A 5am alarm was a necessary evil to ensure we we up and ready to catch a 7am ferry from Stornoway back to the mainland at the quaint little port town of Ullapool. All five of us were reluctant to leave the beautiful Western Isles, where the previous day (Friday) was a rest day which Keith took rather literally, whilst Maree and Phil explored the town, the castle and museum and Gavin and I visted two of Lewis’s unique sites. With the weather forecast promising heavy rain and strong winds, we took the local bus service rather than cycle the 40-ish miles to the west coast to see the standing stones at Callanish and a small village of restored, traditional ‘black houses’ a few miles further north.
The purpose of the 60 odd standing stones is a mystery, with a religious/ritual angle favourite among experts. Whatever, one can only stand in awe and wonder how ancient men toiled to drag the massive rocks to the site, let alone erect them to proudly stand for 5000 years – only one was prone when the site was discovered under a blanket of peat in the 1800s.
The Black House village near Carloway is a collection of traditional Hebridean Croft houses, restored as a museum, hostel and holiday lets in 2002, the last elderly residents having left in 1978. It was a fascinating insight into a hard way of life and the sense of community. The crofts are built of thick dry stone walls, thatched with dried grass, straw, heather and whatever else was available, all held down by, pebble weighted, ropes. These long houses were divided with animal shelter at one end and living accommodation at the other. The houses are very low, probably due to the extent of human arms when erecting the dry stone walls, and to better withstand the harsh climate. The name black houses was coined by early visitors to the islands, due to the residues on the inside walls from the peat fuelled fires used for heating and cooking.
From Ullapool our journey continued north through the wild west coast Highlands, magnificent scenery where huge, ice-age, glaciers carved their various paths, eroding softer rock and soil to leave a rocky landscape of lakes and moorland, grazed by sheep with birds of prey circling in the skies above. There a visually no trees here. Thanks to EU funding, a well surfaced, two-way, A road runs from Ullapool to within 15 miles of the North coast making the slog up the long hills easier and the descents pure joy. Only a flock of the white faced cheviot sheep, expertly shepherded to new pastures, by three dogs and two farmers on quad bikes held up proceedings.
We were thwarted by the weather in our attempt to cycle the last 12 miles to Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point on the Great British mainland. In the interests of safety, the ferry required to cross a sea Loch had stopped running. As said ferry was just a small boat with an outboard motor, and the waves were already crashing over its moorings there was more than a degree of relief to temper our disappointment. Having reached the village if Durness on the north coast of Scotland, the resultant free time provided the opportunity to walk along the coast path discovering some pristine, white, sandy beaches along the way.