The forecast looked promising so the decision was taken to board the ferry to Eriskay and follow the road to South Uist.
It’s a 40 minute crossing and the sun was shining. It was warm enough to stand on deck, despite the large swell which produced a healthy spray. Half way across we were joined by 2 dolphins who gave us a memorable display for a few minutes.
The sun was still shining as we disembarked and continued to do so all day. We were ready for coffee and made our way to the pink roofed cafe which we had discovered last time. It was easy to spot from miles away and we were welcomed and enjoyed a bacon roll with our coffee.
The main attraction on South Uist is the Kildonan Folk Museum but this was closed for the season. However, we did venture down a farm track to find Flora Macdonald’s house.
Flora Macdonald, (born 1722, died March 5, 1790, Kingsburgh House, Skye Inner Hebrides), was a Scottish Jacobite heroine who helped Charles the Young Pretender, the Stuart claimant to the British throne, to escape from Scotland after his defeat in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745–46. The daughter of Ranald Macdonald, a tacksman or farmer of Milton in the island of South Uist (Hebrides), she would come to be immortalized in Jacobite ballads and legends.
The sun was getting low so, after a cup of tea a the pink cafe, we made our way to the ferry and back to Barra.
Unrepeatable Day by Niall Campbell
This, my recurring winter day,
I spend recalling younger winters –
those days and twin-like days of white
and little more – are to me distinct
since each remembered hour confirms
the truthfulness of memories
of a season without time,
or one where time seems barely moving.
Those details as clear as ice or glass,
the winter young but getting older,
the thaw-lined roads, the dripping roofs,
sun-light reflecting off the frost,
and lovers huddled close together,
more from love than from the cold.
While in the trees the old bird-houses
are damp, and wet, and empty.
Something more than the clock-hand stalls
at this moment, this single moment,
that I have lengthened past the day
when we kissed our one unending kiss.
Niall Campbell is originally from the Western Isles of Scotland. He studied English Literature at Glasgow University, and in 2009 went on to complete a MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews. In 2011 he received an Eric Gregory Award and a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship. He lives in Edinburgh.
His first pamphlet, After the Creel Fleet, was published by HappenStance Press in 2012. His first collection, Moontide (Bloodaxe, 2014) is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.
Peter and Sandie Dransfield arrived yesterday afternoon and experienced the unique sensation of landing on the beach in a gale! They emerged from the plane looking slightly bemused but smiling and after a warming cup of tea were given the tour of the island, arriving back at the house as the sun set.
On the way we had stopped to buy a bottle of Jura single malt, into which significant inroads were made, sitting around the fire, after supper.
Today the weather reverted to more typical weather for the season: gales, rain and occasional sunshine. We drove across the causeway to Vatersay and walked along the beach until the wind proved too fierce to stay. On the way back Peter and I paid homage to popular Scottish band, The Vatersay Boys, whose van Peter spotted. If you’ve never heard them, do listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbCGmkyJet8
All apart from me undertook a long walk to seal bay after lunch and tonight we intend to eat at the Castlebay Hotel.
Hebrides by Kenneth Steven
This shattered place, this place of fragments,
A play of wind and sea and light,
Shifting always, becoming and diminishing;
Out of nowhere the full brightness of morning
Blown away, buried and lost.
And yet, if you have faith, if you wait long enough,
There will be the miracle of an otter
Turning water into somersaults;
The jet blackness of a loch brought back to life
By the sudden touch of sun.
But you will take nothing home with you
Save your own changedness,
And this wind that will awaken you
Sometimes, all your life, yearning to return.
(A poem that beautifully captures the soul of these islands.Kenneth Steven was born in Glasgow in 1968 but moved to Highland Perthshire during his schooldays. He has studied and taught in Norway, and translated from both Norwegian and Sami.)
I fear that the relaxed lifestyle of an Outer Hebrides island has impacted on us. We have done little that could be construed as active, but spent a great deal of time banking up the fire and lounging in front of it. We did venture out for a bar lunch today, the only customers in the bar of the Castlebay Hotel.
As if the Creator has been following what I am writing, a terrific clap of thunder announces the type of storm we had been expecting. Kathy has gathered together torch and candles as power cuts frequently follow in the wake of storms.
Now where was I? Ah, yes, lunch, and the memory of a steak and ale pie which merely served as fuel for another afternoon of non activity, or, as you may justifiably retort, laziness.
However, we must gird our loins to welcome friends Peter and Sandie tomorrow and make sure they see as much of the island as possible, as well as the islands of Vatersay and Eriskay. We shall enjoy watching their plane land on the beach, a smooth landing I hope.
Oidhche mhath leat!
or, for those of you unfamiliar with Gaelic ‘Goodnight to you’
By the time we had completed the necessary household jobs yesterday it was time to look for somewhere for lunch. In high season the options are limited but in November options are further reduced. The best restaurant is a combined Italian and Indian one which operates from a building which is little more than a glorified garden shed. But the food and ambiance are excellent. They only open Friday and Saturday evenings in the winter.
High also on the list of agreeable eating places is the airport cafe. Forget Heathrow or even Durham Tees Valley. Barra’s airport cafe occupies three quarters of the airport terminal so you can imagine how small that is. They serve simple but home cooked and prepared food, with plenty of locally caught seafood. It opens from 10-00 to 3-00 to coincide with the day’s one flight, from Glasgow.
We opt for a hot smoked baguette with hot smoked salmon filling, local produce of course. The salad was fresh and included nasturtium leaves!
A few metres from our house, a lane leads down to one of the many secluded bays on Barra. We go there for some fresh air of which there is unlimited supply. The sand is white and fine but firm to walk on. We wander along it for a while, climb over the multicoloured rocks, the sun still shining though clouds are gathering.
We had lit a fire and the rest of the day was passed, reading, writing and eating, eyes just occasionally closing with the strain of it all.
As I finish writing this Big Ben strikes 11-00 and we sit in silence.
Bhrra war memorial
Here we are, in the Outer Hebrides, in November, and yesterday the sun shone all and it was quite war, not at all what we expected and there is no forecast of a change in the next few days.
Yesterday morning began with a phone call from Scot, who was to accompany the hymns on his guitar. He had been called out and wouldn’t get back in time for the service. It was left to me to play! Scot called round about 6-00pm, having been out all day, to apologise.
Not so many in the congregation but most waiting for the main Act of Remembance at the island war memorial in the afternoon. This is situated high above the bay at Castlebay with spectacular views. There were around 100 people and Father John Paul and I led the service together. The highlight was singing ‘How Great Thou art’ in Gaelic.
.As I write the sun is breaking through so we shall find a sheltered beach and wander for a bit.