Tuesday 7th September
We wake early at 6.45am, because we need to check-in for the Stornoway ferry by 9.30am, at the latest.
The morning is looking bright and we take a short walk along the crunchy pebbled beach. Arriving back at the site, we chat to another couple nearby, a Dad and his daughter, who are in a smallish motorhome. It turns out they are from Wigan and had driven the whole 412 miles in one 10 hour journey!
We leave shortly after meeting our fellow campers and head for the harbour. Check-in is surprisingly very easy, and all we do is give the attendant our pre-printed ticket and boarding pass. After joining one of the vehicle queues, we have time to look round the harbour, as our ferry has not yet arrived. There are some small, working trawler boats and a 3 masted schooner called ‘Blue Clipper’.
Schooners were versatile boats in their time, carrying both passengers or freight. They were fast and manoeuvrable and were used to carry perishable goods over long distances.
This one though, was built in Sweden in 1991, and is classed as a ‘tall ship’ and mixes tradition with a modern build, giving guests an authentic experience with all the mod cons. The boat has spent many years sailing all over the world from the Caribbean to the Arctic and is a frequent participant in the European Tall Ship regattas. It has appeared in many TV programmes and commercials before being privately owned in the late 1990’s. On deck, guests can become fully immersed in hands-on sailing; heaving the ropes, hoisting the sails, learning rope skills and even taking the helm.
It’s time to drive on board the ferry, from the stern and we squeeze up to the vehicle in front. The boat is very modern and feels more like a floating hotel! We take seats at the rear of the Upper Lounge, which gives us a forward, panoramic view of where we are heading. We quietly set off at 10.30am and slowly navigate out of the harbour. We set sail under a sunny cloudscape, set against rugged, morning lit hillsides that drop into the blue, tranquil sea. On the way out to open waters, the route is dotted with islands of varying shades of receding tones and the ferry gathers pace to about 30 knots.
The water is slightly choppy, but the ship deals with this effortlessly. However, you can feel a little light headed, like being on an aircraft, because of the motion. Some passengers are led out over several seats with their eyes closed.
After a while, a number of passengers rise to their feet very quickly, and shout “Ooooo”. As an automatic reaction, we stand up as well and realise that a very low flying aircraft (perhaps a military one) has just flown straight across the bow, from the starboard side to port (i.e. right to left as you go forward).
We’re now leaving land far behind and a light sea mist descends. Then, another “Ooooo” with people standing and straining their necks looking on the port side. Somebody mutters “dolphins!”, then rumours quickly spread that there’s 10 of them. Just where nobody knows, but people now anxiously begin peering on the starboard side as well. 3 minutes later, it’s a great anti-climax as passengers reluctantly begin to sit back down, feeling a bit silly!
Then, a nearby passenger stands and shouts “It’s over there!” but we’ve all heard the story of the boy who cried wolf and nobody takes any notice! So he sits back down, feeling even sillier!
After chatting to some fellow passengers, we brought the classic game Boggle to play, to help pass the time. After a surprisingly good and reasonably priced on-board coffee, (£3.20 for two large cups), the sea mist begins to clear a little and the Isle of Lewis comes into view, as a semi-sunlit, squashed island cloudy sandwich. Even though you think you’ve now arrived at your destination, you actually haven’t because there’s another 40 minutes still to go. The ship crawls to what seems like walking pace, even though there’s 3 miles left. So we decided to go onto the outer top deck, near the stern.
It’s been a two and a half hour sail, but doesn’t seem like anywhere near that length of time. We hear “Would passengers please return to their vehicles” announced over the tannoy. But we quickly realise this could be a problem, as cars and other vehicles are squeezed on so tightly, that there’s not much room left to open doors. We oversee an adjacent passenger lessen himself into his driver’s seat, to prevent his door from touching our van by 2 millimetres! Luckily, we have a sliding side door, so we can easily get our bags in, and then proceed to both use the driver’s door, which is also luckily against the ship and not other vehicles.
We trundle off by the bow end of the ship and arrive on dry land in the middle of Stornoway, which is quite busy for a small town. Heading north west, we are soon in the contrast of open country, which is remote, peaceful, similar to undulating moorland heath, but with craggy outcrops. Villages are formed of individually spaced bungalows, with thick grey render, some with bedrooms in the roof. All have small, adjoining plots of land with some containing an assorted array of implements, tools, vehicles and contraptions, indicating a self-sufficient, hardy and resourceful island community.
However, occasionally interspersed between are some derelict houses in various forms of decay, rust and collapse, proving that in the past it hasn’t been easy living on these islands.
Nearing our campsite destination, the sat nav announces to turn right, but it’s nowhere to be seen! We see a sign invitingly pointing ‘To the Shore’, so decide to investigate. It’s a short, rough, narrow track that soon switches to a sandy one that bends before meeting a bridge over a watery inlet and lagoon. This is a precursor to what we are about to discover. The sandy ground then widens out into a bowl, over the lip of which is a concrete slipway, fitted with rusting anchor points. It leads to the most gorgeous, sloping and curved, pristine, white sandy beach you could wish for.
We excitedly jumped out of our camper to discover an array of countless egg shaped stones and rounded boulders. Edged on the unspoilt sandy shoreline they meet a hypnotic, rhythmic, thudding surf that flows from the pure, turquoise Atlantic before it swooshes back on the return ebb. It’s amazing. There’s just us…the beach…and solitude.
You would love every stone, every pebble and every piece of seaweed on this beach, as the whiteness of the clean sand contrasts with the dull darkness and compacted, streaky, coloured layers of the silent stones. We even found a heart shaped one.
Reluctantly we leave the sandy bay and resume our search for the campsite. We knock on the door of a nearby dwelling, that’s advertising Harris Tweed weaving demonstrations. A kind, old lady comes to the door and points us in the right direction . After a short drive, we finally arrive at our destination.