Monday, 26 March 2007

Gym routine, Berneray style

This posting was inspired by Dave, a colleague on the mainland who is paying 60 pounds a month for membership of a gym ("Only 2 pounds a day - bargain!") 1 mile from his house. He drives to it three times a week, then spends time mainly on the walking treadmill machine, then drives home. He doesn't see the irony in any of this.

+ + + + +

This is the walking route I try and do most days. It's mostly on either single-track road or beach, so it's okay to do even after a lot of rain. The pictures below are from yesterday's walk; they are also in a set in my Flickr area, so you can get them in different sizes.

First up, leave the house, wait for the remorseless flow of traffic to pass (cough!), then in a suitable gap turn left and start.


At the crossroads, take a right, and stroll up Borve Hill. Wave at people. They'll wave back. Maybe stop to chat to crofters, but only briefly; Berneray is a working environment (not a theme park), and crofters, fishermen, and others are usually out and about (or in the case of teleworkers, indoors) working and making the best use of the daylight and good weather.


At the top of the hill, there's a bench. First pit-stop, and the first glimpse of the other side of the island and the dunes. Soon, you'll be walking along the other side of those dunes, on what the Lonely Planet guide described as one of the best beaches in Scotland.


Follow the road. Go through the gate onto the machair. As everywhere, shut the gate after you; it's there for a reason.


Walk across the long machair road. At the end, look back and the houses of west Borve are tiny dots in the distance. As you follow the road, you'll hear the roar of the sea, over the dunes to your right.


Go through a wooden gate, and head across the machair looking for a gap in the dunes; there are several. Avoid any cattle on the way; they may approach you, thinking you are Hector about to feed them dinner. Go through, and you're on the west beach of Berneray.


Turn right and head north. Advise at this point putting some suntan lotion on the back of your neck, as it is a heck of a long walk along the beach and around the headland. Keep going. On your left, a few miles offshore, you'll see Pabbay. If you have binoculars, then try and spot the deer wandering over that island.


Look back, and all you should see is footprints disappearing under the water. At some point, stop. Gin and tonic, a slice of lemon and ice are good here; if hungry, a smoked salmon sandwich also goes down a treat.


Keep walking. It's a deceptive beach, because the end looks near, but then you gradually realise it isn't. There's also a headland (Rubh' a' Chorrain) which the beach gradually curves around.


After a while, you'll approach the end of the north beach, indicated by some big rocks up ahead on the beach. Look for a narrow gap in the dunes. Currently, it is also marked by a wooden stake atop the dune. Head for it, go through it, and you should come out at a gate through a fence.


Go through the gate and cross a short piece of machair; you're ultimately aiming for the left of a big white house that's roughly ahead of you on the first hill rise. You may need to curve to the right a bit to avoid any boggy bits of machair. Join up with a track, then a road, that crests a small hill. At the top, you can see Harris, North Uist, Skye and the mainland.


Hit the coastal road. Turn right, then follow it round.


And that's it. Takes me between 2 and 4 hours, depending on pace, how many people I end up yakking to, picnicing on the west beach and other factors. Don't rush it.

p.s. Dave: thanks for the pic. But you're down by 720 quid a year and you're still evidently a fattie... :-)

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Big ferry, small harbour

Last week, the Loch Portain, the regular bigger ferry, was off for a check-up, and in its place came the Loch Bhrusda, a smaller ferry with a higher centre of gravity (being relatively tall and thin).


Unfortunately, this coincided with a spell of bad weather that caused all manner of disruptions up and down the isles. So, the ferry was moved from the regular exposed position on the south end of Berneray causeway to the fishing harbour on the east side of Berneray, so it wouldn't be prone to rocking in the wind.


This resulted in a quite extroadinary sight of a very large boat literally squeezing into the harbour, with little room to spare, to ride out the bad weather. Many residents and a good few tourists came to have a look. As can be seen on the subsequent pictures, the harbour is equipped for this sort of thing, with the correct widgets (look, I don't know what they're called) in the right places for the boatie to be tied to.


All credit to the crew for getting this in place with what appears to be a few feet to spare between harbour walls and boat. Certainly there wasn't enough room for even a plump canoeist (if one approached) to get in and out of the harbour until the ferry had sailed out.


After a few days of shelter, the boat emerged and yomped off to continue it's normal trade, unscathed by the rough weather we'd had. We're back to normal with the ferries now; also the weather has got a lot better. The clocks go forward tonight; summer is here...

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

The day the sea disappeared

In the centre of the picture above is my hoose, sorry house, must stop saying that. Yesterday was the day the tide decided to receed way more than usual, further than some of the locals had seen in decades. Thankfully, due yet again to the wonders of the InterWeb, we get precise data of when such events will peak, to the minute, from the EasyTide website (nothing to do with EasyJet and Stelios). This gives data for specific locations; follow this link to see the tide patterns and times for Bays Loch, the area of sea outside my hoose (damn!).


When the tide goes out a long way, it makes for an interesting wander out on the shoreline of Berneray. From here, you get very unusual perspectives of Berneray and see stuff that's normally difficult to spot, or just plain underwater. The picture above is of the nearby Turner's house and the slipway that runs up to it (you can see a boat hull at the top). The structure is man-made; on the left are a lot of large rocks and boulders, stacked neatly as a barrier. This is where lobster fishermen used to land their catch and haul up boxloads of of the critters for distant market (so I've been informed).


If you read yesterday's blog entry you'll have seen the pictures of scallops. The picture above shows a scallop hunter, wandering around the huge expanse of seaweed in search of the creatures. Very low tides and good weather are the perfect hunting environment, and you often see the odd local or two wandering around but keeping one eye on when the tide is turning. But there's never a crowd. Thankfully, unlike many other places in the UK, we don't and can't suffer the blight of large gangs of illegal immigrant cockle-pickers being forced to hunt for a gangmaster in dangerous conditions for a pittance.


Today was a yachties nightmare. Fishermen have to really consult the tidal charts in order to plan their trip out, so they don't end up excessively weaving around between rocks and other obstacles in Bays Loch. Or worse. If you are new to the waters, and not familiar with Bays Loch, then if sailing a yacht you often provide much entertainment for us and other residents with views over the Bay, as you attempt to come in.


Seaweed itself is pretty odd stuff, and low tide gives a good opportunity to examine it. Not surprisingly, it's slippery. What is surprising for someone who, until recently, never lived close to the sea is (a) how much of it there is and (b) how large the individual plants are. Great big floppy things, like some kind of weird cabbage leaves on rhubarb stalks, each individual sprog surprisingly heavy. Also useful things, as exemplified by the tractor loads being hauled off the beach onto the machair for fertiliser (now *that's* organic!), and the lorryloads heading to more distant parts for processing.


In the end I made it fairly far out into Bays Loch, just wearing trainers; the gravelly parts of the seabed being surprisingly dry. Donald and his dog overtook me and went out further; there he is, perched on a small rock not too far from the centre of the bay. The next time the tide is this low, and I have wellies, perhaps I'll attempt to see if I can make it in a straight line from my house to the old school building. (At this point of reading, several local readers will shake their head and mutter some variation on "stupid, reckless, incomer" :-) )


Finally, above, the fishing harbour. That's about an hour after the peak low tide, so the water was even lower at one point. This is taken standing on the slipway, which is usually covered in water. Even here, looking over the side into the harbour water, there was a bit of a drop. Not a good time to be hauling creels out of boats, even with the help of the engine crane thing (orange machine in the top left corner).

There are more pictures of Bays Loch in the very low tide in my flickr area.

Tomorrow's picture blog will feature the same harbour, but containing a much larger boat...

No place to hide if you're a scallop...

Today saw extremely low tides in Bays Loch (the slightly misleading name for the large bay around the north east coast of Berneray). At 1:40pm, the sea was sufficiently out to enable people to have a stroll, for some considerable distance, on the sea bed.


The rolling back of the sea reveals scallops, strange creatures in clam shells. In a not-very-sensible lapse of evolution, scallops have a habit of spitting water out of their shells, thus giving away their position to anyone wandering past looking, literally, for a "free lunch". Hence, not long after the tide receeded, a collection of scallops were surprised to find themselves on my kitchen table.



In the space of 30 minutes, on the seabed (exact area subject to local knowledge: we're not having gangs of illegal immigrants and their gangmaster here stripping the place bare), 70 were collected. A bit of a surprise, as the day before I'd watched a resident experienced in these things wander up in the same area at a very low tide and haul back bag after bag. I thought he'd cleared out the area, but no, there were loads still left. Many other areas around Berneray turned out to be scallop-less (so if you don't have local knowledge, then forget it).



After a quick scrub to get the worst of the sand, seaweed and other gunk off them, the 70 were laid out on the kitchen table. Here, they angrily snapped for a while, like some kind of shellfish version of the frog chorus. Pick any up the wrong way, and you're liable to get a painfully squashed end-of-finger.


When you look at them close up, they are rather unpleasant creatures, especially when you see what's in the shell. Thankfully, they taste (in my opinion) a lot better than they look, being rather yummy wrapped in bacon. Thanks also due to the wonders of the InterWeb, there are a myriad of recipes involving Scallops. The ever-brilliant Videojug website shows you how to make scallops with garlic and lemon.


No, that wasn't a fried egg ... it was inside the scallop. And here's another close-up:


So there you go. The scallop. It lives on the sea bed. It makes a very nice starter. More pictures of today's haul of scallops are in my Flickr space.

Tomorrow, those tidal pictures...

Monday, 19 March 2007

"You are an Orcadian if...."

Have nabbed this from Claremont, one of the bloggers on the ever-entertaining BBC (Scottish) Island Blogging service. It's a summary from an Orcadian (resident of the Orkney Islands) mailing list on local attributes. Many of these are directly applicable to residents of the Outer Hebrides; when you've lived up here a while, you'll realise how accurate they are...

  • You park your car facing into the wind to prevent door damage when you get out.

  • You take it as a personal insult if you have to show a card when writing a cheque.

  • You refuse to acknowledge the existence of a Shetland version of Strip the Willow.

  • Ferry journeys should be spent reading a book or sitting on a comfy seat rather than freezing outside.

  • You understand that 'cla thee hole' can be an affectionate tribute to your wit.

  • 'Reed cans' contain McEwan's Export.

  • Scotland is not the mainland.

  • You understand the merit of choosing your words carefully, then not saying them just to be on the safe side.

  • You know there is no difference between a 'ruckle o stones' and 'archaeological evidence of ritual practice'.

  • You eat Kettle Chips because the way they hurt your gums reminds you of Orkney Crisps.

  • You find trees fascinating and stare at them in amazement.

  • You feel faintly uncomfortable when there are no kye in ear-shot.

  • 30 second pauses in the midst of a conversation are normal.

  • You can hold a conversation for well over an hour consisting only of the words and phrases: "aye", "u-uh", "weel", "beuy", "this is it", "grand day fir it", and 30 second pauses.

  • Whisky is Grouse or HP.

  • You know exactly what "3rd cousin, once removed, on my mother's side" means, and exactly to whom it refers.

  • You are reduced to an incoherent spitting rage by gaelic language TV.

Monday, 5 March 2007

...and a sunrise

After the 6 sunsets, here's a picture of a sunrise on Lewis, by Flickr user Bluewave. Am always amused by people who've never visited the Outer Hebrides because they think it is a "drab" place: