A spot of island hopping Part 2: crossing to Harris5th September 2008
Monday, August 11th:
Ferry travel and island hopping are often synonymous. During previous Scottish outings, I have been known to explore Mull, Iona and Arran with Caledonian Macbrayne (Calmac to one and all) getting me to and from the islands in question. An Easter excursion to Arran involved an overnight stay but Mull and Iona have only ever seen me on day trips. Kerrera has been the same with its little passenger ferry getting me there and away.
The main way onto Skye these days is by going over its well known bridge but there ferry options for getting there too. One that I have used is that running between Armadale and Mallaig but there is another going between Glenelg and Kylerhea. That is a small community-run affair but it is summer-only like the much larger Calmac ferry. Unlike others that I have frequented, Skye has seen me on multi-day trips a few times although there have been shorter ones with me spending spending just a single night on the island too.
My Hebridean explorations last month had me spending just the one night on Skye with a few hours spent around Ben Tianavaig as well. I have shared that here already so I’ll move things along to that ferry ride to Harris. The sailing itself lasts an hour and forty minutes and the crossing of the Little Minch does take you sufficiently far away from land that they need registration cards for the crossing along with your ticket. That’s not to say that any sights on the crossing are devoid of land. Just stand at the right side of the boat and there’ll plenty to see.
I made my way to the cafeteria at the start of the crossing so we were well out of Loch Snizort by the time that I returned to the deck. An Easter Monday return from Arran taught me that getting fed before things got too busy was sound practice. It also started to rain as we left Uig so being under cover was no bad idea either and I had a dry few hours there before the ferry came.
Though we were out on more open water when I ventured outside again, Skye was far from being gone from view. In fact, the full length of the Trotternish was still visible even as it became an ever thinner line on the horizon. Some islands north of Skye came into view too. Visibility was very good with some sunshine about and the crossing remained a smooth one throughout.
Any lack of land was soon remedied as we pass into Loch an Tairbeart (Loch Tarbert West) with its myriad of islands. Scalpay was a major sight and, of course, there was Harris itself with its best hill country remaining steadfastly in shadow while other parts caught the sun. After all this wonder, Tarbert still seemed a pleasant spot even if it was far from huge. A visit to its tourist information centre resulted in my picking up a bus timetable for all of Harris and Lewis. Aird Asaig (Ardhasaig in English) was where I was staying the night so a bus ride was in order to save myself an hour’s walking with a full load on my back.
Once ensconced in my lodgings, I took to a spot of ambling. An Cliseam (or Clisham, Gaelic is the mainstay for the place names in these parts) and its client hills remained under cloud and some of the summits were shrouded too. I had no rain which was a blessing given the portents from the weather forecasts that I had been seeing. My wanderings took me around Loch Bun Abhainn Eaddara and along the shores of Loch a’ Siar. The journeying was short but glimpsed steep slopes that were stony and craggy, reminders that I was among proper hills regardless of what their heights might be. These were hills of which I was to see more but I had already seen enough to retire for the night. By then, the weather had taken on a damper aspect but the following day was when the real exploration was to commence.