Tag 6 – Lochmaddy to Leverburgh
Images of the day (Google photos)
I’m on the trail again, hooray! After actually joining the Ceilidh at the Community Hall last night (impressions here), I have to admit that the dance music for the 70+ year-olds wasn’t quite my thing, and I quickly returned to the hotel. Today I woke up well-rested and early. So early that I was half an hour too early for breakfast. Hm, 8 o’clock? I had breakfast that early yesterday. No, today it starts at 8:30. Okay, I’m a bit confused. But it doesn’t matter; the ferry doesn’t depart until 4:30 PM, and I have plenty of time for the 17 kilometers to get there.
No matter the time, the smoked haddock for breakfast is delicious. There are no lunch packs here, but there’s a village store a short walk up the road where I can stock up. So, I check out, take a quick look at the ferry that arrived early this morning, and then set off. There’s the store; I grab the handle, but the door won’t budge. What’s going on here? Why is everything different today? It’s Sunday, you fool! I completely forgot that the week has almost gone by. This might not be easy today. Leverburgh doesn’t have a restaurant or pub, and I was counting on the food truck at the ferry terminal or the local village store for sustenance. There could be a hungry evening in my future.
Well, let’s see what can be done when the time comes. I leave Lochmaddy – I really enjoyed it here – on the road heading north. For the first time, I see a small group of hikers ahead of me who seem to be on the Hebridean Way as well. They are walking at almost the same speed as me, so I’m not catching up.
We turn off the road onto the access path to the local water supply to cross the first hill. Shortly thereafter the hiking trail diverges from the gravel road, and I see the three ahead of me miss this turn and continue along the more prominent farm track. Hm, they’re too far away now for me to sprint after them, and the (still strong) wind is blowing directly against me. I have no idea if they have a chance to hear me. Nevertheless, I try waving and shouting, and one of them actually turns around and notices me. Saved, one good deed for the day is done. Well, they would have probably realized it themselves not too far into the future.
A while later, they’re ahead of me again, but as we approach the second, higher hill of the day and a shower rolls in they take cover and I pass them by. I prefer to keep walking in the rain rather than taking a break, unless I can find proper shelter from the wind. The path climbs to the shoulder of the hill and I get my first fantastic views back over the landscape dotted with dozens if lochans.
The trail doesn’t climb all the way to the summit, but the hiking guide mentioned that it’s only 200 meters from the path. Hm, should I? Sure, it’s a short day; I should. But 200 meters without a trail up the steep hillside are no joke, and I break the first sweat of th day. Fortunately, the sun is shining right now and reveals an absolutely stunning panoramic view of North Uist. To the south and east, the lochans; to the west, the stunning white-blue shimmering sandy beaches; and to the north, the causeway to green Berneray with the mountains of Harris in the haze beyond. Definitely the best view of this hike and probably one of the best 360° panoramas I’ve ever seen. This is how hiking should be!
When I can finally tear myself away (the wind eventually forces me to) and I descend the north side of the hill, I can see the next rain clouds roll in the from the west (the wind has shifted today). Oh, I hope the three hikers behind me will also get to enjoy the view. I certainly had the weather on my side.
Fortunately the shower is short-lived, and I can tuck away my rain coat before tackling the last causeway of this vacation, the path to Berneray. It’s only 2 o’clock when I reach the island, and the hiking guide suggests exploring the island because it’s one of the most beautiful of the Outer Hebrides. I don’t need to be told twice, especially since I’m still looking for food.
Berneray has a shop with an attached cafe, but who would have guessed, it’s closed on Sundays. Just like the souvenir shop at the harbor, the visitor center, and everything else. Well, the public toilets at the pier are open. Instead of eating, I decide to walk across the island to catch a glimpse of the amazing north beach, but that turns out to be a bit too ambitious. I need to be at the pier by 4 PM to collect my luggage after all. I manage that, but get a bit nervous when the taxi takes its time. I only have a narrow window of time before I need to board the ferry, and I do need my luggage! However, the taxi just as I lose patience and call the office. All’s well!
We board (hm, no sign of my three hikers… I thought they would take this ferry too) and I realize that the ferry is a bit larger than the one to Barra. I get my hopes up: there’s a “Passenger Saloon” and Calmac ferries sometimes have small cafes. Could there be something like that here? No, but there’s a vending machine, at least something … or not, because it’s “out of order.” So, I continue my forced fasting.
The crossing takes about an hour as the ferry has to navigate a quite complicated course through these waters, filled with many small islands and dangerous rocks. It’s gray and occasionally rainy outside, so I spend most of the time indoors in the “Saloon” until we reach Leverburgh. Right at the pier stands the “Butty Bus,” a fairly well-known and highly-rated food truck. There’s an “Open” sign flashing in the windshield! Yes! No, I’m deceived; it’s not open after all. There’s a sign pointing to the “Anchorage Restaurant,” but that seems to have been closed for quite some time. The only option is to shoulder my big backpack and trudge the last kilometer to Lingay House B&B where I’ll be staying. Maybe they have an apple or a banana left from breakfast.
At the door, I’m greeted by Howard, who runs the B&B with his son Jethro, and he welcomes me warmly. When I ask if they might have something to eat, he looks a bit puzzled. “Dinner is at seven.” What dinner? This is supposed to be a Bed & Breakfast, right? Yes, but there’s really no other option in Leverburgh to get dinner, so they decided offer that as well. Wow, it seems like some information got lost between LetsGoWalking and me. Okay, great, that’s fantastic; I’m saved from starving! In fact, they have a proper three-course meal for me and the other two guests (more on them tomorrow): delicious lentil soup as a starter, local salmon on a bed of leeks with potatoes as the main course, and Pink Lady applecrumble for dessert. Truly wonderful.
My room is also lovely, and the sitting room is cozy. I’ll surely be comfortable here for the next two days. Here’s the bad news, though: My planned boat trip to St. Kilda has been canceled; the weather is simply too bad (or the waves too high). From Howard and Jethro, I learn that St. Kilda tours have been going poorly this year; many have been canceled. Overall, the weather is unusually stormy and rainy for the season. Well, there’s nothing to be done about it. I’m sure I can find ways to keep myself busy.
Day 11 & 12 – Quiet Days in Leverburgh
Images of Leverburgh (Google photos)
Keeping busy does not seem so easy on the next day though, as there’s not much to do in Leverburgh, the town that Lord Leverhulme once wanted to turn into an industrial center for fishing. A one-hour walk takes me through town to explore the Tweed shop, the Village Shop (including a souvenir shop), the ferry terminal, and the “Butty Bus” at the pier. The food truck does a brisk business with vacationers waiting for the ferry and prepares an excellent soup – on this day, it’s a Tom Yum Squid Soup. Tom Yum is one of my favorites and I really hadn’t expected to find it up here. It makes an excellent lunch!
But the danger of starvation has well and truly past, as the other two guests and I are very well taken care of at Lingay House, and there’s no shortage of anything. Besides me, Richard and Sheila were here on the first night. Sheila is a blacksmith from Edinburgh. She’s cycling the Hebridean Way, but might have overexerted herself a bit. She’s two days behind schedule and quite worried about the next stage (56 km) to Stornoway because she has only managed 20 km per day so far. But if necessary, she can always stop in Tarbert.
Richard is from the south of England and had planned to take the St. Kilda tour like me. Since it’s not happening for him either, he’ll spend two quiet days here in Leverburgh (again, just like me). Walking and cycling are out of the question for him because he’s quite overweight – every time he gets up from the sofa I feel like I’m watching a Herculean task. It’s a shame to hear that because apparently he used to hike all over Scotland and has done many Munros in his time. But he and Sheila make great company and we talk all evening. Interestingly, Richard is currently reading Mick Herron, the author of the “Jackson Lamb” spy thrillers (which I have on my Kindle right now). In fact, on the first day, I manage to complete the second book in the series.
Sheila leaves us in the morning – I hope she has a safe journey. In the evening, Roger arrives, the new guest. I hear him before I see him and immediately notice that he’s American. “Typically loud,” I think, but I soon mentally apologize (stupid stereotypes) because he’s 86 and hard of hearing, hence the volume. Quite brave to embark on a solo tour of the Outer Hebrides at his age. He’s from Wilmington, North Carolina, originally from Pittsburgh, and obviously in love with Scotland since this is his fourth tour. Talking to him is also fun – if you shout loudly enough – and I spend another pleasant evening reading and chatting at Lingay House.
The only thing that worries me is the weather. The forecast has settled on almost continuous rain from Wednesday to Friday. It might improve slightly after that. Well, there’s nothing I can do about it. For now, I’ll enjoy another day indoors, as it’s already raining most of the time.