The storm had died down a little on the Saturday morning, but the winds were still whipping up the waves on the rocks around Luskentyre.
We drove one last time up the coast road, to look out to the west as far as they eye could see.
Then it was back to Tarbert for the final time, to join the queue of miserable motorists we had gleefully observed when we had arrived. We watched the tourist convey drive off the ferry and away - towards Reinigeadal, towards Leverburgh, towards Lingerbay.
We stayed on deck, despite the wind and spotting rain, and watched as first the town, and then the island faded from view. Over the sea to Skye, and then the long drive home began.
On Thursday, we decided to head to the beach, for snorkelling and kite flying. The kite flying went badly, and the sorkelling not much better, as the waves at Luskenyre were too strong.
We decided to have another go at Rodel Harbour, and managed with more success - watching crabs on the bed, and little fish. Although [Bad username or site: @ livejournal.com] went too far out, and found himself surrounded by small jellyfish. I really enjoy snorkelling - just floating on the surface and watching everything - but I'm not confident enough in the water, and it's something I'd like to work on. We headed back home, and in the evening went for a walk, discovering another local harbour at Lingerbay, and finding the abandoned cottage which we'd seen each day from the road. All rack and ruin now, windows broken, wood rotting, floor thick with sheep droppings, and bit of dead sheep. A sad place to die.
Friday morning we were greeted with torrential rain. We headed through Rodel, where there was going to be a wedding according to the lady in the post office at Leverburgh. We headed up the coast road, to visit the several galleries on Harris. We took a detour on impulse and discovered the MacGillivary Centre in Northton, where ther are views out over the sand flats (with not much to be seen through the rain), and very good toilets. Then it was up to Tarbert, where we ate chips and bought souvenirs, and back along the ROAD OF DEATH, via the Skoon Art Cafe for delicious soup (as the skies cleared and the sun shone). We ended up at the Finsbay Gallery, where we spent a lot of money on a painting by Harry McArdle. I wish I could paint. Then, alas, it was home to pack. There was a terrible storm overnight. I fell asleep to the sound of the wind howling, and the rain lashing against the window. Pathetic fallacy indeed.
Wednesday saw us once more donning our sea legs, and heading out with Hamish Taylor and Lady Catherine to visit the island of Sgarabhaigh in the Sound of Harris. Hamish was dropping off and picking up from Rodel, so we waited on the pier until the low drone of the engine, and then the boat itself rounded the coastline into the harbour. It was a busy day for Rodel.
Hamish was great - the fount of all local and nautical knowledge. We saw the cliffs tinged red with iron, and a flock of shearwaters who sheared across the water as we approached.
Sgarabhaigh was wonderful - absolutely deserted except for a flock of sheep, nesting cormorants and iindignant oystercatchers. It's a strange experience, being dropped off there, scrambing up the rocks as the boat dips away beneath you, and watching as Hamish steers away again, into the Sound of Harris. There is always that thought in the back of your mind - what if he doesn't come back?
But he did, a couple of hours later, with a party of two women and their two children who had been out fishing. Perched on a plastic tub, Simon didn't realise what was inside until the lid slipped, nearly pitching him in, to reveal the shocked silver faces of dead fish, dark eyes blank, and one - the largest - still alive, mouth still sporadically gaping.
"Please don't die," the little girl - the older of the two children - whispered to the crate after it had been secured again "I'm going to set you free as soon as I can."
I wish I could have helped her. It was a horrible position to be in, and made for an deeply uncomfortable journey back, during which the fish were gutted, sharp knife slicing through cold flesh, the bloody bucket defly sluiced, and their entrails thrown to the following gulls. The boy wanted to play with the guts. The girl pressed her face into her mother's breast. We were offered part of the catch, with genuine generosity.
Back on dry land, we wandered round the church at Rodel, and as the sun was setting, made an unplanned detour to Luskentyre, to watch the sun set behind Taransay. The beach at Luskentyre, I can't describe. But there is the sand, and the sea, and the sky - and that is all. Go there some day.
I'm up to the Tuesday, and am going to try and get the rest of the holiday blogged this week seeing as I'm off work, and the holiday was eight weeks ago.
Tuesday morning saw an early start, as we set out for Leverburgh along the ROAD OF DEATH. I was kitted up with photographic equipment and seasickness remedies, and ready for the three hour crossing to St. Kilda.
The journey out was okay, and the nausia had only just started to kick in by the time we were entering the harbour - mostly due to taking my eyes of the horizon, but seeing as the reason was a *huge* pod of dolphins, it was probably worth it.
St Kilda is a strange, haunting place. There is the beauty of the hills and cliffs, the stunning views out to see and the nothingness beyond, then there is the melancholy decay of the abandoned village, the shells of old long houses and cleits, and squatting next to the harbour the utilitarian grey metal and pre-fab shabbiness of the Ministry of Defence radar station.
I can't really do St. Kilda jutice with words - you must see the place for yourself - but I don't think I did St. Kilda justice with my presence. The problem with taking the camera, and the lenses, and the tripod...is that you end up too weighed down with stuff to be able to explore that much, and the exploring you do isn't particularly unpleasant because you're weighed down with kit. If you're not careful, experience can be sacrificed to the need to document it.
One day I would like to go back, with a compact camera. Or maybe even no camera at all...
On the journey home, we went round the stacs of Boreray, Stac an Armin and Stac Lee, and saw the thousands and thousands of gannets that nest there. Carved up in the rock, high above the waves, you can see the tiny bothies where St Kildans would spend their nights whilst living on the stacs collecting eggs and birds. In 1840, four years before its extinction, the last Great Auk recorded in Britain was beaten to death on Stac an Armin by two St Kildans who thought it was a witch.
Today, the only threat to the gannets is from the skuas - the thuglike brown bonxies who mug other birds for their half digested dinners, and will take chicks and eggs as a supplement to their regurgitated repast.
We sat out on deck on the journet back, taking on the view of the receding archipelago and a thin crusting of sea salt. As St Kilda fades away into the sea, Harris rises on the horizon, and in the evening light we disembarked, home from our journey to the end of the earth.
On our second full day in the Hebrides, the weather made up its mind. Unfortunately it decided to rain.
Probably, we should just have put the kettle on, and watched it from inside our little flat, but instead we headed up NORTH, and did HISTORY - Bostadh, Calanais, Dun Carloway, the Blackhouses up the west coast of Lewis. It was cold and very wet. The aspiration to get one of those gorgeous sunrise or sunset shots at Calanais was definitely scuppered.
The seemingly randomly scattered stones in the sand dunes at Bodstadh are easy to miss, but you're drawn into the darkness and the peaty smoke of the reconstructed house. A wonderful smell, that of a peat fire, with something of the single malt about it.
As for Calanais, it didn't make the same impression on me as Brodgar or Stenness in Orney. It seems to be the number one tourist draw on Lewis, and even on a Monday morning pouring down with rain, the site was busy with people who were working in league with the weather to make sure there was no chance of getting a decent photograph. The people of the Western Isles seem to like their display boards. The visitor centre at Calanais had a nice cafe, but I'm still not quite sure what the £2.50 paid for. The stones can be visited without paying to see the exhibition.
Dun Carloway would have been spectacular in the sunshine, but was only miserable, and a offerer of meagre driness in the now torrential rain. Whilst there, we saw the most waterproof family ever. Seriously, they were dressed for trawling.
There are several blackhouses on Lewis, in various states of repair. Dark, low-roofed and smokey, but warm and solid. The houses at Gearrannan were still lived until 1974.
We finished the day with a brief wander round Stornoway, which wasn't as depressing as we had feared, and then we headed home, where we met our dear friend for the week, Clyde the sheepdog. We were also very excited to find out the trip we'd booked to St Kilda would be going ahead, so kept our fingers crossed for better weather the next day.
So, it was Sunday and we eventually found our way to Scalpay, a small island which is now linked to mainland Harris by bridge. And just as we found our way there, the sun found its way though the clouds and it was a glorious afternoon.
Scalpay is a beautiful island. Greener than Harris, compat and bijou. At the end of the road there is a turning circle, with instructions on what sort of paring is acceptable there, and a house were you can buy tea. After going all Enid Blyton we went Virgina Woolf and headed to the lighthouse, which made for a great walk. And all around the sea, and the sky.
Well, I was writing about the Hebrides, then got a bit slack. I should persevere though...
The ferry to Harris leaves from Uig in Skye, where there is a ferry terminal, and nothing else. The crosing is a bargain, as it's a road equivalent tariff, though how long this will last, I don't know. It takes an hour, and the weather was good enough to stay on deck. We saw our first seabirds - a few puffins, out at sea now their breeding season was over, and gannets. Set down in Tarbert, where there is a ferry terminal and not much else, we headed south down th ROAD OF DEATH to Lingerbay. The roads on Harris are interesting, particularly after dark, winding through the rocky landscape, perilously narow across lochs, recklessly acsending to blind summits where you hope there will beat least a passing place on the other side.
We spent the rest of Saturday walking in the local area, the scrubby grassland littered with malevolent sheep, the deserted crofthouses, some still with discoloured net curtains hanging in windows. We admired the local collections of rusting cars and farm machinery that seem to be compulsary for island inhabitants to own.
On Sunday - a day on which, on no account we were informed by the owner of our house, we should ut out washing, we went for an undulating run, and then headed out for a walk on Scalpay.
We took a wrong turning on the way there, and ended up driving through the Harris hills, as the clouds came down to meet us as the rain began to spot...
It's a long drive to Skye. You head NORTH on the M6, and then continue heading NORTH until you run out of mainland. If you've gone the right way, you cross the bridge. If your Satnav has taken you the wrong way, you end up at the edge of the sea at Mallaig to discover the last ferry has gone and you've added 100 miles to your journey with nothing to do but turn around and head back to Fort William.
Luckily I was canny to the Satnav trick.
We didn't see much of Skye. We'd stopped at Eilean Donan castle, where the tide was out so we didn't bother taking any photographs. Then we left the mainland, across the bridge. We stopped at Kyleakin, and went to the Brightwater Centre, and admired the view from the old dejected ferry slipway, where Caisteal Maol juts out across the water.
Broadford was out next stop, where there is a small tourist information point, which is really a giftshop with some leaflets, and could do little to help the trickling stream of sad, disorganised tourists, who were looking for somewhere to stay on a Friday night in August, or who had booked somewhere, but forgotten what it was called, or where it was. There is also a large Co-op and petrol station - both highly useful, and The Harbour Restaurant which serves tasty food, but is sadly up for sale.
We stopped over at the Skyewalker Hostel, in all its amusing Star Wars related punning glory - worth a visit just to see the dome, and settled down after a wee drink at the Taigh Ailean Hotel were the barman was an ex-commando, and has the t-shirt to prove it if you couldn't work it out from the size of his shoulders.
It would be up early in the morning, for the next stage of the adventure...