Continued from Part Four…. See index below.
We’re in Ullapool. Waiting to board the ferry to the Outer Hebrides – the island of Lewis, to be precise. Our first week in the far north-west of Scotland is over. We’ve marvelled at some of the most dramatic scenery we’ve ever seen. My iPhone has struggled to cope with the sheer scale of this land.
It’s raining, as it has been most of the week. But we’re not going to let it dampen our spirits. After a while, being damp ceases to dull the spirit, and you fill the day with smaller explorations – ensuring that each one has a warm coffee shop!
My best waterproof is long and based on a riding-coat style. Bernie says it reminds her of the Mad Max films. I don’t mind – I’m quite happy being at a slight angle to the universe…
But it’s not here. It’s several hundred miles south in Cumbria, hung on a peg by the front door where I wouldn’t miss it when leaving with the last of the cases…Mmm.
In fairness to this beautiful part of the Highlands, Cumbria is pretty wet, too – and just as unpredictable as Scotland. Winter and summer, the long ‘Mad Max’ raincoat has proved invaluable.
Though not in itself warm, its length provides a body-fitting waterproof barrier. In summer storms, it’s ideal. But you do need to have it with you…
For reasons explained in Part One (see index below) I hadn’t told my wife, Bernie that I didn’t really have a coat. This was doubly poignant when you consider she was carrying – for my imminent holiday birthday – a very tasty, shorter version of Mad Max, made by a New Zealand company that also understands a life in near-constant rain.
Bernie hadn’t yet noticed my oversight…and I wasn’t about tell her. It was down to me to survive on what I had packed long enough to collect the new coat. After that I would always be dry…
…and warm. Did I mention warm? For the past week the weather had not only been wet, but cold. Zipped into my stand-in Berghaus windproof, I had no less than three layers, comprising: vest, walking ‘woollie’ and super-light gilet. I was, it has to be admitted, warm. But I was permanently damp…
Now in Ullapool and seeing the waiting ferry boat below us brought home that it would only be a few days to dry warmth. I was counting them down.
Our adventure holiday – ‘four wet people in a people carrier’ had been adopted as its moniker – was planned as a two centre holiday. We were at the end of the first week and about to board a very modern ship to cross the ‘Minch’, a challenging stretch of sea that separates the extreme north-west coast of the Scottish mainland from the islands of Lewis and Harris – the Outer Hebrides; a place we had long wanted to visit.
Bernie and I are well used to sea-going ferries. We travel each year – usually November – to spend time with friends on the Isle of Man. The crossing takes four hours and can be rough; though, in the fifteen years we have been doing it, we have been fortunate in always having calm weather.
We had realistic expectations of the island of Lewis. The interior of the land was spoken of as rocky and rather featureless, but with hundreds of sea-lochs. The highpoint of the scenery seemed to be the beaches. We were travelling with two dogs, one of them blind. We were hoping that both would find the large and empty beaches joyful, and that Rosie, the blind Labrador, would find in them a vast and safe space to run free.
Part way through the voyage to Lewis, the sun came out and I went on deck to photograph it. At least I think that’s what happened. Perhaps I’d nodded off. Either way, things might have been about to improve.
For now, I was enjoying the warm, dry and dog-friendly lounge of the Calmac Ferry to Stornaway, and smiling at the thought of the birthday waterproof coat just around the corner…
This is Part Five
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.