We were booked on the 10:30am sailing, which meant we had to be in the queue by 9:45, so we didn’t have time for breakfast (we keep musicians’ hours!). However, once our car was in line, boarding pass in the window, we had time to walk up to the West Coast deli on Argyll Street to get coffee and pastries, which we did. D. chose something sensible – quiche? – while I opted for a huge lump of almond cake. This deli had been one of my ecstatic finds when we holidayed in Ullapool last year, so I was delighted to be able to browse its store of artisan breads, cheeses, and beautiful jars of exotic foods once more. And taste its jolly good coffee again. The sun was shining, and we ambled back to the car with our haul to drink the coffee with our fellow travellers on a bench beside a herb garden. How many other towns have herb gardens in the ferry car-park?
Once on board we rushed up to the highest deck to watch the mainland recede** (‘is that Stac Pollaidh?’ I asked D., ‘is that Suilven?), and look out for sea-life.
I’ve just looked in my notebook to see if I wrote down any of the birds we saw, but find all I wrote that day was: ‘he talked of Egrets in the ditches,’ and ‘The Confetti Sweeper.’
I’m sure we saw gannets; think we saw black throated divers; know we saw porpoises – through the window of the ‘viewing deck’ to which we’d retreated once the wind became uncomfortable – and am certain there were other things I’ve forgotten (cormorants? shags? was it from here we saw puffins with their comical flight?).
The crossing of the Minch takes two and a half hours, yet our destination came into view in little more than a blink.
And in no time at all we were driving off the ferry onto an Outer Hebridean island.
We only hung about in Stornaway, the administrative centre of this island group (population 8,000), for as long as it took us to stock up on groceries at the supermarket. It felt too demented for us: cars whizzed along the main street like orcas who’ve spotted a seal, and the supermarket was stuffed with people who appeared to think the trolleys were for racing. As we wanted quiet we picked up what we could as quickly as possible and pressed on to South Shawbost where we were to spend a week in a tiny, but perfectly appointed converted weaver’s shed.
D. went out to explore immediately, but I always need a little nesting time on arriving anywhere – even my own home if I’ve been away for a while; I seem to need to make peace with a place, establish a relationship, so I pottered about, unpacking, finding spaces for the food we’d bought, sniffing and touching and settling. I even lit the stove, notwithstanding it was perfectly warm enough.
After supper – potato gnocchi with fiery pesto (a newly discovered joy thanks to Bob and Reg) – I was ready for a foray, so we went for our first walk down to the beach: a big sandy curve the colour of oatcakes, rimmed with rocks. There are a lot of rocks on Lewis.
I took my camera but somehow managed to take no photos of the beach this time (there are plenty from subsequent visits), so here’s one of us, and another one of
much the same view but without us.
As you can see it was a gorgeous evening and, thanks to a light breeze, it was midge free. On the way back to the house we got chatting to a weaver who invited us in and showed us his loom. Unfortunately he was working on a hideous bright blue tartan commission so I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. I do remember, though, that his name was Ian, and he pronounced it Yan, which was rather nice: it enhanced the feeling of being somewhere quite other.
My first impression of Lewis, then (after escaping the frenetic energy of Stornaway), was of a sun-drenched idyll full of friendly artisans with charming accents. The next day we went to Callanish to marvel at the standing stones; I’ll leave you to wonder how well this first impression stood up, until the next post.
*”The Lewisian complex or Lewisian gneiss [pronounced nice]s is a suite of Precambrian metamorphic rocks that outcrop in the northwestern part of Scotland, forming part of the Hebridean Terrane. These rocks are of Archaean and Paleoproterozoic age, ranging from 3.0–1.7 Ga. They form the basement on which the Torridonian and Moine Supergroup sediments were deposited. The Lewisian consists mainly of granitic gneisses with a minor amount of supracrustal rocks.” Wikipedia.