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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Outer Hebrides, Scotland - Page 2

Written by Eleanor Bowen-Jones
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We were situated on the Golden Road, so called because it was so expensive to make, cutting through the rocks of what has been described as a lunar landscape. When the weather is overcast the area seems barren, but as soon as the sun comes out an eerie magic suffuses the land, as the strange rocks are bathed in golden light and reflected in lochs as still and silent as glass. The only sounds are the plaintive calls of lambs and the constant chattering of birds. A particularly persistent cuckoo proclaimed itself from sunrise to sunset, which in June in the Outer Hebrides is a long time, darkness falling after 11pm. 

WindTurbine1

The eastern part of the Western Isles is generally very rocky, whereas the west side boasts the mohair moor and some stunning white sand beaches. Many islanders were evicted from the more fertile areas during the Highland Clearances of the 1800s, when landlords took the land for sheep farming. The expanse of sand at Luskentyre is immense and has often been compared to the Caribbean, but I personally preferred the pristine strip of sand that is Reef beach, near Uig in Lewis, where locals go to camp in the summer months. The islanders were very friendly and I enjoyed hearing how they switched seamlessly between Gaelic and English.

SandAlgae

Food in the Outer Hebrides is very influenced by the sheep farming and fishing industries. Although very tasty, I did find myself craving vegetables by the time we got home. Stand out dishes of the trip included the black pudding breakfast roll at the First Fruits Tea Room, which also does great coffee, and haggis with neeps and tatties in the Mote Lounge Bar at the Hotel Hebrides, which has free wifi.  In Tarbert, the other main places to eat are the Isle of Harris Inn and the pricier Harris Hotel. J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, stayed at the latter, and they still have a piece of window which he etched his initials into. Barrie’s darker play, Mary Rose, is set in the Outer Hebrides. Alfred Hitchcock, who is also reputed to have spent a lot of time in the islands, wanted to make a film adaptation of the play, but was forbidden from doing so by Universal Pictures, who deemed the subject matter too controversial.

I was surprised how many childhood memories were stirred up for me. Although my mother’s family are Scottish, I’ve never lived in Scotland myself.  “Oor Wullie” books, which I will forever associate with my uncle, perched on the shelves of the Tarbert Tourist Information Centre shop, and the sound of my mother’s voice came back to me, singing me to sleep with The Skye Boat Song, about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape across the Minch. ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie,’ Prince Charles Edward Stuart, led an uprising against the English but was defeated at the Battle of Culloden, and took refuge in the Isle of Benbecula in 1746. Flora Macdonald, daughter of a tenant farmer from South Uist, was persuaded to help him escape from Benbecula to Skye, disguised as her maid. I was also incredibly excited to discover that a poem which had captured my imagination at school, Flannan Isle, was based on a true event in the Outer Hebrides; the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from the Flannan Isles in December 1900 is still an unsolved mystery.

CatRock

(Page 2 of 3)
Last modified on Monday, 01 July 2013

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