Sunday, 1 July 2018

Hebridean & St Kilda Odyssey..Pt6..Harris & Homeward Bound

3rd June.  We needed cash today and began to realise it might not be that easy to get!  I suspect the cashpoint in Tarbet hasn’t paid out since Bjorn left with his Viking friends!  Getting cash involved a journey to Stornoway, not a thriving metropolis on a Sunday, so an 80+ mile round journey was involved.


Anyway, our journey allowed us to check out the mountains again en-route and we were not without some decent bird sightings.  There were no new birds for the list today, but we were happy to see once again birds such as Red Throated Diver, Grey Heron, Common Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Great Skua, Arctic Tern, Cuckoo, Wheatear, Hooded Crow, Raven, and Twite, to name but a few.  Early morning mist had quickly cleared so we viewed the mountains again in sunshine and good light.
The bustling pub where we ate a late lunch in Tarbet didn’t seem to be affected by the observance of Sunday as a Holy Day!  When we visited Scalpay an island now connected to Harris by a road bridge, we did see just how seriously religion is taken on the islands as the church car-parks were full and the narrow twisting roads jammed when all went home.  Scalpay retains an appearance of a close working community and I’d like to explore the area much more in the future.  It has the oldest lighthouse on Western Isles

We returned to Spinners Cottage to find that Karen had prepared some treats for us.  In my case a plate of strawberries and meringue which I cleared off rather quickly!  We enjoyed a good chat and views over the bay on what was our last evening on the Outer Hebrides.  We had a very early start in the morning in order to catch the ferry from Tarbet to Uig, Skye.

Approaching Skye

4th June.  We were off after a very early breakfast having said goodbye to Karen and Mac.  Of all our accommodation during this trip Spinners Cottage was the most welcoming and comfortable, so it was hard to say goodbye, especially as we were now on a homeward path.   The ferry crossing to Uig, Skye was done under a rather murky sky and I thought rain was on the way.  I remember a very good sighting of a Great Skua in front of the ferry.  As it happens we completed our trip without seeing a drop of rain.  The sun was back by afternoon, but in truth we were cream crackered and glad of a rest at the hotel.  We did add Mistle Thrush to our trip list today and had a drive over the Skye Bridge.  We noted the Gavin Maxwell museum, but gave it a miss as neither of us are great fans of his.  We also noted that one of the small islands used to support the bridge was where Gavin Maxwell’s last home was.  He would not be happy to see it now!  I’m told that there are many wonderful spots on Skye, but time and tiredness ensured that we did not see them, although we had good views of the Cuillins.

Approaching the mainland 

5th June.  If I remember nothing else of Skye, I shall remember Grumpy George and his parrot.  Grumpy George has a shop at the Armadale ferry port, Skye, yes you’ve guessed, called Grumpy George’s.  We looked inside, spent some cash and met George (who wasn’t at all grumpy) and his 40 years old parrot.  The parrot had broken her leg 20 years ago so was a bit shaky on it.  George was a real character, swore quite a bit but in a manner that you had to smile at, and had some stunning photographs of birds taken on Skye.  We looked at some of the images on George’s laptop and had a chat before saying goodbye and making for the ferry.   The short crossing to Mallaig brought us sightings of several Harbour Porpoise and the odd Bottle-nosed Dolphin.   Common Buzzard flew along the Skye shore.

We were soon driving away from Mallaig on the ‘Road to the Isles’, only we were driving away from them.  A wonderfully scenic route was enjoyed as we headed towards Fort William, eventually having great views of Ben Nevis in the sunshine.  We stopped for a bite to eat at the monument commemorating the Jacobite uprising and took walk to look at the view of the viaduct on the Fort William to Mallaig steam railway line.  Harry potter fans won’t need telling about it.  Long -tailed Tit was added to our trip list at some point.

Jacobite monument and Loch Shiel

Ben Nevis

We only stopped at Fort William for petrol before heading towards the road taking us through Glencoe and Rannoch Moor which must be one of the most exciting drives in Britain.  We stopped for photos in what was now real heat.  A few clouds drifted across the area making it for stunning views under great lighting conditions.  I could have photographed along this route all day.  We eventually arrived at our accommodation at Strachur overlooking Loch Fyne by late afternoon.  I found I could look over the loch from my bed and even whilst in the shower.  Midges were numerous by evening.


6th June.  We added Sparrowhawk to the trip list on the drive home via Loch Lomond, Glasgow and Carlisle.  Yes, the trip had ended, but the sun still shone!

Tired and travelled, but still not without our vital spark

On reflection, I feel this trip to have been one of the best I’ve ever undertaken, and I now understand why folk are so drawn to the Outer Hebrides.  We’d learned much about the islands and their history.  We covered over 1,600 miles by car and with added boat and ferry journeys circa 2.000 miles in total, visited 13 islands with many more seen in passing and ended with a bird list of 111 species (we didn’t count an uncertain Pomarine Skua sighting) and mammal list of 10 species.  Someone commented to me whilst on South Uist that we were a bit late for the birds.  Not entirely sure what he meant, but perhaps he thought us ‘twitchers’, we aren’t.   Some standout highlights for me were the St Kilda experience, the visit to Mingulay and evenings at the foot of the mountains on South Uist.  Too many bird highlights to mention, but the Golden Eagle experience, the Red-necked Phalaropes and the breeding plumaged Red-throated Divers and Great Northern Divers are up there among the best.  My thanks go to everyone we met and talked to, and who helped make this trip such a wonderful experience.  Of course, special thanks to Sam, my travel companion and great friend.

I hope all who have stayed with the odyssey have enjoyed it.

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