Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Island Hopping in the Outer Hebrides

One of the names on our ‘short-list’ of options for baby boy is 'Harris'. We like it because it’s similar to Henry without being as common, and it’s also similar to Harry, which we love, but can’t use due to the fact that it rhymes with our last name. Also, Harris is the name of one of the Outer Hebrides Islands of Scotland, giving it a special reference to the country of our child’s birth. 

However, since it is technically a ‘Place’ name, we couldn’t very well name our baby 'Harris' without scoping the island out first. Otherwise, we would be total phonies. And plus, what if it turned out to be a dump? So when we decided to take a baby moon in Scotland, we knew that the Isle of Harris had to be on the itinerary. 

Though Harris is a crazily remote island, it’s pretty easily accessible from Skye via a daily fairy that leaves from Uig at 9:40 AM and returns from the town of Tarbert on Harris at 8:00 PM. Since the island is teeny tiny, we figured 8 hours would be sufficient time to see what we needed to see. 
When we arrived at the ferry terminal, we were sent to the line of cars ‘without a ticket’ and told that the ferry was already completely booked and we’d only be allowed on the ferry if there was room. 
Jonathan was hoping and praying that we’d snag a spot while I was secretly thinking that staying on solid ground would be A-okay. (I was slightly apprehensive about the hour and 40 minute ferry ride over very rough Scottish waters so I popped my Dramamine an hour before take off.) 

As luck would have it, we were the very last car permitted onto the ferry, so I set my eyes on the horizon and tried not to hurl. 

Though the seas were very rough, the ferry was quite sizable, so despite feeling a bit queasy, I made it across just fine. When we arrived in Harris, we were greeted with blue skies and sunshine. We exited the ferry ramp and headed straight to Luskentyre beach. Along the way we pulled over for a snack and some photo ops of the incredible scenery.

Once we got to the beach car park, we had a short hike through some dunes that lead us to one of the most beautiful beaches on earth (according to National Geographic, at least). It’s cheesy to say, but it was truly magical. 
I felt like I had been transported into Narnia. 
The ocean was crystal clear blue, the beaches were pristine with white sand, but instead of looking out onto an infinity of ocean, we stared across at the silhouette of the majestic and wild mountains of Western Scotland.   

I could have stayed out there all day but someone forgot his wind breaker in the car so wasn’t as keen about camping out on the beach in 30 mph winds. He was keen on proving to the universe that despite being thousands of miles away, his heart still belongs to the LSU Tigers on gameday. 
Not to be outdone, I also documented that I was sporting my purple in support of LSU. 
We also made sure to get some photo ops in case Harris ends up being the name of our wee lad. 
After the beach, we headed off in search of souvenirs, specifically Harris Tweed. We stopped in at a little shop and bought some gifts for our family, and a few for ourselves. 
Other than tweed and beaches, the only significant tourist attraction in Harris is the sheep. They are everywhere and significantly outnumber the human population on the island. We were shocked to see that they were completely unphased by traffic whizzing by. We saw several of them using sign posts and guard rails as back scratchers. 

When coming back from our souvenir hunt, we came across one little guy who decided that the middle of the highway was prime real estate for a nap. We drove up slowly, prepared to drive around him, but instead, he politely got up, moved over to the side, and then went right back to the same spot as soon we drove by. 

By 2 pm we had checked off everything on our Harris ‘to-do’ list so decided to try to see some of the Isle of Lewis while we were in that direction. Harris and Lewis are actually connected by land, meaning that it is just one big island.
Lewis is a bit more populated, but still extremely isolated. You can see why by looking at the rocky landscape and feeling the wind pound your face all day. 
It’s harsh and rocky and rugged and wild, which gives it a stark beauty but also makes you respect any one who could call it home. Lewis is known for it’s standing stone circles, particularly the Callanish set. Within a mile and a half there are 3 sets of standing stones, and after being in the car for 2 days straight, Jon and I decided to hike the 2.5 mile loop to check them all out. I was extremely excited about this because it was the first set of standing stones I ever saw. 

I don’t know if any of you have ever read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, but in her epic historic novels, standing stone circles are a mechanism for time travel. Almost all the women in my family have read the series so it’s kind of a unique symbol that we all appreciate. So suffice to say, I was giddy with excitement as we made our way to the first and largest set of stones, Callanish I. 
They were every bit as magical as I hoped they’d be and I couldn’t believe that we were allowed to walk right up to them and touch them for ourselves and pose for pictures right smack dab in the middle of them. 
At first, I was a little spooked that I might transport through time, but was relieved when I  stayed in place. (Epidurals definitely weren't available in Scotland in the 18th century...) 

Once a tour bus arrived, Jonathan and I decided to move on to Callanish II, where we had the whole landmark to ourselves. 

Callanish III was even more remote so we spent some time really observing the stones and pondering the people who might have put them there. 

From there we hiked back to the first set of stones where we had parked and started making the drive back into Harris. 

We had time for dinner and coffee before we were due to check in for the ferry back to Skye.  The ferry was super easy and convenient, but I will say that the 'checking in' process nonsense was annoying. Check in was 45 minutes before departure, yet our return boat was 20 minutes late arriving to port. So for over 1 hour we just had to sit in our car and wait to be waved onto the vessel. Annoying. 

But at least it gave my Dramamine plenty of time to work it’s magic, because the return trip was even more rough than the morning ride. We ended up getting back to Uig at 10:00 pm and had a 30 minute drive back to our B&B in Portree. It was a long day, but we’re so grateful that we made the trip. We were also grateful that we were blessed with so-so weather, which was not the case the following day when we attempted to see all that Skye had to offer us. (Worst. Weather. In. The. World. Ever....More on that later).
As of now, we are relaxing in our self catering apartment on Loch Lomond after the 5 hour drive from Skye. 
This part of the trip is all about relaxing, getting massages, and taking in the beautiful scenery of Loch Lomond and the Troussachs. And the best part? There is a 24 hour drive thru McDonald’s within a 5 minute drive from here. It just might be heaven. Stay tuned…

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