|What care we, though white the Minch is?
||[May. 21st, 2015|07:40 pm]
The short version is that we did not make it to St Kilda on either of the days we might have gone, and that instead we spent two days having fun exploring Harris, and have now moved on to Lewis. Also, thankyou to everyone who has said nice things about wanting pictures: the photographer is willing but the broadband is weak. But I have uploaded the first few, and here they are.
We were down on the jetty at Leverburgh bright and early, before eight yesterday morning, and Angus from Kilda Cruises was on the phone to the wardens on St Kilda: between them they decided that since there was a swell of 4 or 5 metres, we could sail, but there was no way we would be able to land. So we were sent off to do something else, and better luck tomorrow.
Our first destination was nearby, the church at Rodel at the southern tip of the island. We had driven past it the previous evening on the way to the restaurant, and I was struck by how its tower rises square nd massive on its mound: in Northumberland I'd have taken it for a peel tower. It turns out to be sixteenth century, and full of interesting carvings, and I was glad we'd gone back for a closer look.
From the south, we took the east coast road back up to Tarbert. The previous evening, we driven down the main road, on the west coast with its golden beaches; now we took the winding route round the ups and downs and inlets and headlands of the rocky east coast. It's known as the Golden Road, allegedly because it was so expensive to build (and also allegedly, though I can't track down where I read this, because it was part of Lord Leverhulme's plan to improve the islands, and the islanders weren't enthusiastic about being improved). Anyway, it's a very scenic route, and we hoped to find coffee somewhere along it, but the gallery which had been recommened to us isn't open on Mondays, and I was desperate by the time we reached Tarbert.
Recaffeinated, we followed the road east out of Tarbert, found a spot with a view to eat the packed lunch provided for our boat trip, and then kept going. The road brought us to the Caolas Gallery, featuring the photographs of Stefan Davies and the distinctive rugs braided from Harris tweed by his mother. They offer coffee and cake in return for a donation for charity, and the cakes are home-made and wonderful. I had the stickiest, chewiest, most citrussy cake I have ever eaten, and by the time I had finished it, I had fallen in love with a rug, too...
'Caolas' in Gaelic place-names is the equivalent of 'kyle' - it means strait, narrows. The strait in this case is between Harris and the island of Scalpay: it has now been bridged, so of course we crossed to Scalpay. We were nosing around the old primary school, which has been turned into artists' workshops, all of which seemed to be closed, when we met the proprietor of the Two Harbours guest house, formerly from the Cotswolds but now an active member of the North Harris Community Co-op. He told us all sorts of interesting things, and recommended the walk to the lighthouse, along the old peat road which the NHCC has recently improved. So that's what we did. The 'improvement' involved a lot of loose chippings, which will be pleasanter to walk on when they have been trodden in a bit, but it was interesting to see that peat was still being cut. Eventually we reached the lighthouse, and paused in the sunshine to admire the blue sea whose wildness had made it impossible for us to reach St Kilda that day:
To be fair, the problem is the height of the swell 60 miles out in the Atlantic - but I can't always be fair! We were joined at the light by a party from a National Trust cruise ship, who had also been thwarted in their plan to visit St Kilda that day. They had followed a coastal path to reach the light, and we decided to return that way (I was outvoted). It was a longer and more strenuous route, and although it had some fine coastal views, I was too busy watching where I was putting my feet to enjoy it. The worst thing was that I wasn't entirely confident that we were even on the path - but it did eventually bring us back, muddy and bad-tempered (in my case, anyway) to the car.
We dined that evening at the Anchorage, on the pier at Leverburgh, which returned us to the morning's point of non-departure. durham_rambler and I found its cheerful informality more congenial than the smarter style of the Rodel Hotel, its service less chaotic and the food of much the same standard (but cheaper). D. found the acoustics difficult. After dinner I walked down the pier to see what the sea was up to:
And since the secret theme of this post appears to be 'seascapes', one more from the following morning, from West Harris, the side with the turquoise seas and the sandy beaches: