October 6, 2016
We were up at 8 am to have breakfast and pack the car for the trip to the Hebrides. We had to pack everything because we wouldn’t be coming back to Glasgow. So by 10 am we were on the road, heading north towards the Highlands and Islands. We stopped for lunch and then continued north through Inverness; the weather was perfect and we arrived in Ullapool at around 3 pm.
Upon arrival we signed in at the ferry terminal and then went our separate ways to wander around the town for a while. There wasn’t much to see in the town centre, especially since we didn’t really need souvenirs from Scotland, so the two of us walked up a street full of B&B’s. They all said they were full but they sure looked empty, so maybe they were all closed for the winter. Beyond that we continued along the loch side to a small river, and then walked along a trail. Here we met one of the locals walking her dogs, and it turned out that her father was born in Prince Rupert so we chatted with her for quite a while before heading back to the car.
The ferry to Stornoway departed at 5:30 pm, and with clear skies and calm seas it was a beautiful crossing. We sat on the outer deck until it got fairly dark and then went inside for dinner. When we arrived in Stornoway we found the Heb Hostel, very close to the ferry dock (just like everything else in Stornoway). We settled into our room, the four-bed family room on the top floor, and had some tea before deciding to go out for a walk to stretch our legs. However in the dark we couldn’t really see much.
October 7, 2016
It was another beautiful day when we woke up, again not a cloud in the sky. Our hostel had a help-yourself breakfast so we started the day with toast with jam and cereal with milk. This morning we decided to look around Stornoway before heading onwards to Gearrannan, so the two of us headed over to Lews Castle to see it in the daylight. The water in the harbour was very calm and the reflections of the fishing boats were very picturesque.
We had a nice walk to the castle, which wasn’t open to the public. Parts of it were under renovation and it was supposed to be a university, although it didn’t have any students there today, so it was basically empty. We continued on through the park to the monument to Sir James Matheson, who brought Victorian morality to the Highlands while selling opium to the Chinese. But we were meeting Neil and Christine at 11 am so we headed back to the café at An Lanntair, which is Stornoway’s arts centre. After some tea there we all went over to Tesco to buy food for the next few days.
Christine had been all around this area many times before, so we left her to go shopping while we went off sightseeing with Neil. Our first stop was at the monument for HMY Iolaire, a ship which had run aground just outside the harbour on New Year’s Eve, 1919. The ship was carrying 284 servicemen who had survived the First World War, of which 205 drowned. This was a great blow to the people of Lewis.
After that we headed up-island to the Butt of Lewis, driving through a flat area full of peat bogs. Before we reached the Butt we stopped at the café in Port of Ness for lunch, which was huge bowls of tomato soup followed by a buttermilk scone. The lady running the café told us how to get to a nearby old fort, so we made a slight detour to visit it. It turned out that it wasn’t an Iron Age fort as we had expected, it belonged to Clan Morrison and they used it to watch nearby sea traffic. The island was on a very small island and there surely couldn’t have been more than 50 men stationed there.
At the Butt of Lewis there was a lighthouse, which was a pretty ordinary lighthouse. It was still working, but of course it was automated now. We wandered around for a while taking photos before making the journey back down the road to Gearrannan.
It didn’t take very long to get to the Black House Village, where we were spending the night. The Black Houses were built with very thick stone walls and thatched roofs held down with ropes. They were originally heated by peat fireplaces, of course, but our blackhouse had been completely renovated. It was beautifully done inside with a well-provisioned kitchen, a shower, 2.5 bedrooms, and other modern conveniences. Christine met us there, having taken the bus from Stornoway, and we got settled into our luxury cottage.
The afternoon was very lovely so we sat outside in the sun for a while. Neil thought it would be good to go to the Stones of Callanish for the sunset, so we set off to hopefully catch the last rays of the setting sun. As it turned out there was a low bank of clouds to the west so there weren’t really any photo opportunities. The sky was lovely nevertheless and the standing stones were still picturesque if you looked at them the right way.
Back at our house, Christine had made dinner, so we enjoyed smoked trout with potatoes and veggies. We also had the bottle of strawberry rhubarb wine which we had brought from home. After doing the dishes we sat down and planned what we would do tomorrow.
October 8, 2016
We were only staying in our luxury black house for one night, unfortunately, so after breakfast we packed up our bags and loaded them into the car. But instead of leaving we went for a walk along the coast starting from Gearrannan. At least Neal and the two of us did, while Christine drove to the other end of the walk to meet us, saying she had done it before.
Today’s weather was overcast but with no chance of rain and the temperature was quite mild. We climbed to the headland and by following the wooden posts, which was quite easy, we followed the trail along the coast enjoying the views. At a quick look the area seemed barren and deserted, but not so. There were areas where the soil was formed into ridges: they weren’t natural features, called “lazy-beds”; people in past centuries had built them up to grow crops such as wheat and barley. Apparently there had been whisky distilleries in the area but they had been well-hidden then and they still are.
At this time of the year there was very little wildlife either on land or on the sea, but we passed a small herd of Highland cattle before going down to the beach at Dail Mor, where Christine was waiting. We had tea there before heading back to the main road and back to the standing stones at Callanish. Rosemary had heard that the gift shop there sold locally-made sweaters for £55, but nothing took her fancy so we carried on. We ended up having lunch at a picnic table outside the community hall on the island of Great Bernera, since the café there was unexpectedly closed.
After lunch Neil and the two of us went for another walk. Great Bernera is a smallish island off the coast of Lewis, so it’s surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and there was a lot of kelp in the bays. We started at the tiny settlement of Bhalasaigh and headed northwards along the coast. Like our other walk, the ground had some marshy areas but they were small and easily avoided. There were fewer signs of ancient inhabitants but on the other hand there were more signs of modern inhabitants, such as motor boats and marine debris. Still it was a very nice walk. At the end of it we came down to an Iron Age house at Bosta Beach which had been excavated and set up as a museum display, but unfortunately it was closed for the season.
By the time we got back to the car it was getting late in the afternoon, so we decided to head directly for Tarbert, where we were booked into Kelpie Cottage for the next four nights. It’s an old croft house which has been refurbished as a guest house, with two bedrooms upstairs and a kitchen and sitting room downstairs. After unloading the car we put the heaters on to warm the place up and Christine had made a chicken stew for dinner. It was very tasty and having stew was quite welcome considering that the house was cold. After dinner we sat in the sitting room with the fire going as well as the heater.