Friday 26 September 2008

40,000 Visits

Got up this morning and my webcounter is showing 40,000 visits to

Admittedly this is over eight years.... but I feel I should do something to celebrate hitting this milestone.

A hill at the weekend perhaps?

Thursday 25 September 2008

Links for Loveofscotland

I have added a few links on this site - more to be added as and when I can be bothered.

Scottish Links are links to sites you might be interested in if you like - Friends Links are a random mix of content created by people I know and people who have dropped by and said hello. I am not responsible for the content of any of the links!

Tuesday 23 September 2008


Sweet is the voice of the cuckoo
On the bending tree,
Sweet it is above Glendaruadh.
This weekend we went to Cowal. Given its proximity to the Central Belt, Cowal is the forgotten district of Argyll: a quiet, forested land of steep hillsides. We visited Kilbride Bay on a tip off, which was not as good as expected - perhaps because of the dull weather, high tide, and high expectations gained from a summer of sunny beaches in the Western Isles. There is a lavender farm nearby, which must be one of the most northerly ones in the world.

We also took a look at Kilmodan Kirk in Glendaruel. I've been here before, and there is something indefinable about this place that gives me a feeling of great peace and restfulness. It is the site of the chapel of St Modan, a 6th century contemporary of St Columba.

A small collection of graveslabs dating from the 13th-16th century have been lifted and are sheltered in an outbuilding next to the church.

Sculptured graveslab, Kilmodan:

Glendaruel is mentioned in an ancient Irish tragedy, The Exile of the Sons of Uisneach. As they return from exile to certain death, Deirdrie laments for the happy times they have spent in Argyll:
Is binn guth cuach
Ar craeib chruim
Ar in mbinn os Glenndaruadh
The river Ruel in Glendaruel:

Although peaceful now, examining the church in Glendaruel shows this was not always the case. Kilmodan Kirk has three separate entrances, with three separate balconies, so the three sides of the feuding family of the local Campbell laird did not ever have to physically meet. One wonders on what flimsy reason this family feud originated.

Cowal actually has a large town at its southeastern end, Dunoon: but this faces the Clyde more than it does the rest of Cowal, and a short ferry journey over the grey waters, surrounded on all sides by hills, takes the weekender out of the West Highlands and straight into the Central Belt.

Thursday 11 September 2008

September Sun

The last festival tourists have gone, torn posters swirling with the leaves. A grey blanket of cloud swathes the city, giving heat like a Morningside miser. I'm wearing my jacket again. There's no denying it's dark earlier. Vegetable soup, log fires, and hot water bottles. And trips to the Highlands being planned: fire in the grass and bracken, deer roaring, friends gathering for a spiel.

And then I cycle to work today, a rare warmth in the sun, blue sky begrudging nothing, generous in its light and heat. People are walking more slowly, enjoying the experience.

Autumn can wait one more day.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

The Butt of Lewis

Arriving at the Butt of Lewis (or less amusingly in Gaelic, Rubha Robhanis) provides a small sense of achievement for the cyclist who has come all the way from Bagh a'Deas, Bhatersaidh.

It is the end of a long dead-end road, with people watching intently as you ride past the strip villages, Barabhas being the most characteristic. As this is a dead end road, nobody comes up here without coming back, and the locals want to check you out.

Seacliffs at the Butt of Lewis:

With a strong headwind in prospect, we didn't want to cycle all the way back to Stornoway, so took the bus from Eoropaidh. The buses in the Western Isles have space for a few bikes, a great improvement on public transport on the mainland. We waited for the bus on the superlative beach, half a kilometre of dunes leading to pristine honey-coloured sands, the surf crashing in and gulls feeding at the tide line.

Traigh Shanndaidh, Eoropaidh:

Saturday 6 September 2008


One of the highlights of a visit to Lewis is the standing stones of Callanish. They have been called the second best stone circle in Britain after Stonehenge but, having visited both, I reckon that Callanish provides the more satisfying experience. Stonehenge is crowded and fenced off, but at Callanish, outside the times of the opening of the visitor centre - early in the morning, late in the evening, or in winter, the visitor has the stones to themselves, and can wander amongst the gneiss pillars, weathered like boards of timber.

Built around 3,000BC, it is not quite clear what these stones were for, but people have speculated a sacred function, related to the position of the moon as seen from a certain point at a certain time of year. It is almost certainly the site described in Pytheas' 325BC lost text On the Ocean, referenced by later writers, where 'the god visited the island every 19 years and danced continuously through the night from the vernal equinox until the rising of the Pleiades'. (The moon has a 19 year cycle, and every 19 years can be seen each night to skim along the hills on the horizon when viewed from Callanish.)

It is unique in not being a simple stone circle, but rather takes the form in plan of a Celtic cross, with avenues of stones radiating away from a central circle.

At each step around this complex, one is struck by a new view as the stones align themselves afresh. What was it built for?

Each weathered board,
each visage, each stump;
a question mark,
a buried book,
a raised exclamation.

The Stones of Callanish:

Dun Carloway and Lewis Life

After Callanish we visited Dun Carloway, stopping a while later to rest for the night.

Dun Carloway, Lewis:

Dun Carloway is one of the best preserved brochs in the country, perhaps the best preserved after Mousa in Shetland. These double-walled round towers, looking like prehistoric power station cooling towers, were built in a quick burst between 100BC and AD100. Nearly all of them are in Shetland, Orkney, Caithness, and the Hebrides. Their function was probably short-term defence from opportunistic sea-raiders - but nobody knows for sure.

After Dun Carloway the heavens burst, and we popped into the tearoom in Gearannan village to avoid a soaking.

Gearannan, Lewis:

This village was inhabited well into the post-war period, but after it was abandoned the houses were turned into basic tourist accomodation, with a cafe and a preserved interior of a blackhouse from the mid post-war period.

Something the visitor notices in the Western Isles is the relaxed pace of life. Strangers are more open than on the mainland. If you pass somebody, it would be rude not to stop and exchange a greeting. I have heard this compared wistfully by a retired Englishman to life in the rest of Britain in the 1950s, and he mourned the passing of a better mannered way of life. It is possible to be frustrated by a lack of commercialisation and facilities for tourists, especially on a Sunday, but that perhaps is to miss the point.

Certainly, on returning to the mainland - or in our experience, Tobermory on Mull - we felt a change in the atmosphere, and locked up our bikes for the first time since leaving Oban for Barra and Vatersay.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Tolsta: the Big Beach at the Dead End

Lewis is a big island, the biggest in Scotland; awkward to get around by bicycle, with a lot of dead end roads. The problem with these roads is that they often end up somewhere particularly beautiful or interesting, so they cannot just be ignored. There is no road between the Butt of Lewis and Tolsta, so there is no obvious circular tour of the island. Anyone who wants to see Lewis has to do a fair bit of doubling back on themselves.

From Stornoway, we decided to take one of these dead end roads, the one out to Tolsta: I had seen a picture of the beach at Garry just past Tolsta, and was keen to have a look.

Traigh Ghearadha:

Traigh Ghearadha is a striking beach with its tidal sea stacks, but it was Traigh Mhor at Tolsta that really impressed. It might not look so striking in a photograph, but its size and shape is peculiarly satisfying to the beachcomber.

Approach to Traigh Mhor:

On Traigh Mhor:

Traigh Mhor faces Northeast, and despite strong winds, the sea lapped gently on the beach. Whatever the wind direction, there is a beach on Lewis that faces into (or in this case away from!) the big waves.

Overview of Traigh Mhor:

There is another beach at Tolsta, hidden beneath cliffs below the village to the south. Word is it is just as fine as Tolsta's more public beach at Traigh Mhor, yet even more deserted.

On the way back we battled a fierce headwind, and stopped for a break between Bac and Gress.

Ruined mill between Bac and Gress: