We have no idea how long it takes to pack up the van!
We set ourselves a 10am deadline, to leave in good time for the ferry, but despite not being up much before 8 we were ready to go by 9.
An attempt at finding Finn’s people stone circle was fruitless, ending up in a hotel car park, so we pushed on.
First in the queue, KB chatting away to the South African in lane 2, did a bit of German Hearse Camper spotting and enjoyed a leisurely coffee and spot of reading.
We left the Popaloo up in the back of the van due to both a depleted supply of potette bags for the infants and juniors, and the fact that we would have to stay in the van during the crossing and may need a peanut.
A bit surreal having a wee sitting behind the front seats!
The little mester selected our South African chum to board first – straight down the car deck and tucked in at the left hand corner. We followed, and were directed straight down the middle, no keep going, no keep going, directed to stop only when we started to descend the ramp at the far end, bang in front of the hydraulic door. Nothing to look at except the fact that we were right on the edge. Did not like! Granny Peg would be having kittens!!
Kids were fine, obliviously kindling in the back, occasionally mithering for a snack, and KB took it all in his stride, as he does, so I distracted myself with music and reading and breathed a big sigh of relief when we got to the other side.
The weather at the Berneray end had been damp and misty, and having been otherwise engaged on the water, the sunshine in Leverburgh was a nice surprise, so was the Butty Bus on the quayside, so we promptly parked up and had a mashing of chips and fish.
Fuel (and Adblue) was becoming a consideration so we decided to head up towards Tarbert first to find a petrol station, and then return to our camp, we weren’t supposed to arrive before 2pm so we had a bit of time. Any worries about the lack of, and the price of fuel were actually groundless, plenty of (small) filling stations about, and due to the weeny size of the islands, chances of using up a full tank were minimal.
From Leverburgh docks you could see some impressive hills, but once we got out on the road and saw the long sweeping bays, turquiose water, valleys just opening up as you rounded a corner, we had to stop several times to appreciate it. Totally jaw dropping.
As we started to go up over the hills to Tarbert the scenery gave way to dramatic peaks and we actually drove through the cloud, it was a great drive.
We found fuel (but not Adblue) and wended our way back down, which was equally awesome.
Arrived at our stop, a serviced campervan parking area called Pairc Niseaboist, £25 per night including EHU and impressive sea view, water but no other facilities. The view is what makes it, without, its just a car park with power, big, designated parking areas, but a car park nonetheless. I’d booked online after trying to get in at Traigh Horgabost camping just up the road, who told me I needed to speak to the West Harris Land Trust who managed spots for campervans. I found their website and booked online, right down to the pitch number.
The community space of Talla Na Mara is just up the hill where there are artist studios and An Traigh cafe, where we sampled beverages and sweet treats (£21.70 for coffee, hot choc, 2 x fanta, 2 x ice cream, scone and twix muffin).
Anyhoo, the area is accessed by padlocked gate- combination sent with booking, right fiddly to deal with, and on arrival only 2 other units were there – one of which was parked in our spot!
I phoned the little mester who advised us to park in pitch 5, he promised he would block off the booking so nobody else would come along, and contact the usurpers.
3 phone calls and an hour and a half later, during which time we sat and waited, gently roasting in the sun, without being able to pop the top for a cooler, or plug in for a brew, they finally moseyed back from the beach and shifted giving us some guff about just having missed out on rebooking. Whatever.
Once in the right spot we got set up and comfy and took in the view and the passing sheep parade.
The sunset over the water, viewed through the midgy curtain, obvs, was spectacular. Improved by the addition of a glass of rosé too.
1. I’m the only one on the whole camp who can work the padlock, having helped out 2 families.
2. Discarded sheep bones found by guess who.
3. No sign of the alleged chocolate shop at Talla Na Mara.
4. Battleships is a thing.
5. Midges have moved in to the John tent.
6. Sad, discarded J cloth found in a ditch, Mother would weep at the neglect.
7. Bedtime sheep parade. Morning repeat on reverse order.
8. Usurpers left by 6am.
9. “Mummy the cars are waking me up and I can’t even sleep.”
10. We are back online.
Having been bowled over on Saturday, we had decided Sunday would be for further exploration of South Harris. On our trip to Tarbert on Saturday I had noticed that the Golden Road rejoined the main Leverburgh to Tarbert Road near the top, something which wasn’t clear from my map. So that was the plan, followed by a look at the famous Luskentyre beach.
We headed back down to Leverburgh and hooked a left towards Rodel, the first village on the Golden Road, pretty soon we could see it was going to be interesting.
Things got better as we spotted an actual Golden Eagle over the cliffs and followed it for a good couple of miles, tried in vain to get a decent picture of it, but it was just moving too fast, and keeping an eye on the road was none too easy.
View of the coast
Each corner had another amang view to discover, so much so that we stopped the van every two minutes to take another picture.
Very helpfully, the road is strewn with stopping places, each with a bin, so picnicking is made easy. We stopped at one point and looked down the hill to see a fenced off, planted with flowers picnic area with benches, so we thought why not? And I rustled up a batch of mug shots with the best backdrop ever.
After a good nosh, a spot of vaisselle and a chat with a scootering passer by (who incidentally believes everyone should see Harris before they die, and we concur) we continued, again with intermittent stops to take panoramic shots.
Of course whilst we were marvelling at the sights, the kids, who only heard the word beach in today’s plans, kept giving it some are we nearly there yet?! which we both greatly appreciated.
When we reached Grosebay we rejoined the main road and headed back down to look for Luskentyre. I had missed the turning when we passed by first time round as it was signposted in Gaelic, but I enlisted the help of the Google to ensure success, and I have to say that even in areas where mobile and Internet have been shaky, as long as the relevant area has been pre-searched, it has been reliable and GPS has seen us through.
Time for a top 3 – LJ’s top 3 scenic driving roads:
1. The Golden Road, Harris. Controversial, but there you have it.
2. The Icefields Parkway, Jasper. Magnificent experience, great memories.
3. The Gorges du Tarn/Viaduc de Millau, despite the heights.
We followed the very undulating single track road for what seemed like several miles from the back end of the estuary, round the headland and when we came to the cemetery, lots of cars were parked either side of the road, so we assumed we’d better follow suit, squeezed in by the wall and set off over the hill to have a peek.
15 minutes and another cemetery later, there was a wee car park and the path through the dunes to the actual beach. Car park was full, so we lost nowt.
5 more minutes through the dunes and we came out at the end of the beach. Looking back along the bay it was huge, and it was nice, and the water was turquoise and the sand was white, the hills around were dramatic and the weather was hot. But it didn’t really register, I think we had reached peak scenery already. Looking back at the pictures now I think why wasn’t I that impressed, it’s gorgeous, must have been overload.
Also noteworthy was the number of folk out there. Not packed out, and well spaced, but the nearest thing to public that we’d seen since the ferry from Mallaig.
The infants and juniors went crazy and basically launched themselves into the water, drenching their clothes in the first 30 seconds. It had been an error failing to pick up bathing outfits and towels, so whilst they had fun and were supervised by their father, I did the 30 minute round trip back to the vehicle to procure sensible items, some of which I still managed to forget.
The by now obligatory jellyfish were spotted, but also a small starfish, and the smalls appropriated a ditch which someone else had created and added a moat as the tide came in to fill it.
Not having transported any beach utensils, we used the CAB patented ‘dig your heel in and drag it’ digging technique.
Wet and covered in sand, we made our way back to the camp for tea, booze, sheep parade and sunset, which was fantastic again.
Monday was moving on day, and having sold our emergency oil to Eric from pitch 1, who was in a bit of a pickle, we headed for Tarbert.
The weather up over the hills was less atmospheric, much sunnier up there and still as impressive. We eventually parked up, got some supplies and then saw this place.
Only the shop was open, due to Covid, so we had a look and made a purchase of 2 right nice tumblers and a bottle to sample, unluckily they only had 70cls! Shame, but game on for a comparative tasting with the North Uist Downpour later on.
Spoiler alert – Downpour rich and spicy, predominant flavour of Cardamom, nice, but unexpected and not sure of the connection to North Uist. Harris light and tangy with a salty, marine whiff about it. My favourite as it really seems to reflect the place it comes from. And I realised later on that the turquoise colour in the base is exactly the colour of the sea in the sunshine.
Adblue and replacement oil were sourced in Ardhasaig, along with a juicy spiced fruit loaf made by Kathleen MacLeod from Luskentyre which we enjoyed later. Another hilltop picnic and we set a course for Eilean Fraoich Campsite, or as I like to call it, Eileen Frogatt campsite ( swimming lessons by prior request only). We were over the border in Lewis without a fanfare, or chance to snap a piccie.
The route took us past Callanish, so instead of driving on by and coming back we pulled in. Excitement too much for me.
Pretty much the last big stone monument on my list*, having seen loads of pictures and read loads about it, and having had a picture on me staircase for years, I knew what was coming, but the first glimpse still took me by surprise with a sharp intake of breath.
The visitors centre and the cafe was closed but you could walk upto and amongst the stones, so we did. The kids enjoyed the remains of the cairn right in the centre, which they named ‘the mini zone’ as the stones were child sized, and they spent ages jumping around on them, probably much to the annoyance of the other tourists.
It was reassuring that the information placards (cupboards?!) told us that nobody knows what they were for, they don’t line up with the compass points, and they are roughly contemporary with the pyramids. Nowt new there.
I consulted Julian before leaving, who made a big deal of it, and talked of how emotional it made him, but I don’t think it impressed me as much as it maybe should have. Deffo in my top 3, mind.
LJ’s top 3 megalithic sites:
1. Carnac, no brainer.
2. Avebury, for scale.
3. Callanish, for effort. *Pending a now, frankly necessary trip to Orkney to view Stenness stone circle, clearly.
It wasn’t far to the camp and it was a novel experience. You pull up to the front window and park up, then speak to Mrs Woman through her side window, standing on foot print marked breeze blocks all the while. She was lovely, and the impression I had got of her over the phone was a bit different.
She was perturbed that we hadn’t mentioned the John tent as she had put us on hard standing with an AstroTurf side lawn, and she was insistent that we couldn’t peg out on the fakeness.
Cue the irregularly toothed little mester, who walked me over, to look at the bordering real grass to assess if it had enough girth to accommodate the John shed, which it did.
The site was the least picturesque so far, but by no means unpleasant, the facilities except water and bins were off limits and we paid £52 for 2 nights with EHU. It was v. popular and full.
What wasn’t pleasant was the storm of midges which descended without warning and infiltrated the van despite all the anti-midge precautions in place. We spent ages trying to kill the buggers and still got eaten overnight. Smidge did help, but of all the stop offs so far this is the worst one for the flying menaces. 2nd night was slightly better as we burned a mozzie coil outside the van door, and it managed to keep most of them far enough away to allow us to get in without bringing a load with us.
The midges and the stones probably contributed to a feeling that Lewis was not quite as exciting as expected. The scenery was reminiscent of the Yorkshire moors or lowland Scotland, so less dramatic than what we had recently experienced, the roads were long and straight and wide enough for 2 vehicles in pretty much most places, and it was nice enough. There have been ructions in the family rank ordering of islands, I will not post the final results until we are back on the mainland.
Tuesday was all points north. A drive to Port of Ness and a shibby at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse.
Harbourside clambering and birdwatching yielded sightings of diving gannetry, also posing cormorants, swimming razorbills and potentially passing fulmars.
Sandwiches were consumed whilst observing the gannetry with accompanying ‘boom’ noises each time one hit the water.
Lighthouse was shut for maintenance which vexed me most grievously as I was unable to ascertain the sequence, but as the sun was shining, it was all v.picturesque.
We didn’t stay long as the walking paths were also shut due to overhead cablage. Not overhead cabbage, that would be stupid.
On our return to Port of Ness we spied the path down to the beach and discovered the following:
1. Stinky clams by the bajillion.
2. Heart shaped jelly:
3. Dog footprints, bird footprints
4. More jellies than you can shake a stick at
5. The boy now agrees its OK to be in your pants on the beach.
6. Nesting birds:
7. Picking up 2 feathers and wagging them about doesnt mean you can fly.
8. I appear to have given birth to the reincarnation of Johnny Kingdom:
9. Painters by the clifftops.
10. An ice creamery: 2 scoops each of vanilla, pistachio, Turkish delight and Lemon meringue: 14 nicker.
Bonus stone circle time, discovered at Steinacleit, almost derailed due to a rampaging lorry, but at the top of a hill we saw this:
This concludes the business of Shawbost and the west coast, final point of business is 2 days in the vicinity of Stornoway before re-traversing the minch to Ullapool and thence a meander back to KP.
Wednesday saw us take a very laissez-faire approach to packing away, after another grand breakfast involving a bacon and an egg, both sourced from Cross local stores. Eggs were yummy, bacon was wet and salty, reminded me of Saturday morning butties at me Nan’s.
Drive to Stornoway, in comparison to almost every other drive this holiday was dull. As we approached the outskirts, yes, the outskirts of Stornoway, we were perplexed by the amount of not just houses, but also trees popping up, and then we saw these things:
On consulting the Google for recommendations for groceries it spat out the address for a Tesco, well that did it. Magic gone.
We stocked up on groceries anyway and headed to Laxdale Holiday Park. Pre-booked, as is only sensible in these times, their website trumpeting loudly their adherence to Covid guidelines, so no facility block etc, stay in your vehicle for check in etc we were greeted with this stunner:
More Skeg Vegas than Hebridean charm, and at 52 quid the same price as Eileen Frogatts, at least there we had a view of a big hill and some machair. Here it’s well drained and flat and that’s about all the nice things I can say.
A few nights of broken sleep due to the smallest’s nocturnal disturbances meant that we had a quiet afternoon sat on the gravel in the sunshine doing nowt. Some parts of the UK are succumbing to foul weather due to the arrival of Storm Ellen, but pingers crossed we should avoid some of it. Rain and wind overnight were more bearable than the gusty conditions we had at Kilbride and Thursday came with intermittent downpours, wind and thankfully still a good bit of sunshine.
Wednesday teatown was pizza night. Homemade dough and the Cadac made only its second appearance of the holiday to burn the bottom and sog up the top of our chorizo/red pepper/olive/cheese creation.
So to compensate for the overabundance of carbon, we made a double mashing of chocolate splodge for pudding.
Thursday was Stornoway day. After a more successful Colapz shower (whatever made the switch stick had unstuck itself) we took off. We exhausted the delights of the town and harbour in less than an hour. Didn’t fancy the museum or the castle after recent disappointments, so what to do?
We took a drive out on to the headland towards Portnaguran, and had a hill top van picnic amongst the heather, then headed towards Tolsta and an isolated, jelly strewn beach which felt like it was the end of the earth.
It was one of those single track roads where you suddenly get the feeling that you might have gone too far and not have anywhere to turn round when we saw a steep drop down a sheep filled hill to a tiny car park. You had to walk across a little bridge over a stream (obligatory face pulling for the infants and juniors against potential troll-napping) and after a bit more trudging on very squadgy sand we reached this view.
It was a bit mork, so after half an hour or so of monkeying about we headed back to camp, via a raid on the Go-op for baked goods.
Weather was still being unpredictable in other places, but apart from a couple of showers and a stiff breeze, we experienced better than the forecast every day. High winds and rain were forecast through into Friday, but they passed us by and we had a leusurely pack up and head for the ferry. We stopped in town and bagged a round of chips and fish to eat in the ferry queue and then boarded the Loch Seaforth, bigger and swisher than the Lord of the Isles, amongst glorious sunshine and calm, millpond conditions.
No sea creatures were observed, but it was all rather pleasant as we sailed away from #OperationHebrides2020 and in to Ullapool.
Friday night’s stop over was at the C&CC club site at Loch Ness Shores, on what we humourously call the wrong side of Loch Ness, even though we really mean it is the right side!
We followed two massive wagons down the track and had to queue at the barrier whilst waiting for the little mester to contactlessly check us in.
He insisted on giving us a leaflet which contained all manner of gubbins, but not the code for the Johns, which we hadn’t realised was required, and then reception was shut, so it was a good job we were used to providing for us sens. Very poor indeed. No appraisal for mother, nor nowt.
It was dull, misty, dark and drizzly back on the mainland, so a good job we were wending our way home.
We teased the nippers about having spotted Nessie on the way down, Madame was most put out, almost as much as missing the Easter Bunny, apparently.
4 lots of bacons and eggses were consumed on Saturday in the am, before Nessie spotting in earnest with a couple of stops at Drumnadrochit and Invermoriston, the second of which was v.exciting for this reason:
We returned to By The Way for our final stop off, they misquoted me the price in their email and despite this made me pay the full whack, for their mistake. V. Midgy, and this time I thought I should cast a cursory glance over the facilities for mother’s sake, and honestly wished I hadn’t bothered.
Sunday morning was home time and just the 310 miles to cover to allow us to prepare for Madame’s birthday celebrations on Monday.
One more post to follow, with numbers and reflections and that, but this concludes the business of #OperationHebrides2020 which I declare having been entirely successful.
Loving the #vanlife