June 12, 2011 § 4 Comments
The last few days have been spent hightailing it through the Highlands to the Isle of Lewis on bee business.
Our new beekeeping venture Johnny’s Garden had decided to donate two hives to the Western Isles Beekeeping Association to help introduce Warre hives and methods to crofters up there. Put simply Warre methods lead to happier bees, it allows them to do what they do naturally without all the interference of man telling them what to do and how to do it.
What started out as a simple plan quickly degenerated into a Navy SEAL like mission as we fought to overcome every dang obstacle fate threw our way to get the job done. Van hire companies let us down badly (thanks Enterprise and Alamo), ferries had to be changed and changed again, our hives had to go via Hebridean Haulage, the bees in boxes got stuck in Tarbert, phonelines went down, mobile signals became non-existent, batteries ran out, landlines with wrong numbers were relied on…it became a real challenge just to get on island and reunited with the bees and hives.
So we drove to Ullapool in a zippy BMW 1 Series on Tuesday night while our hives made their way with Heb Haulage and the bees came with another driver via Skye. We camped on the banks of Loch Broom for the princely sum of £28 for 8 hours stay and even less hours sleep thanks to two of the team members with nocturnal verbiage and foghorn snoring. The first ferry the next day struggled drunkenly to deal with a small Minch swell and when we finally drove off into Stornoway it was chucking it down. Plans to meet the hive’s new owners were changed and rearranged due to work and sheep issues so we made for Uig to set up basecamp at Riof and then fired back over to pick up the hives from Rigs Road depot. After a few cosmetic retouches the first hive was ready to meet its new owner up in North Dell, the bees having been delivered to him around 5pm.
The new hive was set up on a cracking spot on DM’s croft, on a nice wood pallet surrounded by grasses and pigs and chickens too. The hive looked really good with its slate roof, linseed finish, branding and Harris Tweed quilts and seemed to fit the surroundings beautifully. Then it was down to bee business.
The bees in question were Buckfast Bees, not our usual mellow Carniolans. The Buckie Bees soon lived up to their name and proved to be the real neds of the bee world. Now usually we tend to laugh in the face of suited up beekeepers, clad head to toe like a fencer in a nuclear laboratory. Not for us this protective garb! The bees are our friends, move zen-like among them and show no fear and all will be well. A simple midgie net head covering and a pair of gloves will suffice as it had done for ten previous hive installations.
How wrong we were.
The moment the package of Buckfast bees was open, myself and NM were deluged by some very angry young ladies, obviously none too happy after their long trip to the islands. And despite finding themselves in a beautiful new home, they were more interested in sticking the head on the two idiots who had locked them in a box for 24 hours and sent them northwards. Not only that, they were sticking the stings in too.
Normally our bees will give up an aggressive attack if we back away a few meters. These girls were still ricocheting off our heads a good 10 meters from the hive. And as well as stinging they were shitting. A bee won’t defecate in the hive, cleanly little blighters they are, and so freed from their confines they happily pooped all over us for good measure. Poor DM the crofter, stood at a safe distance with one of our other guys and photographer, had a slightly gobsmacked look of WTF on his face.
So we regrouped and conceded that, yep, a bit more protection might be required and after blagging a Dickies Thermal boiler suit and a pair of trousers off DM we got stuck in again and did the job, mellowing out the bees with some sugar syrup while we shook frames of them into the new hive.
As the sun set on a beautiful Ness evening we finally sealed up the hive and kicked back to watch the bees settle in.
Done and dusted.
Three bemused pigs looked on and sniggered oinkily at us, all sweaty and stung and looking rather pleased with ourselves despite all the drama.
Then we said farewell to Dell and back at camp toasted the end to a long day with cold beers around a warm fire.
The next day saw a mad rush to the lunchtime ferry after a very painless handover of hive two to a beekeeper in Point and soon we were on the road home again. 1 car, 4 idiots, 2 hives, 50 000 bees, 72 hours, 600 miles…
I missed scheduled meetings with the Harris Tweed Authority and Abhainn Dearg, failed to see my folks or my uncle and generally screwed up any semblance of a chilled trip home. Sorry guys.
Hey-ho, better just try again in July.
May 1, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This is the beautiful wee cliff-side Mangersta bothy built and maintained by a local couple.
Replete with window, sleeping platform and open fire grate it’s a great piece of simple, sensitive architecture.
Great views too.
More images via Kevin Campbell’s Flickr
January 11, 2011 § Leave a Comment
All kinds of awesome.
March 12, 2010 § 9 Comments
In the summer of 2009 Google Streetview car finally made it to the Isle of Lewis.
As it went live yesterday I thought I’d check out where I spotted it and lo and behold…
Funnier still was spotting Mom and Pops Croft loitering in their own garden with Charlie cat as the car rolled through Tong.
July 13, 2009 § 2 Comments
The second leg of the Harris drive is even better than the first for one good reason.
The giants of Luskentyre and Horgabost are simply W.O.W. as they appear into view, cutting deep into the coast and bathed in seas of marine and green. And as you travel along the west coast there lie other, smaller but just as beautiful versions to find and explore. The campsites looked busy and the road to Leverburgh was full of walkers and cyclists enjoying themselves.
The harbour was reached before long, a right turn taken at a large Free Church, occupied at that time of day by fine singers and pious people. I sinfully made my way to the ferry terminal however and spent the next hour watching tourists arrive to try the door of the Anchorage restaurant hungrily despairing at the lack of an open cafe. Smugly brewing my own, a thought about setting up shop passed and then went back to my book.
The ferry to Berneray weaves it’s way through turquoise shallows, hanging lefts and rights all the way to it’s destination. It’s a wonderful wee, flat-bottomed boat and on a day like that, a pleasure to sit outside and up front on.
Arriving on Berneray, I’d planned to drive and explore it and North Uist but a glimpse at the fuel level put paid to that idea. The tank hadn’t been filled since Stornoway and had guzzled a ridiculous amount since then sitting almost in the red. Bugger. And on a Sunday there was no chance of refuelling. Where to go to camp having never been into the Uists before? And could I get there and then to Lochmaddy without conking out? The tent is damp too and I’ve one packet of food left…
So the difficult, brave and selfless decision was made to proceed directly to Lochmaddy Hotel, procure their cheapest single room and then prop up the bar for the Wimbledon final. Bear Grylls stylee. And that’s what happened. Three pints of Skye Brewery’s Red Cuillin Ale and a good bit of tennis later, I retired to take a long shower and promptly fell asleep on a comfy bed until morning.
Morning brought a Full Scottish of locally made sausages, Stornoway black pudding, free range egg, mushrooms, beans and bacon washed down with coffee and fresh orange. The first hot food not reconstituted with water in a bag for a week. Tasted amazing.
With an hour or so until the ferry arrived meant a visit to the exhibition at Taigh Chearsabhagh, Wanderings With A Camera: Photographs Of Erskine Beveridge. Then it was time to head for home.
A ferry taken from Lochmaddy to Uig, Skye then, after filling the tank, a straight five hour drive through Skye, Fort William, Glencoe and finally past Loch Lomond in the pissing rain and stuck behind idiot drivers pretty much all the way to dirty, ugly Glasgow…
July 12, 2009 § 2 Comments
The Harris drive has to be one of the greatest in the world. In my book anyway. A long southernly route that takes you the length of the island passing through small villages with roads to other, remoter settlements off now and again to the left and right. For some reason the last half dozen times the drive has been done has been in good weather and today was no exception. The hills of Harris, led by the mighty Clisham steadily grow until you make the curved climb at Ardvourlie before swooping towards Ardhasaig into Harris. Further south, as the great beaches of Lusketyre and Horgabost come into view, things get even better but today Husinis was the destination, a lone beach on the western coast accessible by a ridiculously meandering single track road off o the right of the main.
This narrow winding, rollercoaster route passes through tiny, sleepy villages of cottages and crofts such as Bunavoneadar (with it’s ruined whaling station and random tennis court) and Cliasmol, all the while teasing with glimpses of the sea ahead. Three quarters of the way there a pair of white wrought iron gates appear and one thinks that they’ve taken a wrong turn into someone’s private residence. Almost. Once through the gates flowers and rhododendrons bloom and to your left fly fishers cast into Abhainn Suidhe as it tumbles into a small sea loch where yachts and boats are moored. The eponymous castle appears on your right and you simply drive past it’s front door, through an arched gateway and you’re back out into the less than verdant land of heather and sheep again. It’s all very odd. After what seems like an age, a hill is crested and the small but beautiful beach at Hushinis appears.
Far quieter than the other Harris beaches, only a couple of small camper vans sat looking onto the sands. A huge, dark Bentley Continental sat there also, replete with Thule roof box. Out in the surf a wet-suited trio of man and two small kids were playing, Dad with a serious looking SLR camera in waterproof housing recording his perfect children in this perfect spot on a perfect day. An old German couple looked on from their well-worn Westfalia Joker and over the brow of the hill where I parked up lay the island of Scarp.
Like St Kilda out on the horizon, Scarp was once home to a fine community with church and school but now it lies empty leaving nothing but ruins and, at the time, a skeleton crew of men working on a restoration project. Loading up again I took to the long, rocky and long trodden path from Hushinis to the point at which the Scarp residents would sail the “short” ferry to and from their home. The path winds high up the side of Husival Beag and can be precarious at times if not sure-footed. Once it reaches it height it’s turns downwards, bridging a dry mountain stream, and falls off all the way to the machair and the great beach of Traigh Mheilein.
Not a soul was to be seen and the only footprints on the beach were ovine. In fact sheep seemed to be everywhere. Half way down the beach the carcass of a deer lay rotting with a million scavenger’s footprints leading to the discomposing beast. The sun at this point was blazing and the smell down wind left much to be desired so an upwind site was chosen and the tent pitched again with a great view of the abandoned village across the sound.
I’d brought with me Angus MacDonald’s book Hebridean Island: Memories of Scarp which tells of the history, culture, people and stories of the Scarp community as he remembers. It was odd to be able to look up from the pages and see exactly the places he described right in front of me. It was great reading all in all. By late evening the wind got up and it felt cold for the first time in days. Before long the sky was dark and the rain began. And it rained. And rained. And rained. Under canvas it sounded like an eight hour drum roll.
Next morning the sun was out and after damply packing up, set out to retrace steps back to Hushinis. Easier said than done however. Accidently taking the low road, after a mile or so I found myself looking up at the path’s zenith high above me where I should be standing rather than at the foot of this dried stream bed below. The choice was to double back and reclimb or bite the bullet and climb the steep, rocky stream bed to the path above. The latter was chosen but with a 30lb rucksack on it probably wasn’t the smartest move. Finally, after an all fours nailbiter upward the pack was slung onto the path and myself hoisted after it. One photo for posterity later and it was downhill all the way back to a boot brewed coffee and a dash for Leverburgh.
It was Sunday and despite what anyone says, the Sabbath feels different. Hard to put a finger on but a peace comes over the island. It’s not that there are any less cars on the roads or that anyone is making any less noise. It’s just…different. Anyway, I was taking a ferry on the Lord’s day so maybe the feeling was guilt…
July 12, 2009 § 8 Comments
After leaving Uig a flying visit was made to the village of Earsader, just before Bernera to meet an America via Glasgow friend who moved up last year to take on a croft with his partner. He had a new dog, a handsomely gangly collie cross, more white than black like a border in negative. Bonnie thing. The croft house nestled at the edge of Loch Roag among rocky, green hills and blackhouse ruins, looking out onto a beautiful scene. We discussed the usual crofting matters and took a tour of the area and his plans for trees, polytunnels and livestock. It was exciting to see someone doing what we want to do for real and the potential for their future in this historic spot. The clegs here were pretty hellish though and it was good to get back on the road and away from the biting wee buggers.
The road north, after another left at Garynahine, hugs the western coastline and takes you past the Callanish Stones, Carloway Broch, Norse Mill and the Soaplady’s workshop. As with Abhainn Dearg I missed the sign and turn off and instead went blazing through Breasclete before I realised where I was. Reaching Barvas the road north continued but a quick detour into the Morvern Gallery was called for and a purchase of one of Ruth Odell’s charcoals resulted. And making up for my driveby earlier, a few Hebridean soaps were thrown in too.
Back on the road, Ness soon rolled into view and for the first time in years Eoropie, home of the real family croft, was eschewed in favour of Skigersta where I parked up and set out on a moor tracked walk to the shielings at Cuidhsiader. Some of the araighs there looked better than houses in Glasgow but the ones further on in bright blue and green tin and iron are favourite. Peering in you can see small gas stoves, a battered sofa, fire and maybe a radio, shed-like holiday homes used by generations for summering. Past these, as the track peters out, is the abandoned community of Filiscleiter, where a man called Iain Fiosaich, following a trip to the States, set up and built a church (and his house nearby) perched on an Atlantic promontory. The sand used in the build was carried up by hand from the beach at the foot of the cliffs on which they stand. Here a community formed and worshipped with Iain as lay preacher. The family tree shows he was one of three brothers, originating in Scalpay, whose descendants finally led to this blog being written…
On the return journey Cross Stores provided an armful of marags to bring back to Glasgow where a bunch of foodies awaited having placed orders with me yet again. After that it was time to head for Stornoway to meet a cousin, abandoned by his Skerryvore bound wife, for a few beers and a blether. Good craic. Next day, still in Stornoway, was a visit to my Uncle and Auntie and on arriving the familiar, though now different, clickety-clack of a Harris Tweed loom could be heard from the garage. Sure enough my Uncle was working hard on a new tweed, a beautifully coloured twill, that was due urgently at the mill. On this hot and muggy day I found him in shorts, running shoes and a teeshirt that declared “No Pain, No Gain” pedalling steadily to get the job done on time as his sheepdog looked on balefully. I should have taken a photo and entered it in the Life Of A Gael comp as the picture would have said everything. A strubag and a trawl through a box of family tree documents with my Auntie followed but time was wearing on and I was headed for Harris to camp out again.
Farewells were said and, in sunshine, the hills of Harris were calling.
July 9, 2009 § 3 Comments
The big downside of wild camping for me is lack of a decent night’s sleep. And it’s bright at 5am. A coffee was brewed to stave off tiredness and some alfresco ablutions attended to. The morning was misty grey and ominous clouds were tumbling towards camp so little time was wasted packing up and heading back down to the car to head for Traigh Na Beirigh, the great bay of a beach just past Cnip (pronounced Kneep but I’ve pronounced it with a hard C and a Nip since I was a kid).
There’s a great house in Breanish I always stop and peer into call Talla Choinneachaidh and again there was noone home. Who lives there and why aren’t they there the whole damn time enjoying it? After that there were detours to Mangersta and Carnish before zipping past the Abhainn Dearg distillery by mistake with a vow to return before heading north. Emerging from Glen Valtos to Miavaig gives you a choice of routes to Reef and a clockwise approach was chosen taking in Cliff, Valtos and (excuse English / Gaelic interchanging) Cnip. I love Cnip. Sometimes it feels like Hobbiton. The golfball greenhouse is still there and cresting the hill to the big beach reveal is always awesome. Changed days at the campsite now. Once upon a time there was a single Portakabin pair of loos and a tap. Now there’s toilets, showers, wash up rooms and electricity. The site was busy so after parking and loading up the happier and anti-social option of walking a mile down the beach to a favourite spot was easily taken.
The next couple of days were pretty lazy, spent reading, climbing some hills (Niosa Mhor) and cooking out over a small fire. The midge and cleg factor put paid to any fishing attempts too. Spectacular sunsets were the order of the evening, one of which burst through a grey clouded horizon like an atom bomb. No joke, without news for a few days it looked like New York had been hit. Cormorants ducked and dived for heir dinners nearby and a pair of Terns abused the schools of Sandeels that skittered across the shallows. A small motor boat with a Dad and two kids gave up the ghost a few dozen yards from shore one evening but luckily a passing kayak group passed by to lend a hand. Every night around midnight another small boat chugged along, probably lifting creels for crab or lobsters just off the rocks.
A few folk made the long walk and back to “my” end of the sands but generally it was quiet and peaceful with only a few beasties to bother with and by heading in their direction I could use the facilities and for a pound coin, a shower which was bliss if cheating somewhat. After a couple of nights it was pack up and out time. Heading for the distillery and Uig Community shop proved a waste of time as both were empty and closed. Driving back towards Miavig saw a lot of local drivers in church dress and sure enough a local funeral was that day and the community had obviously downed tools for the day to turn out to pay their respects.
Next stop was north to Ness.