The Blue Max Project

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Isle of Lewis Day 2...Rain, Smoked Kippers, Cows and Sand.

When we added a second day on Lewis we had some concerns that we might not have enough to do for a second day.  Boy were we wrong.

Friday morning at the Crown Inn the real Scottish weather kicked in.  Pouring rain.  Figured we were not in a rush, so Robyn shopped in downtown Stornaway and I went on errands.  We planned on coming back to the hotel's bar and have irish coffees at lunch before hitting the road.  That is where the picture came from the blog yesterday ( it is all becoming a bit of a blur at this point).

My first errand was to Stonaway's Smoke House with specific instructions to find some smoked fish for our dinner.  At the front door they had a sign that said "Home of Stornaway's Famous Smoked Kippers".  The guy in front of me bought six so I figured this must be the right stuff.  The fish looked pretty much like the picture below.  I chose not to show Robyn the fish, they shrink wrapped it in plastic, so it was easy to hide it in the trunk.  It tasted okay but my version of smoked fish is cooked meat that is smoked.  This was more like sushi.  Ah well, it was a good try.  

I did get rewarded with a fascinating political conversation with the guy in the picture below that went something like this.

On Donald Trump....

" Ya know our connection to the Trumps right?  A few of his cousins still live on the Island"

" So he is well respected here?"

" Aaah noo, I wouldn't say that.  But his money is well respected!"

On Brexit.....

" Well I think its good for the country.  There are a lot of dead Scotsman over there in France, buried in the Fields of Flanders and what have they ever done for us?  Nuthin!"

This was from a forty year old man, the impacts of World War 1 are much more personal here, I will explain more of that in a separate post..

My second errand was to the grocery store.  The customers in front of me were Canadian and there was some confusion about the credit card.  The gal behind that counter told them that it was a "contact" card that meant you could tap it on the screen instead of inserting it.  The Canadian woman pointed out that they have a different name for it in Canada.  As they left the girls were chatting back and forth in gaelic.  As I came up to check out I said " Those darn Canadians they are almost as bad as the Americans" .....they immediately identified me as American and more twittering in gaelic.  I told them that I had relatives in Canada so I was allowed to make that joke.  As I left she said "Kanoosh" or something like that.  I asked her to translate and she repeated it slowly and said it means "You're all done".  I am hoping that was complementary, like "Have a nice day" but not completely sure.

On with the vacation....if you look at the map below, we drove from Stornaway out to to the "Butt of Lewis" on the northern most tip of the island and than travelled down to various places ending up on the "Sands of Uig" at the extreme west end of this map.  In between we stayed at our worst hotel, but this was our second night that we added late and it was the only place we could find.  

Lewis at the northern tip is barren and green at the same time.  Not a tree to be seen, the roads roll up and down and you drive through "towns" of perhaps twenty houses, all the same typical scottish houses, rectangular, high pitched roof, two dormers, entry in the center, exposed aggregate plaster.  The coastal weather is brutal and has taken its toll on the land. 

First up "The Butt of Lewis" near the Port of Ness.  That's right Butt not Butte, these Scottish are a bit unfiltered with their use of the language.  It was really raining and the wind was whipping at the Light House. I was worried in her zeal to get the perfect picture Robyn would get blown over the side ( In the second image if you look closely you can see the cell phone in her hand trying to take pictures ).  We would have been in big trouble without the waterproof pants and jackets.


It was on Robyn's list to get a picture of "Highland Long Haired Cattle". We lucked out on the way back from  and ran into this group by the road.  When we stopped they approached us and even let here touch their noses. They were very cautious but friendly.

The brown haired one looks like he could be the lead singer in some kind of bovine boy band.

We visited several blackhouses in Arnol and Gearrannon.  These primitive structures have influences dating back to when the Nordic Empire controlled Scotland.  Double exterior walls with earth in between, simple roof with thatch, a rope net ballasted with rocks to hold it in place and an open fire pit in the center of the house....pretty rough living.  Hard to believe some of these were occupied into the 1970's.   The first picture shows a group of blackhouses that are actually a restored location that you could book a room and spend the night in.  I wonder if they have wifi?

I would be remiss if I did not talk about Peat.  This is what a peat fire looked like in the black house.  Lewis is full of peat rich bogs and using it as a source of heat is engrained into the culture here.  At this point most homes have central heating, but just like buying a chord of firewood for your fireplace or pellets for your pot belly stove it is seen as part of life here.  Once you know what you are looking for you can see evidence of it all over the island.

Here is how it looks along the side of the road and stacked up ready to be used at home.  We had an extended conversation with a couple at a museum that explained a few things.  There is an art to how you cut peat and how you dry it and how you stack it.  She explained that it is the honor system regarding who gets to use the different trenches of peat.  If a location has been untouchd for three or more years it is up for grabs to anyone.   The women mentioned a friend of hers photographed her peat stack and shared it on  facebook to show what a great job she had done ( talk about a mix of traditions and technology).  In the end a well stacked peat pile meant you were ready for a long winter.

Lang may your lum reek.

Now we go from primitive to more primitive.  Just down the road was the Carloway Brock.  This structure dated back to 55 that is old!  It was a defensive structure, with a double wall with thin slabs of stone tying the double walls together and create both height and a protected interior.  Inside it originally had several wood floors.  It had a long history, being used over time as a hideout for thieves and a site to scavange stones from.  Eventually it was protected as a historical site.

And last but not least, the Sands of Uig.  This is a huge white sand beach, but no bathing suits or sandcastles here.  The wind was howling, whipping up sand and eventually blowing rain.  We had a hint of sun when we first got there.  The wood statue is modelled after nordic ivory chess pieces found in the region carved from walrus tusks.   The grassy flatland leading to the beach was filled with burrowed holes a toddler could crawl in.  Never saw what lived in them (couldn't help but think of Monty Python's Killer Rabbit).

This picture gives you a sense of the scale of the place.  The lone figure is "all-weather" Robyn chasing a picture.

Really could only capture the place with panoramas.