October 12, 2016
Our time in Harris was finished, so we were up early to catch the ferry to Berneray. We were booked on the 8:30 am ferry so we left Tarbert at 7 am. We didn’t have breakfast before we left the cottage, so once at the ferry terminal we went to the Butty Bus to buy breakfast. Tea and a butty is a very tasty way to start the morning.
The ferry from Leverburgh to Berneray was not a very large ship, holding maybe 30 vehicles, and the route it took was the most convoluted route we had ever been on. We went past many small islands and did a slalom course between red and green buoys, and because of that the ship went very slowly. From the Berneray slip we made a detour to Lochmaddy to have a look at the hostel there; it wasn’t decided yet whether we would stay at the Berneray hostel, or the Lochmaddy hostel, or one night at each. But it transpired that the Lochmaddy hostel was closed for the season, which explained why they hadn’t answered Neil’s e-mails and phone calls.
Before leaving Lochmaddy we had coffee and cake at the museum/café, and Rosemary bought some wool there to make a sweater. The staff didn’t know how many balls of wool she would need so they phoned up a local knitter and the answer came back—five balls. Hopefully that’s right!
Clearly we would be staying at the Berneray hostel, so we headed over there to secure our beds for the night. The hostel consisted of two old blackhouses which had been fixed up; one had a large and shiny kitchen along with a six-bed room called “Penthouse Suite”, and the other had toilets and a shower along with a seven-bed room called “Honeymoon Suite”. The two of us took beds in Penthouse Suite and Neil and Christine took beds in Honeymoon Suite. We thought it was likely that nobody would show up to share our suite.
By now it was lunchtime, so we ate lunch before heading out on our walk around the island. Berneray is quite a small island and also quite flat, so walking around it would take us the afternoon. Christine went off on her own and Neil went with us. From the hostel we walked along a lovely sandy beach and then went up on a grassy hillside to round the end of the island. There were a lot of birds on the shore—sanderlings, turnstones, plovers, oystercatchers—and we saw some loons in the ocean.
The sky was now becoming more overcast but the temperature was pleasant, so walking was very nice. We continued along another beach, with very few birds, and just as we got near the end we saw a very large Grey Seal in a small bay. Heading along the grassy coastline we stopped at the monument to Angus MacAskill, the world’s tallest man (7 feet, 9 inches), who was born on Berneray but emigrated to Nova Scotia at an early age.
By the time we got back to the hostel we had walked 15.9 kilometers, not bad for an afternoon walk. Tonight we made pasta and sauce with sautéed vegetables for dinner, and luckily it was quick to make as we were hungry. It was soon dark and the clouds which had been covering the sky suddenly went away, leaving a bright moon and stars. And we did have the Penthouse Suite to ourselves, so it would be a quiet sleep.
October 13, 2016
After a good night’s sleep we woke up at 8 am. Once again the day was beautiful so after breakfast we made our lunches and headed out for the day. Our plan was to head over to North Uist to go on a walk out one of its peninsulas. This peninsula had originally been an island and over time it had become joined to the mainland by drifting sand, a geographic feature called a tombolo. We walked out one side to the end, along a beach with very few birds.
At the headland there was a cemetery for the people of Boreray, the island just off the point there. The cemetery was overgrown and in disrepair but there was a man there building a new fence, meant to keep the cows out. So it’s not completely abandoned. A lot of the headstones were just rocks without any inscriptions, but the others were mostly MacLeods.
We headed back along the other side of the headland through the grass and sand; despite the wind the day was quite pleasant. From the trig point we had excellent views on all sides, including out to the islands of St. Kilda. We would have liked to go out there but we couldn’t find a boat operator who would take us.
Finally back at the car park we had our lunch at the picnic tables there, and then carried on around the North Uist road loop. From time to time we passed through small settlements but we didn’t see any peat cultivation, unlike on Lewis. Then we took a side road down to the RSPB site at Balranald.
The site there manages an area for birds, so there was a field full of Greylag Geese and pigeons. (Pigeons are actually native birds in the Western Isles, not feral birds as found in many of the world’s cities.) There was a skylark flying and a lot of little brown birds flitting about. Some of them were Corn Buntings, which are threatened by modern farming practices. After looking at the displays in the visitor centre we went for a walk along their 4.5-kilometer trail around a nearby headland. The wind was still blowing and now the clouds were covering the sun, so it was cooler. And there weren’t many birds out there—it would have been more interesting in the spring when the terns were nesting.
By the time we were finished it was time to head back to the hostel. Tonight was our last night in the Hebrides so we went out to dinner at the Lochmaddy Hotel. Both of us had the haddock and chips and Rosemary had sticky toffee pudding, this time with custard, and rated it higher than the one at the Harris Hotel in Tarbert.
Back at the hostel we found there were two other men staying there; we had already met them at the RSPB site. Apparently while we were at dinner there had been a brief break in the clouds and the Northern Lights were visible. But now it was slightly overcast, so we missed our chance.