Log #16l Hebrides & Uists

October 5, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 16 Scotland, The Logs

Log #16l Hebrides & Uists

Written Oct. 5, 2000
At Rouen, France
Covers the period July 13 to 19, 2000

We were exhausted the next day after our escapade in Scalpay of getting off the rocks, but we were now alongside a large secure fishing boat that was not going anywhere for a long time, as it was up for sale and having some repairs done. This allowed us a comfortable mooring where we did not have to worry about the tide. At times of low tide, it was a long climb up the 20 feet or more to the top of the jetty, and we had to pull the large fishing boat closer to the ladder to ascend, but otherwise it was a safe location at which we left Veleda for several days while we went touring.

The first place we went was to Tarbert, a few miles up the channel, by taxi to a Scottish Stepdance performance. Tarbert is a ferry terminal on the peninsula joining North and South Harris. We didn’t feel like sailing all the way up Loch Tarbert to anchor for a night and so the taxi was a good alternative. The stepdancing was very good, a national troupe of young people touring Scotland for the summer of 2000. They did a good version of stepdancing, not unlike the “River Dance” group. In addition, they did several other numbers of Hebridean music and singing in Gaelic. They didn’t have fancy costumes, but their music and dancing made such irrelevant.

The next day we went by bus back up to Stornoway for their Hebridean Celtic Festival. We found a nice B&B and stayed overnight to take in the star attraction, the internationally popular group from the Hebrides, RunRig, which was appearing in a concert tent on the grounds of Lewis Castle. They were OK, but we were hoping for a more local flavour, rather than a rock concert. They had a new lead singer from Cape Breton, who acknowledged the link between the Hebrides and Canada. We had a laugh at one of his opening remarks as he indicated this was his first performance with the group here in Stornoway, and commented on the area, “Wow, do you people ever have to go a long way for a Christmas tree”, quite appropriate for the barren landscape of the Hebrides.

Actually the high point of the festival for us were two “jam sessions” held in local pubs in which local (from the Hebrides and Western Isles) musicians gathered and just played whatever they felt like. There were about ten to fifteen of them with their instruments. Though they had never played together before, they made fantastic music, enjoying running through many local songs, jigs, reels, flings, and ballads. I counted at one point six fiddles, three guitars, two flutes, two accordions, a harp, two bagpipes, a harmonica, and a tabor (a small hand held drum). The rhythms of the jigs and reels reminded me of the square dancing I enjoyed as a teenager in the local town hall in Greensville, a rural community outside of my hometown of Dundas, Ontario. These two sessions alone, made the trip worthwhile.

The next day we took in the Hebridean Highland Games, with all the traditional sports, and highland dance and bagpipe competitions. In addition to throwing the caber, there were other competitions of tossing bales of hay, and fifteen pound lead weights, up over a crossbar above the athletes’ heads to see who could get them the highest. Another one involved carrying heavy objects such as timbers, metal tanks, tractor tires, and sacks of grain 25 yards and piling them on a tractor wagon to see who had the fastest time.

The rain held off, although it was cool. These competitions ended our trip to Stornoway and we caught an early evening bus back to Tarbert and on to Scalpay, where Veleda lay snug alongside her guardian fishing boat. We liked Stornoway, one of the most enjoyable communities we have visited, a comfortable small town with many amenities, an attractive pedestrian mall, good library, local college, port facilities, good marina, bus and ferry terminals, airport, chandlery, museums, churches, good restaurants, delicatessens, bakeries, medical and social services, friendly people, and even some trees in town.

Shortly after noon hour on July 16 we left Scalpay to head across East Loch Tarbert, heading southerly into a light south wind (What’s new?) in overcast cool weather (What’s new?). Off the south coast we saw a large ship (about 500feet long) up on the rocks, not too far from the Eilean Glas lighthouse. It looked like a recent wreck as in the last year or so: however we did not want to get too close incase we went on the rocks too. At 1400, our GPS lost coverage again. This has happened on several occasions the last couple of months. I suspect it is a fault in our unit, and not that the system is down. We immediately plotted the last lat. and long. and started a DR plot to keep track of our position. It spontaneously regained coverage a half hour later. As we motored past South Harris and towards North Uist we saw a few dolphin feeding, but they didn’t come over to play around Veleda.

About 1830 we entered Lochmaddy (Loch nam Madadh), a large indented irregular bay protected by a few large islands at the entrance. It was once a favoured pirate cove, then a fishing harbour for over 400 fishing vessels, and in the 18th and 19th centuries a harbour for ships trading between England, Scotland and Ireland. The few visitor mooring buoys near the town landing were all occupied, so we went a few hundred yards off to a large Ministry of Defence navy buoy. We figured if it was large enough for a destroyer, it would hold Veleda. Loch Maddy is located on the north east corner of North Uist, just south of the Sound of Harris The entrance was easy in spite of the offlying islands, as it is well marked for the ferry landing. The town itself is at the end of a road crossing a desolate stretch of barren loch strewn moorland.

The next day, July 17, we took a local bus for a circuit ride around North and South Uist, and Benbecula to get a feel for the islands. It was like a private tour as for most of the five hour trip, we were the only passengers. The few passengers getting on and off were all Gaelic speaking. The bus driver was bilingual and quite friendly, pointing out various features of the islands. It provided us an opportunity to see the west coast sand beaches on our way down to the ferry terminal at Bagh Dubh on South Uist, facing across the Sound of Eriskay where the cargo ship, S.S. Politician, sank during WW II giving rise to the book Whiskey Galore and the movie Tight Little Island. More about this incident when we visit Eriskay. Being a ferry terminal, we thought there would be a restaurant or snack bar where we could get a bite to eat. No such luck. It was only a large concrete launching ramp for the ferry, sheltering a drying harbour.

On to Loch Skiport next day, a cool and drizzly 22 mile trip during which we saw three bottle nose dolphin, and we actually sailed for half the distance. We had read that the Wizard Pool in this loch was one of the best anchorages in the Western Isles. There are actually five well sheltered bays in the loch. We went around Shillay Mor and into Caolas Mor as it was sheltered from all points of the compass. We had the whole bay to ourselves, but could see through the narrows into Wizzard Pool. We enjoyed a dinghy ride around the entire loch, going through the narrows at the western end into the Linne Arm, past a fish farm right up to the end where it becomes a dammed tidal channel leading into another small loch. We had a pleasant visit from the folks on Shona, a sailing yacht anchored in the Wizard Pool. The anchorage was nice, but I wouldn’t agree that it was the best in the Western Isles, as we like others better.

The next day, July 19, my birthday, and that of our nephew Pierre, we went on another 22 miles in cool drizzly weather to Eriskay, anchoring in Acairseid Mhor, a small fishing inlet with a concrete pier, and a few occupied visitor and local buoys, nestled in the surrounding hills of the “Tight Little Island”. The story of this in my next log.