Numero Uno, brief.
On the 1st of September I leave Tarbert: I drive west, then east, then north, pass through remote country molded by winds and rains. Some how plan less later in the day I reach Stornoway, the main town on Lewis. I have driven a lot, too much today, don't know where to go next.
A stop in Stornoway is necessary to fill up with diesel. Don't want to end in the pub again. So leave quickly to drive west on a single track road over the moors. After having left the mountains of Harris (south) this afternoon it has started to rain.
This is rather flat country with lots of lochans (little lochs). In the middle of nowhere I park, eat dinner, drink tea and whisky and read Geoff Dyer "Reisen um nicht anzukommen" (don't know the English title - but would be good if I knew). (excellent book btw. thanks Christa and Robert back in Vienna).
Next morning I get up with the sun.
A clear and sunny morning. Last evening's frustration is washed away. Later this morning I reach the west coast of Lewis and enjoy the nice weather while it lasts. The next couple of days are to bring the worst weather conditions experienced so-far.
At lunch time I go and see the Standing Stones of Callanais slightly further south from where I have hit the west coast this morning.
Look at the pictures how the weather starts deteriorating quickly. I meet again Pippy, John and Sandy, a sister and her 2 brothers, who were cycling all the way from Castlebay (on Barra 3 islands further south) to here.
I drive on along the west coast of Lewis further south. Again somehow planless, but as usual curious: "What's around the next corner?"
And when I arrive on Cliobh beach, a bit further south, I meet "Mr. Ben Styles" a 26 year old surfer from Cornwall who has just quit his job to travel in his van and who is into photography and carries a laptop computer.
With that many matches it is obvious that we quickly become friends and spend the next two days together on the beach or rather inside our vans, because the rain starts going horizontally soon after we settle for the night.
The storm rages with such force that it pushes water, quite some water actually, through the seals of my rear right side-window. Since that day I would make sure that the right side of the truck would never faces the direction where the wind blows from.
It's my weak side, the right side of my truck. The next day I drive further south with the heating on to get everything dry only to return to Cliobh beach amidst the worst weather, this time parking my car the right way round.
So it is reading-the-book time once again and relax and sleep for a while in the afternoon while the truck shakes to the rhythm of the storm and while Ben is out on the beach, with the waves.
Ben is a great guy and a great cook. He prepares dinner for two: delicious vegetable rice one evening and even better vegetable noodles the next one. He is better equipped to cook then I am. My kitchen stuff is well stored on the top of the roof.
That's the reason why I never use it. At one stage I will need to think how to rearrange things. But not yet. The time is not ripe yet. It'll just happen one day. Maybe with the arrivael of a woman?!
Saturday morning, The storm has cooled off a bit, so have the waves. Ben and I leave the beach, in separate directions. Ben to the south, I all the way to the most northern point of Lewis. Butt of Lewis. The weather turns again to the worse and it thus seems uninspiring to stay anywhere near a beach. So I find myself again in Stornoway later that day.
Numero Due, I quite like it.
It is Saturday, the 4th of September and the whole world seems to be in drinking mood. I have my fair share of drinks and thoroughly investigate the pub situation. The Lonely Planet guide book says about Stornoway: "It has a drinking and drug problem".
Some bars are pretty fucked-up, run down and filthy. In one I witness a fight between two youngsters, but otherwise the situation is quite pleasing. I have not been to a pub for a while as the rest, remote part of the island is rather empty pub and beer wise.
So I quite like it here. And I blend in perfectly with the crowd. My jeans are soiled, stained where they rub with the boots. I wear walking boots all the time these days. I wash, shower or take a bath in the sea or a loch every 2 days or so.
But how well do you wash with water temperatures around 12°C? It is more that it gives a fresh feeling. Yes, - and I think my hair has last seen a shampoo on the Isle of Skye 10 or 11 days ago. And that was as well where I shaved the last time.
But here no one cares.
Surprise, surprise. Sunday morning the weather is excellent. Warm and sunny. I should not have drunk so much. Hung over I drive out of town north following the west coast along some gorgeous, large, white, sandy beaches.
Some 40km from Stornoway the road ends. This is where I intended to go. Traigh Gheardha (Gerry's Beach) just north of Tolsta. This coastal patch from here up north to the Butt of Lewis, some 18km away, is completely uninhabited with no road leading to the Butt. I intend to walk the 18 or so km following the coast line, go north today, camp somewhere near the Butt and return the following day.
But first I want to freshen up on the beach with some coffee and breakfast and a swim to wash away the hangover.
Packing up is done quickly. I know what to take. Do I? I manage to forget my sticks. I have done that before. And I need the sticks not just for walking. They serve as poles for my tent as well. So after a kilometre, I find out, walk back and restart anew.
The walk starts on an old road which disappears soon and after a few miles it's just tracks over the moor that I can follow. When they become unrecognisable I just wander over the swampy moors, finding my own path or along some sheep routes between the heather and fern.
The direction is pretty clear: North, follow the coast line, on top of the cliffs.
But the coast line does not lead north in a straight line. It winds its way north, curving out bays or fjords and rounding peninsulas. Where ever the water drains from the moors deep trenches cut inland make frequent crossings of streams and waterfalls a necessity.
So I walk land inwards and down whenever a little river hits the sea and back up-hill to the top of the cliff and seawards thereafter.
In the end the envisioned 18km have become 25km. But the reward is a constant view of the most stunning scenery combined with watching exhilarating wild life and not meeting any other person on the whole of the walk.
As I purchased a book on how to identify birds (of course only after this walk) I can now tell that I have seen not just birds and lots of different birds but that I have seen:
Gannets that excitingly plunge into the ocean sometimes from a height of 30 to 50 metres to catch fish.
Shags, they look like or are little cormorants and lots of other smaller birds and lots of Gulls, different kinds of Gulls sailing the thermal winds of the cliffs.
Apart from watching the birds I spend considerable time witnessing a group, a family of seals. One big, white male, on the top of a little islet rock and 3 smaller female not daring to get onto the rock. The big white keeps roaring all the time, at me?, I don't know.
Some how you get the impression they know you are here. With the water so clear I can see the females' tail fins moving while under the water, and follow them when they dive to the bottom of the rock and back up again or going round it, not daring to climb onto the top, showing their respect to the big, white, barking male.
With so much to look at time passes quickly. In addition to the winding coastline which extends my way considerably, the end of the day approaches quickly and I have to make a big effort to reach my destination before sunset.
I settle at Eoropie beach very near the Butt of Lewis just in time for a big red sunset over big waves and dunes and cliffs. What a day!
My feet hurt, the whole body aches to the extent that it takes me a long time to fall asleep. In addition this night is very cold which is probably due to my general state of exhaustion. But I am happy.
At 7.30, after a cold and moist night, I am being rudely awoken. One pole of my tent has just been brought down violently.
Someone must have stepped over the line that held my pole up. Climbing out of the wet tent (water gathers on tarp during night time) in some distance I make out 2 calves stampeding one after the other then turning and coming back.
It is a great morning and the young cows seem to have realised earlier than myself and enjoy a little run around their meadow.
I pack quickly as the midgets are just another species that seem to have fun in the early morning sun when the grass is still moist. Going south I enjoy 2 apples for breakfast. Then I ask someone to fill up my water bottles before I again enter the uninhabited territory.
Again I watch lots of birds and the same? seals (just 2 female today, the big white is not there either). Later I nearly stumble onto a grouse, or is it a pheasant? It screeches in terror and makes off as I approach. I am not sure who panicked more, me or the grouse?
The 23 km back go down pretty easy. This walk was probably the best thing I have done so-far. The remoteness and the fact that I have not met many people (just one group on the 2nd day) and the wildlife experienced make this trek an unforgettable highlight.
Numero Tre, I don't want to leave.
Happy about my achievement I settle at the camp-site in Stornoway but only after a pint and some Chinese food. The Stornoway camp site would become my base for the next couple of days.
Shower regularly, have my laundry done and just sit and drink coffee and tea in mornings and tea and whisky in evenings, and read the paper or the book (still Geoff Dyer) or enter notes in my diary that have by now have become little stories.
Not too unpleasant a life. I could get used to it.
One evening I notice, and from where my truck is parked nothing goes unnoticed, 2 girls on bicycles checking in.
I have been long enough on the islands to I know immediately who they are. tantontour, a project to cycle around the world.
Their fame has lead our actual coming face-to-face with each other by about a week. Beate alias Talulah (German) and Carol alias Tawanda (Scottish) and I become friends for an evening of adventure talking and beer drinking in town. And I am happy to have met them in the end.
This is beginning of September and the weather is the best this summer. I spend the day relaxing in the morning, working during the day on the computer, and going to internet cafes and the library and shooting the sunset in the evening.
Stornoway starts feeling a bit like home. I really like it. But enough is enough. On Thursday 9th I take the ferry to Ullapool.
When will I go back, will I ever go back to the Outer Hebrides?
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