Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Hebrides 24: Golden Eagles

The forecast was good for the day, so we decided either to go out on a boat or to visit the Golden Eagle Observatory and Luskentyre Beach.  The plan was to call in at the Ravenspoint hostel since they might be able to help us book a boat trip.  At the very least, they would have a telephone which worked!  The people at the hostel were very helpful, but unfortunately the boat owner was fully booked for the next two weeks.  (We were beginning to spot a pattern here, after our abortive attempt to get out on a boat from Lochboisdale the previous week.)

Since we couldn't go on the boat we went to the North Harris Eagle Observatory, which was supposedly a 2km walk up a track from the shore of a sea loch.  Our reaction was "that's a long 2km", and everyone else seemed to think so too.  Checking later on the map it was clear that the journey was more likely to be 2 miles rather than 2km...

The ranger (employed by the North Harris Trust) was incredibly helpful, and reported that golden eagles had been spotted earlier that morning.  It was simply a matter of waiting, constantly scanning the sky with binoculars.  After being eaten by midges for an hour or so, we saw some red deer stags high up on the hillside.  Shortly thereafter an eagle appeared overhead: an absolutely magnificent creature, which flew over where the stags were standing.  It was a very long way away, though, and a 400mm lens was simply not long enough to capture the scene properly - especially given the dull lighting conditions.  The second picture below is an uncropped version of the first in order to give some idea of how far away the action was!

It was well worth the wait for such a bird, though, and the stags on the hillside were an added bonus.

We waited for another half an hour or so, but since nothing else appeared we walked back to the car and headed into Tarbert to find some lunch.  Entertainment of sorts was provided by the rather sad sight of a VW camper van (of which there were many in the Hebrides) being taken away on a breakdown truck.

Suitably fortified by lunch at an excellent cafe in Tarbert, we set off for one of the "must see" locations on Harris: Luskentyre Beach.  Look out for the next thrilling instalment...

Monday, 29 September 2014

Hebrides 23: Black Houses

Callanish is justifiably famous and a beautiful location, but the effect was rather ruined by the number of tourists trudging about.  The view was good, though, unless you had the misfortune to be the poor dog who was tied up while its owners saw the sights.

Eventually we gave up on the main monument and went to "Callanish 2": a small set of stones about half a mile away from the main circle.  Pleasant enough in their own right, but not a patch on the real thing.  After a brief detour to the Hebridean Soap Company, we decided to visit a Brough which was just up the road.  We didn't stay, though, as the coach had followed us and was currently disgorging exactly the same set of tourists we'd just run away from from at Callanish.  Time to execute "Plan B"...

A quick word with the coach driver resulted in us missing out the Gearrannan black houses (which had a cafe, and hence were the coach's lunch destination).  Instead we went on to the other black house museum at Arnol, run by Historic Scotland: good news for us, as it happens, since membership of English Heritage got us in free.  This was a fascinating place, feeling very much like the long houses in Orkney, with that wonderful all-pervading smell of peat smoke.

At the recommendation of the lady looking after the Arnol black houses, we went to visit Rare Bird Designs: a shop run by a family from Bolton, of all places, making beautiful items out of Harris Tweed.  The proprietor pointed us towards Norman on the Left: one of the locals who was still making Harris Tweed at his home, and who was always happy to demonstrate his craft.  Very interesting indeed, and Norman (Mackenzie) was a lovely guy to talk to.  The experience took me straight back to my childhood, since my father had spent his entire life working in the wool industry, and Norman's Hattersley loom was made in Keighley - only a few miles from where I grew up.

Eventually we headed back to the Gearrannan black houses, knowing that the coach would have gone back to Stornoway by now.  Phew!  The black house museum was interesting enough, although rather dominated by a chap who sat in the main house and effectively stopped us looking around independently (or, indeed, from taking any pictures).

While driving back across the moor we spotted this rather beautiful shieling up on the hill which still appeared to be used.

On arriving back in Lemreway, it was obvious that the weather was much clearer than it had been on previous days, and we could see the Shiant Islands, Skye and the Scottish mainland.  We drove to the end of the road in Lemreway; and, using binoculars, we were able to make out dolphins and minke whales swimming in the flat calm water between Lewis and the Shiants.  What a treat.

The hot, calm weather had now set in, and was to dominate the rest of our stay on Lewis.  I confess that we weren't expecting 26+ degrees and glorious sunshine - even in July - but it certainly made a change from the horizontal rain of South Uist!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Hebrides 22: People of Callanish

Don't you just hate photographers?  Not real photographers like us, of course, but the run-of-the-mill tourist who wanders around snapping at anything which does (or doesn't) move, and is always getting in the way of one of our "masterpieces"!  Well, I eventually gave up attempting to take pictures of the stones at Callanish, concentrating instead on the specimens of Homo photographicus (touristicus) who had just been disgorged from a couple of coaches.

I was astonished by the number of people wandering around with iPads, which are hardly "pocket" devices.  We did meet one poor lady who had spent her entire holiday taking pictures using the wrong camera on her iPad, resulting in a large collection of uninspiring (and rather bemused looking) selfies...

Friday, 26 September 2014

Hebrides 21: Callanish

Monday dawned cloudy, but the forecast was for sunshine later in the day.  The view from our house changed by the minute because of the weather, and it was one I was becoming rather attached to.

Because of the rather underwhelming experiences of Sunday, we decided to visit one of the highlights of Lewis: the standing stones at Callanish (just one of its many spellings, we discovered).  We had hoped that the monument would not be crawling with people, and at the time we arrived there were only a handful of cars in the car park.  Not for long, unfortunately...

I'd hoped for some interesting light at Callanish, but we had blue skies and warm sun for our visit.  Given than sunrise and sunset were at stupid times in the middle of the night (and not very far apart at that) we got what we got.  Some brooding clouds and the odd shaft of sunlight breaking through would have been nice, though...

I found it more difficult than I expected to make a sensible composition from the stones.  This is partly because I wanted to avoid both buildings in the background and the other visitors to the site, but the quality of the light didn't help either.  I have tried converting one of the pictures to monochrome to see if things improve.  Well, I was able to squeeze much more information out of the sky, but the result is still less than I'd hoped for.

By this point a coach had arrived (courtesy of a cruise ship which had disgorged its contents in Stornoway), so getting pictures of stones without people in them became harder and harder.

See what I mean?

In the end I gave up photographing the stones and started on the people instead.  Look out for the next thrilling episode for this particular bonne bouche.