View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Monday 18 March

At 9 o'clock, I jumped on the postbus to Lochmaddy, where I picked up the keyboard, which I had left at Taigh Chearsabhaigh. The weather was unpleasant, with a strong easterly breeze making it cold. It also made it very difficult to keep a hold of the large box containing the keyboard. I waited in the ferry terminal, then went out to wait for the bus - which was 15 minutes late. It raced down the 10 miles to Berneray, making the 11.10 departure to Leverburgh by only a few minutes. The crossing was pretty rough, with frequent episodes of spray flying over the bow of the Loch Portain. Upon arrival at Leverburgh, I had more trouble with the crosswind trying to make me fly off with the box, before I boarded the bus to Stornoway. £6.20 took me to the town; had 40 minutes for lunch at Tarbert. Once back in town, I took a taxi for the last bit - I did not fancy walking any distance with 'the box'.

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Sunday 17 March

After a wet and windy start, the sky blew open and after breakfast I could head out to the hills with impunity. I walked up the road towards the hill of Cleitreabhal, 4 miles to the east, which is 450 feet in height and offers a view stretching from the Clisham in Harris to the Isle of Barra, to the south. Beyond the summit, which is crowned by communications equipment, I decided to traverse an area of moorland, which proved to be amongst the most challenging I have encountered. Nonetheless, I managed to reach the other side without anything worse than a slightly wet foot. My local contact arranged, by text, a meeting for 5pm, which allowed me plenty of time to complete my walk. It led me on into the village of Hosta, and onto the machair land beyond. I circled the coastline down to Hougharry, and returned to the B&B by about 4. After refreshing myself, I joined my contact on the machair near the Bird Reserve for a final evening's hospitality. I did not leave Cuddle Castle until about 1.45 am, meaning I still had to walk the 40 minutes to Hougharry in complete darkness. Nonetheless, a memorable visit to North Uist.

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Saturday 16 March

Today, I am playing the keyboard at the cultural centre Taigh Chearsabhaigh in Lochmaddy, but as the bus is not leaving until 11.40, I have time to walk around the bay by the Balranald RSPB Bird Reserve, next to Hougharry. After breakfast, at 9 am, I walk into the reserve, as far as the coastline permits, then return along the north shore, which faces Hougharry. Keeps me going for two hours. Several people are looking for rare birds; apparently, a harlequin duck has been sighted in the area. Attracts twitchers from all over the UK. My bus, a postbus, duly appears at 11.40, and after changing at Clachan, I arrive into Lochmaddy at around 12.30pm. I claim my bowl of soup, after which another local musician alternates with me by playing the guitar. My main contact had decided to cycle into Lochmaddy, 18 miles into a headwind, and was consequently late. The guitar player left at 1.30, and I kept the show on the road for 20 minutes until the singer turned up. At 2.30, the cafe closed and we ambled off for a walk around Lochmaddy. She left her groceries and bicycle in shed in the village while we retraced my steps to the hut of shadows. Upon return, we were on time for the 4.20pm bus to the West Side via Sollas. I went on to Hougharry, giving my host some time to prepare for my return a little later. This evening, I did not hit the road until about 1.30 am, and it was tipping it down and blowing a hoolie. Was well and truly soaked - to one side - on return to Hougharry. Bins and fences had been blown into the road.

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Friday 15 March

Set off at 10 am for the island of North Uist, 75 miles southwest of Stornoway. This requires a 55 mile bus ride to Leverburgh, then an hour on the ferry to Berneray and half an hour by bus to the main village, Lochmaddy. The bus journey is familiar to me, and the two hours (plus some waiting time in Tarbert) went by quickly. I am carrying a musical keyboard in a large cardboard box, which I am needing on Saturday when I shall play at the Taigh Chearsabhaigh cultural centre in Lochmaddy. TC have a "soup & jam" session at lunchtime on Saturdays, where musicians get a free bowl of soup in exchange for some music. I was invited there by a local singer, in whose company I shall spend much of the weekend. For reasons of privacy, I am not divulging the name on an open internet page.

After crossing the Sound of Harris to Berneray, I changed into a local bus which was very warm - in the sunshine - for the ten miles to Lochmaddy. Once there, I popped into TC to leave my keyboard in a safe place, pre-arranged with my local contact. I then walked around the village for an hour and half, waiting for the 3.15 bus to my B&B. I ambled out to the wee bridge, which leads to the Hut of Shadows, which is situated on one of the many headlands around Lochmaddy. The hut of shadows is a camera obscura, which, in the right conditions, will project an image on an opposing wall.

At 3.15, the bus to Bayhead pulled up and I was taken west. After a lengthy stop at the local primary school, where two young kids boarded, the vehicle whizzed off to Clachan, then north to Bayhead. Once there, we had to wait for 40 minutes for the school bus out of Lionacleit (Benbecula) to disgorge - one pupil to take onwards. I arrived in the village of Hougharry at 4.30, and into my B&B.

After 6pm, I walked up the mile and a half along the road to the next village, where I knocked on the door of my contact - cue an evening's chatting. Just as well I had bought a torch, as I did not head back down the road again until nearly midnight.

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