Hebridean Hop 14: Benbecula

Friday 10th August 2018

Rueval (Ruabhal) of Benbecula

Benbecula is a small island – eight miles by eight miles – squashed between North and South Uist. It’s generally flat with more loch than rock, but still had plenty to occupy us for a day. We started by climbing the high point – Rueval, at 406 feet not much of a challenge (the higher hills in the distance are on North Uist).

We were followed up by a family of three. You can see the mother and daughter in one of the pictures above, and if you enlarge it you will see that they are wearing skirts. Not ideal hiking garb, but at least they had boots. The father was too close to photograph unobtrusively, but I can report that he was dressed for the city – collar and tie, overcoat and smart leather shoes. As this was a wet, boggy climb I dread to think what state they were in by the end of it!

After marvelling at other people’s odd clothing choices, we headed back to the car and drove off in search of lunch. This we found at yet another of the excellent Hebridean bistros which have sprung up over the last few years – Charlie’s at Bailivanich.

Next stop, Nunton (once site of a convent, hence the name) and the ruins of Teampall Mhoire (Chapel of Mary).

As always, I looked for interesting gravestones. The two below told a sad story of three MacDonald brothers lost too soon, but the information which caught my eye first was that one of them died in Belvidere Hospital in Glasgow. Long-term readers might recall that last year I took part in a historical research / creative writing project about the nurses at the Belvidere around the time of the First World War (The Zombie Ward), so I honed in on this immediately.

Across the road from the chapel was Nunton Steadings, an 18th century farmstead which our guide-book claimed to be a heritage centre, shop and tearoom, but it was no longer functioning as such. An interesting plaque commemorated its history as site of a land raid in 1923 but, in the absence of the heritage centre, I had to look this up later. I found the story on the website of Nunton House Hostel which stands opposite the Steadings.

In the 19th century Benbecula and South Uist were owned by Colonel John Gordon of Cluny, a ruthless landlord who cleared tenants from much of his land, including Nunton Farm, to be replaced by sheep. After the First World War, the government promised to return land to ex-soldiers, a promise which it did not keep, hence the raid after which the farm was split into eight crofts. Nunton House was also divided, the occupant of 4 Nunton being Roderick MacDonald – look back at those gravestones! 4 Nunton is now the hostel and the rest of the house is privately owned.

Our last walk of the day was on the Isle of Flodaigh where we hoped to see seals. On the way, the hills of North Uist were looking particularly beautiful and it was necessary to stop several times to look at them. The central peak is Eaval.

Flodaigh is a tiny islet connected by a suitably tiny causeway to Benbecula. As we walked out to the seal viewing spot we passed a car which will never go again. According to our walking guide it had been pressed into service as a seal information centre, but even this role was now long behind it. And what’s that in the bracken? A sculpture? Or a rusting farm implement? Let me think …

We did see seals, but once again the otters refused to appear.

Despite that, it was a lovely spot to just sit awhile and appreciate the gorgeous colours.

And then – back to our hotel on South Uist after another wonderful day. Could we keep finding beautiful places to visit for the rest of our stay? I’ll leave you to guess till next time.

Hebridean Hop 13: North Uist

Thursday 9th August 2018

Traffic jam North Uist style

The main road heads up the spine of South Uist and Benbecula to North Uist, where it turns into a loop. Pretty as it is, we didn’t want to keep driving up and down the same stretch so decided to cover as much of North Uist as we could in one day, tackling the loop clockwise.

First stop was for coffee and scones in Kirkibost Hebridean Kitchen, another of the fabulous community enterprises that have sprung up since our last visit. We had a cheek really, given how much hotel breakfast we had eaten, but the scones proved too hard to resist.

We attempted to walk them off at Balranald RSPB Nature Reserve (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). We saw more cows than birds, but the scenery was beautiful, a mixture of machair and beaches. At the end, we were unaccountably peckish again and stopped at the campsite’s catering caravan for some delicious home-made lentil soup.

We got glimpses of the abandoned islands of St Kilda from the nature reserve, but after lunch we headed (by car) up the hill of Cleitreabhal a Deas where there is an observation platform with telescope. It was actually clear enough to see the islands with the naked eye. If you look very carefully at the horizon in the first picture below there is a hump slightly to right of centre, Boreray, and a more elongated form to the left is Hirta. Boreray, much zoomed, is in the second picture flanked by Stac Lee and Stac an Armin.

Back in the car again, we made a quick stop at Scolpaig Tower, an 1830s folly in the middle of a loch.

This sightseeing is thirsty work – the next stop was the hotel in Lochmaddy, North Uist’s largest village, for a coffee, then a quick walk over a funny little suspension bridge to The Hut of the Shadows. This structure is Neolithic in appearance, but was created as an artwork in 1997 – inside it’s a camera obscura and an image of the loch lapping peacefully appears on its walls.

By this time it was half past 5 – and so much more to do! A circular walk would have taken in two ancient sites – the Neolithic tomb of Barpa Langass and the stone circle of Pobull Fhinn (Fingal’s People), but in the end we drove between them. It’s no longer possible to go into the tomb because of roof falls – relief from me, but John would have been game.

Pobull Fhin is the largest stone circle on Uist with about 24 stones (not all still standing).

We’d reached the end of the loop now, but made a couple more stops on the road as it headed south to Benbecula. We turned off at Baleshare, following signs to a road-end sculpture which turned out to be a sweeping ceramic tiled seat designed by local schoolchildren (tbh we were expecting a bit more than this!)

Our last visit was to the Church of the Holy Trinity, site of a medieval monastery and college. To get there, we had to walk alongside the Ditch of Blood commemorating the Battle of Carinish on 1601 between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods (if there are any MacDonalds or MacLeods reading, the MacDonalds won).

It was now quarter to 8, and far too late to get back to our own hotel for dinner, so we stopped off at the Dark Island Hotel in Benbecula. I can report that they do good pizza.

We finally got back to Lochboisdale about 10pm. “Our” view was still there and the ferry was in – once again, we were staying somewhere that we could watch the ferry arrive in the evening, and hope it did not wake us up with its early morning departure. This one serves Mallaig on the mainland so would not be the one we would catch in a few days time – we had another island as our destination.

It had been a long day and we were glad to turn in. The following morning we planned to head back up to Benbecula to explore it further.

Hebridean Hop 12: South Uist (1)

Wednesday 8th August 2018

South Uist west coast

The west coast of South Uist is just one long beach. Our first walk of the day took in a bit of it, as well as the machair behind. Although it looks like no more than a wildflower meadow, the machair is cultivated and every so often you come across a patch of grain grown for cattle feed, or potatoes as below.

We also took in Cladh Hallan, the remains of three Bronze Age roundhouses. Not much is visible, other than depressions in the ground, but the history is fascinating. Excavations from 1988 to 2002 showed that the middle house had been occupied for 900 years, making it one of the longest continuously inhabited prehistoric houses in the world. Several skeletons were discovered, one – a female – dating back to 1300BC, i.e. around the time of Tutankhamun. Two of the bodies had been preserved in peat bogs for many centuries before being buried and had been mummified, making Cladh Hallan the only site in Britain where prehistoric mummies have been found. Not bad for a little patch of grass!

We next stopped off at Flora MacDonald’s birthplace, she who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after Culloden, although archaeologists these days think this may not be exactly the right place.

Our main destination for the day was Kildonan Museum. Although it now holds over 10,000 items related to the social, domestic and cultural history of South Uist, its origins lie in 700 items collected by Father John Morrison in the 1950s and 1960s which he displayed in a small thatched cottage. (This is the same priest who became known as Father Rocket for his opposition to military developments on the island and who commissioned Our Lady of the Isles, as mentioned a couple of posts ago). We remember visiting a little heritage centre on our last visit in the 1980s, and this must have been it.

When he left for a mainland parish, Father Morrison signed over his collection to be held on behalf of the people of South Uist. Until 1997, when the modern museum was built, it  was displayed in an old school-house (the tin-roofed building in the gallery below).

We were really impressed with the museum, not least because it had a café where we had a good lunch. We learned new things about the impact of the Clearances for example. I knew people were cleared off the land because the owners wanted to graze sheep, but I was shocked to learn about Catholics being cleared to make room for Protestants. In 1854, Howmore Church, which we would visit a few days later, was built. The Catholic tenants were evicted by the factor and the minister brought in Protestants from Skye to form a congregation. Horrifying!

We found out more about Father Allan MacDonald whose grave we had visited in Eriskay the day before.

And also about the bard Donald Allan MacDonald whose memorial we passed every day on our way to and from Lochboisdale.

One thing the museum wasn’t very good at was having believable mannequins. I collected a few images which I hope will amuse Jessica at Diverting Journeys who has a bit of a thing about them. The guy in red, a ferry captain, is particularly disturbing!

After the museum, we headed onto the east coast and Loch Eynort. One local man, Archie MacDonald, has planted over 100,000 trees here and provided 5 km of pathways through his croft, even lugging benches up the hill. We salute him!

As we followed the loch-shore path, it began to rain and we could see a glow ahead of us.This led to one of the most beautiful rainbows I can remember seeing, with a ghost of a double too. Breath-taking.

Our itinerary today was not unique to us. We had one of those days, which I’ve mentioned before, where we met the same people all the time, in this case a Slovenian couple. They were at Flora MacDonald’s birthplace and the museum, and as we arrived at the Loch Eynort car park they gave us a cheery wave as they drove off. It reminded us of our 1989 visit to South Uist when we seemed to follow a Belgian car everywhere, a red Volvo from which four small faces peered out of the back window. Did this inspire a love of the Hebrides? Every time we saw a Belgian car on this trip I wondered if the driver was one of those children grown up!

The next day, we set off to explore North Uist, our longest day by far.

Hebridean Hop 11: Eriskay

Tuesday 7th August 2018

Lochboisdale Hotel

The Lochboisdale Hotel was our South Uist home for the next week. The hotel itself has seen better days, though the staff were lovely, the food was good, and we never tired of admiring this view which was taken from below our bedroom window.
The hotel first opened in 1882, so can be forgiven a few quirks. I rather liked that they honoured one of the previous hosts with this memorial in the carpark. He had a long tenure.

On our first morning, we decided to walk round to the new marina which was opened in 2015. On the way we passed this signpost – it was nice to know how far we were from home, and I can understand why Mallaig was there (ferries run from Lochboisdale to Mallaig on the mainland), but Prince Edward Island? I thought maybe it was a nod to the wave of emigration to Canada in the 1920s, but I read that Alberta was the most common destination. It’s a puzzle! The other picture is just because I loved the vivid colour of the seaweed.

More signs! We often saw “otter crossing” warnings in the Hebrides but, sadly, no otters. The other sign was typical of those at many new developments with its nod to the support of the European Regional Development Fund. How’s that going to work out after Brexit then? (Rhetorical question – don’t tell me!)

The marina is beautiful with our hotel glistening whitely behind it. And look at the sky and the sea! It was going to be a good day.

From the marina, we headed back to the hotel to pick up the car: destination Eriskay. To get there, we had to drive to the southern tip of the island. We stopped off at another old hotel, the Polochar Inn, and its nearby standing stone.

From here, we drove along the south coast in some excitement – this is where we stayed in 1989. I remember the shock when the woman in the Tourist Information Office told us she had found us a B&B in East Kilbride. At the time, I worked in a very different East Kilbride, a town near Glasgow. The first shock this year was to come across this beautiful camp site and café. There was absolutely nothing like that along this road 30 years ago. Of course, we had to stop for a coffee.

The next shock was that our B&B had gone. It was right next to the Ludaig ferry which (at the time) crossed to Eriskay. The picture of John with the cat is 1989, but the pictures of the ferry and the house below that were taken in 1993 from the Barra-Eriskay ferry. Further below that is the house which has replaced “ours”.

We have stayed in many lovely B&Bs and inns over the years, but somehow this one remains particularly magical in our memory. We remember so clearly the woman who ran it with such warm hospitality, and had a fantasy that she’d still be around and we might run into her. After the disappointment of finding the house had been replaced, John did a bit of Googling and discovered she died in April. I actually felt quite sad about someone I had only met for a few days nearly 30 years ago.

Anyway, onwards. There is now a causeway to Eriskay and the ferry has disappeared too. On arrival, we parked at the community hall and headed for the village. This cottage caught our eye with its owl perched on the fence.

Then before long, what do you know? We reached the pub, Am Politician, and it wasn’t too early for lunch. It hasn’t changed much – we also came here on our 1993 trip with our friends Pat and John.

Am Politician is named after the SS Politician which ran aground in the Sound of Eriskay in 1941 – carrying 22,000 bottles of whisky! The subsequent raiding and plundering inspired Compton Mackenzie’s novel Whisky Galore, and the film based on it. (Galore, meaning abundance, comes from the Gaelic gu leòir meaning plenty, so it’s an appropriate title.)

From the pub, we could look back at the (much-zoomed) Polochar Inn.

Then we reached another lovely graveyard overlooking the sea (I’m losing count of how many that is now).

The three stones in a row are unknown sailors from the Merchant Navy in the Second World War. The Celtic cross marks the grave of Father Allan Macdonald, Eriskay’s priest from 1894-1905, who built St Michael’s Church which is still in use. He was also a renowned poet, bard and Gaelic scholar.

Our next stop was Coilleag a’ Phrionnsa (the Prince’s Cockle Strand) where Charles Edward Stuart landed in 1745 to start the, ultimately unsuccessful, Jacobite Rising.

Have you seen those dreadful articles and adverts that advise you how to get your beach body ready? (The correct answer being: have a body, go to the beach.) Here’s the beach body I needed – clad in three layers, all fastened up almost to the chin!

A bit of road walking now took us to another beautiful bay. I liked this sign on the way. Na Pairceanan is the Gaelic name of this area, but to me it looked remarkable like Nae Parkin’, the Glaswegian for No Parking. Small things amuse me sometimes …

As we rounded the bay, a rock face decorated with the Stations of the Cross led up a grassy hill to a cross and an excellent viewpoint.

Retracing our steps, we continued round the bay. These small islets with deer and goat sculptures were part of someone’s garden.Continuing to the far end of the bay, we crossed the headland to another small bay on the other side. It was peaceful and pretty, but our walking map suggested there might otters and they resolutely refused to appear.

Retracing our steps again, we walked back up the road and climbed to Loch Crakavaig where the map indicated we might see some rare Eriskay ponies. This time we were lucky!

Descending the hill, the road took us back to our car at the community hall, passing Our Lady of Fatima who marks the site of the original church on the island.

Then it was back over the causeway to South Uist for dinner and to make plans for another day’s exploring.

Hebridean Hop 10: Tarbert to Lochboisdale

Monday 6th August 2018

Ferry approaching Leverburgh

We never tired of watching ferries. Our hotel in Tarbert was right next to the pier and we could see the boat coming in as we had dinner. (It wasn’t such fun hearing it leave early in the morning though.) Very convenient, too, for our onward journey you might think, but no. That was the Skye ferry and we were off to South Uist, so we had a drive to Leverburgh first.

This was a short journey – just an hour – on a much smaller ferry. We were first on and first off, and slightly alarmed at how close our car was to the ramp, especially when it started to descend for arrival and we could see the sea!

Although our ultimate destination was South Uist, the ferry deposited us in Berneray leaving us several more islands to cross. This is another change over the last few decades –  more causeways have been built. When we island hopped in 1989, North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist were already joined, but new causeways north to Berneray and south to Eriskay have extended the chain.

But first things first – lunch! As I’ve mentioned before, the number and quality of cafés in the Hebrides has increased markedly since our previous visits, and all that we tried were excellent. The Berneray Bistro was no exception.

As we’d not been to Berneray before, we decided to take a walk here before moving on and chose the South Berneray loop. This took in machair (a fertile mix of sand and peat, often covered in wild flowers in summer) and both rocky and sandy beaches.

We passed another of those lovely coastal cemeteries and a memorial to Angus MacAskill, the Nova Scotia giant. The plaque records that Angus was born in 1825 and grew to 7 feet 9 inches in height “without pathological defect”. He emigrated to Canada in 1831, achieved many feats of strength and is remembered as “a kindly and just man and a humble Christian”.

After our walk, we drove straight through North Uist and Benbecula – we would return to explore them later in the week – and made just one brief stop in South Uist.

Our Lady of the Isles, at 30 feet tall the largest religious statue in Britain, stands proudly above the road. But wait, didn’t I say we were in Presbyterian, Sabbatarian country? Well we were, but the southern parts of the Outer Hebrides are firmly Roman Catholic.

Close by is a Ministry of Defence missile testing range, and there is a political as well as a religious significance to the statue. In the 1950s, the MOD proposed a much larger range covering much of Uist, including a military town and facilities for building missiles. Islanders worried that this would destroy much of their way of life, culture and language, and resistance was led by Canon John Morrison, the local parish priest, who then became known as Father Rocket. It was he who commissioned and raised funds for the construction of the statue which was designed by Hew Lorimer and dedicated in 1958. The islanders were partially successful – there is a military presence, but smaller than the original proposals. The Madonna remains as a reminder to the army that there is also a spiritual world as well as their militaristic one.

After admiring the statue, we headed off to our hotel in Lochboisdale, our home for the next week.

Hebridean Hop 9: Scalpay and Hushinish

Sunday 5th August 2018

Sunday dawned wet. Bad news if you are looking for shelter on a Sabbatarian island where nothing will be open! We started with a walk round Tarbert, which took about two minutes, admiring the new distillery building (closed of course). There was nothing for it after that but to take a walk and hope for the best. In the end, we were lucky: the rain went off and we had a great day.

Scalpay

First we went to Scalpay, a small island to the east of Harris which, until 1997, required a ferry to visit, but which is now connected by a bridge. When it was formally opened by Tony Blair in 1998 this was the first time a serving Prime Minister had ever visited the Outer Hebrides, which seems rather shameful to me.

Our object was to walk to Eilean Glas lighthouse, according to our guidebook the most picturesque of all the Outer Hebrides lighthouses. It was certainly the first, the original tower being built between 1787 and 1789 by Thomas Smith, father-in-law of Robert Stevenson the first of the Stevenson lighthouse-building dynasty. Robert Stevenson himself added the present tower in 1824(Robert Louis Stevenson is also from this family.)

As we looked around, I was intrigued to see that there was still a set of washing poles on the green area behind the living accommodation. There are some Victorian washing poles on Glasgow Green, and I would say these are at least as old.

We had walked out to the lighthouse via the “tourist path” of about a mile. We took a more circuitous route back along the south coast and across open moorland. Although part of the Hebridean Way, the signage was, to say the least erratic, but the wind helped by blowing us most of the way back.

Hushinish

From Scalpay, we drove west to the Hushinish peninsula. A winding, up-and-down single track road runs for 14 miles to the end, with some surprising sights. First was a rather elegant chimney, the remains of a Norwegian whaling station built in 1912. Even more incongruous is the tennis court, the only one in Harris and, allegedly, the most remote in the world. It just wasn’t possible to stop on the road to take photographs of either of these, but the next day we visited the community shop at Leverburgh where there was a display of tapestries of Harris history which included them.

The road now ran parallel to a small river, then the next surprise loomed as we passed through an archway and found ourselves at the front door of a castle. Amhhuinnsuidhe was built by the Earl of Dunmore in 1868, and has counted JM Barrie (author of Peter Pan) among its guests. Through another arch, the old stables held a shop with an honesty box where we were able to buy drinks and snacks. Even on a Sunday.

The road ends at the small settlement of Hushinish itself with its gorgeous sandy beach and (a final surprise) a beautiful new visitor centre with toilets and showers for campers. You can just see it centre-right below.

I was very impressed with the work of the North Harris Trust which has owned and managed the land for the community since 2003 (Scalpay became part of it in 2013). Tourists benefit too from its efforts (such as the path to the lighthouse and the new visitor centre). If (when) we return to Harris I would love to spend more time here. Although we enjoyed our walk round the headland at the end of the Hushinish peninsula, there were other trails leading off the road, including one to an eagle observatory, that I would like to have explored. However, it was time to head back to Tarbert for dinner and to pack up. The next day we were leaving for another island.

Glasgow Gallivanting: September 2018

The Book Besoms

The photograph above was actually taken on 31st August and so, strictly speaking, should have been in August’s Gallivanting post. However I’d already published it by then so – my blog, my rules – here it is in September’s. Glasgow Women’s Library held a quiz night (dress code green, white and purple) with all the questions based on women’s achievements. Our team of library volunteers, The Book Besoms, didn’t win, but we weren’t last either. The librarian’s secret is not that she knows lots of stuff, but that she knows how to look it up – which, unaccountably, wasn’t allowed. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!

An East End walk

St Mary’s, Calton

I had already been to a meeting in GWL that day and didn’t have time to go home and back so, given that the sun was shining, I decided to go for a walk and return for the quiz later. From the library’s home in Bridgeton, I headed along Abercrombie Street, passing the church above, before turning west along Gallowgate towards the city centre. In Graham Square are the remnants of the old Meat Market which I thought were an interesting example of façadery. Usually modern flats are built directly onto an old façade. This one sits out in front attached by struts. Bizarre!

I continued to High Street and its junction with my end destination: George Street, and the latest gable-end mural by Smug depicting an infant St Mungo (Glasgow’s patron saint) with his mother St Enoch. Opposite is a nice garden area with benches bearing the city’s motto, Let Glasgow Flourish.

Opposite that is another garden, Greyfriars, built on the site of a 15th century friary. It wasn’t open, but I could peer through the fence and admire the poetry and other plaques adorning it. The one in the gallery below is Glasgow’s coat of arms.

Walking back down High Street to Glasgow Cross, I then headed east again along London Road passing the corner of Charlotte Street, where number 52 is the last remaining of eight late-18th century villas, and another colourful gable-end.

From there, I cut through Glasgow Green, admiring my old friends the People’s Palace and the Doulton Fountain.

Almost back at the library – the two buildings below on Greenhead Street were both once schools. The white building was built as a private residence in 1846 before becoming a school for destitute boys, the Buchanan Institute, in 1859. The extension on the left with the scholarly boy was added in 1873. The red sandstone building educated girls between 1893 and 1936 as the Logan & Johnson School of Domestic Economy. If you zoom in on the sculpture underneath the middle chimney you will see that it is a beehive representing the industry of the girls within. Both buildings are now converted to flats.

Doors Open Day

Glasgow’s Doors Open Days go on for a whole week, but I only managed to take part on the Saturday – and that was mostly as a provider. I led a canal walk and a building tour at Maryhill Burgh Halls, then just had time to dash across the road to The Engine Works. As Clarkson’s, and later Craig and Buchanan, this was an engineering workshop right into the 21st century. It figures in one of the Halls’ stained glass windows showing the trades of Maryhill – you can see what is probably Mr Clarkson in the green coat bottom left in our sale of postcards and in a poster on the Engine Works’ walls.

As I’ve led people on walks along the canal, which runs behind the Works, I’ve watched restoration taking place and assumed it was to be more flats. But no, a young couple has bought it to turn into a combined office / events space. I was delighted to get a chance to see what progress they have made, and to find out that they are keeping the electrically powered crane designed by Sir Henry Royce of Rolls-Royce fame. It’s going to be an amazing space when it’s finished.

The nights are fair drawing in

We’ve passed the autumn equinox and the nights are fair drawing in, as we say in these parts. Time to think of booking tickets for indoor events! This month’s highlights were Garbage at the iconic Barrowland and a one-man play about Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the equally iconic Panopticon.

Women’s history

You might remember Jessie Stephen, the Suffragette I am promoting this year. Two developments this month: I discovered you could buy a Jessie mug as part of a set produced in Bristol, the city where she spent the latter part of her life.

Even more exciting – I knew that Jessie took part in the post-box protests in Glasgow in 1913 (Suffragettes dropped ink or acid into post-boxes to destroy the mail). I’d read that this was in Kirklee, near where I live, but hadn’t given it much thought until I was asked if I knew which post-box it might have been. I now have access to a copy of Jessie’s unpublished autobiography in which she details some of the houses she worked in as a domestic servant, and one of them is just across the road from the current Kirklee post-box. When I looked at this box more closely, I found the insignia was ERVII – Edward the Seventh who died in 1910. This is probably the very box that Jessie used!

I also attended a really interesting exhibition at my local library on women of the West End (of Glasgow) in the First World War. Institutions that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to shed light on this did so. For example, application forms from women to join the Arlington Baths Club showed they had moved into male occupations when the men were away fighting. The red costume is what they would have swum in – ugh! I’m surprised they managed to stay afloat.

The last bit

Back to St Mungo, aka St Kentigern, Glasgow’s patron saint. I’d read that a new statue of him was in place at City of Glasgow College’s City campus, and made a short detour to inspect it the other day. The campus has recently been rebuilt and its location, Cathedral Street, makes the addition particularly apt. It’s a very traditional statue, created by former stonemasonry student, Roddy McDowall.

Nearby on campus is another sculpture, Spirit of St Kentigern, which is very different in style. It represents the bird in one of Mungo’s four miracles (I think). Commissioned from Dundee art student Neil Livingstone as part of the pedestrianisation of much of the city centre, this stood on Buchanan Street from 1977 until 2000 when it was deemed no longer in keeping with the city’s image. It’s now been hauled out of storage and loaned to the College. It’s definitely dated, it says “1970s” very strongly to me, but I also think the new statue is rather too traditional to be entirely successful. What do others think?

Finally, to Scottish word of the month: remember The Book Besoms? A besom is a broom made of twigs tied round a stick, but in Scotland the word often refers to a woman with attitude – one might be called a cheeky wee besom, for example. That’s what we chose for our GWL quiz team name, but having checked the definition just now I see it originally referred to a woman of “loose character”. With the other connotations of broomsticks, and therefore witches, maybe I’ll make a different choice next time!

I hope you had a good September. Enjoy October!

Hebridean Hop 8: the Bays Road

Saturday 4th August 2018

From the Bays Road, South Harris

We were on the move again! To a hotel just 16 miles up the road. Why was this? Well, in February I couldn’t find suitable accommodation in Harris for the five nights we were staying there and had to book it in two blocks. February for an August holiday! How things have changed. On our last island-hop in 1989 we booked the ferries on a Thursday and set off on the Monday, booking our accommodation as we went. Mind you, my standards were lower then. We even spent time in a tent.

Rather than drive 16 miles up the west coast, we took the long way round back down to Rodel and up the east coast on the Bays Road, the C79. Bearing in mind that the main A road was mostly single track, you can imagine how small a C road was.

Unlike the fine sandy beaches of the west coast, the east coast is rocky and strewn with boulders left over by the Ice Age. Parts of the landscape were used to depict Jupiter in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nevertheless, there were several galleries and cafés along the road so we didn’t go hungry, and we got a few short walks in before the rain became torrential. And we found a lovely, romantic bench.

Our room in Hotel Hebrides in Tarbert, Harris’s largest village, was a modern contrast to the chintz of Scarista House, but just as comfortable.

The next day was Sunday and we were still in Sabbatarian country. Nothing would be open, so we had to hope for good weather. But would we get it? Read on!

Hebridean Hop 7: the beaches of West Harris

Friday 3rd August 2018

Sandcastles, Luskentyre Sands

In contrast to the previous day, we had no rain at all as we set off on a series of short beach walks, although the cloud never lifted far enough to clear the tops of the hills as you can see above.

We started on our own beach, Scarista, just across the road from the hotel. While John contemplated whether to paddle …

… I was looking for interesting textures on the sands.

Next, we moved on to Traigh Iar (traigh means beach) and climbed a small hill to Macleod’s Stone, an imposing prehistoric standing stone.

On the way there, we had driven past a sign mentioning the magic word “lunch”, so we backtracked and made a real find. Too new to be in our guide-book, the Machair Kitchen is part of a complex owned and managed by the West Harris Trust on behalf of the local community. Talla na Mara, Gaelic for the “Centre by the Sea”, houses a café, exhibition, performance and events spaces, offices and artists’ studios. We certainly enjoyed lunch with a view.

After lunch, we went on to Luskentyre, home of Harris’s most famous beaches. A circular walk took as round a headland via the beach and back along a minor road.

The trees probably give a hint as to the direction of the prevailing wind (and my hair often ended the day looking much the same shape). It was very windy all the time we were in the Hebrides, but we were actually grateful for that because it kept the midges away. And here’s another picturesque cemetery – who wouldn’t want to spend eternity with that view?

By the time these posts are at an end, you will probably be sick of beaches! However, the next day we explored Harris’s east coast which is completely different.

Hebridean Hop 6: Rodel

Thursday 2nd August 2018

St Clement’s Church, Rodel

On our first full day in Harris we followed the main road to its end at Rodel (Roghadal) and St Clement’s Church. Built in 1520, the church saw only 40 years of service before the Protestant Reformation, after which it fell into ruin. Rescued 250 years later by Captain Alexander Macleod, who then owned Harris, it is now maintained by Historic Scotland.

The Macleod tombs inside are richly carved, especially that of Alasdair “Crotach” (“humpback”) Macleod who had the church built. The carvings behind his tomb are intricate and include a birlinn (highland galley) setting sail and an angel casting incense to the winds.

Outside, there are interesting carvings too, including bulls’ heads, a man wearing a precursor of the kilt and a squatting female figure which looks more pagan than religious, perhaps a “sheela na gig”. Readers of a sensitive disposition need not follow the link!

This was the first of many graveyards we spent time in. Some of the stories told on the stones are heart-breaking. Here lies John (Iain) Morison, a noted hymn-writer. Later in the day, we visited Seallam! Visitor Centre, another excellent small museum with a large section on emigration (both voluntary and enforced). One of the panels tells the story of what happened to his widow and children after his death in 1852.

Or what about the MacDonald family with one son drowned at 11 and two of his siblings lost in young adulthood? Or Angus MacLean, pre-deceased by two wives and two children? Life was hard.

What next? A walk out to Renish Point. Here I am climbing away from the church. Perhaps you can detect a tiny bit of reluctance in my body language already? It looks clear enough here, but it was starting to rain.

From the top of the first hill, we could see our destination. Renish Point is the longer of the two headlands below.

The natives seemed friendly. Just as well, I don’t like the look of those horns.

For trudging over the boggy, tussocky headland, we were rewarded with extensive views as you can see. Or not.

Here I take my hat off to fellow blogger Andrew of An Oldie Outdoors who preceded us to the Outer Hebrides, but in the opposite direction and on foot. The weather was not always kind to him and he made the ironic phrase “extensive views” his own. Many of the walks we did were on the Hebridean Way and tended to be as boggy as this one. I could not do this day after day carrying my belongings and knowing I had to rely on my feet to get me to my bed for the night. I use the word “bed” in a fairly loose way. I don’t count beds in tents as beds.

As for us, we got ourselves back to Rodel as quickly as possible, stopping to admire its small harbour before we left. Our guidebook refers to the “former” Rodel Hotel here, but we were pleased to see it was being restored – another indication of the upsurge of tourism and increase in prosperity on the islands.

Returning to the car, we made that stop at Seallam! mentioned earlier. (Seallam means welcome in Gaelic, and it certainly was.)

Then it was back to Scarista House to dry out, eat a delicious dinner and sleep in those comfy, comfy beds again. No, roughing it is definitely not for me!