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)