From November 16, 2004, I stayed on in Lewis.
Further entries are in the main Northern Trip diary.

Cearsiadar - 16/11/04

Woke up to a guy shouting abuse in his sleep, and someone else shooshing him. The two American ladies collected their car at 8.30, declining my overzealous offer of being their guide. I set off downtown sunny Stornoway / Steornabhagh. First to the library for a full hour's worth of Internet use. Had about 40 emails waiting. Then to various bookshops, one of which stocked Soil and Soul, a landmark work by Alistair McIntosh. He is not well known outside this region, but is a staunch campaigner for community ownership. He supported the community buy-out of the Isle of Eigg in 1996/7, and managed to stop the development of the Lingerabay superquarry. This would have seen the demolition of an entire mountain for the sake of acquiring aggregates for the building of houses and roads in the UK and beyond. I also unearthed a compilation CD by Capercaillie, my favourite folk / fusion group from these parts. Went to a gig by them, as some know, back in January. Didn't walk back to my digs, no danced home. Just as well it was 11.30pm. It's no use having a CD without the means of listening to it, so I also acquired a portable CD-player. Then there was the matter of my 3 disposable cameras, all used up, which needed to be developed and printed. I would have preferred the images to be on CD-ROM, but that means you have to wait for 3-4 days, and I don't work that far in advance with regards to planning. One shop could develop & print in 2 hours, but not the CD-ROM. Sod it, I went for the prints. The most important one is attached to this journal entry. Then I went on a walk down the harbourfront as far as the old powerstation. Sat down on the seawall and was duly joined by a nice tortoiseshell cat, a neutered tom. He rubbed against me as I sat nibbling my sandwiches, wanted to be scratched on the head and a general fuss. After that, he went down the steps to the shore, only to bolt back up them a minute later and disappear into the estate behind me. Strange animal. My bus left town at 2.20pm, heading down the road towards Tarbert. I got off at Balallan (Baile Ailean), to join the little bus into South Lochs. Recognized the driver from years ago. A ten minute journey brought me to Cearsiadar - just say KerSHAder. The hostel is part of a community building also encompassing a shop and a cafe. The volunteers in the shop also run the hostel, which is simple but comfortable. Oh, the only uncomfortable thing about the hostel is the chairs. Eugh. After a longish chat, I went inside. A run-down of things not to do:

- don't close the kitchendoor, the handle is broken

- don't switch off the light in the stairwell

- don't use the shower upstairs

- don't use the third bedroom

- don't leave the central heating on if you don't need it

Ah, it's all a laugh, really. There are only two people in the hostel now, a guy called Joe and myself. He is going round the island looking for a job and a place to live. Exchanged some stories over dinner. Joe cooked onions and potatoes with mince and shandy to drink. The television provided some entertainment, but that was about it for the night.

Through Berneray to Stornoway - 15/11/04

At 8.10 this morning, the basket-ball team left for their match at Lionacleit, Benbecula. I had barely time to catch my breath, when a new group of people marched in. Seven folk, about to set off by sea-kayak to the Monach Islands. Heard that before. I left for Lochmaddy at 10 o'clock, and headed north by postbus to Berneray one hour later. Spent about half an hour rattling the keyboard in Tigh na Chearsabhagh, the sound of which drove one person mad. Not me! Some of you may be aware I'm a fast typist (70 wpm), and it is quite a noise when I'm in my stride. The postbus lady very kindly dropped me off at the road-end in Berneray, where you can go down to the Burnside B&B (prop. Mrs McKillop) where I stayed in 1995. Memories of being asked to join in the fun at the Berneray week, in which I was nearly drowned in the Knockout. And Mrs McKillop horrified that it was her new guest, all bedraggled, asking for a cup of soup afterwards. Now there was nothing in that field. Only a selection of rams. It's that time of the year when the rams are put to the ewes. Yep, necessary, else you don't get those cute little lambs in spring. The rams have a block of waxy dye bound to their chest. When the ram does his job, the dye rubs on to the ewe's shoulder, and thus the farmer knows that she has been served. The sheep on Berneray do not have horns, they have large black floppy ears, which gives them a funny look. It was quite chilly out there in the field, so I quickly hobbled back to the ferry terminal and waited for the MV Loch Portain to turn up at 1.20 to take me to Leverburgh. There was a fair queue of traffic waiting to go, including a fuel tanker. This led to a complete ban on smoking on board. You are normally allowed to smoke on the outer deck. The ferry made a tortuous and at times slow journey across the Sound of Harris, circumventing reefs and other underwater dangers. It took an hour, arriving at Leverburgh at 2.20. Had to wait for 40 minutes for the bus to depart north to Stornoway. Forgot to mention that at 1pm the sun came out, and it made the crossing quite beautiful. When the bus finally departed it was a picture postcard journey, with the beaches and views of West Harris in a hazy late autumn light. The sands were yellow, not white, due to the light. Arrived in Tarbert at 3.40, left there a few minutes later. The trip through the mountains was quite familiar, from my earlier journey in August of this year. After Balallan darkness began tofall. Arrived in Stornoway at 4.50. There were only a few other people on the bus. The route can be very busy in summer, with the driver giving a running commentary on the scenery. Now he greets every local customer by name. Having done the shopping, I headed for my hostel for the night. Fairhaven, on Francis Street. Easily found, but not exactly a model for organisation. Had to wait for 2 hours for the proprietors to turn up to take payment. Went for a very good meal at the Crown Hotel in the meantime. There were two dorms in the place, one being taken up by Polish workers in the local fish factory. The kitchen was a pokey little place, with dry rot up the walls. Yuk. The kettle was filled with brown water, although the tapwater was clear. Yuk again. Went to bed early, Stornoway is not noteworthy for its nightlife. Oh, gave two USA lassies some advice re. a trip around the island by car

Trumisgarry - Remembrance Sunday 14/11/04

Remembrance Sunday dawned wet and windy. A force 5-7 wind, with gusts up to 8 was blowing drizzle across the island. I would have liked to have gone to a Remembrance Sunday commemoration, but it was being held at Clachan, 8 miles away. I decided to walk down the road towards Berneray, starting at 10.15. Oh, forget to tell there were two house movers in the hostel last night, and a strange character dossing down on the couch. Along the road to Berneray, I noticed an otter lolloping through a saltmarsh near Trumisgarry. Went down the road to some cemeteries and the beach. Walked down the beach, with the wind buffeting me. Sat down amidst the sanddunes and took it easy. For more than an hour. Then, I retraced my steps past the cows and the cemeteries. A sheepdog began to follow me, jumping up at me, quite friendly. He even managed the cattle-grids, but left me at the road junction. Then a black kitten dashed across the road and hid amongst the long grass. I found it and tickled it. It finally shot out again after a minute's play. 100 yards further on, a dead mouse lay in the road. You don't see this sort of thing from a car. Trudged the remaining 7 miles back to Lochmaddy in fitful rain and failing light. On return, at 4.15, I ran into Mairi who told me that a class of schoolkids would be in the hostel tonight. And they duly materialized. No trouble at all, they were due to play an early game of basketball at Lionacleit in Benbecula, to return to the mainland on the ferry at lunchtime. Went to bed at 11.

Balranald RSPB Reserve - 13/11/04

Back in Taigh Chearsabhag in Lochmaddy to update the journal. On Saturday, I took the postbus out to Balranald, located on the west side of North Uist. This is an area of working crofts, but world famous as a nature reserve. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) manage it. The little postbus rattled out at 11 am, after I had done my weekend shop. The shop here is quite dear, £6 for just a few groceries. On driving round the northern side of the island, the wide sandy beaches spring into view after passing the Berneray road-end. Once you turn the northwestern corner, beyond Sollas, St Kilda hoves into view. This group of islands, with cliffs of over 1,000 ft high, was abandoned in 1930. The inhabitants at the time asked to be taken of because of disease and starvation. Starvation contributed to by neglect by government, allegedly. The isles lie about 45 miles away, but stand out like a set of snaggled teeth on the western horizon. Another notable sight is Scolpaig Tower, set in the middle of a lochan, with a causeway leading up to it. Arrived at Balranald at midday. It was quite empty, but the day is bright. A nature trail leads up to the coastline. Not many birds about, just some swans and some starlings. Sat on the rocky foreshore with my back to the strong northerly wind and my face in the warm sun. Bliss. Temperature 12C. Spent an hour of lounging about, watching showers pass by into Benbecula and observing the tall lighthouse on the Monach Isles. The latter was actually found abandoned in 1900. When the light was never extinguished during the daytime, a boat was sent across to investigate. A table was set with plates and food, and lights were still burning. The three men tending the tower were nowhere to be found, and have never been recovered. It is assumed that they had to go out and were swept away by a huge sea. Walked back to the Visitor Centre and the road end to wait for the postbus back. Although this departed at 2.30, it would not return to Lochmaddy much before 4pm. The reason being that it had to go round the houses to deliver mail. The usual spectacle developed of postie (a lady) being splattered with mud by overfriendly dogs, gates having to be opened and mail left just inside the front door. One door was locked, so the mail was left inside a Volkswagen Beatle on the drive. Like you do. We also called at the home of the island's proprietors, the Boulmers (?). And at a farm, near Scolpaig Tower, where a 95-year gent still lived on his own, albeit with home help. Postie was only inside for 2 minutes, a record fast visit. Being the local gossip, he wanted to know all the news. One other gentleman, it transpired, had recently passed away, and the community was saddened by their loss. Returned to Lochmaddy at 4, and spent the rest of the evening in the UOC.

Eriskay - 12/11/04

After breakfast, I decided to dump the gloom and go and make something of the day. Jumped on a bus, which was the first of three to take me down to Eriskay, 3 hours away. First to Clachan, then a McDonalds bus to Lochboisdale, and finally a vehicle to Eriskay. After Clachan there are a number of causeways to take you across to Grimsay and Benbecula (Beinn na Faoghla) and finally South Uist. On South Uist, there is the tracking station for the missiles and two high hills (2000 ft plus) called Beinn Mhor and Hekla. You can't miss them. Lochboisdale is an unsightly little place, where the Oban ferry calls. Eriskay is very nice, got there at 12.45. Linked to South Uist by causeway for a few years, the islanders love it. The weather was awful though. Galeforce northwesterly, frequent showers and 9C. The windchill made it feel more like minus 1C. Struggled to Haunn, where the old ferry terminal was, blocked by a huge sandbar. Back to Balla (Village), where I had a cup of soup in the pub Am Politician, named after the famous whisky boat which was wrecked off Eriskay in 1941, leaving it for the islanders to help themselves to the booze. Read "Whisky Galore" by Compton McKenzie. Incidentally, the word galore is of Gaelic origin, gu leoir meaning plenty. Had a walk down towards the Barra ferry terminal, along a stretch of very pretty beach. Pity about the gale though. Ferry to Ard Mhor had been cancelled for the day, as had many other ferries as it turned out later. Hobbled back through a very painful hailshower to the shop, then jumped on the bus. This took me all the way up to Clachan, but with some bloody long stops along the way. One gentleman joined me who would have gone on the Oban ferry, but this had been cancelled. He would go to Lochmaddy, but was worried about where to stay. I showed him to the hostel, once we got there at 6.10. He was quite grateful. We stopped also at the school at Linnacleit on Benbecula, where we could have a cuppa. Next to the swimming pool. Felt like a dip!

Berneray and Lochmaddy - 11/11/04

After a huge breakfast at 8.30 I went to Taigh Chearsabhagh, the local museum and arts centre. Had a cuppa and dabbled on the internet there, but didn't have time to update journal. Jumped on the 11.05 postbus to Berneray, with the half-formed idea of moving into the hostel there. Not a good idea, as I found out on arrival there. The hostel was quite basic and lacked a toilet. Otherwise a nice, rustic little place. But I'm not prepared to bare my all to the elements on the rocks of the foreshore thank you. Berneray holds some happy memories for me from my 1995 visit, when I was dragged into the "It's a Knockout" competition, which nearly drowned me. No-one about this time, it's cold and wet today. Went for a walk towards the northern end of the island, but turned back in order not to miss the 3pm bus back. Sheltered in the hostel until bus-time, chatted to an old farmer along the way by the way. Left a pound for day-use and jumped on the Grenitote bus to Sollas. The driver, a pleasant lady called Catherine, also did the schoolrun. Five primary school kids jumped on board at the school, and were dropped off at various points. One in Lochmaddy. A man was offered a lift, with the question: "to the shop or to your mum?". He needed the shop. At Sollas was transferred to another bus which dropped me at the Outdoor Centre. Now it was occupied - by the proprietors .They told me the door was never locked. Sure. Anyway, got a roof over my head. The only thing is the lack of adequate heating. The computer doesn't give access to secure sites (like AOL), so I'm very restricted. Some readers may have had email from me on a Yahoo! username; feel free to reply on that. Not terribly impressed, but you can't have it all. Am alone tonight, which suits me fine. Foul mood today.