Sunday, 7 August 2016

On the best laid plans of mice and men

Yesterday dawned fairly brightly. As I had plenty of time, I poked my nose into the crofter's market opposite the hostel. At that point all I could buy were cupcakes or scented candles.

I rolled along under darkening skies, stopping to change to a yellow lens on my glasses and to photograph the crossing to North Uist. The Uists and Benecula one island during the last ice age. They are still one island at low tide, but in the interest of avoiding Egyptian crossings, causeways have been built between the islands. Also the sand doesn't lend itself to motor vehicles.

The man from South Uist on the ferry had told me that the islands were undeveloped from a tourist perspective. For that matter, I had the feeling the islands' economy has a long way to go in general. The largest town I saw had little in the way of shops and no pub that I could see!  I didn't think it was legal to have a town with no pub in the UK! ;-)  Most of the houses appeared to date from after WW II. From various bits and pieces of information, my take is that the place was bloody poor until the postwar socialist era when crofters were given decent homes by the government. The houses are very spread out.

It began to sprinkle as I crossed to North Uist. I made a detour to have lunch at the Westford Inn, the island's only pub. It was in a Georgian building (one of the few old buildings still in use). Along the way, I stopped at the ruins of the Trinity Temple (Celtic church circa 12th century.)

My rough plan had been to have a good lunch as supper would be late. I therefore indulged in "Cockles cooked in cider with bacon and leeks.) I am not sure what I expected. What I got amounted to a tasty variation on the theme of moules-frites. A person next to me was thinking about ordering monkfish. I couldn't help making a joke to the effect that a large monkfish is called an abbottfish!

Going past a smokehouse, noticed a pile of peat ready for use. For some reason, the road to Lochmaddy was double tracked the whole way, unlike the haphazard mix of single and double track I had seen up until then. Furthermore, this road had few houses off of it. It was mostly moor and peat bog. I stopped to see a Stone Age tomb. Afterwards, it began to rain in earnest. Really nasty stuff especially with the wind from the South-West. The wind got me to Lochmaddy with hours to spare before the 1630 sailing of the ferry to Uig. My first action was to head to the CalMac office to make sure the ferry was running! As I explained to man behind the desk, it is one thing to be delayed by a cancelled ferry. It would be far worse if you only find at the last minute.

I split my time between in Lochmaddy between their museum/cultural centre which was a step from the usual as it dealt with prehistoric times rather than the contents of grannies' cupboards, having a half of cider in the Lochmaddy hotel and fretting in the ferry office as the weather was getting worse. I chatted with a man who have offered me a lift to Portree from Uig had his car not already been filled with five people and their bikes! I have seen a lot of bikes carried on cars and vans. Most interesting are the rear bike racks that include brake lights. I find it very good idea.

A couple arrived on two tandem bikes with young boys on the rear seats. I took pity on them as unlike me they had to deal with blame assignment and whining. I later spoke with them. It turned out their car was waiting for them in Uig.

My plan had been to ride the 26 km between Uig and Portree after arriving on the ferry at 1815. However, the weather delayed our arrival by about 30 minutes. I turned on my rear blinky light and set off up the hill out of Uig. I didn't get very far. After the climb, the road emerged into the open and the full force of the wind and the rain hit me in the face. Thankfully the sheep didn't (that was a local's joke). I hemmed and hawed then turned around and made for the Uig Hotel to ask the desk clerk if he could arrange a taxi for me and my bike to Portree. He did so but informed me the taxi would have to come from Portree, so it would be twenty minutes or more. My response was: "Well, that gives me time to have a pint!" And walked over to the bar.

In contrast to the Uists, Skye is well developed for tourists. The Portree Independent Hostel (next door to the Scottish Youth Hostel) was full but thankfully I had a reservation and Gordon the manager signed me in, told me where to park Leonardo and suggested a restaurant.

I was wiped and very glad I had opted for the taxi. In fact, my only regret was not having opted for it sooner! One telling statistic about  yesterday is that I changed my socks five times.

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