The Outer Hebrides

When the children were younger we had campervans. First for years an old VW, blue and white and cheerful like a fridge magnet.  It looked lovely but it was slowwwww.... and a bit noisy.  Then we had a newer white one with a high top roof.  It went all over the place, up to Scotland, down to France, all over the UK.  It broke down in Brittany and was taken away on a low loader to a vast garage.  This gave us a few unexpected days camping in  the van awning and the little support tents for the kids while Ian rode his bike out to the garage every day to talk to a French mechanic with a cigarette hanging from his lip and a classic line in shrugs.  We were heading for the French Alps and had not expected to spend a third of our holiday in a municipal site in Northern France.  The kids still remember La Fere with fondness, Ian oddly less so.

Then they got too big for campers and the white van began to create quite a bit of black smoke when it drove away and we gave up campers, always thinking this was only temporary.  Clearly we liked campervans, little ones, ones the size of a car, not the great huge RVs, so we would surely be back sometime.

And here we are many years later with our children all adult and married, or about to be, and long gone.  We haven't gone far in the last three years or so since my father in law came to live with us but somehow our  first week-long trip away came to involve a campervan.  We didn't start with the idea of the van.  We started with  a wish to see the machair in the Outer Hebrides.


This is an image from the BBC.  The machair is an area of grassy flatland along the western coast of some of the islands of the Outer Hebrides.  It has been cultivated by crofters for generations and in early and mid summer it produces a carpet of wildflowers, starting with yellow and white and moving to pinks and blues.  I have wanted to see it for ages.  In fact if I look back to a diary from a few years ago I find the entry "go to South Uist to see the machair" for late May in 2011.  For a variety of reasons that didn't happen then but now it has and I am very glad we went.

It is a long journey to the Uists from North Wales.  We drove in our own car to Glasgow and picked up a campervan from the very good Caledonian Campers.  It seemed a long time since we had used a campervan.  Did we always use to take so much stuff?  Was it always so small inside and was the bed always so narrow?  But the sense of excitement as we drove out of Glasgow was the same as ever and we quickly grew used to the size of the van and the way we had to live if we were to be comfortable.  We drove over the bridge to the Isle of Skye and took the ferry from Uig.



I love ferries, despite the inconvenient fact that in bad weather I am often seasick.  I love the whole thing: the queuing up and the driving on and the sound of the doors closing.  I love the wake behind you as you leave and the sense of real travel.  I especially love Caledonian Macbrayne who serve the islands around Scotland.  There is a romance in the idea of the ferry, above, docking at the tiny island of Eriskay to take people to Barra.

The islands were wonderful, each with an oddly distinct character.  A week was not long enough.  We walked one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been on in Bernaray.


We had the delight of meeting croftgarden on South Uist and admiring the fine house, garden and polytunnel they have established.  The house is amazing.  It sits quietly on the machair looking uninterrruptedly at the sea and on a fine day with the machair flowering and the sea and the sky an astonishing blue it is hard to imagine a more beautiful place to be.  They also run a holiday cottage which would be a perfect escape.  It was great to meet them and hear their story.  We left clutching a home grown lettuce, full of tea and the inevitable musings about whether we could or would do what they have done.  We have done our own version of moving to create a new life I suppose in moving to North Wales.  We are too tied into family, both up and down the generations, to make a choice which would take us this far away from them but I totally understand why they have done so.

We stayed at some great campsites: Balranald, Kilbride and Moorcroft, all unreservedly recommended.  The mornings were often cloudy and windy but most afternoons the sky cleared and the sun shone.  We read, we slept, we ate and we walked.  And gradually the running undercurrent of the last couple of years, that sense that I am stretched too thin and not doing enough for all the many different people that I love, just stilled.  Not stilled by yoga or a glass of wine or frantically doing things but simply and calmly the current ceased to  flow and there were just the two of us, in the van or in the sun, being together.


The sun shone.  The wind blew.  I gathered shells.  We saw seals.  Ian used our new camera.  It was good.

Comments

  1. It sounds like just what was needed, Elizabeth. I could imagine the salt air and the wonderful sense of being completely away that comes from the whole business of taking ferries. Our life here has turned upside down with the arrival of the twins and flights back and forth to Edmonton to help out. I relax as soon as I smell the island air. When one lives on an island, coming home can seem the best relaxation. You'll have to head over here one day to ride our ferries!

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    1. What a lovely comment, Pondie. Hope all is going well with you all. xoxox

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    2. I would truly love to see your island too. One day I will!

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  2. That sounds wonderful! I love the remote parts of Scotland, and you certainly got your share of remote! The beaches and the colour of the sea look fantastic. Perfect timing too. I do hope that you can hold on to that sense of calm, now that you are back.

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    1. There is something very special about the sense of being a long easy from ordinary life.

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  3. I long to visit the islands and remote places of Scotland. You have made me even more determined to get there one day. As you suffer with mal de mer, I suggest you do not do what I did . . take a ferry from Iceland via the Faroe Islands in to Aberdeen! You must be feeling so refreshed after visiting so many magical shores, I know I would be.

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    1. I very much hope that you get there ch

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  4. I think I should make it absolutely clear that the cigarette and the shrugs belonged to the French mechanic, not to me.

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    1. Sure you could have done both cigarette and shrugs while riding the bike.

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  5. I have camped in campervans and even, a long time ago, in an old, converted Morris Minor. Your post reminded me of the good times I had, thank you! Your holiday was good, indeed!

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    1. Loving the idea of the old Morris minor!

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  6. Oh, the longing to do the same on reading this post! Your pictures must surely make all who see them feel the same way ... such a beautiful place. So glad it worked its magic and you feel restored :)

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    1. Should have stayed longer I think. I wonder how out would be to spend a whole summer there?

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  7. Wow - Stunning. If I could live anywhere other than here, it would be on Mull, but haven't been back there for many years. I envy you such a glorious trip and wonderful photos!

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    1. Love mull too but nowhere has beaches like the outer Hebrides.

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  8. Wonderful. I love that part of Scotland too!

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  9. I was relaxing reading your description. Now, where did I put my road atlas ....

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    1. It does feel like quite a journey. That is party of the beauty of it !

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  10. That looks like a wonderful, wonderful place to holiday, especially partial as I am to islands and ferries and beaches and waves. Gorgeous pictures, thank you so much!

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    1. It was very beautiful and considerably less painful than walling!

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  11. That sounds like a real vacation and the one that we all aim for but seldom get. Solitude and serenity are so rare these days, but so very necessary. The beach looks wonderful and like one I could walk on for hours. Being near the sea is so special anyway, because, although I am slightly intimidated by it, I do love the calming effect the sound of the waves have on me and the expanse of the sky and the water.

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  12. What a wonderful break - thanks for sharing.

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  13. We were delighted to welcome you both our croft garden and share such a lovely afternoon. Ardivachar was definitely on her best behaviour that day - celebrating our first garden visitors.

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    1. She was indeed. It would be hard to imagine a more beautiful afternoon.

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  14. It sounds and looks just so good! Must be a unique experience to go up there. If we have ever the occasion to leave the farm, this is also on our list, as Islay is. I am looking forward to our mini break in Cornwall soon.

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    1. Hope you love Cornwall. I have wanted to go to the Western Isles for years and it was worth waiting for.

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  15. What a lovely blog, and a lovely visit. We too spent our childhood touring Scotland in my mum and dad's VW camper van, as we out grew it, my brother and I were issued with vango tents and spent the whole summer under canvas. Happy days, love the calmness and quietness of your words, you capture the hebrides so well.

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    1. Ah yes, our kids had vango tents too as they got older.

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  16. I have a friend who goes regularly to the Outer Hebrides - she absolutely loves it. I would love to go but unfortunately I am seasick if I even think about it.

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    1. It was quite flat as a sail. I get seasick too!

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  17. Elizabeth, your post and the prior comments have enchanted me. You already live in a part of the world that I long to see, and now have visited another part of the world that has always called to me. (Posie knows this already.)

    When I am able to grab a bit more time, I want to send you an email. Meanwhile, I am enjoying the enchantment on this evening, and hope to stay awake long enough to go out for a peek at the big full moon.

    xo

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    1. Do email! It would be so good to see you in Wales ( or New York if I can work out how to get there with all the family things happening right now!).

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  18. You have reminded me how stunningly beautiful the beaches are on Uist! I would love to go back, but it is a very very long way from Suffolk!

    I'm so pleased you had a wonderful time.

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    1. The very long way is part of why it is so powerful perhaps!

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  19. A lovely description of a beautiful area. I love the Hebrides; I remember the quiet and the fabulous beaches and scenery. And I'd love to see the machair, too - I shall have to put it in my own diary for a future May.

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  20. It looks absolutely beautiful, a fine place to blow away the cobwebs and just let yourselves be. Glad that your trip worked a little restorative magic on you.

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    1. It takes quite a bit to "just let yourself be" somehow and it certainly worked.

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  21. Your photos are very beautiful, that beach is absolutely stunning!

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    1. There were plenty more beaches like that!

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  22. Having just finished reading Peter May's mysteries set on the Island of Lewis (The Black House, the Lewis Man, and the Chessman) I loved seeing your photos. It sounds as if you had the perfect holiday. xoxo

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    1. Haven't come across those. Must look out for them.

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  23. The only thing I know about the Hebrides is that they are somewhere north of Glasgow and south of the Faroes. But you have given such a wonderful travelogue, I want to check on them more carefully.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!
    Bears Noting
    Life in the Urban Forest (poetry)

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  24. Scotland is heaven on earth... thank you for sharing your journey and reminding me of mine, ferry and all.

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    1. Where did you go? Must have been good if it involved a ferry!

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  25. Scotland is heaven on earth... thank you for sharing your journey and reminding me of mine, ferry and all.

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  26. That sounds perfect - other than the fact that you obviously needed at least another week! So glad to hear your reunion with camper van life was successful and that not only did you finally realise a dream and see the machair in all its glory, you also got a much-needed battery re-charge. And I couldn't agree more about the magic of ferries in general and Cal-Mac in particular.

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