August has been a very busy month! Part of the reason for coming back this summer was to help Moray’s cousin, Angus, work on the remodel of his croft, Sunrise. As is always the way of these things, planning permission for the major remodel has not yet been forthcoming, but there were still plenty of projects to work on! So for the majority of the month, we split our time between staying with Moray’s Mum and staying at Sunrise.
Just to give you an idea, here are some of the projects we worked on with Angus and Paulette:
Building a shed (with a chainsaw)
Building a bed (with a chainsaw… seeing a pattern? 🙂 )
Giving a new lease of life to a garden seat, by repainting the metal frame and replacing the rotten boards
Digging a drainage ditch to allow the shed wall to dry out
The walls of the croft were built with stone and lime mortar. At some point, someone had repointed using cement, which looks ugly and also allows damp to be retained in the walls. Over the years, this has become a problem, so the job was to remove that cement and prepare the walls for Angus to repoint with lime mortar.
Of course, it hasn’t all been working! Alongside sleeping late, scrabble, backgammon and knitting clubs, time was spent traveling. I went to Pennan with Moray’s mum while moray was helping his brother with a kitchen rebuild. Pennan is a pretty little coastal town on the Aberdeenshire North coast.
When Moray came back from helping his brother he made a batch of home brew which he set aside to be ready when we returned from Edinburgh.
We were then off for a long weekend in Edinburgh, attending The Fringe and The Tattoo. We camped in the car at the Festival Campsite, run by Camping Ninja. This group sets up campsites for most of the major festivals in the UK and is very well organized. There are great facilities and it was right on a bus route, so we could avoid the astronomical parking fees at the festival. Of course, it also meant that we could both have a drink or two…..
We arrived at the campsite around 1pm, enjoyed our welcome beer, and then set off by bus to take in some of the Free Fringe Festival Acts. Most of the acts are in little rooms in various pubs and clubs or in the streets, and last about an hour. The first one we saw was “Pottervision!” – two young guys who re-enacted the whole of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – just the two of them, using various props. It was absolutely hilarious! After that, we saw Erich McElroy, a stand-up comedian. He’s an American living in London, and he gave a really funny account of how he was treated by his English friends and acquaintances when Trump was elected! Finally, we were lucky enough to see Stephen Bailey’s “Can’t Think Straight” show. Trust me, if you get a chance to see him, do it!
We took the bus back to the campsite and headed to the Big Tepee. There were a couple of the acts staying there, and they were giving free previews to try to drum up attendance. (There are lots of acts that are free at the festival, but they rely on contributions after the show to pay their expenses). There was a reason that they needed to drum up business, but it was fun to watch them!
One of the funniest things we saw in the streets was Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour. All the people on the tour had on headphones and were tied into Guru Dudu’s waist mounted sound system. He was a able to talk or play music to all the people and all other festival goers could hear nothing. Its hilarious watching about 60 people all singing and dancing with no music to hear…
The next morning, we got the bus back into Edinburgh and spent the morning walking around, seeing the sights. It is a beautiful city and with the street artists for the festival, was a really fun thing to do. The first act we saw turned out to be our favourite of the Festival, Harriet Braine’s “Total Eclipse of the Art”. She has very cleverly rewritten the words for popular songs, to accompany her “lecture” on various artists and famous paintings. She is also a talented mimic, and her Kate Bush meets Edith Piaf needs to be seen to be believed! We were really disappointed that she only had an hour!
Our next act wasn’t great, so we left and headed to another that had received great reviews. Unfortunately, we couldn’t agree but it was one of the few events with a closed door, so we were stuck with it for the full hour – ah well, as they say, you get what you pay for…..
We had a couple of hours to kill before the next show we had selected, so we headed to Il Castello, for a superb Italian meal, before taking in Kate Butch’s show – and yes, I have spelled that correctly. It was a great drag show, but we knew we would need to leave just before the end in order to get to our main reason for being in Edinburgh – the Tattoo. We had been lucky enough to get tickets for the very last show for the year, and were very excited when we took our seats. It started right on time, as you would expect with a Military event. It was absolutely fantastic – military marching bands from around the world, including one from France who played Daft Punk songs and had the two pipers in crash helmets! We joined in the singing of Auld Lang Syne, hands linked all around the arena. The Scottish dancers were amazing and the light shows playing off the Castle walls were wonderful, but the stars of the show had to be the pipe bands, and especially, the lone piper on the Castle battlements to close the show. It was an absolutely amazing experience!
We slept a bit late on Sunday, before heading back towards Turriff. On the way we stopped of at Dunnotar Castle to see the beautiful scenery.
When we got back to Turriff, we spent an anxious couple of days watching the plight of our former home in Houston. My heart goes out to all those who have lost so much, but I am very grateful that our friends all appear to have been spared.
We split the next few days between relaxing and working at Sunrise, before setting off on our next adventure. Moray’s Mum was born in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, and a few years ago, he, his brother Ken and his Mum, spent a few days there, visiting the island and learning more about their roots.
Our first stop was Drumnadrochit, on Loch Ness, to take a look at the ruins of Urqhart Castle.
Then we walked the Abriachan Trails. The views were incredible.
Next we went to Fort William, to look at the Caledonian Canal and Neptune’s Staircase. This is a staircase lock comprising eight locks on the Caledonian Canal. It was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822 and it’s the longest staircase lock in Britain and it makes up some of the 29 locks on the Caledonian Canal. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the locks were closed for the night so we did not get to see them in operation but it is still a pretty interesting place to visit.
We drove into Fort William for a birthday dinner at The Tavern, before driving to Loch Linnhe. There was a lay-by at the side of the loch, where we parked up for the night.
On Thursday morning, we awoke to a glorious day and a beautiful view. We drove just down the road to a café, where we ate a lovely breakfast before heading towards Skye.
On the way, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, an ancient castle at the Kyle of Lochalsh.
After a brief stop, we got back on the road and headed across the bridge to Skye. Our first stop was the pretty little town of Portree.
Next stop was our main reason for stopping on Skye – to walk the Quiraing. The walk was really hard work – steep hills, very windy and soggy underfoot. We made it to the top, where we were disappointed to find that there wasn’t much of a view at the top because of the clouds.
Short video showing the vista at the Quiriang…
We needn’t have worried – we only needed to wait a few minutes before the clouds cleared, the sun came out – and so did the views….
It’s turning into a broken record but the views were indescribable. We drove to the Ferry Terminal in Uig where we found a safe place to spend the night.
We had Tesco’s quiche and salad for dinner and then headed to the bar at the Ferry Terminal. While we were there, we saw a flyer for the Blas Festival, which is an annual celebration of Gaelic culture and music that takes place over the Highlands of Scotland in early September. We found that there would be a Ceilidh in Tarbert the next night. As our ferry arrived in Tarbert the next afternoon, we went on-line and bought tickets.
The next morning was a fairly lazy one, of coffee in the local café while waiting to board the ferry for the short trip over to Tarbert on Harris. Right on time, at 2pm, the ferry departed.
Our first stop on Harris was the Ferry Terminal offices, where they have public showers. The shower was clean, the water was hot and plentiful – and only 50p. Duly refreshed, we started our tour of Harris, the south end of Harris and Lewis. We drove to Luskentyre to see the beach at high tide, before heading to Scalpay where the Ceilidh was to be.
We found the community centre and a place to spend the night, and headed round to the only restaurant in town. Although they were busy, they said they would be able to fit us in, which was great as the food smelled delicious. Unfortunately, they then said that they only accept cash and we didn’t have enough on us. So we drove back to Tarbert and had dinner at the Hebrides Hotel. While we were eating, several other tables were talking to the waitress about that evening’s Ceilidh – it turns out that this was THE event of the month and everyone was going to be there, including all the bar staff! So we headed back to Scalpay. The Ceilidh was to be a joint event to celebrate the 80th birthday of local lady, Morag McLeod, as well as the Blas Festival. There were a couple of tables of food, along with the cheapest bar we have seen in a while! The first few hours were the birthday celebration, with local artists performing songs and playing the accordion and guitar. The music was fantastic, even though we didn’t understand any of the words as it was all in Gaelic! After the birthday celebration, all the tables were pushed back to the walls and the band set up – an accordion, a guitar and bagpipes. The music was great and most people got up and danced. I was even pulled up on to the dance floor by one of the local ladies and, while I can’t say I danced, I was guided around the dance floor to the Gay Gordon! It was a fantastic evening, which wrapped up around 1:30am. We didn’t have far to go as we were sleeping in the car park!
We spent Saturday exploring Harris by car. We went back to Luskentyre to walk the beach from the north side.
Next we drove to Leverburgh, the plan being to get lunch at the famous Butty Bus. Typical – it was closed that day!! We were a bit disappointed but found a Co-op which was well supplied so we bought enough stuff to feed us for a couple of days, before carrying on round the coast to Rodel. This is where we found St. Clements Church, which was built for the chieftains of the McLeod clan.
After visiting the church, we sat next to the harbour at Rodel and had a picnic lunch
Then we headed back up the east coast of Harris, along the Golden Road, so called because it cost so much to build! We went right the way round the southern part of island, then back across the isthmus to the northern end of the island.
We stopped at Glen Meavaig, walked up to the North Harris Eagle Observatory, and then continued on to Loch Voshimid, a 9 mile round trip. There were a couple of people fly fishing in the loch, but we didn’t see anyone catch anything.
After the walk we needed another shower, so we popped back to Tarbert, cleaned up and then headed back to Huisinis (pronounced Hushinish), where we planned to spend the night. The drive around the mountain was a bit hair-raising, but well worth it. We even saw 5 deer on the way. We discovered on arrival, that three days before, a new facility had been opened up for tourists. There was plenty of parking, recycling bins, toilets, and (from 8am to 8pm), a shower block, more toilets and a viewing room, with picnic tables and double glazing. The story behind the need for the facility is that with the growth in popularity of campervans, tourists had been blocking the access for the local crofters, and, I’m sorry to say, leaving rubbish lying around. There had been public toilets before, but in the summer, the demand on the local water supply had been so much that they had been forced to bring water in by road. Obviously, this wasn’t good for anyone, so first, the locals got together and installed two wind turbines, which supplied power to the area and provided an income by selling off the surplus. That income, together with grants, provided the £270,000 needed to build the new centre.
After a very windy night, with the car rocking almost as much as Sol Purpose, we awoke to some strange sounds. On looking out of the window, we saw several highland cows and sheep! They had wandered down from the hills above into the car park and were just wandering around!
It was pouring with rain for most of the day, so we decided to just stay put, making the most of the viewing room. We read books, chatted with the intrepid bikers and walkers who showed up, and generally enjoyed the views.
On Monday morning, we headed out from Huisinis, and started to investigate the west coast, which has several historic sites. We drove to see the Calanais (pronounced Callanish) standing stones. Although not as well-known as Stonehenge, these standing stones are older. Again, unlike Stonehenge, the stones are not really a circle, but more of a cross. No one really knows what their purpose was, but they are very impressive. It was initially a stone circle, a small chambered tomb was added later and the the cross was added still later.
Our next stop was the Carloway Broch. This is the remains of an ancient homestead, probably of a powerful family, built on several levels.
The weather was a bit unsettled, so we took a side trip to Stornaway, the biggest town in Lewis, to visit the museum at Lews Castle.
The museum describes life in the islands from pre-history through the present day. They make great use of oral histories, which brings it very much to life. We spent several hours looking round the museum, before heading over to the west coast of Lewis and Great Bernera. Bosta, at the north end of this island is home to the second of five of the time and tide bells installed by Marcus Vergette in 2010.
Right next to the bell was a recreation of an iron age house on a site where 4 were found.
That evening we had dinner at the Doune Braes hotel restaurant. There was a film crew making a movie there, but we weren’t able to find out much about it. So after dinner, we headed to our stop for the night – Adroil, near Uig (Moray note: there is an Uig on Skye and Lewis). This is the place where, in the 1800s, a beachcomber discovered a set of Norse chesspieces which became known as the Lewis Chessmen. This was a beautiful beach with a lovely campsite, providing clean showers, toilets and trash cans. All this for £2 per person per night! It was already getting dark, so we parked up and settled in for the night.
The next morning, we took advantage of the lovely showers, before checking out the coast and beaches around the area.
Then we carried on up the west coast to check out some more of the sites. During the drive, we marveled at how beautiful but bleak the scenery was. The people who live and farm here must be a hardy breed! This was borne out when we visited the Black House Village. This was an inhabited village until about the 1970s, but was abandoned when the last inhabitants moved out. Recently, the village has been restored. Two of the houses are now a museum, while the rest can be rented out as holiday accommodation. One of the highlights was watching a weaver making traditional Harris Tweed.
The loom was fully operational and the weaver was working when we were there…
We continued on up the west coast, visiting a few more sites, such as the Whalebone Arch,
and a huge monolith
and a Norse Mill, which has been reconstructed. Unlike most mills there was never a vertical wheel. The water was diverted under the mill and passed a paddle wheel directly connected to the mill stone.
Finally, we arrived at the most northern tip of the island, the Butt of Lewis. Aside from the couple of hurricanes I have unfortunately experienced, this is probably the windiest place I have ever been!
We also visited the town of Ness, before heading down to New Tolsta where we planned to spend the next couple of nights. The following day was another wet one, so we spent the morning reading and watching the locals show up to walk their dogs on the beach.
There was a break in the weather, so we decided to walk the Bridge to Nowhere, and take a look at the waterfall. We were very lucky in that the rain held off the whole time we walked. Almost as soon as got back to the car park, the heavens opened again, so we went back to reading!
Thursday was our final day in the Outer Hebrides. We drove to Stornoway and got showers at the local YMCA. As it was raining, we popped into a café and, while we enjoyed cappuccino and hot chocolate, we made use of the internet to catch up on the news and contact the boatyard who are caring for Sol Purpose. At this point she is in the line of fire of Irma, though it is always possible that Irma will turn inland and we will dodge a bullet. Not so much for our poor friends in Florida, and our thoughts are with them at this terrible time.
We took a drive out to see the memorial for the Iolaire disaster. On January 1, 1919, a ship was heading back to Lewis, carrying 280 passengers, most of whom were servicemen returning from the war. There was a terrible storm and the Iolaire got off course. She ran aground on some rocks called the Beasts of Holm, just a few yards off shore. One man, John McLeod, managed to swim to shore towing a heaving line, and it was used to guide some 40 of the passengers to shore. However, the seas were dreadful, most of the passengers couldn’t swim, and several were weighed down by their heavy uniforms. Over 200 people died, and some villages lost all their young men. The monument is very moving.
We headed back into Stornaway, and checked in for our ferry crossing the next day. Then we went to the Royal Hotel, which has a restaurant called The Boatshed. We had a superb meal there which was a great end to our trip. Then we headed out for drinks at a local pub and then to the car park behind the ferry terminal where we could safely spend the night.
We were up at 5:30am to catch the 7am ferry to Ullapool. The crossing took 2 ½ hours and was uneventful. On arrival, we had a nice breakfast in Ullapool at the Frigate Café (sausages, bacon, egg, haggis, black pudding, hash browns). Then we had a leisurely drive back to Turriff where we are now relaxing while the laundry is washing!
Quite a month!