The day began with a brief Hello. Opening the window, I sipped coffee, let in the cool morning air and gazed at the landscape: a few bungalows hunkered down at the far end of a fence-enclosed meadow; along the side of the house the A865, a two-lane highway, stretched off into the distance; on the horizon the sky was slowly losing its dark, night colors. A rustle below drew my attention. Two shy, quiet visitors made their unannounced appearance.
Two red deer stood in a corner of the meadow, the fence running alongside kept them from escaping across the road. We stood frozen, I at my window, cool morning air bringing goosebumps to my arms, they motionless, both sets of dark eyes staring at me. An early morning car zipped by; it startled them into action. They fled, bounding and weaving over the deep grass.
The early morning visit from the curious pair was a welcome one. And, after a dead-to-the-world night’s rest, felt like a perfect start to the day. The day before had been challenging, fun but also long. After a 45-minute ferry ride from Harris to North Uist, it was late evening when we checked into our temporary home — Hebrides House.
Before hopping on the ferry, we ate dinner in Leverburgh at the Anchorage restaurant , a small place that ranks large on delivery. Cheerful, clean and with a nautical theme, it also houses a bar and tiny gift shop area. Outside the location is prime: waterfront, next to the pier and surrounded by lush grass. The menu is varied, the food delicious. From beginning to end my meal–Sea Trout with spinach sauce, green beans and roast potatoes followed with a light and crispy Pavlova meringue with tangy mango raspberry sauce –left me a happy little camper. Confident that I burned calories galore while climbing the rocky shores of Huisinis, I indulged without a single guilt-inducing thought.
After a day of mountain climbing, our first day on Uist called for an easy beach walk.
“Hmmm. This is usually dry enough to cross over”, said John as we reached a flooded patch shortly after leaving the carpark. It might have been wise to take it as a sign.
If you like beachcombing, you might enjoy a walk on Kilpheder beach. That day the tide was out. Along a curving swath of dune, shallow clear water washed over white sand exposing seaweed and shells and giving seabirds – oyster catchers, sandpipers- easy access to tasty, tiny morsels. Sun and patches of blue sky occasionally peeked through drifting clouds.
We walked along the wet sands, leaving a trail of footprints in our wake. We were good little ducklings, following our mother duck leader, forging ahead despite a now steady drizzle trickling from the clouds above and the sky turning gloomy.
Drizzle turned into steady rain and the wind rose. And so began Mother Nature’s non-stop assault.
Wind and rain blew fine-grained sand in waves across the beach, pelting our legs. Could patience, spirit and waterproof gear stand up to the test? We soldiered on. John, ever determined, led us off the beach and over a ridge.
A sea of waist-high grasses greeted us. Strong winds whipped grass and us, pushing our little troop sideways as we tried to keep up with our point man. Stragglers at the tail end, already weary, found the going a somewhat “rough and tumble” process; the grass hid holes and trenches that led to jarring missteps. One of us who, I’m sure has no aspirations to become a gymnast, failed to hit a landing; a slow-motion tumble landed her in the grass. Luckily, she was unhurt. The not-ready-for-Olympics moment did, however, provide a temporary distraction and amusement for another of our group.
We climbed one more hill. At the top, even John, a lanky man with an easy stride who made every walk look like a stroll in the park, had to admit defeat.
The weather had taken its toll. While I dripped and dried, dripped and dried – forehead, glasses and nose (red and wind-chapped by now), I tried to lift my spirits by humming a Christmas song.
Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm. Put one foot in front of the other. Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm. Put one foot in the front of the other.
The line from Rudolph-the-red-nosed Reindeer ran over and over through my tired brain.
Slogging through constant downpour and near gale-force winds can leave you downcast (in more ways than one). There’s not much to see head down, in my case sand, grass and muddy tracks. The beauty of the area –white sand beach, turquoise waters, waving dunes and wild-flower blanketed machair (meadow/coastal grassland) had disappeared. All I wanted now was a brief break: a shower, dry clothes, food, a hot drink and a nap.
I should have signed up for that river cruise. I could be sipping wine and watch the world go by instead of this, I thought. I was exhausted, frustrated. I knew there were (what seemed like) miles to go until the car park.
I plopped down on a ridge and cursed into the wind. When my heart calmed I got up and dragged on. After all, I was pretty sure there would be no rescue: taxi, tractor, pony or hero, none would magically turn up and carry me home.
“Now I know what those poor infantry bastards in World War II felt like after surviving a battle”, I grumbled to John as I finally drudged across the finish line. “Just a little bit” replied wise and wise-cracking John as he patiently and with an ever-present smile, pulled close the cattle gate.
That night, after congratulating myself for lasting through another of John’s lovely walks, I again fell asleep instantly. Pretty much like a soldier who, on a mission and fatigued, had learned to sleep, anytime, anywhere. “Dead-to-the-world”.
Don’t you just love it when you have a day that begins and ends well?
A few recommendations:
You can’t go wrong stopping to eat at the Anchorage Restaurant in Leverburgh.
http://www.hebrideshouse.co.uk/ Hebrides House Bed and Breakfast is located in the North Uist area of Benbecula. Although it is not set up to provide a hot breakfast, each room has a small, well-stocked fridge with water, juice, milk, yoghurt as well as coffee & tea. On the top floor landing a self-serve station provides continental breakfast items including home-baked goodies. Plus, if you’re lucky enough, you may also get early morning visitors!