Friday, 29 August 2014

Hebrides 14: Ferry from Eriskay to Barra

We attempted to go out on a boat from Lochboisdale, but were told that the owner was going to a wedding so wouldn't be taking the boat out.  Bummer.  Instead we decided to drive to the Southern end of Eriskay and catch the ferry across to Barra.  Being adventurous (and intrepid) types, we decided to leave the car behind and travel as foot passengers.  It was also cheaper that way!

The friendliness and efficiency of the Cadedonian Mac Brayne ferries was a constant pleasure during our visit to the islands.  Nothing seems to worry or stress the crew, no matter what happens.  The Eriskay/Barra ferry is small with a very steep loading ramp.  This gives a problem to certain types of vehicle, including large coaches which get grounded while getting on and off.  No problem: the CalMac answer is to carry a set of large wooden wedges which can be inserted in strategic places in order to lift the offending vehicles clear of the ground.  Simples!

The Eriskay Postie is allowed on first so that he can unload the mailbags.  He doesn't stay on the ferry, though, as his opposite number in Barra is waiting for the post on the other side of the Sound.

There weren't many passengers on the ferry: just us, a family of Runrig fans (all wearing T-shirts from the recent 40th anniversary concert) and a retired French couple sporting iPhones.

We were escorted on the short crossing by several gannets which flew alongside the ferry as we sailed.  They really are very beautiful, and have to be one of my all-time favourite birds.

Gannets have a habit of flying low, very close to the water's surface.  I hadn't realised quite how close until I examined the pictures I'd taken in more detail.  The second image below shows just how close the wing-tip gets to clipping the water.

We also met a flock of eider ducks, as well as the usual gulls and cormorants.

Just to prove what I said earlier, the Barra Postie was poised and waiting - like a coiled spring - to collect the mailbags from the ferry as soon as it docked.  Such is the pace of life on the Hebrides.

Being on foot, we then sought out the local bus service: a couple of 12-seaters which drive around the island while the driver chats to the passengers.  Next stop: Castlebay, the main settlement on Barra.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Hebrides 13: Finally, a Sunny Evening

After a bracing day on a boat (understatement of the year) the wind dropped and the sun came out.  It looked as though there might be a decent sunset, for the first time since our arrival on the Uists, and this was too good an opportunity to miss.  After cooking the trout caught earlier, I headed outside with my camera for a walk around South Lochboisdale.

Not far from the cottage was a strange monument with carvings in both Gaelic and English, providing a semi-circular wall giving shelter from the prevailing wind and a place to sit down.  Ok, so the seat was made of metal and taken from an old tractor, but it's the thought that counts.

A few views around South Lochboisdale showing the crofts and the kind of terrain which the people need to work with.  When this is taken into consideration, I guess it's unsurprising that the area is so sparsely populated.

The lighting looked promising, so I headed South hoping to get pictures of Eriskay and Barra as the sun went down.  Fat chance, as the clouds gathered and the sun disappeared.  I waited for a while, but the lighting remained gentle rather than dramatic.

Inevitably, as soon as I decided to give up and head North again, the clouds cleared and the sun came out.  Typical!  South Uist looked stunning in the low light, with mist rising over the Eastern hills in the background.

The Western side of South Uist is comprised of long sandy beaches, and I decided to park the car and go for a walk.  I was on my own for most of the time, but then a large 4x4 drove across the dunes and down to the water's edge.  A dog was then thrown out of the back, and the car took off down the beach with the aforementioned hound in hot pursuit.  After about 20 minutes of this, when the exercise period was over, the poor animal was re-admitted to the vehicle which then disappeared whence it came.  Talk about walking the dog in style...

Being so far North, the sun took a very long time to set.  I arrived back at the cottage around 22:30, and the light was still pretty spectacular.  I couldn't resist two last shots: one of the cottage; and the other of a boat moored on the other side of the "horse" field.

A fine end to a long and tiring day.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Hebrides 12: Fishing on Loch Grogarry

Loch Grogarry is one of the many machair lochs in South Uist, now owned collectively by the islanders and run by Storas Uibhist.  I only had one day in which to go fishing, so took advice from the Storas as to which loch I should try.  Grogarry was the suggestion, and its single boat was booked for me for the day.  If I'd been expecting Scottish loch-style fishing to be anything like that at my usual venue of Grafham Water, I was soon disabused of this fact.  No engine (just a pair of oars); only me on the boat (so I had to row as well as fish); wild brown trout (not stocked rainbows); and spectacular scenery (not a concrete dam wall in sight).  The photos below were taken with my iPhone, as the changeable weather would have meant my "real" camera getting a couple of soakings during the day!

The fish above is a superbly conditioned 2lb wild brown trout, which was the one and only fish I caught all day.  No matter, as I only needed one for my dinner; and very good it was too, with a few new potatoes and some salad. Yum...

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Hebrides 11: St Michael's Church, Eriskay

St Michael's Church on Eriskay is famous for having incorporated the prow of a boat into its altar.  It's also features as a key location in Peter May's Lewis Trilogy, which is highly recommended as a gritty and atmospheric (if fictitious) introduction to life on the Outer Hebrides.  The second book in particular, Lewis Man, highlights the differences between the Wee-Free dominated - i.e. Presbyterian Protestant - North (Harris and Lewis) and Roman Catholic South (the Uists, Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay).  St Michael's might be a Catholic church, with the obligatory statues and carvings of the Stations of the Cross, but it was the plainest and most spartan Catholic church I'd ever visited.

Not a wall painting in sight, and everything was light and airy.  A distinct change from the oppressive and over-decorated style of so many Catholic churches.  The apse also had a rather wonderful blue painted ceiling covered in stars, as well as housing the "boat altar".

A picture of the whole church, taken from the gallery, which shows the plain simplicity of the architecture.

The church itself is on the top of a hill commanding views over the sound which separates Eriskay from South Uist (now linked by a causeway).  It was rather bleak on the day we visited, unfortunately, but I'm still glad we went.

Bad light stopped play at the point, but the weather forecast for the following day was more promising - from a fishing point of view anyway.  Fingers crossed...

Friday, 22 August 2014

Hebrides 10: Loch Eynort

My original plan had been to go fishing, but a quick look at the weather forecast put paid to that: 24, 27, 31, 32, 34, 31, 28, etc., and these were the wind speeds, not the temperature!  It was also clear that we were due for a lot of rain, particularly in the afternoon, so decided to make the most of the morning by going to Loch Eynort.  Tucked away on the Eastern side of South Uist, Loch Eynort is unusual in that it has lots of trees.  It was also reasonably sheltered, and felt more like walking in the Highlands.  Flowers everywhere - especially a small area full of orchids, just beside the ruins of an old Thatched House.

Some of the quartz crystals in the Gneiss.

The wall of the old Thatched House, covered in mosses, lichens, ferns, grasses and wild foxgloves.

Loch Eynort must be a wonderful place for a picnic, when the weather is good.  Sadly, the day we chose was not suitable for such frivolities...

Apart from a couple from Carlisle and their dog (plus some seals in the loch) we hardly saw a soul.  We timed the morning perfectly, however, since it was just starting to rain as we got back to the car.  Next stop was a return to Barbara's Cafe, part of the Kildonan Museum, which provided us with very welcome bacon and egg butties.

By now the weather was fully set in, so we needed to find something to do for the afternoon.  Having exhausted most of the indoor attractions which South Uist had to offer, we decided to go and explore a rather strange church on Eriskay (cue the next exciting instalment).