Castaway in Stornoway

When the alarm went off at 7.45 this morning the first thing we did was look out of our window to see what the new day was like.  There was not a cloud in the sky or a ripple on the sea.  We were already at anchor in Stornoway, capital of the Isle of Lewis and indeed the Outer Hebrides, or the Western Isles as they are more commonly known these days.

After breakfast we collected a ticket for the liberty boat across to the island, before we boarded the bus for our trip around the isles of Lewis and Harris.  The sun shone from a steel blue sky as we left civilisation behind and travelled along through hills and dales, fields of sheep and isolated crofters farms.  There was a lot of moorland, heather, peat bogs and sphagnum mosses.  The landscape was rugged, wild and stark and beautifully undeveloped and unexploited by human hand.

The sun reflecting off the many small freshwater lochs gave the impression of sequins glinting here and there, and the brooding mountains made us feel small and insignificant.  I cannot believe that, for all the miles I’ve travelled and the faraway places that I’ve seen, this was the first holiday I’d had in Scotland, and the first chance I’d had to appreciate the magnificent landscape we have here in good old Britain.  🙂

Throughout our tour you could hear our fellow passengers marvelling at the weather; most of May has been terrible – cold, wet and windy, and yet so far on our trip the weather has been flawless and the sea like a mill pond.  With the vagaries of the British weather we were totally prepared for rain, grey skies and fog, and now I was starting to feel that the clothing I’d brought was slightly inappropriate.

Our bus wended its way through the mountainous roads which often afforded breathtaking views of the landscape.  Our guide pointed out the peak of Clisham, which at 800 metres is the highest mountain in the Outer Isles.  Sheep were sure-footedly picking their way along the hillsides, and it always reminds of the oft-repeated Scottish legend that the Haggis is a small hill-dwelling furry animal with two legs shorter on one side than the other side, to allow it to walk upright when going around a mountain.  🙂

Our journey took us through Lewis and into the neighbouring island of Harris, famous world-wide for its woollen herringbone tweed.  Lewis and Harris are not true islands in that they are joined by a narrow strip of land.  Their landscapes, however, are so different that you’d think they were two completely separate places.

In Harris the bus stopped for an hour in the village of Tarbert (Harris’s largest village of 400 occupants) so it allowed us some free time to look around.  We went to the local village stores and bought an ice lolly each, as well as a bottle of rosé wine to consume in our cabin.  😉  We also bought some postcards and stamps to write out later on.

As we were walking along the road we heard a rhythmic clanking noise, and looked through an open door into a sort of workshop where there was a large, antique loom on which some Harris Tweed was being woven.  The weaver operated the loom by sitting on a bike and pedalling away!  It would certainly keep him fit.  There were many spools of woollen yarn and punched cards which fit onto the loom; the yarn is fed through the holes in the card and determines the final pattern on the tweed, the most famous of which is the herringbone.  The tweed that was being woven here in this little workshop would be sent to the mills to be made into garments (most notably jackets) which would then be sold all over the world.

Once it was time to go back on the bus we rode along the coastal route until we came to a remote little place called Horgabost Beach where a few campers were making the most of the weather by pitching small tents and sitting out on the dunes.  We had to rub our eyes and look again – was this Scotland or was it the Caribbean?  There was a gorgeous white sandy beach and turquoise, beautifully clear water; and of course the cloudless blue sky.  Add to this the backdrop of mountains to the north and you could quite easily think you’d died and gone to heaven.  🙂

Well I just couldn’t resist this – rolling up my trouser legs and kicking off my flip-flops I ran down the dunes and enjoyed the feel of the powder soft sand in among my toes before going knee-deep into the water for a “plodge” as we say here in the North.  It was at this point that we realised it was Scotland and not the Caribbean as the water temperature reminded us that we were at 58° north.  Nevertheless, it was absolutely idyllic and it was with reluctance that we boarded the coach for the return journey into Stornoway.

Back in Stornoway we decided we wouldn’t go straight back to the Marco Polo but would see if we could find a pub, have a cold beer and write out our postcards.  We looked all over a for a pub with a beer garden, or with tables and chairs outside, but although there were quite a few pubs, none of them satisfied this criteria.  It was only then that we realised they’d have no need of a beer garden apart from about three days a year!  So we went into the nearest pub, had a pint each and wrote out our cards, before finding a post box.

We then went back to the port where we were just in time to get the liberty boat back to the ship – great timing.  Then we went up to the aft deck and enjoyed some afternoon snacks and a couple more drinks.  They make a mean caipirinha on the Marco Polo and it wasn’t too badly priced at £3.80.

While we were enjoying our drinks an announcement came over the PA system to say that we would not be visiting Fort William tomorrow after all, as they had been unable to find a qualified pilot available to guide the Marco Polo into the narrow inlet that would take us into port.  In place of Fort William then, we would visit Ullapool tomorrow and have an extra port of call on Sunday in the shape of Invergordon.  It didn’t bother us unduly, these things sometimes happen on cruises and can’t be helped.

After another tasty dinner we went along to the show lounge where tonight’s cabaret was UK Guest Act Brenda Collins, a comedienne.  I thought her name sounded vaguely familiar and, sure enough, we realised we had seen her before at the Red Lion in Chester-le-Street, when she performed at Trevor’s works Annual Dinner Dance.  She is one of these acts that wears daft masks, wigs and other props and does comedy impressions to a fast medley of background music.  She was quite funny but a lot of her act hadn’t changed in the 10 years or so since we’d seen her last.

The game show in Scott’s Bar tonight was “The Weakest Link” where the contestants have to answer general knowledge questions against the clock and then have to vote for who they think is the “weakest link” in the chain of correct answers.  It used to come on BBC 1 and was hosted by Anne Robinson and Trevor used to watch it avidly.  When we went into the bar Andy, one of the entertainment team, said to Trevor “you are playing tonight”.  Trevor asked “who nominated me for that?” and Andy replied “I did!”.  So it looked as if Trevor was playing, whether he wanted to or not.  🙂

After the first round Trevor was the strongest link and in the second round he was not the weakest link, but his fellow contestants voted him out.  So he had to take the “walk of shame” but at least he wasn’t the first off.  So no free cocktails for us tonight then!

I was quite tired afterwards after the long day, soporific sunshine, big dinner and caipirinhas, so I decided to go straight to bed ,but Trevor remained in Scott’s Bar to watch the late-night cabaret and returned to cabin 602 around midnight.

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