Thursday, 24 December 2009

I'm Dreaming Of A Silver Christmas

The ice has started to melt around here today, except in those places where the low winter sun doesn't manage to get a look-in. A thick mist rolled towards us from the moor this afternoon. That was our cue to go for a walk and enjoy the sillouetted trees and the sky becoming deep pink. In a dusky, misty field across the river we watched two deer as they watched us before springing off.

The lights are on, the bunnies have new Santa hats, we are cozy, stocked up and ready for our second Airstream Christmas.

Happy Christmas

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Notes From Here And There

We have had an attack of the gremlins lately. There was the wheel falling off, someone drove into us, Pete's laptop went all dark and mysterious. Not letting any of it get us down though. We're keeping warm and dry and staying on top of the 'moisture management'. That's mopping up condensation for all you non-trailer dwellers.

The rain has abated and our view of the Somerset levels which so far looked like a lake has revealed itself to be fields. It is proper cold though, dead wintry.

I spent last weekend in London visiting my bestest friend. We talked for two whole days. Life makes a bit more sense now. Life also makes more sense because I was able to travel by bus from Ilchester to Hammersmith for £20.00 return with a local coach company. Maybe mankind isn't doomed after all.

We are still prolonging our memories of the Hebrides. The idea is that, since we're taking things slow over the winter we could tell about our summer travels when there's not much to report around here.

To that end....

Back in June we took a small ferry from Eriskay to Barra. The Airstream grounded on the way onto the ferry so the crew were ready with the chocks to get us off at the other side. We took it slowly but unfortunately one of the guys put a chock in upside down so that as we drove over it, it tipped up and got caught in the spare wheel carrier underneath. Oh dear, we thought, or more expletive words to that effect. Many heart palpitations and miniscule manoeuvrings later we were free and headed for the beach where Andrew had bagsied us a spot next to him.

Now I would really like to tell you absolutely nothing about Barra because it is beautiful and special and very small, so I don't really want to encourage anyone to go there and make it all busy and stuff, like everywhere else. Have I said it before? probably, that Britain is small and populated areas are close together and there aren't enough empty spaces. Well Barra in June was lovely and empty.

The sky was clear, the sun shone, the sea was the cleanest, crystal-like I have ever seen and there were empty white beaches.

We parked up next to Andrew on the beach. This is really what we had wanted to do since buying the Airstream. Wild camping with a trailer is not permitted in England. On Barra it's the only kind of camping. The airport is a few hundred yards from where you can camp and tiny planes land on the sand a couple of times a day when the tides permit. There is a fresh water tap outside the 'terminal' and a neighbour told us where there were boat docking facilities where we could take our waste.

So that covered all the necessities. We set up, sat and admired the best view ever and waited for our friend Helen to arrive by plane from London. She had a few days off from her busy metropolitan life and the prospect of landing on the beach was the enticement she succumbed to. About five minutes before her plane was due we started strolling along the beach to meet her.

The next few days were a perfect mix of paddling, sitting around Andrew's fire-pit, watching sunsets, a boat-trip to Mingulay to get up close to the puffins, sandcastle building, castle visiting.

The sun went down very late at that time of year. It was light until eleven, eleven-thirty, which is great for nocturnal types like us.

A note on the weather, which was brilliant for those few days even if breezy at times. It can get very wild and windy up there and I suspect those white beaches and turquoise seas might be a little less inviting.

Having said that, our neighbour, Christine, has been going back and staying for two months every year for over a decade. Her caravan was anchored down. She said that when it gets stormy she thinks to herself, never again. And yet there she was. We met quite a few people who go back regularly. We all had big smiles on our faces. You would too, but of course I'm begging you not to go.


Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Uig to Uist

Wherever we have been lately it has rained persistently (Cumbria, Dorset, Somerset). Most of the UK is dripping at the moment so it seems like a good time to reminisce about our Hebridean journey and some blue skies. So the following took place back in June.

We had decided to go ahead with our Outer Hebrides trip. We turned up at Uig harbour, got measured to see if they could squeeze us onto a fully booked ferry and made the crossing to North Uist. From the harbour at Lochmaddy we drove south to Benbecula where fellow Airstreamer Andrew was staying and had reserved us a pitch.

Within a week we would be back this way to explore the landscape and bronze age ruins more thoroughly but this time we were basically passing through and just beginning to get a taste of this unique part of the British Isles.

I hope I can do justice to these islands. I suppose I can just start with my first impressions as we headed down to Benbecula. I didn't know what to expect, but I hadn't expected this. It was pretty flat. In my English mind Scotland is hilly. Surely the Western Isles would bear some resemblance?

Hills were usually visible at some point on the horizon but mostly there were wide open spaces. And these adjoining islands are generously dotted with various bodies of water. Or is it that the stretches of land are just giant stepping stones? Roads have somehow been built across peaty bogs, islands have been connected with causeways, watery areas of all sizes from pond to loch to actual sea surround you. There appears to be more water than land. The land has holes in it. It's like a massive peaty doily.

In a nutshell it is open, flat, boggy, lochy, causewayed and spread out. Oh, and no trees. But there is plenty of peat. More about peat later. Bet you can't wait. No wait, it's good stuff. Come back.

Buildings look like they are naturally spaced apart where the land allows. So instead of villages of close-together houses there are settlements where your nearest neighbour might be half a mile away, or more. Except on Benbecula where you come across an airbase and an attached community. Somewhere in there is a supermarket but you would have to be smarter than me or Andrew to find your way into it. We did eventually figure out that the entrance was disguised as a bus shelter, obviously. It probably gets pretty windy around there and you would need a buffer between the outside and inside. A bus shelter fits the bill.

It was worth the sleuthing though because among other lovely things within we found clotted cream to go with the scones we'd already hunted down. And so afternoon tea would be ceremonially enjoyed later that day.

On another day Pete and I returned to Lochmaddy to check out the arts centre. We had a look around an exhibition of photographs by Erskine Beveridge, a textile manufacturer who had been a frequent visitor to the islands in the late nineteenth century. He was interested in the islanders' way of life and captured it in pretty stark and atmospheric black and white images.

There was also an exhibition of sculptures by Claire McNiven. Figures caught in motion were built from tangles of string and rope which the sculptor had found on her walks on the beach. In a long-ago incarnation I was a dancer and seeing these figures really captured and reminded me of the split second moments of off-balance transition between one shape and the next. It was truly lovely and all from bits of reclaimed string.

We had a quiet Sunday on Benbecula which included a walk on the adjacent beach. The sand was white, the sky blue with voluptuous clouds hovering on the horizon. The sea was pure turquoise. There were tidemarks of small shells, crab shells, seaweed. There was even the jaw bone of a sheep. Since there is water everywhere, anything can eventually get washed out to sea.

The sunlight, the shades of blue and the reflectiveness of the white sand are incredibly uplifting. And there was plenty more of that to come.