Scotland – North Uist

Sunday August 18th – Friday August 23rd

This time in North Uist was intended to help me absorb and reflect on the experiences of these past many weeks, to get caught up on the website, and to “just be” for a little while longer before heading home and jumping back into the fray. Any doubts that I may have had about finishing the vacation alone on an island in Scotland were quickly dispelled, as I sunk deeply and comfortably into the kindness and warmth of life on this island.

When I first arrived at the airport in Benbecula, I was more out of sorts than usual. After weeks of being met at the airport by friends and having thoroughly guided experiences, I was not mentally prepared to take charge. I did not “have my game face on” as they say. Driving on the left, having an electric rental car, reading the road signs, acclimatizing to new weather conditions, finding the hotel… and the sinking feeling that this would be the last time I would make such adjustments before going home all contributed to a mixed set of emotions. A certain sadness hung over me, and I didn’t want to face it alone.

Of course on a small island like this, you’re never alone. Everywhere you go, there are friendly faces to welcome you and share their love of the place. Over the next few days, I would meet many of them…

And it didn’t take long. I began by taking the wrong turn out of the airport; my mistake was easy to realize once the road ended at some cows (or horses, I don’t remember). I turned back, but still it didn’t feel right. Based on where the sun was setting and knowing that there was only one road to take, I was quite sure that I was going the opposite way, maybe.

That was when Archie appeared. He got me sorted and feeling confident again that I would find my way. As it turned out, he also teaches Gaelic at the museum I was planning to visit on the other side of the island, where I was also hoping to learn some Gaelic. Funny how things work out.

There aren’t many roads on this island, which was made clear to me from the airplane window. I wrote to friends at the time, “if this is Uist, where are the roads??”

Most roads are single lane roads, although on occasion you will find two lanes. The single lane roads created a tense driving experience for me at first, especially when approaching a hill and not being able to see beyond, but in the end I managed alright.

I found Lochmaddy to be a very cozy place, and my hotel especially so. I stayed at the Hamersay House, located in a quiet part of Lochmaddy and within walking distance of the harbor area.

On this island, though, I quickly learned that Nature takes command over your plans. As cozy as my room was, my intention to spend the days blogging and catching up soon changed to exploration of the outdoors. Nature is so big here, you just have to go outside and be part of it. Ensconsing oneself inside for any reason is simply not an option…

For example, look at this view of the harbor that I discovered during a morning stroll. It’s as if God is peeling back the cover of cloud to reveal the town and to see how we’re planning to go about our day.

In most cases, you would go about your day however the weather lets you. I experienced the full range of summer possibilities during my few days there, including gentle overcast skies with a slight drizzle here and there; blazing sunshine with blue skies; and cold, driving wind with rain that was “pouring buckets”. In each case, the best thing to do: adjust accordingly!

Monday, August 19th: Gentle overcast with slight drizzle

With conditions cool and iffy, I thought I would spend the morning at the museum Taigh Chearsabhagh and have a look at the Runrig exhibit. It was there that I met up with Norman Macleod, who gave me my first lesson in Scots Gaelic by teaching me how to pronounce the name of the museum:

The Runrig exhibit features fan photographs that were taken at The Last Dance concert last summer in Stirling, along with a large collection of records, photographs, and memorabilia from the band itself. I was so happy to be part of this!

And yet Taigh Chearsabhagh is more than a museum; it is a thriving cultural and community center that offers Gaelic language classes, art and photography workshops, as well as an archeological exhibit, amongst other things. On this Monday morning, though, I focused on Runrig and promised myself to come back later in the week for more of the rest.

After lunch, I explored the northern part of the island, stopping in Lochportain, heading on up to Berneray, back down onto the Road to Ahmor (that’s a Runrig lyric – from the song “Flower of the West”), followed by Sollas, Baleloch, and stopping to see Barpa Langass (a 5,000 year old cairn of rocks — essentially a neolithic burial chamber). It was a nice route, going counterclockwise (A867 to A865) and coming back to Lochmaddy just in time for dinner.

I could not resist: saying “cheeeeeeese!” seems to work, regardless of breed

The end of a long, chilly day is best served with Linguine Scoglio at Hamersay House: pasta tossed with mussels, clams, shrimp, and calamari, along with some garlic, chili, and a white wine-based sauce:

Tuesday, August 20th: Blazing sunshine and bright blue skies (eventually)

I love puttering about in the morning, observing the world as it wakes up. In the next series, each video gets a little brighter, a little noisier — although in the third one, you see me looking back and forth trying to discover the source of the cacophany (and I never did find it):

I then walked over to the museum to see Norman, as it was his turn to sign the children’s books, and also to ask for his help with pronouncing the Gaelic words in some Runrig tunes. In spite of the noise of a busy museum and the clang of dishes in the nearby kitchen, the recordings turned out well enough:

And with the afternoon sunshine making its presence known, I headed west for the beaches near the Balranald Nature Reserve and also at Hosta. What started out as a stroll along the beach turned into a significant walk to the hill beyond, from which I could see spectacular views of the ocean and small islands in the distance. I had walked the full circumference of the beach, and on up a grassy knoll following the red trail to a raised mound overlook. While I was not well prepared for such a walk (no sunscreen, no water…what was I thinking?!!), I was loving my Teva footwear. Tide had gone out, and on the way back I very much enjoyed sloshing through inches-deep water as I cut directly across the diameter of the inlet. Love those sandals.

And thank you to Norman for the recommendations! The food station at Balranald Caravan & Campsite offered delicious sandwiches on fresh-baked rolls, and not to forget the big slice of homebaked lime poppyseed cake with a cup of hot Earl Grey tea.

It was nice to finish the day with a high level view from St Kilda Viewpoint and to see the waves crashing at Hosta beach.

On the way back to Hamersay House, I passed a bookbinder’s shop called Sollas Bookbinding, where I met the owner Corinna Krause. She gave me a tour of her workshop, where she was in the midst of significant repair work to an orchestral piece that was quite impressive. Corinna also demonstrated the different styles of binding that she had in process. Happy that I managed to get there before closing time, and even happier to leave with a new diary bound in the coptic style.

Wednesday, August 21st: Cold, driving wind and pouring buckets of rain… but then it cleared

No worries. On this day, I decided on some indoor sites to see located in South Uist, and also on the return trip in Benbecula near the airport — familiar territory, or so I thought.

However — I’m discovering that I don’t have pictures to share of this adventure, mainly because (1) I never found the shop that I was searching for and (2) it was, after all, pouring buckets in driving wind. It simply wasn’t possible to take any! Still, it was an adventure and it was fun…. but with any adventure one needs to have a sense of things. When the small dirt road turned into two tracks with some rather deep ruts, I felt that the little electric car I was driving would best be turned around and sent back to safer ground.

The next time I return to South Uist, I will head back to Hebridean Jewellery and try once again.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not!), the weather changed and became beautiful once again — the skies cleared, the rain disappeared, but the strong winds remained as you can hear in the video. With long summer days at this latitude, I went for a stroll around and took more pictures of Lochmaddy where the ferry from Skye comes in. You will also notice a long, white building next to a grey one: I believe this was the dance hall where Runrig once played.

… too hard to get it all in, so I did my own version of a 360 by taking this video. As mentioned, Nature is a big presence here, and we are so small in comparison…

I plan to go home eventually, but perhaps my shadow will stay…

Three Edward Hoppers and a home on North Uist… Can you tell which is North Uist?

(Another photo of the North Uist residence can be found somewhere else on this page.)

Thursday, August 22nd: Clear and very windy

As this was my final day in Lochmaddy, I wanted to spend the rest of my time there, exploring Taigh Chearsabhagh museum more in depth — both the Runrig exhibit and the archeological exhibit featuring Gordon Herries Davies. I learned about the igneous rocks, volcanic rock reworked into gneiss; scourie dyke rocks; laxfordian folds; pegmatite (pink) quartz, and stulagh slate. But the big surprise for me was that North Uist was once referred to as the long island; I was born on the other Long Island, in New York USA.

I took photos of the Runrig exhibit to share with others in the fan club who were not able to be there; in addition, I plan to post a video of them on Youtube once the actual exhibit concludes.

Taking a few last snaps of Lochmaddy before I leave…

… until I was chased out of town by a chicken:

And now I must head back to Glasgow to overnight there, before taking the long flight home… (That flight from Glasgow to Boston wouldn’t be the longest flight that I have taken on this journey, but in retrospect it sure felt that way.)

Friday, August 23rd: Glasgow to Home

I stayed at a hotel near the airport, followed by a flight with a changeover in Reykjavik. I will have to visit Iceland some day…