was something of a revelation).

And so, progressively, my piscine education has been extended. “What did you have for lunch?” I hear you ask. Well I rolled the boat out big time yesterday – a case of when in Rome do as the Romans.  I went mad and ordered fresh lobster bisque (delicious beyond words) followed by grilled barracuda with a creole sauce and a side salad. The barracuda was very toothsome, I loved it!  Philip says that red snapper is tasty too, so maybe that’s what I’ll have to have at our next meal out!

From Little Good Harbour we continued northwards to the northernmost tip of the island at Retreat, where there is a magnificent cave that has been ‘blown’ out by the sea over hundreds if not thousands of years.

The geology of Barbados is fascinating in that it is entirely made of ancient coral caused by a tectonic shift millennia ago.  Unlike the other islands of the Caribbean which are volcanic in nature, Barbados does not have any dormant volcanoes, let an active one. Over the centuries the sea has gradually eroded much of the coral at the sea’s edge and in places one finds dramatic ‘tables’ of coral jutting out to see, or raggedy cliffs where the coral has been gouged away by the force of the seawater.

And in the case of the ‘Animal Flower Cave’ the sea has gradually washed out a magnificent subterranean cave which at low tide exposes some magnificent rock pools, some of which are deep enough to swim in. The cave’s name comes from the sea anemones found in the pools of the cave.

Apparently (I’m not sure how much I believe it) there was a huge storm around Christmas (so a month ago) and all the sea anemones got washed away, out to sea. So when I was there yesterday it was just a magnificent cave with some pools of water. I didn’t see anemones (or sea anemones for that matter)!

And then it was a leisurely meander back to Prospect for another evening by (and in) the hot tub. Dale the Bajan and Mark the Jamaican joined us for the evening again. It was pretty special watching the stars in the night sky whilst chatting with friends old and new. It was at this point I realised that on 24th January one is supposed to be cold, and I was anything but cold last night!

I retired early to bed last night, I’m not sleeping terribly well here. At first I thought it was the heat, but the aerial fan (topped up with aircon when heat is too oppressive) keeps me cool, or the bed which isn’t long enough for me, but last night I seemed to not notice the shortcomings of the bed at all. So who knows what the cause of the wakefulness is.

What’s on the agenda today? Well as already intimated in a comment I’ve left on yesterday’s posting, today I’m off out on my own (I feel brave enough now) to visit the Mount Gay Rum Distillery on the outskirts of Bridgetown. And then I’ll make my way back by public bus which, I am reliably informed, is quite an experience.  Quite what kind of experience I guess I’ll tell you about tomorrow morning!

I’m not sure whether a trip out is planned for later, but I hope so … there’s so much more to see and I can already see the end of my visit looming on Thursday.

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Hebrides: Day 4

After a leisurely breakfast and departure from Sorrel on Day 4 (20 August) we paid a visit to the MacGillivray Centre at Northton in light drizzle, then took a short drive up the coast back to Horgabost and afterwards retraced our steps to ‘Seallam!‘ in Northton to be there when it opened at 10am.

We enjoyed the Hebridean exhibition and particularly the St Kilda special collection which had added poignancy for me because of my long-held desire to visit the archipelago, ideally this year (which did not happen), and of course because 29 August just a few days ahead of our visit would be the 79th anniversary of the evacuation.

We then headed back to Leverburgh to await the ferry to take us across to Berneray and North Uist. As we were in good time we popped into the ‘Butty Bus’ and said hello to Bob. He was delighted to see us and made us very welcome.

The weather cleared as we were waiting for the ferry, with patches of blue sky becoming ever more evident – almost sufficient to make a pair of knickers for the Queen (favourite saying of Craig’s mother, apparently). So eventual departure gave us a splendid backdrop of the south Harris hills around Leverburgh bathed in glorious sunshine and mixed cloud, and thus it was for the entire hour’s crossing to Berneray.

For those who aren’t familiar with this ferry crossing, the Sound of Harris is only a couple of miles across but its very shallow, especially at low tide. The CalMac ferry weaves a tortuous route through navigation channels avoiding reefs and rocks, islands and navigation markers. Goodness know what it must be like for the man at the tiller at nighttime, but in daytime the twists and turns make for a fascinating crossing with new vistas opening all the time.

After we arrived on Berneray we set off north to explore this small and delightful island with wonderful views across the sound back towards Harris, and then crossed over the ‘new’ causeway to North Uist. The weather was glorious, breezy but sunny blue skies and scudding high level cloud occasionally obliterating the sun for a few minutes.

Once we reached the circular island road, we set off in an anticlockwise direction, intent on visiting the Isle of Baleshare before we reached the Isle of Benbecula. Not far along the A865 the most amazing sandy vista opened up in front of us. A truly stunning bay of white sand of seemingly limitless size. We couldn’t see the sea (the tide was out!).

We reached a parking place at the shoreline by Grenitote where several cars were parked and got out for a leg stretch and a Kodak moment.

We immediately spotted a Land Rover whizzing across the bay, headed in our direction, and then it forged a tidal stream and several large puddles and eventually drew up alongside us. The driver’s window was wound down and he said to me “That was great fun!” and with a big smile, drove off.

I should say at this juncture that I’ve often thought my family motto should be “If it’s there, drive up it.” Marion would certainly agree, because that’s what I always seem to be doing when she’s with me…

I said to Craig, “Right, that’s us too then ….!” and off we set for a ‘desert safari’. We forged the river and set off across the beach which must have been about 1-2 miles across, and then on a track through sand dunes beyond which led to a second bay of similar dimension to the first. Oh what a fab time (including more than a few Kodak moments). See video clips here and here!

on the beach

We made it back to dry land without mishap, but wreathed in smiles … A quick stop for comestibles was made at Sollas Co-op and then we enjoyed a lovely alfresco lunch at Malaglate on the machair overlooking another delightful sandy bay to a distant isle with two large and ruined properties on it.

After lunch we made steady progress southwards via Balmartin, Baleshare and Balivanich (Isle of Benbecula) and onto our final island for the day, South Uist.

Getting rather tired by this time we decided to head straight for our hotel, the Borrodale at Daliburgh. It is one of three in the southern isles owned by the same company. I had stayed at the Dark Isles Hotel a few years ago on my first visit to South Uist, it was pretty average – a typical coach tour type hotel. This accommodation had been booked for us by VisitScotland and I rather hoped to find Borrodale an improvement on my memory of Dark Isles!

Well my review of the Borrodale on Trip Advisor will tell you what I thought of the hotel!

After a nap we were ready for something to eat and found a half-decent (not the best but no means the worst – that accolade belongs to Thurso) fish and chip shop nearby. It was remarkable for having a filling station attached to it (rather than the other way about, the pump controls were on the counter of the F&C shop). We drove onto the machair and enjoyed a fish supper looking north with the Atlantic ocean on our left.

Before retiring for the night we decided that we’d attempt a side trip the next day to visit Barra and Vatersay if we could get a ferry place. The weather forecast for the following day wasn’t particularly good, rising winds were predicted which didn’t augur well for a smooth crossing, and rain was anticipated also. But neither of us had been to Barra previously and so we decided we’d do it if we could.

to be continued/…

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.

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.