Saturday, December 29, 2018

Scotland: Part Two of Infinity

I feel overdue for a response from another message-in-a-bottle I've tossed overboard through the years. I'm in need of a stroke of magic, an unlikely encounter, an uncanny coincidence. I'm hoping if I ask, I shall receive.

Camping in Harris
A few words from my personal diary, written the day before I arrived in Stornoway.  I couldn't have known as I gazed out over the surf beyond Luskintyre Beach, but these words, along with my June blog, appear to have foretold the days that would follow.

The seed for that stroke of magic was planted on the West Highland Way. Natalie was hiking the WHW with family and friends, and we crossed paths numerous times during the multi-day hike. When I mentioned my intention to head to the Outer Hebrides, specifically Stornoway, she suggested I reach out to her friend Calum. "Just add him on Facebook. He's a really nice guy, he will show you around. I'll tell him to expect to hear from you".

So, I did just that, the day after completing the hike, as I sat in Fort William in my post-WHW slump. I added the only Calum MacDonald that showed up in my search as living in Stornoway. Must be the guy, I thought. What I didn't realize at the time is that there are likely as many Calum MacDonalds on the Isle of Lewis as there are John Smiths in America.

As I carried on towards Mallaig and Skye, and across to Harris, I felt good about having at least one contact of some sort in Stornoway, having previously had none.

While camping by the beach in Harris, without internet or radio, and just an outdated copy of Lonely Planet's guide to Scotland, I decided to read-up a little on where it was I was headed. I had been drawn to Stornoway in the months leading up to that day, but in reality knew next-to-nothing of what my destination had to offer. Luckily for me my heart was already set on going, because after reading Lonely Planet, I thought, why would anybody go out of their way to visit this place?

Stornoway Harbour
According to the writer, Stornoway "may lie on a beautiful natural harbour, but it's not one of the most pleasant places in Scotland". He goes on to mention the drinking and drug problem, "perhaps because there's so little to do". How exactly can one be a travel writer, yet, at the same time, live under a rock?
Sure, everyone has their own way of traveling, and their own interests, but before making such a blanket statement in a publication meant to inform fellow potential travelers, perhaps he could have first disclosed that he has no interest in: hillwalking, cycling, conversations with outwardly friendly and interesting people, sailing, surfing, fishing, music festivals, art, sea kayaking, rowing, ancient history, Harris Tweed, bird-watching, ceilidhs, or cosy pubs with live traditional music. If nothing in there piques your interest, then by all means, skip Stornoway.

After packing my camping gear from the Harris shore, and trudging up to the main road, before I even had a chance to stick my thumb out, a car pulled over, and the guy asked where I was going. He lived a few miles south of Stornoway, but said it was no problem to take me right into town. It was about an hour-long drive, and we chatted about a lot of things, from the horrors of online dating (I have never) to driving on the opposite side of the road (I had never). Upon that admission, he pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car, and insisted I take the driver's seat. I briefly hesitated, considering liability, before throwing caution to the wind. And that is how I first made my way to Stornoway: behind the wheel of a strangers car.

I dropped myself off in the middle of town, in search of my first internet connection in days. I was hoping this Calum MacDonald fellow had accepted my friend request, and it might somehow steer my coming days, and make my own experience in Stornoway worth the trek.  


Calum had happily accepted my friend request, though he couldn't seem to place this Natalie girl I mentioned I had met on the West Highland Way. Upon further inquiry with Natalie, I had in fact added the wrong Calum MacDonald.  But, by this point, he had already taken the time to read a bit of this blog, and being a volunteer host with the local community radio station, Isles FM, he asked if I'd join him as a guest the following morning. Sure, why not. Who knows where it could lead. 
And so, the next morning I went to the station for a chat.
Weaving Harris Tweed on B's loom
After the show, Calum mentioned he had a friend who was a Harris Tweed weaver,  and he offered to take me around to his loom shed outside of town. As it turned out, his friend was a piper as well. B offered us cups of tea, and I learned a bit about how Harris Tweed is woven, and he allowed me to play a few tunes on his bagpipes. 

They insisted my trip to the Isle of Lewis wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Callanish Stones, which weren't far along the road.  Standing stones dating back to 3000BC, the Callanish Stones predate Stonehenge by about 900 years. Billy spoke eloquently about the stones and the surrounding landscape, pointing out Cailleach na Mointeach,  Gaelic for 'Old Woman of the Moors', also often referred to as The Sleeping BeautyShe is a series of hills, Mòr Mhonadh depicting her knees, Guaineamol her breasts, and Sidhean an Airgid outlining her head and face.  Her outline varies depending on your vantage point, and from nearby Achmore, Beinn Mhòr leaves her with the appearance of being pregnant.

Callanish Stones
This day will remain a top-contender for years to come for Days I Never Wanted to End. But, I had to keep reminding myself I was just a tourist passing through.  There was plenty more to see in the Outer Hebrides before my return flight to Florida in about ten days. After all, I had my checkride for my Commercial Pilot License already scheduled, and I wouldn't dream of missing it, not after everything I had been through to get this far in my qualifications. All the same, it seemed like a shame that I would only be in Stornoway for another couple of days.

Somewhere in those couple of days, B the weaver called, and asked if I'd like to go to the ruins of a 15th-century church and burial ground, where generations of Clan MacLeod chiefs are buried.  Despite the destination, I kind of felt like he was asking me on a date. I couldn't be entirely sure, as it had been quite some time since I'd been asked on one. 

But, really?  To a cemetery? 

By the end of that evening, I knew I would not be on a return flight to America anytime soon.