18.6 miles 1333ft
I’m sure you’re sick of hearing what a great day it’s been by now. You probably don’t want to know that we woke yet again to glorious sunshine and that we had another day of great walking, this time from Benbecula to North Uist. You won’t want to know that the sunshine caused great light displays on the landscape with myriad shades of blues and greens and yellows and browns, all competing with each other as to which colour should have dominance, or the way these ever changing colours provided so many different foregrounds to North Uist’s highest hill, Eaval, so that it was difficult to know which showed it to its greatest advantage. You don’t want to know that the outline of the Cuillin on Skye, could be seen really clearly on the horizon across the sun speckled sea and you probably don’t even want to know that we got our first sight of the hills of Harris, which for us was especially exciting. I’m sure the last thing you want to hear is that when we reached the camping hut where we were staying tonight, we found that the back wall acted as a perfect windbreak, sheltering us from the breeze so that we could just sit basking in the sun for an hour after our 18 and a half mile walk. Anyway, you don’t want to know any of this, so I won’t bother telling you…
What I will tell you, is that Donald was the perfect host at our Benbecula hostel last night and a veritable font of local knowledge. A man of many talents, he used to be a fireman, but got fed up with the red tape that was becoming more and more demanding, and anyway he didn’t really have the time for it. He has a small croft, keeps sheep, has the hostel and runs a b&b, builds houses, transports tractors and he is also the local gravedigger. Also, Donald stands in for the village undertaker when needed. An interesting bloke to chat to.
Yesterday we met a man who stopped for a chat (he was in his car but the roads on the island are very quiet) wanting to know where we were walking etc. We chatted for a while and he went on his way. Today we bumped into him again, in North Uist. This time when he stopped us, he left with the blog details. I wonder where we’ll bump into him tomorrow.
Since arriving at Oban we have constantly been reminded of previous holidays and times spent in Oban and on the islands, and as we’ve been walking there’s been a lot of, ‘Do you remember when…?’
Travelling back from North Scotland we had to get to Oban to put Jo and Hannah on a train back home, before we carried on with Joy and Jim to get a ferry to one of the islands. We were in the campervan and had greatly underestimated how long it would take to get there. What I remember most about that journey, other than that it was fraught, was that for about the last hour and a half none of us spoke. It was if our silence would somehow help to power the campervan on and get us there on time. We did get there on time, but only just. Jo and Hannah didn’t even have time to take their seats before the train departed, with us barely having time to say goodbye. Tense times.
We have recalled nights on Barra and Eriskay, either just us and the kids, or with Pete and Hel and Katie and Rosie, and the number of times we’d go down to the beach in the evening, saying, ‘It’s too cold to go in the sea tonight’, only to have the kids decide otherwise and go in anyway, unable to resist, sometimes fuly clothed, to then have to go running back to where we were staying for hot showers and hot chocoate, leaving us to stay on the beach, watching the sunset and drinking red wine. Hard times.
We reminisced about when we climbed Ben More on South Uist, only to have the cloud come down just as we reached the ridge, so that we could only just make out the path. We found the top and then quickly retraced our steps and we hadn’t got down very far before we reached a point where we could see the edge of the cloud and below it we could see the the coastline bathed in sunshine. At the same time we picked up a call from Hannah to tell us she was at the airport waiting to catch her flight to Benbecula. She was on her way to join us and would get a bus from Benbecula down to Eriskay where we were staying. I can still recall the excitement of going to meet her off the bus.
Tomorrow we head to Berneray, which is a beautiful little island joined to North Uist by another causeway. We once spent a couple of nights there with the campervan next to a beautiful stretch of beach, but Berneray will be forever associated with a certain corn-based snack called Space Raiders. Jim got into a strop when he wanted a pack and was told he couldn’t have them (he was only about 5 at the time). He took himself off into the dunes and sat crossed legged with his head in his hands, his bottom lip hanging down, and refused to come for his tea, just repeating, ‘ I want Space Raiders’. Being the caring mother that I am, I took out my camera and captured his sulky pose for posterity. Its the best ‘Boy in a sulk’ picture ever!
These islands have meant a lot to us, and even though we haven’t always had good weather (in fact I don’t think we’ve ever had a spell quite like we’ve been having now), there is something about them that just keeps us coming back. This last week then, on the islands, has been a fitting finale to our walk and I’m sorry we’ve been blessed with such good weather – actually, no, I’m not…
As the tour draws to a close an emerging topic of conversation between myself and the expedition leader is lists, such as top five views, top five annoying habits of your walking partner, top five air b&b’s etc. One list to which we can’t give the top five treatment is “pets encountered on the walk north”, because we might get into trouble with Paul and Esther if we don’t put Gwennie in the top spot or Mr Bathie if Poppy is not on the prime pet pedestal. It’s a bit weird having a “pets corner” to the blog, if truth be told because neither of us is a pet person. Back in the cold Liverpudlian winter of 83/84, as we shivered in the suitably named Eastern Drive, we took in a sad looking cat and christened it Tiddles. How did it repay our hospitality? While our backs were turned it scoffed a fruit cake that had been left pitch side during a break in Subbuteo hostilities, before sicking up said cake all over the hallowed green baize and then, in the bathroom, resulting in Sedge’s ear-piercing lament, “Lakes! The cat’s been sick in the bath!” Later on, whilst working as an insurance salesman in the Ilkeston area, I had several close shaves with irate dogs, before my luck finally ran out in Kirk Hallam when an Alsatian bit me in the groin area, necessitating a tetanus jab. Sharon, meanwhile, has no great memories of Tiggy and Midge, the Carr family cats, mainly because of their vile smelling cat food and all round anti-social behaviour.
So, over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve surprised ourselves by taking to so many really nice, really cute pets. On day 2, as we trod the High Peak Trail, we had the pleasure of Gwennie’s company and, the following day between Flagg and Monsal Dale, Poppy bounded along at our heels: both as good natured as their owners. This set a precedent as we encountered many more affable hounds : Charlie in Selkirk, Baillie in Penicuik, Hope and Pirate in Carbeth and Eve the Staffie in Drymen. We even came across a fairly agreeable moggie in Cumwhitton. Our stay on Benbecula, though, really raised the cuteness bar when we got to feed those wee scamps, Struan and Chops.