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/…

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.