Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Butt of Lewis to South Harris (yes) – Tour de Scotland 2013 – Living in a Hiace Camper Van

I awoke this morning to a wild and beautiful seascape. Gazing out into the north atlantic, I thought about all the fantastical creatures and vast and rich life that forever lived beneath the ocean waves.. but one can't daydream forever – it was time to roll out of there and explore what lay further south. I am always happy to arrive in a new location, but just as passionate about getting back on the road, and onward toward new and yet to be revealed experiences and sights, people, weather and location, all blended with my subjective present..

The engine blasted to life, and I was soon bouncing along the Lewis roads and back first towards Stornoway to get in touch with some friends back home, and pick up a few supplies I hadn't thought of. In this part of the world, even a Tesco carpark has its quirks and characters, ready to spring forth at any moment..

After some sandwiches and soup while relaxing over lunch, I was heading south over the hills and gorges with Isles FM keeping me company on the winding, windswept passes and over sudden humpback bridges, the harsh shudder of an unexpected cattle grid, and the exhilaration as a biker accelerates past, maybe German, maybe Dutch, or some archaic local 4WD held together with nylon string.. After an hour, maybe two (I was enjoying the scenery too much to pay much attention to the clock) I reached Tarbet at north Harris. Not one to stop, I headed on through up a steep road out of the village as the automatic gearbox shifted suddenly into second, and the exhaust growled at the fearless sheep in the heather.

The roads on harris are so winding, that I didn't get the chance to make a photo and I was drawn irresistibly onwards to that enchanted West coast I'd been hearing so much about.. You'll have to wait for the video to see the lunar landscape I was experiencing. The landscape on Harris was featured in '2001 a Space Odyssey' for its unusual extra-terrestrial otherworldliness. Its also got its own lunar winds, though I can't imagine the rock orbiting our Earth can be close to as windy as it gets on the Western Isles.

Eventually breaking out onto the west coast at Na Buirgh (Borve), my vision was filled by outstretching sands, with waves breaking in the hazy sea spray mist. This continued for a few miles, until I was compelled to stop at a spot overloking the vista from a viewpoint on the coastal road. This was the view from my living room during that afternoon rest stop...

I decided to head on towards the very south of the island – the point where the ferry to the Uists departs – lands I would visit on some unknown future journey, if I'm ever back here, we never know these things, so go and look now, a voice said.. Reaching, An T-ob (Leverburgh), I found a spot to pull in and have a look around the port. Cars were already beginning to queue for the next boat, though I had no idea when that might be leaving.. I wasn't going, as Skye was already etched in my consciousness and the channel of my future already cut into the leather of life's plans, with an antler handled blade..

Sights at An T-ob port

The 'Butty Bus' diner

Already I was starting to feel tired and also wondering where I'd stop for the night – there hadn't been too many obvious spots, back along the road I'd just come from. I needed to go further, around the southern road, and onto the narrow road back in the direction of Tarbet. I drove up a hill and back onto bumpy single track road and I knew that my 'accomodation' for tonight could not be much further away. I passed the ancient church of St Clements at Rodel, and entered back into wild and rugged terrain as the skies above me began to grey. Some ten minutes later around a bend and up an incline, I spotted a stony track off to my left, and parked the van on it for a walk up there to see where it went, and if it was passable. Not far up the steep track I discovered what seemed to be an old military base, now a sheep sanctuary, with a few concrete foundations and a few crumpling ruins. One of these bases was clear enough to get the truck onto it appeared. I went back, shifted into low and crawled up.. I had a place to spend tonight..

Not to be deterred by my waning energy levels, I explored the ruined bunkers and gazed up at the still functioning radio mast, its top with clouds whistling past, but lower down I was in relative shelter - the nose of the van facing into the oncoming wind. Then it was time to unload the bike, unpack the fishing gear, and set off along the road again in search of a good spot to catch a meal. I spotted an old abandoned settlement, and followed the more obvious route towards the rocks at the mouth of the cove, and looked for deep water. It was a little rough and windy that night, already 9pm, but I soon moved to a sheltered spot to avoid being carried away by an unexpected swell..

Within forty minutes I had this fella resting on the rocks beside me and prepared to carry home to the base on the hill for dinner..

It was after 11pm by the time I had baked my soda bread to Mark's recipe (thanks Mark), and the Coley  was ready in ten minutes steam/fried in a small pan with a lid. I put my feet up and enjoyed the bounty of the seas..

Thanks for coming along with me! If you've any comments or questions please share them below. 

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See you soon..

If you're looking for a good map of Western Scotland and the Western Isles, the one I recommend is the 'Road 2' - this map used to be produced by OS, but they stopped doing it. You can buy it here for £4.99:

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