Generally Speaking

The Outer Hebrides – 4 – Benbecula & North Uist

I have to tell you about the places we stay, because they are such an important part of the trip. We had been assured by both Margaret in South Uist and by the assistant in the Hebridean Jewellery Centre, when we told them where we were heading next, that we ‘would be alright with Mary’. And so indeed we were.

It later transpired that one of her two dogs had died at the vet’s the day we arrived (and the other hadn’t got out of its bed since) but she gave us the most wonderful welcome in spite of this. Another tremendous character, she had simply not missed a trick in providing facilities for our comfort and convenience, including a no-touch automatic soap-dispenser in the bathroom, if you please, and a power hub with no less than six power sockets and four USB charging points. Wi-fi, as everywhere we stay, is a given, and the password is almost the first item in every welcome.

Mary’s Borve Guest House logo was on welcome card, biros, wrappers round table napkins, and even on the disposable paper covering for the fresh butter in the pat. She told us she had burnt it onto the wooden table mats herself with a kind of soldering iron as something to do during lockdown (no photo – sorry!).

As before, we went for supper both evenings to a hotel about half a mile down the road – this one was the Dark Isles Hotel. And this time it looked a little further and we drove, offering a lift to two fellow guests the first evening, for which they were very grateful. We shared a table with them, two agreeable English ladies, who revealed knowledge of gin.

The excellent waiter was Romanian, and when we expressed surprise that he had found his way to South Uist he said he really liked it here, having tried Bath for a number of years. The dining room was a busy place and the sound of wild revelry burst through the door from the public bar every time it opened. Our waiter explained cheerfully that it was noisy music and noisy people. They were still at it when we left. And the second night was quieter.

The Dark Isles Hotel where we went for supper is in the distance.

Saturday 13th

We thought it would be wise to top up the car so, once we had had Mary’s sumptuous breakfast, we started the day by finding the charging unit marked on the Chargepoint Scotland app as being, improbably, in front of the school next to the hotel where we had eated the night before (which would obviously have been a good time to use it!) and found it already occupied. So we set off for the day up the island of Benbecula, where, as on South Uist, the mainly single track but beautifully-surfaced road wound and undulated through relatively flat land studded with innumerable lochs.

Reaching and crossed the causeway onto North Uist we made straight for the ferry port of Lochmaddy where we were directed by a workman to the charger down by the quay where upgrade works were in progress, so we were able to leave the car on it for an hour. Leaving, as it turned out, Lesley’s phone in it, so that, amongst the obvious communication difficulties, the car ‘thought’ she was still in it (Bluetooth, in case you wondered) and never locked. Not that that seemed the slightest danger in these parts.

Anyway, we repaired to a lovely little, modern, gallery, shop and museum a short distance away, where we installed ourselves while I walked a little further up the hill than I expected to the local shop in search of a newspaper (Lesley didn’t know where I’d gone, hence the aforementioned communication difficulty). Reaching the tiny general store I learned that the plane with the nationals had not yet arrived from the mainland, so I came back with a Stornoway Gazette, from which we read of chaos in the Caledonian MacBrane ferry services disrupting the tourist industry which was now to be hit by a savage hike in business rates.

From Lochmaddy, with the ring of confidence afforded by 300 miles in the battery, we continued anticlockwise around the top of the island towards another bird reserve. On the way I suddenly recognised a conspicuous tower on an island as having been next to a farm on North Uist on a recent Countryfile on BBC television, featured because it had been taken over and was being run, unaided, by an utterly-extraordinary 17 year old lad.

As seen on Countryfile

As I stood by the car to take the above picture a woman with a stout walking pole and tweed headband came striding up the hill and I couldn’t resist sharing my discovery. She was delighted: “Oh, you mean Archie!”. It turned out she was a local and it was obvious they were proud of him.

When we got to the bird reserve we happened to be comparing notes about the birds with another local, and when I mentioned that we had seen the famous farm back down the road he said that the woman running the campsite at the reserve was Archie’s Mum. Small world. Lovely people.

Anyway, we had a superb walk around a complicated shoreline in very strong wind. Here we did see a lot of birds, a shag and a number of eider ducks on rocks, and lapwings, greylag geese, arctic terns and great flocks of dunlin which we tried not to disturb on the grassy slopes. And turnstones on the shore.

It was quite a tough walk for us and we got back to the car glowing from the wind.

Sunday 14th

Saying goodbye to Borve Guest House we drove back up through Benbecula, anticlockwise around North Uist past Lockmaddy and right at the top across yet another causeway onto the small island of Berneray where there was another ferry terminal from which we were going to cross the Sound of Harris in the early afternoon.

Wich left us plenty of time, on yet another sunny day, for another coastal walk.

Joining the ferry queue early I passed the time chatting to group of bikers about the practicalities of EV motoring, agreeing that it, or something like it, had to be the future, but they hadn’t got it entirely sorted yet,

According to my friend Alec, who skippered our four cruises in the past, the Sound of Harris. with its profusion of obstacles, involves probably the most intricate pilotage on the entire Western coast. The ferry, he told me, has to make 25 changes of course in the crossing, which was very apparent as we watched from high above the car deck (still having to cancel the car alarm with the app!)

Rocks dead ahead – time for another change of course

We were third car off the ferry (that’s the front of our car in the picture – next to the bikes) and drove up the mountainous and incredibly beautiful west coast, stopping with others to look down on the beaches of Seilebost and Luskentyre.

to Tarbert where we checked in to the Harris Hotel.

Continues in the next post…

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