Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Isle of Lewis and Harris, Scotland

"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." – Robert Louis Stevenson

I'm going to let you in on one of my closely held travel planning secrets. You ready? Here it is: Happenstance. I go somewhere, who knows why, and then wait for something to happen. Last week's "something" was when my yatra friend Sonia said, "You need to go to Lewis and Harris." Yeah, OK. So I took the hour and a half car ferry further west into the Atlantic. This is how trips are made - by me anyway. Now that you know the secret: go forth and plan. Then go, take pictures, and share your stories. 

In spite of the name(s), Lewis and Harris is one island in the Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles. If you were to head due west you'd scoot around the southern tip of Greenland and eventually run into the mouth of Lake Hudson in Canada, almost as far north as Anchorage, Alaska. It feels fairly remote when you're in the wilds here, but not so much when you're in a town. There's diversity of landscapes, from rocky moonscapes covered with mossy vegetation, to steep mountains to the flat terrain in the north. 

Scottish Gaelic (pronounced "gawl-ik") is widely spoken. Virtually every sign is written in big letters in Gaelic and smaller letters in English. Scots are not English, which I'm sure sounds idiotic to anyone from these parts, but I didn't fully appreciate it until spending time here. In fact, there's an active independence campaign happening right now. Several hundred years of bad blood don't just go away because you're all wearing suits and making nice-nice with each other.

I'm heading to southern England in a few days, and thinking I'll be in India by the end of November, with my van stored, somewhere, in England. 

Love to you,

This is the southern tip of Harris (pronounced  Hawr-iss), and the tower in the distance is the Church of St. Clemens, which you'll see later in the photos.
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The obligatory stone wall. I love the colors.
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This is a rare white beach of Skye, before I took the ferry. The white is from a slow-growing algae that's rich in calcium. It's been harvested for fertilizer for centuries.
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A long beach on Skye. The wind was howling, as usual, and blowing the mist back over the top of the waves.
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This is from the ferry as we crossed from Uig on Skye, to Tarbert on Harris.
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South from Tarbert, the east coast of Harris is incredible. You might be able to count the trees on one hand, but there are thousands of lakes of all sizes.
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This island doesn't get too much traffic normally, but at this time of year the south was almost deserted. I was able to cruise along at about 20 miles an hour on the windy narrow lane that is the main road. It's unlike any other landscape I've seen.
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I wild camped here. Wild and stormy, of course. It looks like an abandoned fish or crab farming platform in the little bay.
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I love a good portrait. And she's so sexy. I MEAN FLUFFY. That's what I meant, I swear. Eek. That was close. (Long joke punchline: "That sheep lies!")
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The Church of St. Clements dates to the early 16th century. (Wikipedia here.
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This is a wall tomb in the church, dating to 1570-ish. Notice the Viking ship in the upper right.
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I love a rocky coastline.
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This reminds me of Big Sur in California, where I used to go camping as a teenager.
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There are endless rivers and streams all over Scotland, given the rainfall. This is a bigger river than I saw most places.
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This is another one of those awe and wonder moments that I can't really wrap my head around. These stones were placed upright in this location about 5,000 years ago. My mind stops at this point.
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I almost never do black and white photos, but this seemed like the time. These "Callanish Stones" are a great mystery, mostly because very little besides the stones themselves survives. I can imagine why they might have been placed there - but we can't know. My guess: OK, I can't find the words... To see what the scene might have looked like moving the stones, see this amazing photo from Indonesia in 1915.
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Another mind-boggler, just a few miles from the standing stones. This is a family home that is roughly 2,000 years old.
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This was a common building for powerful families back then, but this is one of the best preserved. (Description and more pics here.)
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You can see the double-walled construction, without mortar.
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This interpretive panel at the site shows how it may have looked inside. 
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The beautiful landscape and village as seen from the ruin.
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This is an upper area between the two walls. You can see stairs that allowed for passage between floors. I thought about going further in but decided I'd rather pass the possibility of being on national news for getting stuck.
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Small islands off the coast of Lewis.
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I wild camped just below these unexcavated ancient stone ruins.
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The northernmost point of Lewis. What the photo doesn't portray is the vicious wind - some of the strongest wind I've ever been in. You could stand on a sheer rock face and look straight down to rocks and crashing waves - but I could barely stand upright. I stayed clear of the edge. This lighthouse was built in 1862 by relatives of Robert Louis Stevenson. No joke, this place is known, officially, as the "Butt of Lewis." I'm not being an ass. Or cracking jokes. It's true.
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This is a few hundred yards away from the lighthouse.
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Peat. I couldn't figure out how peat could burn, so I did some reading. Dang - there's a lot there. In very wet places of the world, plant life grows like crazy, but because it's so water-soaked, it doesn't get enough oxygen to fully decay. So the carbon is still available as fuel. It's basically an immature coal. It's a massive carbon sink, it makes good insulation, acts as a sponge in heavy rain, and in 1929 it provided 40% of Russia's electrical energy. Oh, there's more. Read the link! And check out this amazing photo of a "bog man" who died in the 4th century B.C. - people are preserved in an almost life-like state if buried in a bog.
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Scottish quilt. I was so used to gale force winds that I was a little shocked to come around the corner and see this loch so perfectly placid. May you, lovely reader, also be perfect and placid until we contact each other again...
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(The End)


Jackief said...

No pictures of the folk who inhabit this countryside?  You usually have wonderful photos of the "natives."

Carol H. said...

Thanks for sharing...smooches...C

Kimart said...

If I were to weep, it would be b/c of the sheer beauty of this post. Nice touch to quote Stevenson up top, given his connection in your journey on Lewis. Incredible to think about people living there so long ago in what must have undoubtedly been similarly daunting weather conditions. I learned enough from you, thank you, to want to go see some of those wonders myself someday. Best wishes for continued safe and happy and wondrous travels, Kim

No doubt you are well aware of the Robert Frost poem about the stone walls of New England? If not - read below. Seems like it would apply to many of those you've seen in some ways in the timeless stories they represent ...
Mending Wall
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun,

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it

Where there are cows?

But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,

But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me~

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father's saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Lauren said...

Were you cold?  The latitude of Anchorage sounds a bit chilly?  And did you record the sound of "gaw-lik" being spoken?  I wanna hear it.  Where's that mini-disk recorder?  thank you for sharing this beauty....

Sonia said...

So pleased you went, so pleased with your pics, shame not a bit more sunshine so that people see that this is truly the most gorgeous place on earth (Scotland in general). Thanks for being such a good ambassador!!! Big kisses.

I'm in England for the week, seeing friends. Brighton at the weekend, in London right now, then Oxford. Did a few 'musts' like millions of cups of teas, sunday pub roast, apple and blackberry crumble with tons of custard... Everything is looking lovely and autumny and god do I miss the UK...
All good though :-)

Dave Adair said...

Brighton at the weekend... me too! I'm seeing my friend Beka starting Wednesday, but she's leaving Friday. Guy Fawkes craziness together, perhaps? Too fun. We're seeing each other! You have my phone...

Dave Adair said...

You know, I thought about recording some Scottish accents but didn't ever manage it. One guy in particular just made my head hurt. I couldn't understand one complete sentence. Amazing. I listened to a fair amount of Gaelic on the radio, in between bagpipes. Pretty cool! It wasn't as cold during this set of photos as it was the previous week. But I was wearing long johns the whole time.

Dave Adair said...

You are too kind, dear Kim! Thank you for that, and for the poem.

Dave Adair said...


Dave Adair said...

Jackie, I would love nothing more than to take pictures of people. But people aren't so into it! I met a Malaysian family traveling in Scotland, and after telling him how many kid photos I take in Asia, he said, "Yes, the people have a very different idea of personal space here." I'll be hanging out with friends for a bit, so at least I should get some pics of them.

Wim said...

He Dave, such a nice pictures. The tranquility is spashing from the screen!
It reminds me at the time I had a cyclingholiday in Scotland. The coldness and wetness are in the meantime replaced by sweet, sweet memories.
It seems that you have a great time there. I still hope (want) to come over for a couple of days. Don't know if it's gonna happen because with scedule etc, but the intention is there and it would be really great.Lots of love,Wim

Dave Adair said...

Hey Wim! Thanks for the note. It would be great to see and I'm not sure how to arrange it! When I have better internet access later today I'll call you. Hugs to you!