August 22, 2008

The Outer Hebrides

August 15

“Sunny and warm; some clouds; mist at night

Rose at 6:30 in Oban. Ate breakfast and packed up. Went into town and got a book, The Count of Monte Cristo, postcards, and then stamps. Hiked to the top of the hill to see the McCaigs Tower. Went to Tesco and got groceries. Walked to the terminal and read until the ferry left at 1:30 for Barra. Read the whole ferry ride. It was a little rough in the open see. Got to Castlebay at 6:45, walked to the east of town and the and the bay and started cooking. Couscous and beans on pita bread. Set up the hut and read until 11:30.

Book and postcards: £8.20
Groceries: £2.53
Stamps (10): £5.60”

We found a book store and each picked up some reading material. Ian and I don’t hold long conversation so we had a some time to kill. I’m afraid it may have made me anti-social. Perhaps I should have chosen a title less engrossing than The Count of Monte Cristo. Still, I found my trip to be an excellent opportunity to read while seeing the world. I need not chose one over the other. I also bought some postcards. We made our way to the top of the hill to see the coliseum from the inside. It gave us a nice view of the town and surrounding area and was pretty easy to get to. On the way up I began to have serious stomach cramps. They lasted for a few hours and I finally concluded it was the tomato paste we had used in the pizza and spaghetti sauce the last two nights. Strike that from the menu.

It was strange to leave Oban with such a feeling of attachment. Even though we had only been there for two nights and had only been traveling for a week, a little complacency had developed over the two nights and less than three days that we stayed in Oban. Not that I had any regret. It wasn’t the most comfortable camping and I was eager to see the Outer Hebrides.

It was the largest ferry we road during the trip. One would think that we were headed toward a settlement of substantial size. Castlebay was not substantial. A tiny little seaside village with, of course, a castle surrounded by water. It’s difficult to imagine how anyone would think that such a tiny island would be worth such fortification. I guess it’s just what they did back then. We walked up to the Catholic church hoping to find a camping spot nearby. On Barra we encountered a camping problem wholly different from that which we encountered in Oban. Oban was civilized and it was hard to get away from people. Barra was, well, barren - except for the sheep - and it was difficult to find a clean place to set up a tent, the sheep had left their mark so well. Camp was comfortable enough. We had plenty of fresh water from the ferry. Unfortunately, I left the cook set stuff sack out without weighing it down. It now resides somewhere in the North Atlantic.

August 16

Looking across the Barra airport
“Rain all day; steady strong wind from the north east

Slept in to 9:30. Stayed in the hut until 1 PM because of rain. Read some more. Hiked to the north of the island but missed the ferry. Walked down to the beach of Barra Sound and set up on the airport. Read until midnight.”

We merely followed the road around the island. It was several miles and there were very few cars. The road was extremely narrow with turnouts every seventy yards or so. I our paced Ian and after we were out of site from each other he had to stop to fix his boots. I actually started to get worried and started back a little. Eventually figured out where the ferry terminal was. It wasn’t exactly conveniently located, out on a long spit of land - one of many. We hiked the rest of the way to the north part of the island which turned out to be an airport. We didn’t see any runway and just camped on the grass beside the sea. It was extremely windy and we had a difficult time setting up the hut and tarp. The tarp really caught the wind. We could have crossed the Atlantic in no time with my tarp as a sail.

We huddled behind the Barra Airport sign and finished the scotch from Oban. Ian tried to educated me a little about wine. (Talk about the blind leading the blind.) We had plans for educating ourselves while abroad.

August 17
Daliburgh, South Uist

Walking across the Barra airpot
“Sunny; some clouds, wind
12 PM 63°

Slept until 8:30. Read until 10. Went out on the beach of Barra Sound. The tide went out and left at lest a ½ mile of sand. We walked a couple undred yards out and it was still only up to our knees. Missed the ferry at 11:10 so read until 1 PM. Packed up and hiked over to the ferry. Sat and read until take off. Older guy from Glasgow talked to me for a few minutes. Got to Eriskay and stopped at Am Politician. Hiked several miles in the evening and stopped at Daliburgh, South Uist. Camped in town. Spaghetti burned. Read until 11:30.

Groceries: £2.90”

When we went to bed, the tide was in and the ocean came right up to the shoreline only a dozen or so yards from our camp. When we woke up that morning, the tide was out and we couldn’t even see the water. I’ve never seen such wide tidal flats. It was fascinating. We played a little and took a short cut across the flats to get to the ferry . We had misread the schedule and missed the early ferry so we ended up at the terminal waiting early in the afternoon. There was a small party of Scottish men on bikes at the ferry pier. We chatted a little with one who was from Glasgow and living near the Firth of Forth. I recall telling about my rather shaky plans for the future. I didn’t know at all at that point (and I haven’t figured it out in the nearly two years since). I spent a lot of my trip trying to figure out my future. I thought I had succeeded by the end, but apparently I was wrong.

Eriskay was small and charming . We stopped at a pub recommended by the Scottish gentleman named Am Politician It was named after a ship that went down years earlier with a load of scotch. The story goes that the residents of the islands came for miles to “salvage” the contents. They beat the authorities and the islands were well supplied with liquor for a while.

Eriskay is connected to South Uist by a causeway constructed only a few years ago. We watched a seal on a rock as we crossed the causeway. We walked a few miles north into South Uist before stopping by an abandoned house in Daliburgh. My feet were starting to ache at this point. I little knew the problems of which it forewarned me. When I gave Ian a hard time about the spaghetti he got a little sore. I retreated to my book.

August 18
Creagorry, Benbecula

The main road through the Hebrides
“Sunny, warm
1:30 PM 71°

Rose at Daliburgh at 9am. Bought groceries at the Co-op including breakfast. Hiked 1 ½ hrs. Called Mom and Dad from Bornish. Hiked 3 more 1 ½ hr marches. Bought groceries at the Co-op. Set up camp. Read. Went to bed around 10-10:30.


We found a cheap yogurt at the Co-op. It was a divided container with yogurt on one side and candy on the other. Pretty horrendous to recall but tasty at the time.

This was an uncharacteristic day for Scotland. It was warm and sunny all day, at least that‘s how I remember it. It colors a lot of my memory of the islands. For some reason I think of the islands as sunny and warm even though this may have been the only day. We walked a lot and it was fairly boring. I wore Crocs a lot of the time, hoping they would give my feet some relief from the pavement. We cruised with a few breaks. At one point, during our lunch break, we took off our shirts and soaked up the sun. I played a lot of Fiddler on the Roof in my head while walking and at other times found myself thinking about The Count of Monte Cristo. I guess I was getting pretty wrapped up in my reading.

I’m a fast hiker and so I had Ian go ahead while I called home from a payphone. I took be about an hour and a half to catch up again. We didn’t make it as far as I thought we had, at least by the mileage. We bought a bottle of merlot with our groceries and set up in an overgrown soccer field in town. The midges were horrendous so we hid in the hut. Just like after every time we came upon a grocery store, we had a thoroughly unhealthy meal. I guess we had the calorie burn to cover it though.

August 19
Crachan, North Uist

Cooking in the tent
“Mostly sunny, warm

Rose at 9:30. Read and ate breakfast. Hiked to Crachan from noon until 6:30. Stopped and ate supper. The water we used for tea was salty. Hiked another mile down the road and set up camp by a small loch next to the road. My feet really hurt after the last two days. Hope to make the ferry sometime tomorrow. Read until bed at 10-10:30.


Except for the wide tidal flats between South Uist, Benbecula, and North Uist it was a forgettable day of walking. Be got a small bottle of scotch at Crachan. It was a tiny little grocery (like so many we saw) and the scotch was expensive. Nevertheless, it made the salty couscous that much more amusing. We ate the couscous without realizing that we had made it with sea water. I just thought that we had flavored it too much. The peppermint tea tipped me off. Salty tea. After realizing what happened I did note that the salty couscous tasted like the ocean. How very Mediterranean of us. When we washed up I mentioned to Ian that the seaweed in the creek might have clued him in. In his defense, we were pretty far inland and it looked like a small creek. Very confusing. I refilled the bottle of scotch and we took off from Crachan.

We set up on the moors with heather all around. I took a little soak in the small loch. We were close to the road but there was very little traffic. I tried using heather blossoms to freshen up. It actually worked for a little bit, but I think it just masked any odor. I hadn’t showered for twelve days. We saw a few deer by a fence to the north. It started to rain later in the evening. What a surprise. We cooked in the hut. It must have been for tea.  It made it a little cramped but we eventually figured out a system (which resulted in Ian sacrificing most of his space). I had a late snack of digestive biscuits and we retired.

August 20
Lochmaddy, North Uist

“Cloudy, mist all day

Rose late, ate breakfast and left camp. Stopped at the grocery store in Lochmaddy. Got cereal and milk. Decided to take the Skye Ferry. Stayed in the terminal reading until it closed. Set up near the terminal. Ate, read, went to bed.

Groceries: £3.18

It seemed like a very short, uneventful day. It was overcast and wet, my feet hurt, and Lochmaddy was nearly a ghost town. I binged on cereal, it may have been coco puffs. Ian got some horrendous orange flavored chocolate. We hid in the ferry terminal until it closed and camped in some tall grass nearby. Ian picked up a new book in the terminal book exchange. It was a depressing day. Once again we were almost out of food. I just couldn’t buy food from those tiny stores with terrible prices and selections. It makes me wonder how people on those islands survive. I guess 20 miles to a grocery is only bad if you’re walking it.

August 21
Kintarvie, Lewis

A salmon farm in Loch Seaforth
“Light rain, clouds

Rose at 6am packed up for the 7:30 ferry. Ferry to Uig, Skye. Got some lunch at the lay over. Rode to Tarbert, Harris. Got groceries for lunch. Hiked to Kintarvie. My feet hurt really bad toward the end. Afraid it might be serious.

Groceries: £ 3.50”

On our twenty minute layover on Skye we sprinted to the nearest grocery we could find, which was a tiny little place and bought some dinner rolls for lunch. It was rainy. When we got to Harris we found another little grocery and got some more cheap, unhealthy food - a can of pudding and such. We ran into two Jehovah‘s Witnesses from Stornoway. There are fifty some on the islands. We chatted a few minutes and took off toward Lewis. Some school girl made fun of me with my trekking poles and so I felt self-conscious for the rest of the trip while in towns.

At a bus stop near the mountains of Harris we met a older gentleman who told us a little about old Harris, as old people do. He seemed surprised at our chosen method of travel. We then headed up the pass. There were a lot of sheep up in the mountains. We saw a salmon farm in the sea loch below us. We took a cross country short cut on the decent and rested at the bottom. The last several miles were hard. We were looking for a grocery in Kintarvie but it wasn’t really even a town, just a few houses. We did see a group of rams along the road. Still this day marked another low point. My right foot really hurt. I kept switching between my boots and Crocs but nothing helped. By time we reached our campsite we were pretty much out of food, my foot was in excruciating pain, and we were still twenty miles from Stornoway. We began discussing hitching the rest of the way. I didn’t think I would be able to make it in time: our ferry pass expired in two days.

August 22
Stornoway, Lewis

Cherry pie for desert
“Rose late. Read. Packed up and started walking and trying to hitch a ride. My right foot really hurts still. Got picked up on the fourth try. It was a man from Harris and his daughter. He drove pretty fast. Dropped us off in Stornoway at the Co-op. Got lunch and ate on the lawn outside. After that we got groceries for supper and breafast and filled up with water. Walked to the bus and inquired about buses to Callanish. Hiked north east for a campsite. Found a great one by a power plant. baked a cherry pie. Some of the crust had the taste of popcorn. Read and went to bed. Loud drunk Russians.

Groceries: £2.31 + £3.15, £2.00”

I was most grateful that someone picked us up. I was surprised how easy it was too. I thought we would be waiting for hours. The man who picked us up was involved with something called the North Harris Trust. Later in Stornoway Ian found a book about the organization with a photo of the very man who gave us a ride. His name is Alistair Macleod. I’ve been planning on contacting him to say thank you for two years now.

The Co-op was quite large. We had some Edam and Shiraz for lunch. Ian wasn’t thrilled about the campsite. We set up by a power station near the ocean. I thought it was brilliant. Some local kids came around. They were looking for cigs (or fags). I had no problem sleeping through the drunken party nearby, I just put in my ear plugs. Apparently Ian wasn’t as comfortable with the situation. 

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