The Outer Hebrides are a wonderful chain of islands on the Atlantic Edge. My recent visit to the Isle of Harris to give a talk at the Harris Mountain Festival was unfortunately all too brief, just a taster to remind me how marvellous an island it is. I should really make a longer visit. I reached Harris via the ferry from Uig on the Isle of Skye and had the same feelings when crossing Skye, even though the mountains were in cloud and a fierce wind blew with heavy showers at times, as I hadn’t been there for a few years.
The ferry crossing was in a strong wind and choppy seas. Skye faded into the cloud and Harris appeared as a hazy dark outline. There are usually many sea birds on the crossing but the dark surging waters and the grey sky made it hard to spot any on the water. In the air there were gannets, white against the dark clouds, flying high then suddenly spearing down into the waves. Small dark auks flashed past, skimming the water, and on islets cormorants perched, prehistoric as usual.
I spent much of a day wandering round the little town of Tarbert, admiring the harbour and the tiered houses and visiting the North Harris Trust. The big Skye ferry dwarfed the harbour. I watched with fascination as the front slowly opened like a giant mouth to disgorge vehicles. That evening I gave the first talk on my Scottish Watershed walk to a good audience who asked plenty of questions, which I always enjoy. Thanks to North Harris Ranger Matt Watts for inviting me. I hope I'm asked back next year.
The strong wind continuing to blow and the mountains remaining in the clouds the next day I headed west to the coast at Huisnish, a long slow drive down a scenic winding single track road. In the Outer Hebrides there’s a huge contrast between the rocky east coast and the beautiful sandy beaches backed by machair (a fertile shell-sand sward) to the west. At the little peninsula of Huisnish I ambled round several beaches and coves and gazed out across the vast dark expanse of the Atlantic Ocean – next stop America. The flowers that turn the machair into a glorious swathe of colour in the summer had gone, leaving green, sheep-cropped grass. Clumps of marram grass decorated sand dunes with heather and bog plants on the little rocky knolls. The sea shimmered and shone as the sunshine came and went in the racing clouds. The wind was cold and every so often blasts of chilly rain swept the landscape. Gulls and oystercatchers dotted the sandy beaches.
Then it was time to return to Tarbert and the ferry. I’ll be back.