Isle of Lewis Day 1....Ferry Ride, Music and Bars
The original plan was to take the ferry from Ullapool to Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis, to visit the blackhouses, ruins and the mysterious Callanish Stones. What we discoverd shortly before making the trip was that we had booked one night that landed square in the middle of the HerbCelt festival. Once we understood more about the festival, we changed our plans to add a second day on the Island so we could enjoy the festival and visit the north end of the island too. That being said, the Isle of Lewis gets two blog posts since she got two days of our time. Here is the map. You can see the ferry line from Ullapool to Stornaway. To orient you this also shows the town of Mallaig on the mainland where we took the train ride and the town of Uig on Skye where the Faerie Glen was located.
Regarding the ferry ride.....
They were very organized at Ullapool, I had purchased reserved tickets back in the states and we just cued up and when I gave them my name they had my tickets for departing and returning in an envelope for me. The ferry itself was pretty full, with lots of people of all ages, many of them with back packs and camping gear ready to stay a few days. Probably 50 plus people walking in and two levels of cars. We were on the upper ramp, which I drove up and parked on. My upper wheels where on the flat and the rest of the car on the ramp. When the guy in the orange vest came to my window and said " Please put your car in park and stay in your car until the ramp was raised" I got a little nervous. Here is what it looked like after it was raised.
I had to put the Garmin image in that occured while we were lined up to leave the ferry....it showed us going straight ahead and onto the street, but than it freaked out and told us to head into the water. We decided to ignore her for a bit until she settled down. Clearly she was uncomfortable being at sea. We refer to the garmen as Greta and she has provided a fair amount of entertainment during the trip. Very accurate in urban area, she has tended to send us onto rural dirt single track roads in the more remote locals. Her german zeal for incredible efficiency has required some double checking. Secretly I feel badly that I have disappointed her by not following her first suggested routes.
More images from the ferry ( don't worry there were seats on the inside too).
Whe we first sat down, a few young musicians grabbed a half dozen tables and started to play some traditional music (delightful!). Second image shows the piles of backpacks. The ferry served meals and had a full bar. Everyone was having a good time playing cards, reading books and drinking beers. The rowdy boys went outside on the upper decks and smoked their vape cigarettes and hung out ( have seen a lot of vape cigarettes). A good time for all.
When we landed the weather was decent, heavy rain predicted for the next day. We had a couple hours befor check in time so we headed out to the Callanish Stones. These stones are the Scottish version of stonehenge. They are not clearly understood but date back to the Neolithic Era and were a focus of ritual activity during the bronze age (really old!). They are impressive when you approach them on the top of a low hill. It is fun to watch people duck in and out of the rocks, trying to get a picture without a tourist in the shot. I was impressed by the couple in this picture in full Scottish costume. They walked right into the center of the stones, the woman took the man's hands and recited something to him, than they embraced. I saw her later struggling to take a selfie with her mate. I offered to take their picture for them and than realized she appeared to have multiple sclerosis or some similar ailment. They were very sweet and appreciative of the help. The Callanish Stones are a special place that still impact people spiritually.
Of course they also make an awful nice backdrop for a portrait photo....
Regarding the HebCelt festival, it is a music festival for the island that runs from Wednesday until Sunday. The primary venue is on the grounds of the Lews Castle and they have several large tents set up for concerts. They also have multiple small venues in the town itself as well so you can hear music all over. The festival opens at 6:30 pm each day and ends after the main concert around 10:30. Keep in mind that the bars stay open until 4 am and it really never gets dark, so the town is hoping all night. You hear live music in the bars and people spill out into the street. We had tickets to a show in town for a band called "Atlantic Blast". Two pipers, a guitar player, an accordian player and a drummer, all residents of Lewis. Many famous pipers came from the island and the band played almost all traditional music written by Lewis musicians. The ballads they sang where mostly in gaelic. It was great stuff and lively. More than a few audience members came dressed formally in their kilts ( Oh yeah.....they had a bar their too so you could have a pint at intermissio. At one point they called a woman out who did some tradtional step dancing ( she is the one person in the picture below who is in a blur, for obvious reasons). It was a highlight of the trip for us.
PS....that is the "Red Hot Chilli Pipers" not "Chili Peppers" in case you read the poster too quickly,
Final Day 1 comment....the Hotel.
We stayed at The Crown at the heart of downtown. It had its own bar downstairs and at least two more bars right on the block. The festival tents and the small harbour where all within view and we walked to the concert we attended. We did not have many choices of where to stay because of the festival so I was a little concerned about the neighborhood. Those concerns soon faded as we interacted with the staff. When we first parked and I told them that I was in a 1 hr parking zone he told me " Ah don't worry about that, we only have one traffic policeman and her name is Mavis and she is a real softy, just bring me the ticket if she cites you." The next day after breakfast we told the women at the front desk that we where going to head to the north end of Lewis. She said " Do you like crousants? We have a lot left over from breakfast, let me get you some." She came back and gave us a tupperware container full of pastries. Time and time again that is how we have been treated in this country.
Here is a picture of the hotel, a hot chocolate and an irish coffee from the bar. If you look close you can see the harbor, tent and castle beyond the hotel entrance on the ipad. It was loud at night, hard to get a good nights sleep, but the hospitality and the location made up for any negatives.