My read of Neil Munro's Para Handy must have done the trick, I have awakened refreshed. The day is fine, the wind force four south westerly and the sun is shining. The barometer is rising again, thank goodness, all this low pressure is not good for my soul.
I hoist the main and attempt to weigh anchor. It's in so deep after the blow I cannot move it. So I shorten chain until it's hanging vertically below the bow and start the engine, motor the anchor out and quickly haul it on board. Covered in weed and mud I have to leave it while I set course to leave the bay. I hoist the main and self tacking jib and then go forward and clean the anchor. Returning to the cockpit I stream the log and set the Haslar to take us out into the Sea of the Hebrides. I have to be careful as the wind is almost directly from the stern and I don't want a jibe. Soon I am about a mile offshore and I turn north and set the way point for the entrance to Acairseid Mhor, the anchorage on Eriskay.
Rhuban Eriskay. (Eriskay Village)
The wind is now a beam reach and I fairly scud along. five to six knots. I'm soon past the entrance to North Bay on Barra, enclosed by the islands of Fuiay and Flodday - You can see where Compton McKenzie found the names used in his book Whisky Galore - Past Hellisay and Gighay, and once out of the lee of Barra's high hills the wind strengthens from across the Sound of Barra. I am soon past The Stack, off the south shore of Eriskay, with its remains of The Weavers Castle. Black rocks on the tide line turn out to be seals who stare at me with their glassy black eyes. I am approaching the way point and the entrance to the anchorage.
I turn to the west and with my glasses look for the leading marks showing the safe line into Acairseid Mhor. I see them and go forward to down the jib, loosen off the main sheet and start the engine.
The entry is tricky. There's a submerged rock which I have to leave to starboard. When past I turn north and then quickly west again and slip into the bay, and drop my anchor in the glassy waters of the Loch. I cut the engine and the silence is deafening.
This is pure Hebrides....I sit alone and almost in silence. A gull cries overhead and I see Donald's house on the south shore. A small grotto and beyond, the Stations of the Cross ascend into the hillside. On the north shore is the little fishing pier, now modernized with flood lights and piped water for the fishing boats. The silence is broken by the bleating of a sheep and Donald's children shouting and waving from the shore. I wave back and go below to prepare a meal.
Something special I think today - Spaghetti and Bolognese sauce, followed by peaches and tinned milk, and to finish, stilton cheese oat cakes and sweet tea.
After such a fine repast, I sit back on my bunk, and smoke a pipe of tobacco. After all, I have made such good time today, I have all the afternoon to wander.
I finish my pipe and wash up, go on deck and pull the dingey along side, jump in and row ashore. Not wishing to climb the twenty feet of pier ladder, I land on a small patch of sand between the rocks and lifting the dingey above my head carry it above the high water mark. Making my way past old creels, rope and cork floats, I eventually scramble onto the track, recently improved for access to Donald's house. I turn right and begin my walk across the island.
I pass the remains of an old Range Rover, lying nose down in a gully and stop to look back at Lazy Beaver riding at anchor, snug in Acairseid Mhor. A seagull swoops down and attempts to land on her mast head but is prevented by the VHF aerial, wheeling away it lands on the water nearby, and timidly approaches the boat, clucking its greeting.
I turn away, passing a red box for the Royal Mail, and quickly reach the grass-centred narrow macadam road, which runs across the island. It's a switchback of a road, with little room for manoeuvre. Deep ditches, filled with yellow Flag Iris, scar its sides. Elsewhere the rocks tumble to the very edge. Neither will hinder the walker, but any vehicle that carelessly puts a wheel out of place will surely come to grief.
I move on up the brae known as The Strand. The birds cheeping in the Sedge Grass are so tame, they almost come to hand. I pass California Cottage, so named after an American gentleman bought and refurbished it, but was to pass away before he could enjoy it. As I breast the rise at Coilleag I suddenly feel the Atlantic wind upon my face. Here before is a panorama to take ones breath away.
Looking west across the Sound of Barra I can see the little island of Lingay sitting in the sandy bottomed shallow blue water, so shallow that small patches of underwater weed appear as dark green loose carpets on a golden floor. To the south west, the Island of Fuday and beyond the great sandy beach on Barra, used as the airstrip and known as Traigh Mhor. A gust of wind blows me round and I look back down the little glen known as The Parks. There lie the little houses, their walls bright white in the sunlight and their roofs all painted in bright colours. Behind them, Ben Stack at 366 feet the second highest point on the island and to my left Ben Scrien, the highest point at 555 feet.
I turn back and look immediately below me, past the remains of a Black House, and onto a golden strip of sand stretching south for over half a mile. This deserted golden beach so softly caressed by the sea, is called, Coilleag a Phrionnsa, and known locally as the Princes Strand, for it was at this very spot in 1745, that Charles Edward Stewart landed on Scottish soil to begin his great adventure that ended in defeat at Culloden near Inverness.
I walk on, head bent against the wind, hat shielding my eyes from the bright sun reflecting off the sea. I am making for the cluster of houses at Balla, Rhuban and Haun that form the main habitations on the island. I enter the Scottish Co-Operative store and Post Office, buy stamps, provisions and three mugs marked, Co Chomunn Eirisgeidh Ltd. I leave and on my right is the school and there ahead on the high ground, the church, said to have the finest internal decoration in the Western Isles.
Now a decision to make, whether to turn to the left and visit the Island's pub, the Am Politician, or whether to continue to my right. I turn right and pass the ferry slip.
It's low tide and the ferry - Eilean nah Oige - is sitting on the sandy bottom surrounded by small creel boats. On the pier more creels, ropes and floats; and an old bicycle with rusty wheels.
I continue on past the new British Telecom telephone box, designed for urban man, with its bottom open to the elements, and reach Bunmhullin, a collection of houses on the north side. Beyond is the narrow Sound of Eriskay, the entrance to which is guarded by Calvay Island, and over the water South Uist, almost the mainland if you live on Eriskay. More history here, in 1940 a ship ran aground and was wrecked off Calvay Island - her cargo, 24,000 cases of whisky and hundreds of bicycles. I stop and wonder if the bicycle with the rusty wheels, waiting on the ferry pier, was salvage from the wreck. Certainly the salvage of the whisky by the islanders is well known, and is told with some artistic license by Compton MacKenzie in his book, Whisky Galore.
I turn and retrace my steps to the Am Politician, the only pub on the island. Behind the bar there are a few salvaged bottles from the wreck, their contents only to be sniffed by the curious. One, almost full of a cloudy liquid smells - well, of water from a burn, another of nothing in particular - their original contents, 'the water of life', long passed over to the other side.
It's time to return to Lazy Beaver. On my way through Balla I notice a green pasture, a football pitch is marked out, two goals with nets. The visitors' end, speckled white with gulls, hull down against the wind. In the penalty box of the home team, four cows in black and white strip, heads down, contemplate the opposition.
Traditional sail fishing boat drying out at Acairseid Mhor.
With the wind behind me now, I soon find myself back at Acairseid Mhor. I can hear the low throb of a big diesel engine and see the top of masts above the fishing pier. Two forty footers are tied alongside and I walk over and look down on their cluttered decks. They have prawns and white fish and on seeing me, one of the deckies shout up, - 'do you want some supper'; 'what have you got' - say I - 'anything you like' - says he, and with that I climb down to be presented with a hake for supper.
Thanking them I climb back up the ladders and recover my dingey and row out to Lazy Beaver. I greet her with - 'Look what I've got for supper old girl' - and scramble down below to light my paraffin cooker.
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