Tag Archives: island

Christmas on Coll

What a lovely end to the year – we spent Christmas week on the lovely island of Coll, in the Inner Hebrides. It was a bit of an adventure getting there – we were meant to go on the Saturday before Christmas, and the ferry did indeed set off from Oban at too-early o’clock, only to find that the swell of the sea at the piers at both Coll and Tiree (the neighbouring island) was too much for it to be able to dock and let people off! To give the captain his due, he did try several times, motoring between the two islands, before deciding that it really wasn’t going to happen, so 8 hours after leaving Oban we arrived back there and had to spend an extra night there (luckily the youth hostel was a. very nice and b. not full). The following day they put on another boat for us, and this time we were able to land. This is the cottage we stayed in (which can be found here, and which I’d definitely recommend, for the snug accommodation and the warmth of the welcome, which included home-made cake 🙂 ).

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The Visit Coll website does say there is basically nothing to do there, which is basically right, but is all part of the charm! We were able to fully chill out and relax and not feel like we had to be anywhere or be missing out, which meant that we were able to read, play guitar (HD’s Christmas present), eat, walk around a bit, sleep and just chill – it was wonderful, and just what the doctor ordered. We managed to skype both sets of parents on Christmas Day, although the internet was a bit flaky then (HD reckoned there must have been a sheep in front of the dish on the hill that is something important to do with the island’s internet) – but it was nice to have contact with family, isn’t technology marvellous?!

Towards the end of the week the weather got worse, and the last couple of days it was pretty cold and wet, and the locals were murmuring about the ferry not being able to land on Saturday (when we were due to go back home). They had already said we could stay in the cottage longer if we had to, and we had the promise of the use of a washing machine and an invitation to a dinner-dance in the village hall on Saturday night if the ferry didn’t go, so we weren’t too worried, but I must admit much of Friday was spent indoors looking at the live weather stats on the Visit Coll site wondering if we’d get away! Both Thursday and Friday nights I hardly slept as the wind howling in from the Atlantic was so loud, so we weren’t sure what would happen, but in the end although it took the ferry a couple of attempts (the first time a rope broke, of all things) they did manage to dock and take us off the island as planned and we eventually got home early evening on Saturday.

Here are a few photos, mainly of beach walks (Coll, like many of the Hebridean islands, has some beautiful beaches with pristine sand). There’s a larger set on flickr here.

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Inchcolm Island and Abbey

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Yesterday I had big plans to do lots of work-related writing, but then the weather was so fantastic I thought we’d better make the most of it (we probably won’t get many more weekends like this for a while!), so we headed out east to Queensferry and caught the Maid of the Forth ferry to Inchcolm Island, one of the islands in the Firth of Forth. Some folk from Ship of Fools had had a meet up there a few months ago, but as I was marking essays that weekend we didn’t go that time, but the photos convinced me I really did want to see it at some point. The island is home to Scotland’s best-preserved medieval abbey (it is 12th century, Augustinian) and also some gun batteries from the two world wars as the Forth islands were all used as defences, as there was so much nearby that were potential enemy targets (Edinburgh, the Forth Bridge, and Rosyth shipyard for starters). It takes about half an hour on the boat, they then drop you off for about an hour and a half then come and pick you up again. It is plenty of time to explore the abbey and the eastern side of the island, and I felt even with around 200 people on the island that it was really peaceful there. I’m definitely keen to go back sometime!

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I took loads of photos, a selection of the best are in this flickr set.

Honeymoon

I’ve been meaning for ages to put up some pictures from our honeymoon, but have only just got round to putting my pictures on flickr. Hopefully though this will give you a good taste of the beautiful Outer Hebrides, somewhere I’d definitely love to go back to. If you click on any of the pictures you should be able to see them bigger.

We only caught the ferry by the skin of our teeth on New Year’s Eve, but catch it we did, and we were blessed with a really calm crossing (having heard all sorts of tales of doom and woe as to the usual state of choppiness of the Minch, the stretch of sea between Skye and the mainland, and the Outer Hebridean islands. After just over an hour and a half, we were rewarded with a lovely sunset over Harris, our eventual destination:

first view of Harris, from the ferry

We saw in the new year very quietly – just us and Jools Holland on the telly at the cottage. We had a lie in on New Year’s Day, but I wanted to get out and about, so we drove to a remote beach on north-west Harris, and did a (scary) walk up some steep hills to get a view out over the Atlantic (next stop, America) and the small uninhabited island of Scarp. Here are some pics of that, including proof that we were both there!

Scary walkView to Scarp
View to ScarpView to Scarp

Once we’d reached the point where we took those photos of each other, although it wasn’t at the planned end of the walk, we decided that as the light was beginning to fade we’d better head back to the car. It was just as scary on the way back, and I found myself thinking as I clambered over rocks and tried not to look down at the sea that it would be just typical for me to manage this scary climby bit and then fall over on a flat bit at the bottom. And lo it came to pass, that in a field of grass about 200 yards from the car, I slipped on wet grass and rolled over in true comedy fall stylee, felt my knee twist, and that was that. Eventually I did manage to get up, and using both walking poles was able to hobble back to the car, but that evening it really hurt and I was in tears by bedtime. So the next day saw us heading off to A&E in Stornoway on Lewis (which although it is known as the Isle of Lewis, just like Harris is the Isle of Harris, they are actually attached to each other). Before we left though I took a picture of the view out of the kitchen window, something I did every morning so that we could see the various changing weather and colours and whatnot. Anyway, this first picture is our lovely view.

view from the cottage - West Loch Tarbert

Next up is the end result of the A&E trip. It transpired that I had torn my knee ligaments – which would explain the pain anyway! I was very embarrassed thinking about my medical history, which mainly consists of comedy falls and damage to various bits of my left leg (broken foot, torn knee ligaments, torn ankle ligaments, dislocated knee, and torn left shoulder ligaments just for a bit of variety once). If it wasn’t so far past the sell-by date I think I’d take it back and ask for a refund and a new leg, as it is definitely getting beyond a joke! This was just what we needed at the start of honeymoon! (this is the closest you’re ever going to get of a bedroom shot by the way!):

Peglegbedroom shot

The bandage was meant to be on for a week, but after 2 days it was driving me mad (and was also not really compressing the knee like it was supposed to) so I took it off. I’m such a bad patient.

I took some pictures out and about near the cottage. The first is a picture of the cottage (which was gorgeous, 5-star self-catering, all mod-cons (including jacuzzi and dishwasher), and even the ironing board cover was tasteful!), and the second is of some of our neighbours. I think they’re young Highland cattle (aka hairy coos), too young yet to have the trademark scary horns. Then the third one is of the end of the path past our cottage – we were able to walk (or in my case hobble) about a quarter of a mile, and were rewarded with lovely views out towards the island of Taransay, which was used by the BBC in the millennium year for the reality show “Castaway” if anyone remembers that:

our cottageMeet the neighbours
looking towards Taransay

As well as exploring Harris we spent quite a bit of time on Lewis as well. Harris has much more dramatic scenery, it’s quite mountainous and rocky (in fact it has virtually no trees) with amazing sandy beaches on the west coast. Lewis is more bleak and less hilly, with large parts of it covered in peat moors (in fact we had a peat burning fire in the cottage which meant we were always lovely and toasty warm). Probably the most famous historical site on Lewis is the Calanais standing stones, which are older than Stonehenge. Most of these pictures are of the main standing stones, but a mile or so away from this site are two smaller stone circles, so the last two are from Calanais 3 – I’m particularly pleased with the last one:

Calanais standing stonesCalanais standing stones
Calanais standing stonesCalanais standing stones
Calanais 3 standing stonesCalanais 3 standing stones

Another famous historical site on Lewis is the Carloway broch, which is a Bronze (I think, could be Iron) Age dwelling place which has been remarkably well preserved, and which apparently had people living in it as late as the 18th century!

Carloway BrochCarloway Broch

Not far from there is a well-preserved Blackhouse Village, which has small stone and thatched cottages that were until fairly recently inhabited and preserved the old island way of life (one of them is now a youth hostel), and a Norse kiln and mill:

Blackhouse VillageNorse mill and kiln

We travelled up the north-west coast of Lewis to its most northerly point, the Butt of Lewis – here are a couple of pictures of the Butt of Lewis lighthouse and the rocks the lighthouse is warning sailors about. We didn’t stay here long though – it was far too cold!

Butt of LewisButt of Lewis

By this point in the honeymoon it was the weekend again – if I remember correctly the Saturday we didn’t do much as it was raining lots (one of only two days we had to stay indoors due to the weather, mostly it just rained overnight and wasn’t too bad at all during the days). On the Sunday I found a little church on Harris, but I won’t say much because I Mystery Worshipped it – when the report comes out I shall make sure to link to it! Then in the afternoon I got out my pastels, for the first time in about 2 years (yikes!), and sat in the garden of the cottage and drew the view. I’ve included a picture I took before starting the drawing (the weather and colours kept changing even in the hour that I was doing the picture, so the end result is a kind of composite of the various weather and light conditions). By the time I got to the point that I was ready to do the boat, the wind had blown it so that it was facing me head rather than side on (or whatever the correct nautical term is) so I had to make it up and you can see that it isn’t entirely accurate when compared to the photo. But overall I’m quite pleased with it, especially as this is the first drawing I’ve ever done at A4 size (usually I do A5) and so I was pleased that it wasn’t disastrous!

West Loch Tarbert - view from the cottageWest Loch Tarbert - by me

Next up is a view of our cottage from the main road, which gives you a great idea of the location. If you can see a cluster of 3 white cottages to the left of the picture, ours is the furthest right of the three. Then the other picture here is of a view of one of the large, beautiful sandy Harris beaches from a viewpoint a few miles away, which will give you an idea of the type of scenery we were surrounded by:

The cottage and West Loch TarbertHarris beach view

A bit further into that drive I was blinded by the sun whilst in the middle of a rain shower, and my first thought was “where’s the rainbow?” As you can see, we found it (this is again looking over to Taransay, but from further south in Harris):

Rainbow over TaransayRainbow over Taransay

We watched the rainbow fade (whilst eating our cheese sandwiches – very romantic!) and I took some arty shots of us and the beach:

Harris beachHow romantic!

Here’s a final view over towards Taransay, and then a shot of a 16th (I think) century church on the south of Harris, St Clement’s Rodel:

View over to TaransaySt Clement's Church Rodel

The next day we headed back down the coast road towards Scarista Beach, which consistently appears in “Top 10 beaches in the world” lists. Just before we got there, I managed to get a shot of an older hairy coo (and was glad I was a bit of a distance away, I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of those horns!). Once we got to Scarista we flew HD’s power kite which was fun (once I’d figured out how to not make it crash to the ground at enormous speed). I also included a picture of our trusty car here (more on that later):

Hairy cooScarista beach
Kite-flying on Scarista BeachOur trusty car (RIP)

Towards the end of the honeymoon I got up, opened the blind in the kitchen to take my daily picture of the view, and found a rainbow greeting me. So I rushed out in my dressing gown (much to the bemusement of the workmen at the next cottage – it was *very* cold and windy!) and took some pictures. And then the next picture is from our last day, when we were in Stornoway and visited the Lewis war memorial:

Rainbow over West Loch TarbertLewis War memorial

The final two pictures are of our last morning – we took the walk along the loch path for a final time, and also up to the main road to have a last look over the loch and the cottage:

West Loch TarbertThe cottage and West Loch Tarbert

On the way back we had the treat of being tannoyed on the ferry, arranged by Smudgie whose brother is a CalMac Ferries Captain (he wasn’t the captain on our particular ferry, but he did get a mention – the tannoy message congratulated HD and I, wished us a happy honeymoon, and then gave congragulations from Captain Smudgiebrother). Again the ferry crossing was remarkably smooth and unchoppy (for which I am very grateful, I hate choppy ferry crossings), and we arrived at the ferry port on Skye and prepared to drive home.

Unfortunately, once we were back on the mainland and had been driving for a while, the temperature gauge on the car suddenly lit up. This was not good for lots of reasons, not least among them the fact that although we were on the mainland on a main road, it was a mainland main road in the middle of nowhere and it was very cold and very dark. HD managed to pull us into a layby on the other side of the road, and on lifting the bonnet we found lots of steam and not much water. A very amusing call to the AA later (the guy first asked me if the A87 had a street name to help him find us, and then when he’d found the rough area on the map asked me if I could see a large loch. I had to explain that as it was pitch black I couldn’t see anything at all, and going by visual cues wasn’t going to help us much!) we were eventually found by the AA contractor, but then it transpired that my membership only entitled us to be taken to the nearest AA garage and not home. So HD phoned the RAC (of whom I hadn’t realised he was still a member), and the same AA man turned out to also be an RAC contractor, so in the end it was his garage that took us the remaining 130 miles home, with the car on the back of the lorry. It turned out that it was a serious problem (the head gasket had gone), and as the car was not worth much (I bought it for £350 over 5 years ago, and although I had to get it patched up every so often I think I can say I got my money’s worth from it) we had to get it scrapped, and last week it was finally taken away to the great garage in the sky. So it was a bit of a dramatic end to the honeymoon, and is a bit of a pain as we are now carless which means we can’t reach the storage place very easily and the stuff we need to take to the recycling is building up in the kitchen because we can’t get to the tip.

But – not to end this on a gloomy note – Harris and Lewis were amazing, the honeymoon was great despite comedy falls and car deaths, and I’d go back there again with no hesitation. A very fab start to married life 🙂