I awake refreshed, today we trip to Scalpay. The wind is fair, still from the south west, so off we go. Passing Weavers Point the land soon ends and the great expanse of the Sound of Harris is exposed on our port beam. With the Atlantic ocean in view, the wind freshens to force five and we fair scud along. No longer is Beaver lazy, her skirts are up again, and we're soon abreast Renish Point.
Just inland from here is the manufactured village of Leverburgh, a monument to good intentions, but as with other Hebridean endeavors brought from the mainland, it failed.
Leverburgh came from an idea by Lord Leverhulme, to build a fishing station in the Western Isles and bring work and prosperity to the inhabitants. After his death in 1927, the idea was abandoned, and it has left a guddle of wharves, early industrial buildings and houses dotted all over the hill-side.
On On, past Rubha Quidnish Point and Stockinish Island and there - yes, there ahead is Scalpay - settled into the north side of East Loch Tarbert. We round Plocrapool Point and carefully make our way between small islands and submerged reefs to enter the anchorage on Scalpay from the west. We motor slowly in, using the echo sounder to find the deep pool to the north of the fish pier and opposite the sloping beach. On this beach a shark fisherman named Gavin Maxwell once removed the livers of forty seven Basking Sharks, and caused the bay to run red with blood.
I find the deep pool and we're holding well, so dead with engine and all is peace and quiet. There are no boats at the pier but there are everywhere, signs of industry. The pier is new and littered with orange nets, ropes, creels, scollop rakes and laying amongst it all, drying in the sun, small pink crabs shells and legs, left overs from a gull's lunch. I wander up to the Islands shop and Post Office, buy some provisions and cards, and sit down outside to write them - 'good sail today, weather fine, see you soon, wish you were here' - stamps are applied and the whole lot returned to the safe keeping of the Post Mistress - She must be thinking, what a queer fellow?
I walk over to the east anchorage, a narrow gut filled with freshly painted rowing boats and a small plastic cruiser with outboard. Gulls sit on every prow waiting for food and when they see me they seem to say, - 'gull gull, gull gull' - 'Your out of luck my boys' I hear myself saying and walk back to the pier. I notice a standpipe with a hose at least one hundred feet long, and it reminds me to fill my water tanks before I leave.
The residents of Scalpay have an interesting past history. During the Clearances, the Landowner did not consider Scalpay, so small, worth bothering about, and families from the Island of Pabbay where cleared here. They thought they were some of the lucky ones but later on, the island was cleared for sheep and the inhabitants moved to Ardhasaig, a small costal township on the south west side of North Harris, its only access from the sea, by West Loch Tarbert.
These coastal fringes were of little use to the Landowner as the soil depth was insufficient for grass - and sheep need grass. It follows therefore, that the ground would not be of much use to Crofters, but they struggled on. As each passed away their coffins were carried to where the Laxdale River runs into the Sound of Taransay, a place called Luskentyre. To this day you can see two full graveyards there, and the stones show the dead had lived on the west side of Harris and on the Island of Scalpay. The common text on the headstones read - 'Gus am bris an la agus an teich na sgailean', translated it says, 'Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away.....'
How time flies for me, as well as Scalpay. I must fill my water tanks and prepare a meal.
My meal over, I go on deck and light my pipe. Looking around, my mind is taken back to the time in 1947 when Gavin Maxwell sheltered here. This episode is so interesting I will tell you a little about it.
Just after the war Gavin Maxwell started a Basking Shark Fishery, based on the tiny Island of Soay. (we'll be visiting Soay in four days' time) The fish were caught for their livers, each liver weighing about eighteen and a half hundredweight and the whole fish about six tons.
However, Maxwell and his two catching boats, the 'Dove' and 'Sea Leopard', came to Scalpay one night to shelter from a gale. The following day they left and immediately ran into, what Maxwell described as the, ' biggest shoal of sharks he had ever seen'. For the next eighteen days they harpooned sharks and towed their carcases back into the harbour at Scalpay and removed their livers on the sloping beach. Maxwell commented at the time that he, 'could have killed three times that number if the boats had nothing else to do but kill them and bring them in'.
He had unexpectantly removed so many tons of liver that he now had the problem of transporting it back to his small factory on Soay. His two catching boats were too small for the job so he contacted Glasgow, hundreds of miles away, and arranged for a Puffer, a small steam driven cargo vessel, to come out to Scalpay and transport the livers. This boat called, 'Moonlight' eventually arrived, via the Crinan Canal, after suffering an engine breakdown on the way.
Maxwell then 'found an enormous quantity of herring barrels' in a store on Scalpay and proceeded to locate the owners, in Glasgow, and negotiate to buy them. The Puffer 'Moonlight' eventually arrived, and the livers, by now in their barrels where put aboard and transported to Soay. Maxwell with his two, much faster boats, (leaving at the same time) arrived home before the 'Moonlight', and prepared his factory to receive the livers.
In his book, 'Harpoon At A Venture', Maxwell describes the scene on the beach as follows:
'The beach where we had drawn up the sharks was a tremendous and terrible sight. The sharks lay in long rows at the tide line, black mountains on pale grey boulders. As more and more of the carcases were opened the blood trickled down among the stones, and the sea behind them became crimson for hundreds of yards, a true sea of blood'
It's time for bed. I go below climb into my bunk and dream of Basking Sharks and 'daring do'. Tomorrow we go to Stornoway.
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