Tuesday, 31 August 2004

Helmsdale - 31/08/04

On a bright and sunny morning, I went to the ferry terminal at 9.30. People were boarding a pleasure boat for a trip to the Summer Isles off Achiltibuie. The Stornoway ferry also came in to dock, and the Citylink / Rapsons coaches pulled in for Inverness passengers. I elected to go on the bus, but only as far as Dingwall. Once the ferry passengers are on, we set off towards Braemore junction. The driver was a bit surprised that I wanted off in Dingwall, but that's my business. On arrival there, the driver very kindly directed me to the railway station, as I had decided to head north. Arrived at 11.25, which left me about 50 minutes until the northbound train was due to leave. Walked down the town's high street to the railway station, where I had a coffee in an old-fashioned waiting room. The Kyle train came in first, followed some 20 minutes later by the Thurso train. It's fairly warm today. We pulled away - only to stop 50 m down the platform. Due to a technical fault we had to wait 45 minutes for the thing to get fixed. Finally, amidst a sarcastical cheer, we headed off at 1 o'clock. Along the Beauly Firth up to Tain, then west to Ardgay and the forested slopes along the Kyle of Sutherland. A few folk got off at Culrain, for Carbisdale Castle YH. Proceeded on to Larig and back to the coast past Rogart and Dunrobin Castle. We pulled into Helmsdale at around 2 pm. As the YH does not open until 5, I have a little while. Spend some time at the harbour, using the Internet facilities in a craftshop. Go out to the pier above the harbour. By 5 o'clock, I went for my shopping in the local Spar. Can't really find what I want, but that cannot be helped. Finally report to the YH, where a pleasant young lady books me in and shows me the ropes and something more interesting besides. Have a natter with other hostellers through the evening before going out for an evening amble. Later on, everybody joins in the convo. Jess, the warden, does this for a year before moving on elsewhere.

Monday, 30 August 2004

Ullapool - 30/08/04

The hostel was virtually empty last night. Left at 9 to explore the peninsula of Faraid Head, 2 miles north of Durness. Went down the road towards Balnakiel for a little way, then turned off north. Not a terribly nice day, it's very windy. Make my way through a campsite and through a landscape of dunes. End up at Seanachaisteal Cape, from where I headed west along the clifftops. These veer north after a litttle while, and in due course I was reunited with the road. This winds its way through the dunes and the sand towards an MOD monitoring station on Faraid Head. This is off-limits. The road at times disappears under sand, but is intensively used. Have a break on the hills just south of the fence, and look west towards Garbh Eilean, the bombing target for the navy. I make my way south again and when the road peters out in the sands of Balnakiel Bay, I go down to the shoreline. I return to the road at Balnakiel village. Half a mile further down I have another look at the craft village. Have a cup of soup in the bookshop and look round the gemstone shop. The proprietrix is a large elderly lady who told me how to kill a dog.She complained about the neighbours whose dog was forever p'ing in her flowerbeds, and about all and everything. I returned to the hostel to collect my things and have lunch. The bus back to Ullapool starts at 2.45. It was strange to alone in the hostel after the convivial buzz of the weekend. Left at 2.15 to walk up the road to the starting point at the Smoo Caves. The journey back down to Ullapool took 3 hours and was the same as on the way up, albeit a little sunnier. The Youth Hostel in Ullapool still had vacancies. One of the wardens was a young Dutch lady. Nipped out to Safeways for food, then proceeded to eat it. Internet access in the village was extortionately priced, so I left that. Nice natter with some hostellers.

Sunday, 29 August 2004

Cape Wrath - 29/08/04

Was one of the first to be out and about in the hostel. Made my breakfast but by the time I had finished, the rest of the people had materialised as well. One person was sent across to the dormblock to sound the gong. Left at 9 o'clock, thinking it was going to be a nice day. Nope. The nice weather was fast disappearing east, and a bank of ominously grey cloud swiftly moved up from the west. By the time I reached Durness village, it was raining steadily and getting worse. Went down the lane towards the Balnakiel Craft village, which used to be an RAF radarbase. It was taken over in the 1960s by people engaged in various crafts, such as glazing, repairing musical instruments and collecting gemstones. I cannot reach Keoldale by passing through the craft village, so I rejoin the main road and head off down a farmtrack. By now, it's absolutely sluicing down. I regain the main road south after a mile, after passing some very mournful looking cattle. Trudge down the A838 for just over a mile, with a fair amount of traffic on it. I'm relieved when I can finally branch off. This is at the bottom of the hill, where the road approaches the broad inlet of the Kyle of Durness. Go down the sideroad to the hotel and to the jetty at its end. It's now 10.45, raining like hell and blowing. Find a convenient shelter and await events. A notice proclaims no ferry service for Saturday, but no further info on today. A man in an estate car says that the situation is under review. Other cars turn up whose occupants also want to got to Cape Wrath. Finally, the rain relents and stops at 11.30. A little boat is launched and sailed to a larger vessel. All who want to go across are required to board this vessel, and we make our way across the Kyle. There is a strong current, but no problems. Reach the far side in about 10 minutes. Two minibuses are parked. First of all, they have to be tanked up. Once on board, we all have to remain seated at all times. The reason why becomes clear on departure - this is part of the Queen's Highway, but it's the most atrocious 11 miles of public highway in the country. Two tarmacked rutted tracks. Nobody lives here premanently as the area is a bombing range for the Royal Navy. There is an offshore island which is pounded regularly. First we ascend to about 66 m (220 ft) above sealevel. Then we descend to a river. It's apparently luck of the draw whether the bridge is still there. It is today. There are a handful of holiday homes on the coast of the Kyle, but only one house further up the track. We bounce our way along, splashing through puddles. A hill called Fashven looms up to the south, altitude 460 m (1530 ft). After a very sharp bend, we cross another river by some MOD sentry posts. Out towards the coast, a set of rock stacks stands which look like a cathedral front. At length, 40 minutes after leaving the ferry, we draw up outside Cape Wrath Lighthouse, the end of the road. First port of call is the lighthouse and the foghorn. A ship sails round the cape at that very moment. The actual cape is not at the foghorn, but by the offshore islands. You stand 60 m / 200 ft above the sea. It is possible to walk from here to Sandwood Bay, 6 miles further south, and on to Kinlochbervie. We met two hikers on the way up. Wandered about the area around the lighthouse. This runs on generators, which start automatically. The adjacent buildings are all deserted. Buildings high on the hill to the east are only a shell. After an hour, we all climb on board the bus and head back for the Keoldale ferry. Weather has cleared up nicely. The worst of the water has drained from the road, and we hobble merrily across this desolate landscape. On approach to the pier, we can see seals on the shallows in the Kyle. A few photostops are made. The tide is out, so the boat has a spot of bother at the pier. At the Durness side of the water, I head off on foot along the shore of the Kyle. End up in a landscape ofdunes, and only slowly make progress north. Sun is nice and warm. After a lot of hassle, I finally approach civilisation through the golfcourse. Having wrung myself through a narrow gate, I presently find myself on the road past Balnakiel, the craftvillage. Didn't manage to have a good look this morning on account of the atrocious weather. It's a strange place. I drop into a restaurant for a cuppa and am even allowed Internet access. After that, I return to the hostel at 6 o'clock. The evening was unremarkable, as it's a lot more quiet than last night. Many folks left this morning to return down south.


Saturday, 28 August 2004

Durness - 28/08/04

As I dislike large towns, I make a beeline for the busstation to head out of Inverness at a quarter to nine. The bus I'm on will take me all the way to Durness, near the northwestern extremity of the Scottish mainland, 10 miles east of Cape Wrath. It's not a big bus. I start off by having a coffee in the busstation cafeteria, then I board the vehicle in question. One couple already there is mixed British / Belgian. We head off down the A9 across the Kessock bridge, through Dingwall and out up the A835 to Ullapool. We go through Strathpeffer. It's a cool and cloudy day. Just after the Braemore junction, we're allowed to stretch our legs at the Corrieshalloch gorge. The bridge spans a gorde and offers quite a spectacular view. After a sanitary stop, everybody stuffs their face and rejoins the bus. Next stop Ullapool, some 11 miles up the road. We arrive in the village at 1030, on time to watch the Stornoway ferry depart. I hop into the Woollen Mill shop to buy a fleece. It's turning gradually colder. I also need plasters for a problematic toe. Bus leaves shortly before 11. We head north through a stunning landscape of maountains, whose names I can only copy off the maps. Beinn Mor Coigach, then the sideroad to Achiltibuie, through Elphin and on to the Ledmore junction. We join the A837 north, past Canisp and Suilven. It's raining, with low clouds over the mountains. Suilven is only just recognisable. At Inchnadamph we reach Loch Assynt. The A837 heads north over the mountains, from Skiag Bridge. This bus diverts a mere 11 miles to the coast to reach Lochinver. To the right, the convoluted mass of the Quinag rears up, not very far to the north. A fairly steep descent takes us into the fishing port of Lochinver. It's dry now, but still not terribly warm. We're allowed off again, to look round the visitor centre. WQuite nicely laid out. We depart at 12, retracing our steps to Skiag Bridge, then rise from 71 m to 238 m in 1½ miles to crest the pass between Quinag and Glas Bheinn. As stated before, Quinag is a massive mountain with 3 large spurs. The road veers downhill and presently Loch Glencoul and the bridge at Kylesku loom up ahead. We pass through Unapool and finally cross the bridge. We quickly rise up again, but the views from the bridge were very good. Next village is Scourie, which is a bit of a one-horse town. Six miles further up the ocast, we change from A894 (as of Skiag Bridge) to the A838, which will take us to Rhiconich, at the head of Loch Inchard. The narrow B801 road leads to another fishing port, Kinlochbervie. We turn round at the fishmart and drop the Belgian / British couple off at their accommodation. I stay on right through to Durness. This is actually the next village beyond Rhiconich, if 11 miles distant. Pass through a bleak and desolate landscape, where you can see for miles. To the left lie the derelict lands of An Parph, the district surrounding Cape Wrath. The A838 passes along the eastern shore of the Kyle of Durness to Keoldale, where the ferry sails to An Parph. We arrive into Durness village just before two. The driver very kindly drops me off at the youth hostel, which is located at the eastern end of Durness, near the Smoo Caves. The hostel is as yet closed, so I walk back to the TIC on Sango Bay. This is very scenic, it's an official swimming beach with stunning coastal scenery. The main road loops inland for half a mile, but there is a very steep short cut. Go for a walk out towards Loch Meadaidh, south of the village. A vehicle trail leads there, Find a man mending a gate. I head northwest towards Loch Calladail. Bit breezy this afternoon, but now pleasantly sunny. Return into Durness from there, and do some shopping for the weekend. Nothing opens here on Sunday, so I've got to be prepared. The only thing is that the local convenience store doesn't have a large variety of foods. Return to the hostel at 5, and am being welcomed by the warden. He has got Tibetan prayerflags up, windchimes and the lot. The hostel consists of two buildings, separated by a stretch of lawn. One building is the dormitory, the other the main hostel building with kitchen and common room. Hostel is fairly lively at the moment, with a German family out of Hamburg and a British family. It's the weekend. I cook my food, then go out for a walk to the Smoo Caves at 8 o'clock. These are just a few hundred yards up the road. I could not go in far on account of high water. The water from the Smoo river plunges into a sinkhole, down into the cave. You do get wet in there. Hobble back to the hostel. Conduct a phone conversation at 10 o'clock, when it's nearly fully dark outside. It's not very cold.


Friday, 27 August 2004

Inverness - 27/08/04

Spent the morning sorting things out. I'm sending excess stuff off by mail, then board the ferry at 12.40 to return to the mainland. It's a bright day. The crew use the time until arrival at Ullapool cleaning and painting the ship. On arrival at Ullapool, a bus stands ready to take footpassengers on to Inverness. It's green until Braemore Junction, where the road rises to go up onto the moors. Past Loch Glascarnoch, where a webcam is located for the Met Office. At Garve, we cross the railway to Kyle and head further east. Bus branches off to go through Strathpeffer before rejoining the main road towards Inverness. At Dingwall, we go down the A9 dual carriageway towards Kessock. The bridge matrix signs warn of high winds. We arrive at Inverness at 5 o'clock, in the middle of the evening rush hour. Walk from Farraline Park busstation to the railway station and into the Eastgate Shopping Centre. Notice the Safeway supermarket, handy for supply. Cross that awful pedestrian crossing, where each crossing has a 1½ minute wait. You have to cross each lane of traffic separately - and there are 4 of them. The youth hostel still has vacancies, so I book in there for the night. It's the usual mix of hostellers. After doing the laundry, nothing much happens, apart from making and eating dinner.

Thursday, 26 August 2004

Callanish - 26/08/04

My luck finally seems to have run out on the weatherfront: it's raining today. Head down to the Callanish Stones at lunchtime. On arrival there, I first of all make for the restaurant for a sandwich and soup. Then I browse through an exhibition about the stones, after I finally locate somebody to pay my entrance fee to. Interesting. After that, I step outside to brave the elements. This is my second visit to Callanish, and like 10 years ago, it's grey and wet. Before the bus comes just after 3, I have time to hobble down the road towards Garynahine to view two smaller stone circles, Callanish II and III. Nearly needed a boat, it was very soggy. The ruined houses nearby did little to lift the mood. I was glad when the bus came to take me back to Stornoway. It went the long way round, through Carloway and Barvas. Not many on board, until we pulled up outside the primary school in Carloway. We waited for about 10 minutes, then the little darlings came out. Some were collected by parents, but a lot came on board. We first of all went up to a small housing estate on the Pentland Road to drop some kiddies off. Others were deposited around Garenin and Upper Carloway. Continued through the rain to Shawbost School, where a similar exercise was conducted. Here were both primary and lower secondary pupils, boarding a few minutes apart. The driver barked at the kids to keep quiet, sit still, stop faffing about with the seatbelts. He even stopped the bus for that. After an excursion up a sidestreet and all the way into Barvas, we finally returned to Stornoway at 4.50. Went for supper in the Crown, then reported to the Town Hall at 8 o'clock for a concert by the Blazing Fiddles. It took me a little while to work out which door would give access to the hall. Concert was a rousing success, and the usual informal atmosphere prevailed. Kids running about, people popping to the loo and being invited to join in if they knew the tune. Concert finished at 10.15, and I returned to the B&B. Mrs Burns invited me to share a dram with herself and two of her sons. Things got very convivial, and I was even invited to play the keyboard. Bedtime at 1 o'clock.

Wednesday, 25 August 2004

Harris Hills - 25/08/04

It's a sunny morning, and I head out after breakfast on the bus to Tarbert to do some walking in Harris. I'm in Tarbert at 11, and set off down the road towards Scalpay. It's getting warm, and I'm steadily getting fed up with the traffic that roars past me on the single-track road. Just past Urgha, I find a marker pointing to the path which used to be used by mailrunners between Tarbert and Stornoway. It strikes out towards the Laxadale Lochs, which are set amongst stark mountain scenery. Beyond the hills to the east lies Rhenigadale. The trail has a tendency to be boggy. Decided on this route on the way in, when I saw it snaking across the mountains. Am overtaken by mountain bikers, and meet others going in the opposite direction. At the head of the loch, a green valley opens up to the west, rising up steeply - Glen Dibidale. My trail veers to the right to gain the height of the pass, then descend towards Maraig. Have a full-on view of Clisham. I finally arrive at the bottom of Maraig hill, and am now faced with a stiff climb up to the main road, an ascent of 100m over a horizontal distance of 800m. A little way up, someone has set fire to some old pallets. A helicopter flies overhead to a point on the hillside above, beyond my view. Puffing and panting, I reach the main road and I head north. To my surprise, the old post road continues at the access road to telephony relay transmitters. As I think that my return bus is due at 2.30, I carry on through the valley, running a little way west of the main road. The view at the far end is stunning. I've come out above Loch Seaforth, but the array of mountains in front of me is breathtaking. Clisham to the left, Stulabhal ahead. I wait and wait at the road, but then find out that the bus is not due till 4.30. So I continue down the main road to Scaladale, Ardvourlie Castle and finally Bogha Glas. A track marches into the hills from here, and I join it for a little way. It's a tad boggy, and the streams that cross it are awkward. I lounge in the heather, face in the sun, until the clock tells me to rejoin the bus. I stop it in a passing place, and it duly runs me back through Lewis to Stornoway, arriving there at 5 pm. Go for supper to the Crown, where I overhear several people discussing community buy-outs and agricultural reform. The former hold my interest, so I join the convo. One lady is from HIE, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, based at Kyleakin, Skye. She will be assisting two proposed community buy-outs in Lewis. The gentleman is an agricultural consultant. Have a very animated discussion before we go our separate ways.

Tuesday, 24 August 2004

Ness - 24/08/04

Have breakfast at 8 am, then take my time in preparing for my relocation to Stornoway. The bus takes me there in an hour, arriving in SY at lunchtime. The TIC have great difficulty, once more, in getting me a B&B, but in the end I'm sent back to the same place I was in last week. Having dumped my stuff there, I return to the town centre to jump on the 1 pm bus to Ness. Fifty minutes later, the driver lets me off at a crossroads in the village of Eoropaidh / Eoropie, the northernmost township in Lewis. It's a cool, blustery day. When marching up the road to the lighthouse, I look back over the area. A watertower to my left, and a long stretch of demure dwellings stretching over the horizon. Peatstacks adorn 2 out of every 3 hourses here. And it's so bleak, not a tree in sight. About half a mile up the road, a cove opens up unexpectedly to my right. The map tells me it's called Port Stoth. A steep track plunges down and you have to be careful lower down. Algae grow on the concrete slipway, making it very slippery indeed. A family is admiring the scenery and I take a picture of and for them. I presently return to the road at the top. A barn stands on the northern cliff. The road veers northwest towards the lighthouse. The rock formatioins that protrude out of the grass, and the stacks rising 120 feet out of the sea are the oldest rocks on the surface of the earth. Lewisian gneiss is 3,000 million years old. I have something to eat out of the reach of the wind. Then I proceed round the coast, which rises abruptly out of the sea. A cross at the cliff edge marks the spot where someone fell to his death in 1954. I veer inland, climb over some stiles and proceed over a landscape of lazybeds until I come out just west of Eoropie village. After a break on a hillock amidst frisky lambs, I climb over the gate and walk through Eoropie to the crossroads. The 3.30 bus comes quickly. I join it as it makes its way to Lionel School to pick up primary and lower secondary pupils. They are subsequently deposited in various villages along the road to Barvas. Return to Stornoway before 5. Have supper at the Crown Hotel.

Monday, 23 August 2004

Barra to Tarbert - 23/08/04

Breakfast was early, at 7.45, as I have been offered a lift with the man of the house who is driving an articulated lorry to Eriskay this morning. It's a huge vehicle, which has to go through an incredible number of gear-changes before it reaches something like a normal cruising speed. We leave at 8.30, and I'm surprised how nimbly the truck negotiates the narrow island roads. We're bang on time for the ferry at Ardmhor. The crossing, in a force 5 wind, is pretty lively. The lorry is shackled to the deck. Forty minutes later, we dock at Eriskay. I thank the driver and jump on the bus that's standing ready at the quayside, waiting to depart for Balivanich. The route goes over the Eriskay causeway to Ludag, Polachar Inn, Garynamonie and Daliburgh. At the Howmore Garage, we wait for a wee while, before continuing north. Have to change buses at Balivanich Airport. As I still have time, I nip inside to grab some sandwiches from a cafeteria. Meanwhile, I have coverage on my mobile for the first time since Friday, so the texts start flooding in. Finally, the bus arrives and I continue my journey north, via Grimsay to North Uist. The 13.30 ferry takes me from Berneray to Harris, under a grey sky. On arrival at Leverburgh, the Hebridean Transport coach is waiting, but we're not going for another half hour. When we do go at 3 pm, the bus turns into a sight-seeing tour, for the benefit of people who are doing a triangular trip with Calmac. We stop on the hill above Northton to allow tourists to take pictures of Northton beach. We stop at one beach, further up the road, for about 20 minutes. Everybody gets off to clamber down to the sandy shore, and walk almost as far as MacGregor's Stone, set on a hill off the far side of the beach. Our attention is drawn to good old Taransay and the Golden Road. Arrive into Tarbert just before 4pm. I decide to settle down for the night here. If I carry on to Stornoway, I may not be on time at the TIC to help me out with a bed. Arrival time there 5 pm. So, I make my way to the McLeod Motel, which offers me B&B for £28. Pokey little room with an iffy telly. WC and showers are shared with about 10 rooms. I go out for a walk up the Scalpay road, as far as the first sign for Urgha, past the junkyard. Retrace my steps into the village and ask for the library, which is located on a school's premises. This turns out to be a new building. Later on, I have a meal in the bar adjacent to the motel. Total lack of atmosphere in the bar,which is in common with the motel. Food acceptable. Have a nice chat with an Aussie lady who is working her way round the UK, waitressing. Her boyfriend does likewise. We compare notes on the Scottish experience.

Sunday, 22 August 2004

Vatersay - 22/08/04

After breakfast, partaken in a slightly pokey little kitchen, I head out on that horrendous bike. I head in the general direction of Castlebay, with the vague ideal of climbing Heaval. After walking up the hill from Brevig, I reach the relevant point near the stile and commence the ascent. It's too warm, so I abort and return to the iron steed. Squeeze the water out of my handlebars on my way down that hill into Castlebay and pop into a convenience store which, to my surprise, is open. Today is Sunday, normally strictly observed in the Outer Isles. Buy a few bits and pieces for lunch. Otherwise, Castlebay is deserted. Cycle past St Brenden's hospital, an annex to a nursing home, to Nasg. At that point, I turn left and head up the 1 in 9 incline. On foot obviously. It's not a long stretch of road, and it's not long before I level out at the war memorial. This is always impressive, and I spend a few moments in quiet contemplation. Plummet down the incline to the causeway that links Vatersay to Barra. Big quarry at the northern end of the causeway. Play hide-and-seek with a brownish black cat on the causeway. On Vatersay, I turn left past a busshelter, along the shore of Bagh Chornaig. This road gradually goes uphill. There is a blind summit near the old jetty, where a ferry would dock until the causeway rendered it redundant in 1990. On those steeper stretches, I'm always concerned about cars. The brakes don't work all that well. I ride past the turn-off for Uidhe, past the school. Some folks are busy there. I carry on through the sandy isthmus between Vatersay Bay and West Bay. Pretty landscape with dunes, which offer nice walks. Once in the village, it's looking as desolate and derelict as it did on my last visit, back in 1995. I proceed a bit further than 9 years ago, turning left and finally down a trail below the last houses of the township. Tractor trails lead down through the machair to South Beach, which faces out to the next island, Sandray. By about 2pm, I retrace my steps and tracks as far as Caolas. A fair few folk out walking; the school is now shut up. At Caolas, just before the causeway, I go down the sideroad leading west as far as a gate. Park the bike there and walk across to Traigh Bharlais. This is really pretty, very pleasant. It's out of the chilly wind and in the hot sun. I spend the next THREE hours there. Playing with sand, rocks, water courses - oh how old am I :-). Get well sunburnt in the process. Tear myself out of there at5 pm and return to the bike, which I return to the hirers in Castlebay. See the coach used by the Vatersay Boys parked in Nasg. Head into one of the hotels for my supper. After that, I walk back across to Earsary. By about 8 pm, I pass through Sgallairidh and befriend a black cat and her kittens that playing through some reeds near a watercourse. Further along, a group of teenage girls are actually IN the water. Return to the B&B just after 8. Nice sunset tonight.

Saturday, 21 August 2004

Eoligarry - 21/08/04

After breakfast, Mrs Beaton very kindly offers to run me into Castlebay. I'm there as early as 9.30 a.m., so I pop into the TIC to sort out my accommodation for the weekend. This will be a B&B at Earsary, on the eastern side of Barra. It's about 5 miles from Castlebay. Unfortunately, I cannot go there until 11 o'clock. I retreat to the library to access the internet. The library is located in the local school. When I arrive there, everything is yet to start up, so I natter to the librarian, waiting for the computer to get its act together. After that, I proceed to the far side of Castlebay to hire a bicycle. It's a dinky little place, where they can let me have a bike for a couple of days for about £25. The bike I am given needs a bit of tweaking, in terms of brakes, saddle &c. After a preliminary run round the block, I saddle up with my huge, big rucksack to tackle that hill. And it's a long, high climb. You go up to 102 m over a distance of about a mile. Bearing in mind it's turning into a nice, sunny and hot day, I'm soon perspiring. I end up walking the bike up, and have to take a few breaks on the way. Snide comments from passers-by don't help, but I manage to reach the highest point. There is a little picnic acrea, opposite a stile, which gives access to the highest point on Barra. This is more than 900 ft above my present position. Now I have to descend to sealevel again, and the descent is as hairy as the ascent. I walk the bike down, then, as the gradient eases, I mount up and ride the remaining stretch to Earsary. After the bay at Brevig, there is a side road to Sgallairidh. Both villages lie under the dramatic backdrop of Heaval and Hartaval, the highest hills on Barra, 383 and 353m respectively. My accommodation is at the far, northern, end of Earsary. Have to jolt over a cattle-grid first, then leave the bike at the side of the house. Only too glad, the thing plays havoc with me undercarriage. Mrs MacNeil is still waving off her guests from last night. I'm afforded a nice welcome. Afterwards I mount the bike again and head north. Problem is that the main road on Barra, the A888, is single-track. As a cyclist, I have to dive into a passing-place to let vehicles past. Following a long descent thorugh Buaille nam Bodach, I pass over a causeway across part of Loch Ob. The road veers along the bank of the inlet and heads steeply up through a pass, to descend once more into Northbay. It's here, at 12.30, that my eye falls upon the Heathbank Hotel, which serves barlunches. I park the bike and go inside. A very pleasant young lady behind the bar takes my order. As I sat down at the back, a lady with a young child tries to get him to eat his lunch. Meanwhile, I'm flabbergasted when a man gets up from the bar and walks straight into the ladies' toilets. My surprise will have shown, as the barmaid explains that in the recent refurbishment, the gents' and the ladies' were swapped round. The chap in question gets some ribbing over his insouciance. I say good-bye to the lady behind the bar and go on my merry way. First down to the ferry terminal at Ardmhor, where the ferry isn't due for another 3 hours. So, I carry on to Traigh Mhor, which doubles as the island's airfield. Scheduled services depart here for Glasgow and Benbecula. As that bike is so hideously uncomfortable, I flop down at the southern end of the beach to enjoy the sunshine. Watch a small yellow plane outside the terminal building, a little way along. I slowly cycle past the terminal, where the fire-engine is being tested. Carry on past Eoligarry School and through the township itself to Bagh nan Clach, until the road appears to run straight into Beinn Sgurabhal, the northernmost tip of Barra. Park the bike at the roadend near a farm. Climb over a stile and go down to the beach, Traigh Sgurabhal. This stretches southeast for about a mile, and looks out towards Fudaigh and Eriskay. South Uist lies about 4 miles to the north. Laze on the sands for a bit, faff with rocks and sand. Then I climb up to the machair above and return to the bike. I cycle back all the way to Earsary, 7 miles in total. It takes me about an hour to cover the distance. People are collecting cockles on Traigh Mhor. Return to Earsary at 5, with the dogs barking furiously. Just before 6, I cycle back to the Heathbank for supper. The girl behind the bar has been replaced by her dad. Good food here. Return to Earsary at 7.45. There is no wind tonight, so the midges are out in force. There is only one thing for it: keep going. The sun shines warmly until my return at Minchview. Mrs MacNeil very kindly gives me a saddle cover - my bike is so blinking uncomfortable.

Friday, 20 August 2004

Stornoway to Castlebay - 20/08/04

After breakfast I proceed to the TIC in Cromwell Street to book my B&B in Barra, which is my destination for the day. Having gotten something for lunch, I jump on the 10 o'clock bus to Leverburgh, which is the first stage of today's 8 hour journey. After Balallan, an elongated township above the shores of Loch Erisort, the landscape becomes rather wilder. The road finally reaches the shores of Loch Seaforth, before rising dramatically over a 600 ft shoulder of the Clisham. It then drops down equally steeply to Ardhasaig and Tarbert. Beyond the main village in Harris, the landscape turns into the Empire of Stone with which I associate South Harris. The fantastic white beaches follow 9 miles southwest of Tarbert, and they continue right the way down the westcoast, under the backdrop of "Castaway 2000" island Taransay. After Northton / Taobh Tuath the road veers inland to lead to An t-Ob, Leverburgh. It's a very nice, sunny day, and it's worth my while sitting out on deck on board the Loch Portain. This traverses the maze that is the Sound of Harris without difficulty, and drops me off at the new Berneray ferry terminal at 1.20. Have to wait for the minibus to Lochmaddy to turn up. Driver takes me all the way to Carnish, where I change into a Hebridean Coaches bush, which will take me right the way down to Eriskay. Pleasantly chatty character behind the wheel. The route now goes past the airport and the hospital at Balivanich, before crossing the causeway to South Uist at Creagorry. We also pass Linaclete School. The journey across South Uist is not exactly riveting, apart from the odd loch and the chain of hills, up to 2000 ft high to the east. I'm almost relieved to arrive at Daliburgh. From there, the bus carries on to South Boisdale, Garynamonie and Ludag. I've never been here before; the causeway to Eriskay is fairly new. It sports warning signs for otters crossing. Once on Eriskay, it looks like a typical small island community, houses packed tightly together and everybody knowing everybody else, including their business. We arrive at the ferry terminal precisely at the same time as the Barra ferry, the Loch Bhrusda. It's still brilliantly sunny. On arrival at the Ardmhor terminal in Barra, the little bus is waiting. It's a slightly ramshackle affair, which leaves at 5.30 to go round the westside of Barra. It's quite warm behind the windows. Half an hour later, the lady driver drops me off outside Oceanview B&B at Borgh. Mrs Beaton gives me a cordial welcome, and shows me to my room. The spacious living room has a magnificent view of the Atlantic - next stop St Johns, Newfoundland. Mr Beaton is a retired sea-captain who has been right round the world. After a very pleasant chat, I set off down the road to the Isle of Barra Hotel, 1½ miles away, again on the shoreline. A twenty minute walk brought me there. I got into the wrong bar to start with, but finally settle down in the lounge bar for supper. A few families with kids were there, and the kids preferred to be outside rather than in. Don't blame them actually. After dinner, I walk down the road into Castlebay, another mile-and-a-half, as far as the school. The sun is beginning to set, so I turn back. It's a 40 minute hike back to Oceanview, in a very nice, quiet evening. The odd car races by, but otherwise very still. Return to B&B at 9.20 pm.

Thursday, 19 August 2004

Stornoway - 19/08/04

Decide on today's course of action after breakfast. I have a choice of joining the Citylink bus to Glasgow or the Calmac ferry across to Tarbert, Harris. I opt for the ferry. Having bought a ticket, I now have to wait for the minibus to take me to the ferry. It is very windy today, blowing a gale. When on the actual quayside, the wind gets hold of the gangway, which nearly sweeps everybody off their feet and into the wall of the waiting room. Departure time 9.20, and it's very lively in the Minch. Visibility poor, but I nonetheless spend the duration of the journey out on deck. Dock at Tarbert at 11 o'clock. Bus leaves for Stornoway at 11.30, depositing me there an hour later. I'm first going into the TIC for a bed. A lot of trouble later, I'm finally directed towards a B&B in Newton Street, on the seafront. At the TIC I also enquired about what's on: it appears a play called Metagama will be staged tonight, so I buy a ticket. After dinner in the Crown Hotel, I proceed up the road from my B&B to Seaforth Road and the studios there. Metagama is the name of an emigrant ship that left Lewis in 1923 for Canada, taking scores of young men and women with it who were looking for a new life in the West. Following the Great War (1914-18), prospects in the Western Isles were definitely bleak. The Canadian Government advertised for work, and hundreds applied. Return to B&B at 10.30.

Wednesday, 18 August 2004

North Skye - 18/08/04

We've lost the sun, and as I proceed to the busstop, it's a tad windy. Decide to head north for a roundtrip Trotternish. First to Portree. Because the clouds were down, I couldn't see much of the Cuillins at Sligachan. Had a look round Portree, well, that's very quickly done.
Bus left at 12 o'clock with me in prime position, behind the driver. Had this half-baked idea to alight at the Duntulm Hotel, to look up Renata who I'd met last Saturday on the Small Isles ferry. She was the one that forgot to get off at Eigg. Alighted at Duntulm and went into the hotel bar for a bit of lunch. They took their time getting it out to me, it should be said. When I finally got out again, not having found Renata, it had turned cold and miserable. Very strong winds, mobile phone coverage only at sealevel. Walked down the road to view the ruins of Duntulm Castle. They were popular that day with a variety of tourists. They all had nice warm cars and coaches.
My bus finally turned up at 3 pm. A step down the road, we picked up a local man, who was going to work for Calmac over the weekend. I did mention poor visibility. On cresting the hill leading into Uig, we were brought to a halt in a line of traffic. Someone had driven their car into a ditch. A tractor was just in the process of pulling it out. It was beginning to rain heavily. Driver pulled up outside the convenience store at Uig pier to buy a paper. On return to Portree, it was raining heavily. My search for accommodation resumed at the TIC. It lands me a B&B 16 miles away - at Uig (where I've just come from).
Return to Uig on the 4.20 bus, which drops me off quite neatly outside the door. Am welcomed into Orasay GH, with a pokey likl room, but a pleasantly spacious sitting room. Go for a bite to eat in the restaurant two doors down. Food acceptable, but when I go for a beer in the bar, there's hardly anyone there. Have a short walk into the croft behind Orasay, where a number of selfcatering caravans stand. By now, 8 pm, it's dry if chilly. Turn in at 10.30.

Tuesday, 17 August 2004

Sleat - 17/08/04

Today dawned bright and sunny, and I wound my way by bus down to Armadale in the morning. After having a pizza for lunch on Armadale pier, I decided to give the Mallaig ferry a miss and head up the road into Ardvasar. Oh, didn't mention the fantastic road widening scheme on the A851 down from Broadford. I proceeded in warm sunshine down the road past Ardvasar, finally to flop down on a hillock near the old School House. This is now a dwelling house, but I cannot understand how someone can live there. The nearby cattle grid gives off a frightful racket every time someone drives over it. Enjoyed the views up and down the Sound of Sleat for a little while. Walked a little way past Tormore farm, where all the roadsigns along a very tricky stretch of road had been reversed. I turned them back round again. Took myself back into Ardvasar to look for accommodation. No luck at all. One B&B was deserted, although Radio 2 was blaring out. The hotel was fully booked, so in the end I just caught the bus to Broadford. The TIC is closed when I arrive there at 5.50 pm, the hotels are fully booked as are the B&B's. OK, the youth hostel still has beds so, and I don't mind spending a night there. A group of Hungarian people are staying there, and they are having great fun fornicating. Had a fast food meal at the youth hostel: baked beans and fruit salad.

Monday, 16 August 2004

Skye - 16/08/04

At half past ten, I jump on the train to Fort Wiliam, which takes me east through the familiar points of Beasdale, Loch Eilt, Glenfinnan and Loch Eil, finally to arrive into the Fort at 12 o'clock. It's a bit of a drab day, cloudy and grey. After some shopping for lunch, at Safeways, I jump on the Skye bus at 2 o'clock, buying a ticket to Portree. First 25 miles go up the Great Glen as far as Invergarry, then it's west up the A87 towards Kyle. This offers a nice view over Tomdoun to Loch Quoich, then heads north to join up with the A887 out of Invermoriston and Inverness. A long stretch without any habitation to Cluanie Inn, where the old road comes across the mountains, followed by the run down to Shiel Bridge. A Dutch car nearly had our bus in its boot on the Loch Shiel causeway. At 4 pm we arrive at Kyle to cross the bridge after paying the tolls. At Kyleakin a few people come and go, attributable to the presence of the Youth Hostel. Proceed to Broadford and past Scalpay and Raasay to Sligachan and Portree. At Portree, I didn't have any accommodation booked, so first port of call was the TIC. It was very late in the afternoon, but the man managed to arrange a B&B for me. It was called Hyskeir, and situated on the outskirts of town, near the loop on the Dunvegan Road. The house was used for and by B&B guests only. En-suite facilities a bit pokey, but it'll do for a night. Have a meal in town and afterwards do the laundry under the hostel in Somerled Square.

Sunday, 15 August 2004

Eigg daytrip - 15/08/04

Today, I'm going back to Eigg for a daytrip out of Arisaig. To this end, the man of the house will take me there. First though, he'll drop Renata off at Mallaig. She is going to the hotel at Duntulm, Skye, where one of her friends is staying. The Sheerwater departs at 11 a.m., and yes there is still room on board for me. For £15.00, I'll be taken there and back. Arrive at Eigg at midday, on a slightly cramped boat. Lots of folk with kids and dogs. At Eigg, there is a longish walk off the pier, which stretches from An Laimhrig southeast to nearly Lady Runciman's bathing hut. The cafeteria is open, but the rest of the centre is closed, it being Sunday. I hobble across to Kildonan, where only Greg and Amy are about. Greg tells me all about his trip to the States, and the fact that his parents are away to Edinburgh. I ask him to pass on my regards and disappear up the road to Cuagach. Maggie Fyffe's home is empty of people, so she is away as well. By this time, I have to start planning my return to the pier, as the Sheerwater is leaving at 4.30. So, I go on my merry way south again, and duly arrive on the pier, via the Lodge, in time for the ferry. The return to Arisaig is your usual deviation for whales and the like, which means that the skipper cuts the engine to allow everybody to watch. On arrival at Arisaig, I head off towards my accommodation for the night, this being the fiendishly expensive Cnoc na Faire hotel. This is located some 2 miles outside the village, near the Back of Keppoch. I am put in a room called Eigg, very acceptable. Food is good as well, but as stated before: £98 per person per night is incredibly steep in my book. The mozzies are out, so I stay in.


Saturday, 14 August 2004

Saturday 14/08/04 - Small Isles Cruise

Another glorious day. I head up the railline to Mallaig at 10 o'clock, at no charge. There I visit the TIC to arrange tonight's accommodation. This is done by looking it up yourself and ringing the B&B yourself, admittedly on the TIC's own phone. I end up in Glasnacardoch, at the bottom of the B8008 out of Mallaig. Having accessed the internet that annexes with the TIC, I hobble across to the Glasnacardoch Guesthouse (formerly Hotel), where I'm given a warm welcome. The lady very kindly offers to collect me at Mallaig tonight, on return from the cruise round the Small Isles which I'm planning for today. The lady has a husband and a 7-year old boy (who dominates everybody's life) as well as two rather large dogs. I return to Mallaig at midday, in time for a phonecall which I have to take in the middle of the Spar Supermarket. At 1.30 the Lochnevis sails for the Small Isles with myself on board for the round trip, 8 hours in total. Return planned for 21.30 tonight. There isn't a cloud in the sky, not a wave of swell and everybody in a sunny mood. On the way to Eigg, we see minke whales, and just off the northern tip of the island an orca leaping clean out of the water. Its white markings give its identity away. Arrival at Eigg at 2.45 pm. Some very familiar faces on the pier. Just as we pull away, a sleepy face pokes out of the cabin and asks "Is this Eigg?". Yep, this was Eigg. Italian Renata goes into a flap when she realises she, well, has forgotten to disembark. She was under the impression that she'd have to change into the wee ferryboat. Unfortunately that went out of service back in March, when the new pier was put into formal usage. Renata was to have joined as a volunteer on the island for a week, but as she cannot reach Eigg until Monday she decides to abandon the idea altogether. Sue Hollands, volunteer coordinator on Eigg, wasn't too fussed. I had asked the Carrs at Kildonan to pass the message on to her. Greg Carr, who took the call, fell about laughing on hearing the story. Anyway, on to Muck. I organised a bed for this slightly loopy girl at my own B&B. We continued on our merry way, with me spouting off knowledge regarding the Small Isles. The docking procedure was a bit complicated at Muck, and took a long time. So, it was well after 4 when we finally departed for island n° 3, Rum. By this time, a bank of cloud had started to move up from the south, but it stayed sunny right the way through our sail up the Sound of Rum. Very nice views of Glen Dibidil and the Rum Cuillins, as well as the western extremity of the Sgurr Ridge on Eigg. This slowly moves from Beannan Breaca through Beinn Tighe to Laig Bay. Cleadale looks very pretty under the dark cliffs of Beinn Buidhe. With the time approaching 6 pm, we move round to enter Loch Scresort on the eastern side of Rum. Again, no more faffing about with boats here, the Lochnevis just docks at the pier. As I'm looking straight into the sun, now due west, I'm unable to see Kinloch Castle. I know where it is supposed to be, but it's hidden in amongst the trees. Final island, Canna, is approached round the north coast of Rum, and the sun by this point begins to desert us. At 6.45, we're in the shadows and it's very still. On Canna, the midges are out, making everybody's life a misery. We head back to Mallaig at 7.15. It's now a question of spotting all those whales, there are dozens of them about. Have a Calmac bacon butty for supper. Arrive in Mallaig at 9.20, where the lady from Glasnacardoch is ready to pick up Renata and myself.


Friday, 13 August 2004

Friday 13/08/04

Although Friday 13th is not a good day for the superstitious, I nonetheless head out in glorious sunshine and make for Arisaig. Fort William TIC was unable to book anything at all for me yesterday, but did advise me to knock on doors in the village. So, there I was at 9.50, knocking on doors in Arisaig. Natives were friendly, a lady very kindly rang round for me. I finally ended up in an annex room of the Old Library, a pretty expensive affair. Fifty quid if memory serves. The room had a sliding door which could not be locked. In the afternoon, I headed out for a walk at the back of the village, heading out towards the farm at Kinloid. You have to go up past the church and the school, then cross the Arisaig by-pass in the A830. It's really warm, and I'm soon puffing. Pass through the yard of Kinloid farm, then set off up a track up the hill. Gate a bit awkward under the railway viaduct. Finally reach the transmitter mast, which affords a nice view all round to Rhum, Eigg and north to Skye. Am tempted to proceed further uphill, but stop short of Sgurr an t-Sasunnaich. Lounge in the sun, out of the wind on the top of a hillock for some time. Then I return to Kinloid and Arisaig. Very warm. On return to the village, I come across some folks on pushbikes who have a job negotiating the hill. Have dinner in the Old Library at 7 pm, then head down the road for a beer. Sit just a table away from some familiar faces from Eigg, such as DJ. Everybody's doings are being discussed. Head back to my wee room for the night

Thursday, 12 August 2004

Thursday 12/08/04

At 7 a.m., I check out of the hotel in Glasgow and head for Queen Street Station,uncertain of my destination for the day. After a bite from a fast foodoutlet, I jump on the 8.12 to Fort William. The ride is familiar, and Ihop off at Corrour at 11 for an amble in the hills. I cross the lineafter the train departs and head west, for an outlying spur of Leum Uilleam. I watch as the hideously delayed Sleeper train creeps throughCorrour station at 1 pm, four hours late. I rejoin the Fort Williamtrain at 3.30, and duly arrive there an hour later. The TIC / TouristInformation Centre scrapes the barrel for me and digs out a room for meat a B&B just up the hill from them. Very pleasant lady. Go out fora meal in the hotelbar of the Ossian hotel. People are trawling thetown for rooms at 8 pm.

Wednesday, 11 August 2004

11/8/04 - Glasgow

Booked a hotelroom in the Ibis Hotel in Glasgow and jumped on the train north. It was another hot day, and the 14.30 from Euston was boiling. The journey was fraught with difficulties. Due to flooding on the line, the train was diverted through Stone, Stoke-on-Trent to Crewe, which caused a 60 minute delay. Fed-up looking passengers joined us at intermediate station, until disaster struck again on the Beattock Summit, between Carlisle and Glasgow: a red light and a lengthy wait. The usual exchange of travel horror-stories (my fav one: how the train caught fire, or at least how there was smoke in the smoking carriage on the Newcastle to London train) preceded the announcement that we'd be going back to Carlisle. On arrival there at 9pm, coaches were being commandeered to take the passengers on 8 Intercity trains north. However, the clever ones jumped on the little local to Dumfries, Kilmarnock and Glasgow. Anticipated time of arrival: 23.30. Original TOA: 19.53. The battery on my mobile ran flat in the middle of a phone-call, but someone lent me a hand-recharger. Do it 2.5 times a second for 3 minutes and you have 3 minutes' worth of battery power. The noise of the winder wound a fellow passenger up, who couldn't stand it. Took a taxi from Glasgow Central to the hotel.

Wednesday 11/08/04

Booked a hotelroom in the Ibis Hotel in Glasgow and jumped on the train north. It was another hot day, and the 14.30 from Euston was boiling. The journey was fraught with difficulties. Due to flooding on the line, the train was diverted through Stone, Stoke-on-Trent to Crewe, which caused a 60 minute delay. Fed-up looking passengers joined us at intermediate station, until disaster struck again on the Beattock Summit, between Carlisle and Glasgow: a red light and a lengthy wait. The usual exchange of travel horror-stories (my fav one: how the train caught fire, or at least how there was smoke in the smoking carriage on the Newcastle to London train) preceded the announcement that we'd be going back to Carlisle. On arrival there at 9pm, coaches were being commandeered to take the passengers on 8 Intercity trains north. However, the clever ones jumped on the little local to Dumfries, Kilmarnock and Glasgow. Anticipated time of arrival: 23.30. Original TOA: 19.53. The battery on my mobile ran flat in the middle of a phone-call, but someone lent me a hand-recharger. Do it 2.5 times a second for 3 minutes and you have 3 minutes' worth of battery power. The noise of the winder wound a fellow passenger up, who couldn't stand it. Took a taxi from Glasgow Central to the hotel.