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Posts Tagged ‘athomeinthehebrides’

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It is utterly enchanting up here, which partly explains my lack of posts recently. As my friends who know me well would testify I am a geek…and quite comfortable with that. But I find more and more that I use magical metaphors to try and understand and assimilate the sense of wonder and awe I feel everyday here. I have lived and looked all over the world and nothing comes close to the natural beauty of these Islands. It is firstly apparent in the obvious places; the beaches, hills, forests and lochs. However I am now struck by a beauty that is on the one hand basic and elementary but at the same time subtle and hidden; colours that have labels but are impossible to communicate, sounds that feel like they resonate perfectly with each sinew in my body and simple shapes that seem impossibly natural.

I am not adverse to the mystical narratives I use when trying to comprehend what I see but I realise that they reflect a lack of genuine knowledge and understanding and come a poor second to the science behind my experiences up here. This feeling that science simply enhances the aesthetic experience has been articulated a number of times, but my favourite example is this clip of Richard Feynman.

I think what appeals to me most about the scientific method is that through my natural curiosity it leads me in so many different and unexpected directions, with each question elaborated on revealing a greater number of even more fascinating and awe inspiring questions.

I have also damaged my shoulder. This had lead to lots of introspection (as the preamble to this post demonstrates) and a reduction in engaging with the outdoors in many of the ways I would like. Another reason I have not posted recently.

There have been two very positive consequences of this minor injury.

The first is that I have spent more time socially with the folks up here instead of lying in a Bivvy Bag or Hammock waiting for the first rays of sun to signal that it’s time to turn on the stove. This has been with the Islanders ‘at large’ so to speak, dancing at ceilidhs or looking round the wares of the local artists in search of Christmas inspiration. But also I have been able to spend time getting to know some of the people that make these Islands so unique on a more personal level. For example this weekend I sat beside a fire in a cottage in a quiet bay of a sea loch with friends, ate well and then played guitar alongside a pianist, flautist and man of many instruments (none of which I could name!) to the local Strathspeys and Jigs. Nothing could have improved that night.

The second is that I am reminded of my first love which is to walk amongst quiet glens, alongside bubbling brooks and onto the peaks that dominate the landscape. Since arriving, the Horseshoe capped by Clisham has left me breathless every time I have gazed at it from the road between Harris and Lewis. With the Island having just experienced some of the first snows of the Winter, I made the drive to the valley that leads to the beginning of the Horseshoe at the weekend.

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What made the walk up the valley so appealing (apart from the magnificent vistas of the white ridge I was aiming for) was the varying flow of the river.

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Although there was no snow or ice on the first few miles of the walk I soon began to feel the satisfying crunch under foot which allowed me to make steady progress to the beginning of the horseshoe ridge- Mullach an Langa.

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The journey to the base of Mullach an Langa was very gradual, generally following Abhainn Sgaladail. The accent however was steep and the going difficult due to the covering of wet snow. As I looked ahead trying to figure out the easiest accent I startled an Arctic Hare which shot off up the hill in front of me. They are beautiful creatures and although well camouflaged against the snowy hillside, I was able to watch its effortless progress to the top. As I made my way up the path I had chosen would often meet with the hare’s and for the last 20 meters I followed it directly to the summit cairn.

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Staring out over the magnificent views from the summit of Mullach an Langa, it was difficult not to romanticise the journey up, and I found myself smiling that an Arctic Hare had been my guide to the top.

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While it is true the chain of Islands that make up the Outer Hebrides share some fairly obvious commons features, it is amazing the different character available on each. My latest trip took me out to Great Bernera which until 1953 was only accessible by boat.

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The paddle itself took in a calm sea loch and then some open but sheltered sea.

I couldn’t believe how clear the water was and how full of life the bottom was. Perhaps my favourite part of the trip was seeing the tiny orange star fish that lined the bank of the sea loch.

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During our time in the sea loch we also saw otters and a Slavonian Grebe.

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Mike managed to get a little bit of film footage of the trip…

Conditions changed slightly in the open water and as the sun came down the paddling was simply magical!

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It has been quiet on athomeinthehebrides for a couple of weeks as I had my parents up and then spent a bit of time in Austria and Slovakia.

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The Uig-Tarbert ferry bringing my folks across.

Although offset slightly by the mountains of debt, my globe-trotting youth has left me with a stack of travel related books which means that when I do leave for a new destination I usually have a guidebook to cover it…

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On the Stornoway-Glasgow plane

The picture above makes me happy not just because of the frugality it encapsulates (free refreshments, re-used guidebook, reduced fare courtesy of the Air Discount Scheme for rural folk like me) but because I am so often tormented on the shorter flights to Barra and Benbecula where no refreshments are served. This is not a diva-esque complaint; I would be quiet fine to sit on a plane for 30 minutes without refreshment but for the fact that shortly after breaking the news there will be no refreshments the air hostess promptly makes herself a brew with enough time to dunk two packets of biscuits in!

The trip to Austria and Slovakia was for an Uncle’s birthday and it brought together family and friends from New Zealand, North America, UAE, South Africa, Sweden and other parts of the UK. Given the relative proximity of Austria to the Outer Hebrides I was a little surprised my total travel time was one of the longest.

Vienna was stunning…and although I don’t think I could go back to living in a big city full-time, I certainly enjoy being able to walk round them, stopping off for local tastes along the way…

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The place where I stayed in Vienna was also home to one of my favourite writers for a period too…

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While I am not a huge fiction reader his books about youthful adventure hold great appeal. I also find the various quotes attributed to him amongst my favourites…

Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.

It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them.

Slovakia was a quite incredible experience that was heightened by the extravagant accommodation at Chateaux Bela ( not featured in my guide to Europe on a Shoestring!).

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While the fairytale surroundings and good living in Slovakia was ideal given the long hours I have been putting in a work since arriving up here, I did return to the Stornoway with a renewed vigour for exercise and healthy grub!

Lucky I have some of the most beautiful runs literally on my doorstep…better go!

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