Castaway 2008

Note: photos will be (have been) added later as I think they are in our albums (hard copy!) which are packed ready for the move….

Do you remember Ben Fogle on Castaway 2000 where he became famous?  Of course you do!  Well, I loved the TV series and watched it all (including the repeats) and bought the book too.  I particularly liked the Doctor and his family that temporarily escaped from the island to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris until conditions were improved.

The programme appealed to my sense of Scottish romantic adventure and I vowed secretly to visit the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides one day near where it was filmed on a small offshore island called Taransay.

As luck would have it in those days I still had a “few” BA airmiles left and British Airways still flew codeshare to Stornoway via Glasgow on the way out and via Edinburgh on the way back.  So with a little persuasion Debbie allowed me to book flights and I hired a car for two days to allow us to explore the isles of Harris and Lewis.

What I didn’t tell Debbie was that although the flights to and from Heathrow were by normal sized passenger jets, the flights to and from Stornaway were by tiny twin propellor planes seating about ten people.  Apart from the pilot flying the plane, there was one stewardess who seemed to do everything apart from loading and unloading the luggage into the hold, that was our job!  Hearts racing we clung on to each other as we took off and landed but we found the short trips exhilarating and it added to the sense of a “Walter Mitty” adventure.

The surprising thing about the airport car hire in Stornaway was they didn’t ask for a credit card guarantee when I phoned to book, they just asked which flight I’d be arriving on and they’d meet us at the gate and take us to the car!  I couldn’t believe people were so trusting but it worked like clockwork on arrival.

After a run down through Harris past some gorgeous mountain ranges, I started to thing something was wrong as I was driving, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Suddenly I realised what was wrong, it was the almost complete absence of other road traffic!  Bliss after the joys of London and the M25!

Roads devoid of traffic
Roads devoid of traffic

I wanted to continue along the East coast of the Isle of Harris as close to the sea as possible and once we left the larger Lewis roads the route rapidly became single track.  After a short while not only was it narrow but incredibly undulating and I had to keep all my wits about me not to come off the road.

We had lunch in the Harris hotel in Tarbert and I bought a blue-ish “Harris tweed” jacket in the local shop as a long term memento of the adventure.

We stayed in a small family run hotel called the Doune-Braes near the famous Callanish Stones on the West coast of Lewis and very nice it was too.  We were made to feel very welcome and a huge plus for us over dinner was some traditional Scottish dancing laid on impromptu by some girls who were competing in the local area the next day and just wanted to continue practicing.

After waking up to see sheep grazing outside our bedroom window and a full Scottish breakfast (from memory white pudding vs. black pudding and a square sausage vs. a normal cylinder were the only differences from a full English) we visited the Stones.  Almost a miniature version of Stonehenge, except we were pretty much the only ones there, apart from the sheep.

Note the Harris tweed jacket to keep me warm!
Note the Harris tweed jacket to keep me warm!
Note Debbie's jacket half undone - women don't feel the cold like us poor men!
Note Debbie’s jacket half undone – women don’t feel the cold like us poor men!

After that we visited the white sanding beaches overlooking Taransay at Horgabost and I must admit apart from the cold I thought we could have been in the Caribbean. Simply breathtaking views and the air was so pure.

Taransay in the background
Taransay in the background

After dreaming for a few minutes “a al Mitty” we set off back up North towards Lewis and after a quick stop to examine a whalebone jaw in someone’s garden we ventured to the tip of the island where a lighthouse called the Butt of Lewis which again was spectacular.  Going through the villages en route I couldn’t help but notice peat stacks that the locals had cut ready for their fires and their smallholdings too.  What a life!

You can see the whalebone just next to the left hand tree
You can see the whalebone just next to the left hand tree
The “Butt” 🙂

In the end I started getting nervous, after all I wasn’t nicknamed “Peter Prudent” for nothing!  The flight back to Edinburgh was only in 3 hours time I told Debbie we needed to make a move back to Stornaway airport to make sure we had enough time to check in and go through security.  You can imagine my horror when we turned up to the small terminal building only to find the airport “closed” pending arrival of the incoming plane.

A different world indeed and one I appreciated after the shock!  🙂

Castaway 2008

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