I’ve already told you about our misty, cloudy Sunday (visit to the castle, afternoon in the pub with a bunch of rowdy Scots). So I’ll move on to Monday.
After breakfast (always the option of a “cooked breakfast” with the offer of eggs, sausage, black pudding or haggis if you’re in the mood), we threw all our bags in the van and drove to the ferry on the north side of the island.
This first ferry over to Eriskay was not very large. The cars, perhaps a dozen, queue up about 100 feet back from the boat, pedestrians against the sides of the road. When the staff is ready, they start loading passengers first by motioning them forward. You scoot yourself and your luggage along the quay and onto the boat, bumping and hurrying along the molded metal surface. This first ferry had a small group of seats in an enclosed waiting room in the side of the boat. We sat there and waited for the cars to load. Their drivers park and then leave the cars to come into the waiting room. Having never ridden on a ferry, I didn’t know what the process would be and found it all pretty interesting.
Across to Eriskay was just a short ride – perhaps a half hour as I remember it. Certainly less than an hour. Usually one to be outside at any opportunity on the water, I remained in the waiting area. I had no idea if there was a deck and wasn’t keen on wandering around.
Later on the trip, I spent a lot of time trying to imagine what it must have been like on these islands before the Cal-Mac ferries. They connect everyone, island to island, and to the mainland of Scotland. Even the ferry to the mainland from our first island, Barra, takes four hours with Cal-Mac (that’s the name of the ferry company). That’s motorized transport! Before that, the tiny population of these far-flung islands was dependent on their boats. Or they simply didn’t go anywhere, didn’t receive anything but a handful of times per year. Mail, groceries, tools, information, higher education, socialization. All inaccessible. Or at least so infrequently accessed as to be highly prized.
Certainly, in such circumstances, one’s life is simpler — use what you have, no need to hanker for things you can’t or won’t have. But as each day progressed here on the islands, I reflected on how grim this island life must have been. So few resources and so very far away. Akin, perhaps, to the prairie settlers in our own country, whose homesteads propelled American culture across the plains. But oh so isolated, each on their 360 acres — the tiny towns connecting them each half a day’s wagon drive away. The big cities even farther. You depended on your family and your own two hands and the help of neighbors and if you failed, the consequences were direct and dire. The parallel would return to me again and again as we explored the islands. It’s clear to me that already we take the instantaneous ability to know, connect, and receive for granted.
On Eriskay, the group split in two for a morning wander. I took a morning wander with four who wanted to beachcomb and putter on our way to lunch. Heather took the rest of the group over a huge hill for the view and a bit more of a challenge. I’ll admit, I really enjoyed puttering. The wind was fierce, though, as we climbed up from the beach. I felt I’d be swept off the rocks if I wasn’t careful.
The beach walk ended with a wander through a nearby village and lunch at a tiny pub/restaurant. “I’ll have a pint” was so often the first thing said at any table over the course of this trip that I didn’t stop to think about how it was only 11 am. Ewwww. Beer rarely appeals to me that much, especially at that hour, but the beach combers were happy to hear what was on tap. My better idea? Tea and sock knitting to warm myself up.
By the way, I know the idea of needing to warm oneself up seems outrageous to most of you at the moment. But most days I was on the islands, I wore wool socks with hiking boots, pants, tshirt, long sleeved shirt, fleece jacket and a raincoat. When sunny, two or three layers would come off. But inevitably they’d go back on within an hour. It was not warm there. Having just come from Santa Fe, I was glad for the cool weather. But I could have used a few more long sleeved shirts. It just seemed impossible, while packing in Santa Fe, that it could be cold and rainy anywhere on the planet!
Also, I must tell you that Scotland is an alcohol-appreciator’s heaven. Every restaurant we entered had a full bar, a lineup of favorite whisky bottles on display, and an excellent choice of beer on tap. Every. Single. One.
Oh – wait! One didn’t!!! But I’ll get to that later.
About an hour after the beachcombers arrived, our high climbers arrived back at the restaurant. The place filled. A trio of middle-aged men sat next to us and Anne struck up a conversation with them. She’s an avid cycler at home. Their clothes and gear and bike helmets identified them readily enough. Turns out the Hebridean Way is a very popular route. From south to north, the prevailing winds are at your back. There are enough restaurants and inns now to support the ride. Within a day or two we’d see many, many more cyclists from all over Europe.
I DO wish I had more pictures for you. But at this point on the trip, I was watching everyone carefully. I didn’t yet know who was hardy, who perpetually late, who was independent and would strive forward and who needed answers at every turn. So my attention was fully immersed in being available to the trip participants and anticipating anything needed. By the fourth or fifth day, I finally felt a bit more free to snap pics here and there. So… apologies for the lack of visuals.
Our driver picked us up and we headed north via causeway to the next island: Uist (pronounced YEW-ist). South Uist to be exact. And a lovely little lodge called Hammersay House. Comfy accommodations, outstanding restaurant, a lovely place all ’round.
Somewhere during day, we also stopped at a craft collective and tried to take another walk. Alas, the high winds and rain (horizontal rain, for which the islands are famous) turned half our group back for the shelter of our van. But we should have known better. Twenty minutes later the sun broke through the clouds and we regretted not toughing it out.
The next morning at Hammersay House found us finishing up our usual breakfast to get out the door in time for a very full day. I consider Tuesday the most interesting day of the trip. Lots to tell you about and thankfully, even some pictures!!!