October 2010


I have been reprimanded for keeping you in suspense for too long. It’s time to reveal all … in the middle of this post. No peeping!

***

The day starts well. After a delicious breakfast, our wonderful hosts drive us to the start of our walk. The walk is long and solitary. We don’t see another soul for its duration, although footprints show us that others have gone this way. The most difficult thing we do is to walk uphill through tall grass and bogs. Fortunately, the rain starts after the most difficult part of the walk. Our feet are soaking, but it’s all part of the fun … isn’t it? Finally we arrive at a beach with pillars of rock.

When we walk up the hill to the bus stop, it’s sunny and rather windy.

Back in Stornaway, we have plenty of time before the ferry leaves. We spend it in a book shop. It’s very windy outside. When someone opens the door, instead of using the revolving one, a lot of dirt flies in.

As we walk towards the ferry station, beside the sea with its high waves, we notice that no one else is going our way. Strange. Then, at the entrance to the building, there’s a blackboard on an easel. On the blackboard, in white chalk, someone has written: FERRY CANCELLED. The man behind the desk confirms that, due to the weather, this is indeed the case, and the next ferry is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 9:30.

It takes a few seconds for the full ramifications of this news to sink in. We’re going to miss our flight to London, and D will miss his flight back home, unless…. We need some travel information, so we head for the tourist office. It’s closed. It seems it usually stays open late to serve people who arrive on the evening ferry and, as that was cancelled, they closed. What about those who are stranded on the island because the ferry back to the mainland is cancelled?

We do have some luck. We get the last room in the hotel. And it has a hair dryer which we use to dry out our boots and socks as much as possible. The smell still lingers. The woman at the desk is very helpful and finds out a lot of transport information, although, in the end, it doesn’t really help us. M1, the friend I’d arranged to stay with for two nights, is also very helpful and finds out some phone numbers for us, but we don’t manage to book anything except for another night in our house in Achiltibuie. (Luckily, it hasn’t been let out to more holiday makers.) When we go downstairs for a meal before the hotel restaurant closes, we’re still discussing our options.

One option is for D to take the bus straight from Ullapool to Inverness tomorrow. Then he’ll be able to catch a later flight to London and still arrive in time to catch his flight home. That would leave me to arrange transport to London, drive to Achiltibuie (I’ve let D navigate the single-track road up to now, as he does it so well), pack all our luggage, organise keeping the car for another day, clear up the house, deal with excess luggage on flights, drag two suitcases and a rucksack around with me for three-and-a-half weeks, …. Need I explain why this option doesn’t appeal to me?

We’re just finishing our meal when the fire alarm goes. During the meal, we’ve been noticing signs of the gale blowing outside – a hanging plant swinging furiously, one or two brave people fighting an invisible force. Now we have to leave our warm and comfortable enclave to stand in driving rain and wind without coats. It’s the last straw.

Fortunately, the alarm stops after two minutes and we all troop back inside.

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The three-hour ferry ride from Ullapool to Stornaway is uneventful. We have a look around Stornaway while waiting for the bus to Eoropie. Eventually, the bus leaves the “big” metropolis and weaves its way to the northern tip of the island. As we go, I look out of the window hoping to see B&B signs. I see none. And only one hotel, which isn’t very near to the place where we want to start our walk tomorrow. D doesn’t seem at all worried. I don’t know why not.

On arrival, we visit an ancient church built some time between the late 12th century and the early 16th century. To get to the church we walk along a path, past a man and his dog cutting a hedge. Actually, I think the man was doing most of the work. On our way back, we see the man loading his cutting machine and dog into a van. I go up to him and ask if there’s anywhere to stay in the area. Was that brave of me? I’m better with strangers. The man recommends a place nearby. We chat to the man about the walk we’re planning for tomorrow, the weather and so on. Then we walk to the lighthouse and on past the cemetery, back to the road and on to the B&B.

True enough, there’s a house with a B&B sign, exactly as the man described. How wonderful! Or not. We approach the house full of hope. D says, “Do you really do bed and breakfast?”

“Oh no,” says the lady. We don’t do that any more. We wonder why the sign is still there. She phones the only other B&B in the area, two miles away. “Can you walk that?” she asks. “Oh yes,” we say happily in unison, but that place turns out to be full. I have visions of sleeping outside in a field. (Remember this is northern Scotland and it’s none too warm.) Then the nice lady, for such she has become, says she and her husband are willing to put us up anyway. Now this really is wonderful. We wait while they prepare the room, and then go in to find a luxurious and spotlessly clean room with an en suite bathroom. We slide in between the sheets covering a soft mattress, lay our heads on soft, welcoming pillows and sleep soundly. Our dreams possibly touch on the long and isolated walk we plan to do tomorrow, but certainly don’t reflect the calamity that is about to befall us.

A day in Ullapool without walking. Visits to the museum and book shops. Delightful.

The next day we do the Mellon Udrigle walk, which leaves us plenty of time to sit and watch boats tracing paths far below.

In the evening we make a quick stop to see the Corrieshalloch Gorge and its suspension bridge. Like all the other tourists we see there, we walk quickly, covering our bodies as much as possible. Midges again.

Later, we have to make a decision. Tomorrow is our last opportunity to take the ferry to the Isle of Lewis so that we can do the walk D has read about on the following day. The walk is through isolated countryside far from any road. The weather might not be perfect. Do we really want to do it?

We decide to go for it. It’ll be something different to end our holiday together. Little do we know what we’re letting ourselves in for.

***

Looking up the Corrieshalloch Gorge bridge, I discovered that it was closed due to safety concerns shortly after we crossed it. Fortunately, we’re still here.

We’ve been discussing it for days. I have said I don’t want to do that walk again. I remember how hard it was last time – especially the climb at the end. I make it very clear that I don’t want it.

We do the walk. 17.5 kilometres passing Loch na Sealga and Gleann Chaorachain. What lovely names! The walk is hard. And all the time I’m waiting for that difficult climb.

It never comes. There is no difficult climb at the end. Where did it go?

We realise that last time we did that walk in reverse, so that today’s scramble down the steep hill in the morning was our evening climb ten years ago. What a relief!

The never-far-away midges make an appearance this evening, but the fish and chips in a pub restaurant in Ullapool are excellent, as are the potato soup and apple crumble. So now I can add another tick – of the inanimate variety.

Eat shortbread  √
Drink cider  √
Eat ploughman’s lunch in pub  X
Eat fish and chips  √
Eat salt and vinegar crisps  √
Eat scones with jam and cream  X
If summer, feel rain  √
Buy underwear in M&S  X

 

Amongst the foreigners we meet on our trips, Italians always stand out. Because they speak Italian, because they’re usually in large groups and (mostly) because they’re noisy. They shout to each other across large distances, or even small ones. On our seven-kilometre walk from Stoer Lighthouse, we can’t get away from a large group of Italians. If we go ahead, they catch up; if we drop behind, it doesn’t take long before we discover them again. I know they’re not the only people who tend to be like that. Perhaps it’s the Mediterranean air….

Surprisingly, cream and plaster have solved my fourth toe problem. Other parts of my feet still hurt though. We pass the Old Man of Stoer, a popular place for climbing. Rather them than me!

Later, we sit in view of the lighthouse, which D paints. It looks small and lonely perched on the high, protruding cliff. Below it, a large rock looks like an enormous beast lying on the sea, its front legs splayed out in front of it. It seems ready to pounce on the small snake approaching it. All around the rocks (beasts?), I see white fire in the form of the sun shimmering on the sea (not shown in photo).

Today, I agree to another walk, and another. It is a lovely day and my feet are relatively OK. The first walk, six kilometres, leads us to a beach and back.

The second, which is shorter, goes through a camping site and up to a strange little construction called Hermit’s Castle.

I wonder what happened to David Scott, who spent months building it in the 1950s, and then stayed in it for only one weekend.

EDIT: Just noticed I blogged about day 10 on 10/10/10.

Certain things have to be done every time I visit Britain. Let’s see how far I’ve got with them:

Eat shortbread
Drink cider
Eat ploughman’s lunch in pub X
Eat fish and chips X
Eat salt and vinegar crisps
Eat scones with jam and cream X The ones we had were creamless
If summer, feel rain
Buy underwear in M&S X

On with day 9 and, you know what? I’ve had enough of the second person. This is ME we’re talking about, even if I am on holiday from social anxiety – so far.

***

Today’s walk, ten kilometres starting at Poolewe, is pleasant. The weather’s nice, the ground is mostly not boggy and the views are lovely, despite not having been captured by either of us. It ends at 3 in the afternoon.

“Another walk?” he says.

I laugh, until I realise he means it.

“It gets dark late here. It’s a long drive. There are a few nice walks in this area.”

“What – another ten kilometres?”

“Yes.”

Perhaps it’s the look on my face. We stay relaxing on the grass by the River Ewe.

A tasty tea in Poolewe is followed by a drive back to Ullapool and a walk around the town, which would be nicer if the fourth toe on my right foot wasn’t hurting so much. Note to self: in future, bring shoes to change into.

The dinner in the Indian restaurant is good.

Dear, dear. Where has all the time gone? I need to post more often. Still another week to Stuck in Stornaway.

***

You arrive at Badentarbat too early for the ferry, so you wander around the beach. When you reach the ferry, you find it’s not running due to earlier rain, so you have to wait for the afternoon trip. You don’t realise that, exactly a week later, a similar event will have far worse consequences.

While he paints a white cottage with a tin roof,

   

you read a good book with two names. The version you have been lent is the American one:

The boat trip takes in many seals

 

and gives you time to enjoy tea and scones on one of the islands.