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Hebridean journal

Friday, 15 June 2007

Friday 15th June 2007

It is Friday morning. I cannot believe the holiday has gone so quickly but the Night Rider is packed and we are off to get the early ferry.

The MV Isle of Lewis is ready for us.

Despite being the last car to arrive – with perfect timing – we are the second car to go on board.

Once we had got a table in the dining room I headed on deck to photograph the castle grounds.

And part of Stornoway.

Before turning my attention the Razorbills in the outer harbour.

Terns were diving for fish not too far away.

We were ten minutes late leaving which gave me plenty of chance to take pictures.

The Captain welcomed us aboard and announced it would be Force 5 or 6 on the crossing.

By 7.30 a.m. we were on our way.

The safety instructions were, as usual, ignored by the passengers.

We passed more Razorbills.

This was by the passenger lounge. Shouldn’t it have been on the bridge where the Captain could see it?

We passed Arnish Lighthouse and headed out towards the Minch.

Arnish Light came into being in 1852, earning its place in the Northern Lighthouse Board's history as their first ever prefabricated tower. The facility at Arnish was also unique in another way. For some time, the Stevensons had been working on an 'apparent light', a new method of lighting pierheads and sunken rocks. At that time, many hazards were marked by beacons which were, in effect, seamarks with neither warning light nor sound. The Stevensons had discovered that glass prisms placed in the beacon and lit by a beam projected from a neighbouring shore, would produce a light that appeared to emit from the beacon itself. This new idea was tried out on the rock shelf off Arnish Point and was thus described by the Stornoway fishermen: '... The deception is so perfect that we cannot believe a light is not there'. The beacon was first 'lit' when the main Arnish light was shown in 1852 and remained in use for fifty years.

A sad time as Stornoway got further and further away.

We passed Bayble Island whose true configuration – that of two islands – can be seen from this seaward side.

And the top end of Upper Bayble can just be seen before the ferry swings out and away from Lewis.

A freezing cold and windy deck does not deter a piper from practising.

The mainland is already in view.

Built in 1995 the MV Isle of Lewis has a service speed of 18 knots.

And the mainland soon gets nearer.

One day I must identify all these peaks.

As it approaches the mainland the ferry passes the Summer Isles. Just hidden from view around this headland is Garadheancal – a largely seasonal settlement on Tanera Mor, the largest of the Summer Isles. It lies just south of The Anchorage, close to the island’s pier.

Tanera Mor is the only Scottish offshore island to operate the regular, year-round private postal service. At least three times per week, sea conditions permitting, MV. Patricia crosses the sound of Badenterbet carrying mail for onward transmission by the mainland post office at Achiltibuie; the boat returns carrying postal items for island distribution. The Summer Isles pedigree as fully fledged postal authority began on the first of December 1970 by arrangement with the Royal Mail when a definitive set of six values ( 1d to 2/6d ) was issued. With decimalisation the stamps were reissued in 1971 and 1977 bearing new values overprinted. All these are now scarce and eagerly sought by collectors worldwide.

In Loch Broom, approaching Ullapool.

Second off the ferry...

Into Ullapool

And out onto the tree-covered mainland.

We stopped at the Falls of Rogie and GB tested out his dodgy knee.

The ferns, mosses and lichens were at their best in the dappled sunshine of the woods.

The Falls were quite impressive even though there is not much water in the rivers and reservoirs at the moment. On the way back to the car park we paused to watch the birds and GB came face to face with a Bullfinch whilst we both saw Long-tailed tits in the trees. Further on our way, approaching Inverness, I got an excellent view of a Hen Harrier.

After coffee at the climbing shop in Inverness we headed down the A9 through Speyside and the Cairngorms.

This is Ruthven Barracks. It was built in 1721 when the government decided to tighten its grip on the Highlands after the Jacobite rising of 1715. It was built on the site of earlier castles and was designed to house 120 troops.

In 1745 some 200 Jacobites tried to capture it but were held off by just 12 redcoats so well was the barracks designed. In 1746 an even larger force of Jacobites attacked it, this time with artillery and they were successful as the garrison surrendered. On the day after Culloden 3000 Jacobites assembled here only to receive a message from Bonnie Prince Charlie saying each man should save himself as best he could. They fired the barracks and dispersed only to be savagely hunted down by the government troops.

All the way down the A9 there were large patches of Gorse which were in full bloom.

We had a bite to eat at the House of Bruar and then drove down the old A9 into Blair Atholl where the bookshop claimed our attention for a while.

Blair Atholl is very obviously an estate village for the nearby Blair Castle, ancient seat of the Earls of Atholl. The Castle was besieged by Cromwell’s army in 1652 (the relevance of which comment will be apparent in a moment or two...).

After the Pass of Killiecrankie we rejoined the new A9 and drove down to the Firth of Forth where we met our first rain of the day. Most of England had been having horrendous floods while we drove through the sunshine.

Unfortunately the railings of the road bridge block out any decent view of the railway bridge.

Presumably the lorry ahead of us on the Forth Road Bridge was just returning with spoils from Blair Castle!

And so to Edinburgh for the night. We spent the evening in Stockbridge Village – a delightful area – and I was pleased to see that the streets are not sprayed with weed-killer as they seem to be everywhere else in the country. As a result old-fashioned weeds like Oxford Ragwort and Shepherd’s Purse were evident along the cracks in the pavement.

Posted by tigh-na-mara at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Saturday, 23 June 2007 10:59 AM BST
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