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Hebridean journal

Monday, 11 June 2007

Monday 11th June 2007

Having spent a brief spell below the horizon the sun was well up again at 4.55 a.m.

The combination of blue sky and rising sun has been magnificent this last week and today was no exception. (All the photos on this site have been taken without filters and are as the sky appeared.)

The mainland was not visible at 8 a.m. but the clouds which blocked it out were worth photographing in their own right.

After breakfast we set off for a day around Harris whose mountains can be seen in the distance from near Bayble. As we drove down the main Stornoway to Tarbert road we passed through Balallan, the longest village (4 miles measured from end to end) in Lewis (and also in northern Scotland). Straggled along the head of a long sea loch between Arivruach and Laxay, it developed due to a mixture of crofting along the loch shore and fishing. It sits at the head of Loch Erisort.

Those on the loch side were each given direct access to the loch for their boats as well as access to the moorland behind for their sheep. They also attended to their croft, given relative shelter from the elements by the high ground to the west.

Just south of the village there is a cairn that stands as a memorial to the Deer Park Raiders. It is one of three Land Struggle Cairns to have been commissioned on the Isle of Lewis.

It doesn’t matter whereabouts on Lewis or Harris you may be there are always signs of the depopulation that has occurred over the years. The remains of crofthouses sprinkle the whole island and whilst they may have a certain romantic beauty to the artist’s eye they are really a testimony to the hardship endured by this community for centuries.

There is no clue on the road as to when one is leaving Lewis and arriving on Harris but gradually the mountainous scenery confirms one has done so. In this border country there are plantations, some which, like those near Garynahine, suffered the ravages of the Pine Beauty moth some years ago.

We then came to Loch Seaforth – one of Dad’s favourite areas on the island. The skyline here is filled by the mountains of Harris with Clisham, 2622 feet (or 799m for those younger than I), the predominant feature.

Looking back towards Lewis from the climb up from Loch Seaforth.

Clisham, the highest peak in the Western Isles.

At West Loch Tarbert - one has to ask is the car’s speed really relevant in these circumstances!!!

Tarbert is the main township of Harris and the port for the ferry from Skye.

I just love picturesque little scenes like this with a boat in them. Strange really, since I have a phobia about water!

We travelled down the East side of Harris, admiring the hundreds of offshore islands.....

...and the thousands of little lochans.

As we drove along I was fooled for a moment by what I thought was an otter.

Sadly it turned out only to be a Hoodie – the grey of its back merging into the grey of the water and giving it an outline not normally associated with a bird.

However, GB stopped the car and the spot gave us sightings of Greenshank (above) , Whimbrel and Redshank so the experience was not all wasted.

The Redshanks kicked up a great fuss and circled around overhead, alternately landing on the top of a tree and the summit of a little hill nearby.

Throughout our trip down the East coast the call of Cuckoos was constant and on a few occasions we saw them sitting on the telegraph wires, often with a small bird beside them. Since they were cuckooing adults on the wire they were obviously not youngsters being fed by the smaller bird – was it trying to discomfort them and make them move away from their nest site?

At Leverburgh the ferry was just leaving for Berneray and we watched it depart as we had coffee in the cafe.

Between Northton and Scarista on our way back up the West side of Harris we saw lots of Oystercatchers in the loch.

In passing I took a shot or two of the standing stone at Scarista. This fine 6 ft tall slab has two fallen stones close by, one of which may have formed an alignment with it.

Nisabost beach (Traigh Iar) and the Macleod standing stone.

We paused to photograph the Macleod Stone, an impressive monolith 10 ft 6 inches high, perched on a hilltop looking out over to Taransay, the island made famous by the BBC's Survivor programme. It has been suggested that this stone was erected by prehistoric man as part of a calendrical system: at the equinoxes the sun sets exactly due west over St Kilda, as seen from the stone.

At Luskentyre the machair was covered in Thrift.

And the tide was in. I always find it hard to believe how many miles of sand are exposed at low tide, so gradual is the slope of Luskentyre beach.

Among the flowers hereabouts were Ragged Robin and Wild thyme.

From the hill above Luskentyre it is even harder to believe that all that area, almost out to Taransay in the background, is sand at low tide.

There are places on Harris that look more like a moonscape than a British landscape.

Heading back home from Tarbert, looking towards the whaling station on West Loch Tarbert and the mountains of North Harris.

Another view to conclude our trip around Harris.

Posted by tigh-na-mara at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 19 June 2007 10:37 AM BST
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