10:15 p.m. in the hotel on Stornoway
I feel as if too much has happened in the last 2 days to write it down: it feels too daunting a task. When I left Hebden Bridge I’d got into a routine of spending a couple of hours each day, mostly in the evenings, sorting through photos and writing my blog but for the past few days it’s been after 10 pm before I’ve found a spare quiet minute to collect my thoughts.
Left the hotel at 7:45 where I watched everyone else tuck into plates laden with eggs, bacon, sausage, black puddings – really? Apparently McLeod and McLeod of Stornaway are famous for their black puddings. I thought my Bury was the place for back puddings? I learned that Stornaway puddings have less fat in them. In fact on the morning that we left the island the bus driver and a couple on our trip bought some to take home.
It was pouring with rain and blowing a gale as we set out to Tarbert where a narrow inlet forms the boundary between Lewis and Harris. I was grateful for the calm weather of yesterday. I learned later that in the whole month of may the boats had only been able to reach St Kilda on 5 occasions.
We drove along the Golden Road, a one track road with passing places, that derived its name from the high cost of its construction. The 12 miles takes over an hour to drive as it turns and winds past ponds and lochs, over rivers, all remnants of the flooding at the end of the last Ice Age.
Our first stop was at a church of St Clement at the extreme southern tip of Harris – Rodel. It was built in the sixteenth century by Alexander McLeod (any relation to the black puddings?) and it contains 3 wonderful tombs of knights, carved from black gneiss. Unlike the more usual white marble effigies these had a peculiar character to them, quite spooky.
One of my friends saw my photo of one of the knights and thought it was a mummy. I can see why. As an aside – It would have useful if the driver would have pointed out where the bathrooms were before we went to explore the church. I’d asked and he pointed vaguely behind the hill.
I thought he was indicating an al fresco affair and said I’d wait to the next stop – which he said was in 15 minutes time. Coming out of the church I saw the rest of the group heading en masse behind the hill. There was a real bathroom – with a visitors’ book! It’s little details like this that I think the driver should be aware of.
When we arrived in Tarbert the rain was even worse and everyone piled into one cafe that was already overflowing. I wanted some fresh air and to stretch my legs and see the town so despite the rain I took off, stopping first at the visitors’ center and then went window shopping in the small stores, mostly craft stores with lots of Harris tweed for sale. I’d never connected Harris tweed with the island of Harris before – duh! I got a tea to take
Main street, Tarbert
back on the bus and this caused quite a stir. It dawned on me that not one had I seen anyone eat or drink anything – not even a toffee – on the bus. In fact, no-one had even mentioned their trip to St Kilda. Bizarre. I wondered whether this was because the rest of the group are so well travelled ‘When I was in Rio last year . . .” and “On my round the world air ticket for my 60th birthday” and “Last time I was in St Petersburg.” Also several of the group had been to the Outer Hebrides before and it they wanted to come again it wasn’t too far.While, for me, coming from California this was a trip of a life-time.
Our next stop was the Blackhouse village at Gearrannan where our driver had arranged for lunch for us and a talk about the site. We were immediately shown to the cafe which was itself in a blackhouse. These were one roomed stone buildings with walls up to 6 ft thick,
stone hot water bottle
thatched, in which a family and the animals would share the space. Over the centuries windows were added in the roof – that was easier than trying to make an opening in the thick walls, and a chimney was added to direct the smoke away from the earlier central fire – which resulted in the name ‘black house.’ The talk was given in a black house that had been furnished as it would have been around 1930. It recognized several items from my own home – a stone hot water bottle, a bedspread and pottery. The captain’s mother had been born in a renovate black house in 1947 and we passed several restored black houses that are lived in on our tour.
Over lunch – sandwiches (ah, yes, I remember these: a transparent slice of ham and a lettuce leaf) – the conversation went from Sainsbury’s supermarkets now acquiring their fish direct from Grimsby, to the problems of the bus driver keeping to his schedule of a 15 hour day. Still bizarre to me.
The village was on the edge of a cliff and I went to explore, scaring some rather large sheep. It was raining cats and dogs and I was glad I’d remembered to put leggings on under my trousers so that there was the possibility of retaining one layer of dry clothing. One of the 6 remaining houses is a hostel and others are for rent.
The next stop for the day was at Cardoway Broch. The function of a Scottish broch is still very much the cause for dispute amongst archaeologists. At one time they were thought to be fortifications erected during the Roman invasion but perhaps they were the ‘manor house’ of a clan.
This is one of the best preserved. It has a double wall, the inner one being vertical and the outer one sloping inwards so that the space between the two walls becoming increasingly narrower as you go up. People lived in here, made Harris tweed, tended their animals.
Soon we were at the final stop for the day – the Standing Stones.
We were back at the hotel by 5:30 – time for a relaxing bath before dinner. I’d just settled in, listening to my favorite bath-time music: opera arias – when the hotel phone rang. Err. Forget it. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was planned for 7. I got there on the dot and no-one from our group was there but every table was full, for this was the big night in town. the Red Hot Chili Peppers were playing in the marquee at the Hebcelt festival, and live music was happening in the hotel restaurant from 11p.m til 1 a.m. I inquired at the front desk and told that my party was to eat at 7:30. Ah, that explains the phone call, I thought. So I headed downtown to take photos of the festival goers. The sun was out – amazing! I went all the way up to the marquee and saw the pitch city (the very wet tent village) and then I heard bagpipes. I got back to the square and sure enough here were the dozen pipers with a fair sized crowd of onlookers – part of the festival. The wind was blowing strongly, of course, which produced some unexpected photos! I ran most of the way back to the
hotel to be on time for dinner and then headed back into town for a few more sunset-type photos, though it was still bright daylight at 10:30.