From Island to Island, Part 6

The town of Tarbert, with it’s ferry dwarfing the nearby buildings.

Note: Hey, all! Had these posts written ages ago but wifi difficulties and then hitting the road have gotten in the way! Heading for my second housesitting gig tomorrow. Hope to catch you up on everything this week.

Thursday began with a full breakfast at the hotel. I’ll tell you though, the Hotel Hebrides truly outshone everyone else. The coffee was perfect (we were also able to obtain cream instead of milk – heaven!), all the continental options were nice but the hot breakfast was out of this world. Lots of options. I had an eggs benedict with bacon so perfect (more like our “Canadian bacon) that I’m drooling just telling you about it. For a tiny town, Tarbert was pretty extraordinary. And not just in a culinary way.

You know, now that I stop and think about it, I’m realizing the food and lodging get better and better as we moved from south to north on the islands. I suspect that’s related to the level of remoteness for each place. Barra, at the south tip, feels very far from everything. It’s connected to the rest of the world via those three flights that land on the beach plus a small ferry at the other end of the island. There are just a couple villages and then a scattering of crofters across the hills and seaside cliffs. As you move north, toward Stornoway, there are more people, more villages (even towns!), more transportation options, etc. By the time you get to the northernmost isle of Lewis (and at this point we are just one island away), you’ve basically reached modern civilization. So, the accommodations down south are not fancy. But they feel authentic to the place. And we had a most authentic Sunday afternoon pub experience there, right?

After eating, we walked from our hotel just down the street to visit another of the Harris Mill Tweed stores. They had a small loom there, on which someone was to demonstrate, but we were there before the staff. Instead we ran our hands over bolts of beautiful woven cloth. Harris Tweed looks a lot different from what I remember – mostly browns and grays and cream. New colors and designs are springing up all the time. The tweed is certified based on who makes it, how they make it and the amount of quality control that is involved. But the colors and designs can vary. And they do. Beautiful heathered solids these days as well as outrageous checkers and plaids. Great stuff.

They’ll never notice if I just slip one of these bolts of cloth into my backpack, right? Under my jacket? No? Too obvious?

We then took a couple hours to stroll about town at our leisure. We gathered in the early afternoon. Our driver took us out to the nearby, tiny island of Scalpay for what turned out to be (in my opinion) the most beautiful of our hikes. It was also the most challenging. We were headed out to Eilenn Glass lighthouse. Now abandoned to the elements, it served as a lighthouse from the late 1700s until fairly recently. All around the place lie the rubble of stone cottages and fields used by the former operators, administrators and tenants. A small cove granted access to the water. I don’t know how many people lived here, but in its day it must have supported a small village. From our drop off point, the walk hike out to the structure was only about 2 miles. Some steep climbing, yes, but very lovely. The four elements of Hebridean seaside walks were well represented.

A few pics for you. I took A LOT. So here are just my faves.

Green grow the rushes oh… (from a Robert Burns song)

Rock or sheep? Sometimes you just have to wait. If it moves, it’s a sheep.

Our original plan was to return on the same path. But, since Heather had been advised that the other path that led in the opposite direction and ended up back at the same parking lot would only be “about 2 miles”, we set off the other direction. And we walked. And we walked. And we walked. And we walked. Heather led the way, following the trail and post markers. You know the song about the bear went over the mountain… and so did we – only it was around the curve or over the hill or beyond this rise. At one point, our group became very separated and I had to call out for everyone to WAIT!!!! (I was the sweep and very reluctant to get out of earshot or eyesight of the rest of the group.) In fact, we did have one member of the group step into a bog and then out of it without one of her boots! We came across some very steep sections. I was quietly cursing to myself. “Why did I say I wanted to do a hiking tour? Am I crazy? I hate this! We’re way behind! Are we there yet? This is the one hike for which I didn’t bring my walking stick and I NEED IT dammit!” But we made it. Made it, made it, made it back to the parking spot.

And then, we had to walk to town. Originally, the lighthouse walk was going to be just a mild saunter. We’d be well able to walk the mile and a half into town. But with the additional, strenuous miles of the return route, we were tired already and none too happy to have to walk the rest of the way.

Hello pavement. I love you. Oh, we’re not done walking?

Heather tried desperately to contact our taxi service but to no avail. They couldn’t send anyone out to us. So we walked. A few hardy folks set of with a determined grin and a can-do pace. A few of us sauntered at the back taking pictures and our merry time to get to the restaurant. We had lots of time! We were just tired. But eventually even we merry stragglers made it there. Only to find that Heather had gotten hold of our driver, he’d come into town, picked her up, driven her back to Tarbert and was on the way back to the restaurant. Why? Because she’d forgotten that Scalpay is a dry island. Dry meaning no alcohol available for purchase. The lovely restaurant at which were about to have a fine dinner could not offer us any beer or wine. Heather must have taken a look at everyone’s faces on hearing the news and decided she’d better find a way into town before the troops mutinied!!! I personally don’t feel that strongly about beer. But later one of the participants confided to me “I’d been telling myself all through the hike that if I made it, I could celebrate with a brew. When I heard there was no beer at the restaurant I almost cried.”

Well, Kudos to Heather and our driver, Peter, for finding a vehicle and making a mad dash for celebratory alcohol.

And we had a most excellent dinner. The North Harbour Bistro was fine dining indeed. They certainly have many stars after their name and a celebrated chef. It was the kind of restaurant where every plate of food is a compositional masterpiece. I don’t take a lot of food pics, but here’s one of desert.

Food? Art? You be the judge. I personally don’t get too excited about this kind of thing. As I once heard my brother-in-law Joe say: It’s the kind of place you can spend a lot of money and still leave feeling hungry. Guess I’m a simple foods kinda person. Gimme fish and chips over food art any day.

Hey! Remember how I said we toasted Anne’s birthday last night? We didn’t! We toasted Anne’s birthday this night, after driving back from Scalpay. Know what I did the night before? I went to bed. Right after dinner. I think it was 8:00 or something. But I really, really, really needed some quality time to spend with that bed upstairs. I needed to rest and renew. Annie took a soak in that huge tub downstairs. Heather spent a beautiful, concentrated, uninterrupted chunk of time on her computer. We all gotta give ourselves a way to rest and renew!!!

What? Everyone’s gone to bed or doesn’t need anything from me for five minutes?!?!? Finally, I can answer a few emails!!! Heather steals a few quiet moments to get some work done. (Ha ha ha… I know she’s really looking up patterns on Ravelry!)
Financial damage for the day: bag and scarf bought at the Harris Tweed store. Luckily, the wine was free.


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