Day 4 – Liniclate to Carinish
Images of the Day (Google photos)
It’s 7 a.m. when I wake up, i.e. half an hour before my alarm, and check the weather forecast. Oh, this looks better than yesterday. No or hardly any rain until noon, and even after that, just “light” rain showers. It’s still windy, but without rain it’s only half as bad. So I get out of bed, grab my breakfast, and by 8 a.m. I’m ready to start the day.
The front of the Dark Island Hotel is sheltered from the winds, but as I turn the corner toward the coast I’m hit with the full force of the 45 mph near-storm strength winds. Okay, I’ve had worse in Denmark on the North Sea, but I’ve never hiked all day in such winds. Fortunately, it’s still coming from the south i.e. from behind. However, I have to brace myself for the first few meters towards the beach pushing southward. The loose sand acts like a sandblaster, much like in Denmark.
But it’s low tide and I can reach the water’s edge where the loose sand doesn’t reach. Then I turn west and north, and the wind pushes me forward rather than hindering me. So, for the first few kilometers, I alternate between walking along the beach and dune paths along the shore. It’s beautiful and lonely, except for the one hiker I met yesterday morning at the Borrodale. We exchange a few words and wish each other good weather, then I pass him by. Behind me the previously sunny sky darkens, and a light rain shower approaches. So, I unpack my rain jacket and, for the first time put the rain cover on my backpack. I don’t think I’ve ever needed it on this daypack before. But when the rain comes, I’m grateful for it because it really comes down hard and I’m soaked from behind in an instant. As quickly as it started it’s over again, and almost as fast as I got soaked, the wind blows me dry. Soon I can pack my rain cover away again.
I leave the coast with its numerous oystercatchers, ringed plovers, and seagulls, and head inland toward Ruabhal, at 124m (or so) the highest point on Benbecula. The hill isn’t high, but it stands very isolated in the landscape promising a great view. Thanks to my early start, I have hope of reaching it in good visibility and that turns out to be true. The ascent is far from strenuous, but on top the wind blows even stronger – we’re definitely at 80 km/h, so it’s wind force 9. But the view over the lake-dotted landscape of Benbecula is breathtaking, and I can even make out the mountains of South and North Uist albeit somewhat indistinct. I descend on the north side of the hill and find a somewhat sheltered spot where I can take a break and have a bite to eat.
The path leads me through the moorland between various “lochans” (Scottish for “small loch”), and even though it’s sometimes hard to discern the path (it’s only clear when you’re at least two meters away from it), it’s easy to walk and enjoyable.
But all good things must come to an end, and I’m back on the road. I know that from here to my destination, there are 8 km along the road and partly on more causeways. On every long hike, there’s usually a low point where I wonder, “What are you doing here? Is this still fun? Why are you putting yourself through this?” I had one of those moments yesterday on the dreadful gravel path, and with today’s weather forecast, I envisioned myself walking 8 km in the rain, completely drenched, unprotected from wind and rain, cursing and lamenting. For now, it looks good; the sun is shining… but a glance over my shoulder tells me it won’t last. The next rain is approaching. So, I get myself ready for the rain and trudge out onto the causeway between Benbecula and North Uist.
And then the rain returns, harder and heavier than this morning, and my pants are soaked again in no time. Why didn’t I bring rain pants? This shower lasts longer, and I can feel it creeping into my shoes from the back. What a nasty attack strategy! Fortunately, both the wind and rain are relatively warm, and surprisingly, my mood remains quite good. Maybe it helps that the first part of the day was so great. Or that I ate something in between. And then the rain stops again, and even before I’ve fully crossed the causeway, I start to dry again.
The last few kilometers stretch along the road, but the destination is in sight and I’m early. Thanks to the early start and a brisk pace, it’s only a quarter to two when I reach the Temple View Hotel in Carinish, where I’m supposed to be picked up at 5 p.m. I planned to call the taxi and ask if they could pick me up a bit earlier while I warm up at the bar. Unfortunately, the hotel is closed to non-guests. Damn, what’s the deal with that? So, I call the taxi from behind the shelter of a wall, and fortunately, they can actually pick me up in 45 minutes. But for that time, I absolutely need better shelter. Fifty meters away is a bus stop where two cyclists have already taken refuge from the wind. I ask if there’s some space left, and of course there is.There are even some chocolate cookies for me.
The two (a middle-aged couple) are also traveling across the islands from south to north, although not strictly following the Hebridean Cycle Way. They’re from Inverness, as I learn from the woman. They only have a few kilometers left to their accommodation but had to stop because they couldn’t handle the strong crosswinds. I can understand that; I felt like I was walking at a 45-degree angle at the end and had to be careful not to be pushed in front of the passing cars. They’ve called the friend where they stayed last night, and he’ll pick them up. It’s not long until he arrives but with the bikes and two passengers, he has to make two trips. The husband stays behind, obviously irritated by the weather and the circumstances. Initially he’s very quiet but then he opens up a bit. When I mention Lochmaddy, the place where I’ll be staying for the next two nights, he tells me that there’s supposed to be live music there tonight. Other cyclists they encountered mentioned it. If I were in Ireland, this wouldn’t surprise me at all, but in Scotland, even here on the islands, it’s not so common. I make a mental note; it might be something to check out.
Then my taxi arrives, and I can finally get inside to warm up and get dry! Unfortunately, it turns out there was a misunderstanding on the phone. The central dispatch (or better “the wife” of the driver) understood that my luggage was already in Lochmaddy because I assumed it had been picked up in the morning as usual. But it wasn’t; he intended to pick it up on this trip with me. So, back to the Dark Island Hotel, and then finally toward Lochmaddy. I make up the extra mileage by telling the driver he won’t need to ferry me tomorrow – I’m definitely taking a break. The wind isn’t going to ease up by tomorrow and there’s supposed to be significantly more rain. I really don’t need to put myself through that. Conveniently, I’m staying in the same hotel for two nights so I won’t have to move in between.
The Lochmaddy Hotel is also great for that purpose, with a nice bar and restaurant. There’s a museum and cafe in town… and live music! Indeed there’s a session with local folk musicians on tonight. So the journal doesn’t end today with my fish and chips for dinner. Instead, I dress up (i.e. I put on clean pants) and walk over to the Community Hall.
The event has the feeling of a school event (except there’s beer and gin at the bar), not least because the Community Hall obviously serves as a gym as well, complete with a basketball hoop above the stage. This is definitely not Ireland, where this happen at the local pub. The performers range from locally known musicians (Chloe Steel and Padruig Morrison) to music students around the age of twelve, paying tribute to their deceased teacher (with Carpenters’ “Top of the World”). Not everything hits my taste (solo accordion just isn’t my thing), but it’s heartwarming and wonderful. And even though I don’t understand it, Gaelic is an amazing language to sing in. Sheena Peteranna performs last, having just completed her music degree at the University of the Western Isles, and she presents various pieces from her graduation presentation. She’s truly amazing and when she finally plays the great Highland pipes (the “real” version of the bagpipes), it nearly blows the roof off the Community Hall. Interestingly she’s accompanied on the piano/keyboard by a German exchange student from Föhr.
The event lasts for over two hours, and I have a great time. It’s amazing where you end up when seeking shelter from the storm with other travelers at a bus stop. I didn’t see any other advertisements for the event, and most of the other attendees must have been locals. Except for the guy in the second row, who I could only see in profile – I am sure that was Bernie Sanders, of all people, or at least a 99% lookalike. In any case, I trudge happily through the storm back to the hotel, nod at the little welcome otter at the entrance, and retire to the bar for a whisky to write this report. It probably won’t be finished until tomorrow because I have so much to tell!
Day 5 – Chilling in Lochmaddy
Images of the Day (Google photos)
As planned I decide to skip the walk from Carinish to Lochmaddy today. Every glance through the window and every step out the door confirm my decision – this is not a day for hiking. Instead I enthusiastically dive into the local culture. Once again it is the rumor mill among the holidaymakers that leads me to an interesting event. At breakfast I meet a couple who also stayed at the Hillside B&B in Castlebay. They tell me that is a Community Fair in Lochmaddy today, and a Piper Band will be playing. I can’t find any information about it online, but asking about it at the museum I am told, “yes, it is happening at the Community Hall (again), and the pipers will be playing at 1pm”. Fantastic, that suits me perfectly!
Before that I have some time to explore the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Center. The current exhibition on the “Music of North Uist” is fascinating. I learn that the roots of “Runrig” are here in Lochmaddy. The two founders, Rory and Calum McDonald, were born and grew up here.
Braving the wind and rain I walk once again to the Community Hall and find a mix of craft fair and a flea market. There are attic finds, homemade soap, greenhouse seedlings, sweets, sea rescue charity, and – of course – a raffle. Just no bagpipes or pipers yet. They are late but due to arrive shortly, as I learn from Barbara the affair’s organizer. Indeed, half an hour later four pipers and a drummer arrive and the performance can begin.
Did I say that the Highland pipes almost blew the roof off last night? Multiply that by four and add a drum. By all rights something like this should happen outside, but that is not an option today. Nevertheless, I have a blast though some of the audience flee to the outside hallway to better enjoy the “music.” The small concert is over far too quickly, but as I am leaving, Barbara invites me to the Ceilidh (pronounced “Kay-lee”) tonight – a traditional Gaelic music and dance event. I’ll see whether I can muster the energy for another trek through rain and wind at 8 p.m., but I am intrigued. For now, it’s time for dinner; the pizza at the Lochmaddy Hotel looks good.
Tomorrow it’s back to the plan. The forecast says partly cloudy with no rain, that sounds promising. The day’s walk isn’t very long either, just 17 km to the ferry terminal on Berneray, where I’ll catch the 4:30pm ferry to Harris.