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Mid June 2015 - Harris and Lewis

Ceann DibigJune has continued with unseasonably cold weather, grey overcast skies and the "feels-like" temperature rarely getting into double figures. Driving drizzle seems to be the most common weather we are experiencing.

After Lochmaddy our next stop was in East Loch Tarbert on Harris where we anchored in Ceann Dibig (or Kendibig) (right) from where it was a short walk into Tarbert for Judith to stock up in the Harris tweed shop. This has gone upmarket since our last visit when there was a small showroom and the tweed was haphazardly stored in a large warehouse (see June 2010). Now the warehouse has been converted into a fancy shop of which only a proportion is tweed related, the rest being touristy gifts. The tweed is in the old showroom, and is much better organised being all at low level. This makes it much quicker to decide on what you want so tempting to buy more than is needed!

Great Northern DiverCeann Dibig was a lovely quiet location, and chosen by an adult Great Northern Diver (left) as a training ground for its yearling (see also more pictures). It would dive and the juvenile follow, both staying underwater for a long time and the adult occasionally bringing up a small fish. The yacht makes for a good bird hide as the birds do not seem to be worried by it as long as you stay out of sight, and photos can be taken through the open windows. We felt very privileged to see one of these rare birds in full breeding plumage so close to us and seemingly unconcerned by our presence.

From East Loch Tarbert we motored on calm seas around to Stornoway. The views of the coast we very fine despite the overcast skies. Below is the view up Loch Seaforth with is the border between Harris and Lewis.

Loch Seaforth

Stornoway is a bustling town (see 2007 image) and a good place to wait out the forecast storms and associated days of rain. Here we enjoyed listening to the cricket which was a very entertaining and close run series of one day internationals against New Zealand. This gave Judith the opportunity to finally finished her cross stitch after a couple of years of effort (see more pictures) and started knitting a jumper from wool bought in Stornoway.

The Stornoway arts centre (An Lanntair) is a good place to waste an hour or so of rainy weather. This summer the exhibition is on Mairi Hedderwick's Katie Morag stories, with a series of delightful original water colours for the book illustrations, and also the entire set used in the T.V. series has been moved to the exhibition hall (below). Not that we have watched the children's programs, but it is an interesting reconstruction of a crofting cottage interior.

It was interesting to compare the Katie Morag set with the interior "white house" preserved by Historic Scotland (see more pictures) in the village of Arnol on the west coast of Lewis. Up until the 1900s all Lewis crofting houses were double-walled, dry stone, thatched dwellings with living space for family and livestock under one roof. But new health regulations meant there had to be a separation of byre and home which lead to the new style of houses with walls cemented with lime mortar - leading them to be called "white houses". This led to the old houses being called "black houses" in contrast.

The black house in Arnol (right and below) was occupied as it can be seen today until 1966. It was a real eye opener, not only for the basic way of life, but for the atmosphere as there is no chimney and the peat fire in the middle of the floor produces great quantities of potent smoke which fills the living space. The smoke pervades every corner and can be see hanging in the air (see more pictures). Even after only a few minutes our clothes had a strong peaty aroma which the chilly wind outside did not entirely remove. There were no animals in the house (except chickens which were truly free range), and cannot imagine what it must have been like with a couple of cows and a few sheep adding their bit to the atmosphere of the small space. It was a relief to get outside and visit the adjacent RSPB reserve, though it was too cold to linger for long and we soon resumed our coastal walk.

It has not all been bad weather, about half of the time we have got out for walks using the frequent bus service to get about the island. One of the common birds that are good to watch are the Wheatear (below-right) which seem to favour grave yards, perhaps because the grass is mown making it easier to forage for insects.

We have been entertained in the evening by the grey seals which appear when the local fishermen return. They must recognise the sound of the different engines as they do not follow every boat. They bob up and down next to the boats looking hopeful, rather like a dog begging for scraps from the dinner table. This picture was taken at 23:05 on 23rd June, which shows how light it is this far north at mid summer.

The Scottish school summer holidays start at end of June and hence so do the special events. We plan to stay for the harbour open day and then a couple of days later a display by the Red Arrows so fingers crossed for a general improvement in the weather.