Onto the Ferry ‘Loch Seaforth’ at Ullapool, and under way by 1030 heading into ‘The Minch’ after navigating between islands, rocks and reefs on a not unpleasant day. Sue’s excited as she is going for the first time, to the Island of Lewis where her grandfather Clarence Morrison setout from, unhappily apparently, in the late 19th century, to emigrate to Australia. Its a 2.5 hour journey to Stonoway the Isle of Lewis’s main town and port, on calmish seas the ship toodling along at 22.0 KPH and capable of carrying at full capacity, 700 passengers, 143 cars and 20 trucks up to semi-trailers. It has bow and stern ramps, the bow clam shell doors, for loading vehicles at Ullapool, and the stern ramp for offloading at Stornoway. The ship is 118 metres long x 18.4 wide, 7 decks including cafes, gift shops, comfy lounges with one lounge devoted to people with ‘pets’. Its got two 4.1 metre diameter propellors plus bow and stern ‘thrusters’. Gee, I love this sort of detail.
We find a nice possie to sit up on the forward top deck with huge front and side windows providing a magnificent view of the islands, distant mountains, gulls, shearwaters diving, mackerel skipping in the waves and people strolling about soaking up the on and offboard ambience. I strike up a conversation with Jackie a largish middle aged pleasant woman with the most cheerful face and her late twenties daughter psychologist Airlie. Hay, they are Aussies from Melbourne and after a brief humming of Waltzing Matilda, we all get a cup of tea, a biccy and promise to not talk about our blundering, bumbling, bungling, boofhead politicians. Or Barnaby’s love child, ha ha, come on, nor the AFL Footy. Agreed, high fives all round. Jackie and Airlie are on a tour of England but mostly Scotland driving, their car is down below, and they have two nights on the Isle of Lewis before catching a ferry, with car, to the Isle of Skye. The island is actually the Island of Lewis and Harris but nobody seems to know why apart from the fact that both words are corrupted from the Viking to mean a particular sort of terrain. Lewis is the bigger north chunk and Harris the southern littler chunk.
Sue’s excited despite us only having a 40 minute ‘window’, love that, in the islands capital Stornoway, before we re-board the ferry. So we are going to try and ‘stuff’ as much Stornoway and Ancestral goodies into our minds and iPhones before we depart. Its a pleasant little town come village of 8,038 people founded by the Vikings in the 9th century. There’s some 20,500 people on the island and that figure is rising. A lifestyle choice I think as its a pleasant enough place. Along the waterfront squat three story buildings from centuries ago with a few more modern one’s designed by the Ugly Architects Group. Streets leading off are more from antiquity with mostly gentle narrow two story buildings, dormers in the roof space where the relatives slept, the buildings crowding and cuddling together for company as they wind about their front doors right at the roadside. No vacant shops with bars, cafes, gift shops, we’re into the info bureau and Sue is welcomed back to ‘the island fold’ but no, they cannot help with ancestral stuff, so we nose about and all too soon its head back to the ferry. But we did get some ‘links’ to later explore the family line. And theres a castle just up the hill with battlements and towers but its too far to go explore unless I become Usain Bolt.
The name Stornoway is derived from the Viking, ‘Steering Bay’, and has been corrupted from the Vikings name over many centuries by mixed marriages, boatloads of refugees and peoples learning to talk with a handful of gravel in their mouths. Settled by the Neolithic Stone Age Peoples, perhaps 5 – 6,000 years ago, they were in time superceded by the Bronze age peoples who erected the Callanish ‘Standing Stones’ some of them 6 metres high and how bloody hard would it have been to cart, carry and erect that. Iron age people morphed out of the Bronzites and then came the Celts a troublesome warlike mob who fought tooth and nail amongst themselves and against others.
The Vikings came by the Isle of Lewis initially on raids as they headed south to plunder Irelands whisky stills and did the same on the return journey as they were sulking because those Irish most times, gave them a bit of comeuppance. The Viking ‘Leod’ settled here on the island, founded the dynasty that became the MacLeods of Lewis, a really warlike mob, just like the Celts, so they had a jolly old time slaughtering each other. Leod, managed to occupy a Castle kicking out or knifing in the back, just as goes on in Canberra today, the previous occupant thus becoming ‘King of the Castle’ making all the rest ‘dirty rascals’. And so there were occasional periods of peace until near time for another election and/or, junior clan members wanted more authority and bigger dirks, claymores and pikes. The Morrison Clan, my Sue’s mob, aligned themselves with the MacLeod mob which shows just how sensible anybody with or has a name derived from Morrison is. Yay.
That partly explains why my lovely Sue puts up with me. However, fighting on the island continued virtually non stop for centuries as other island tribes and interlopers came and went. Amongst those involved were the MacDonalds, McKenzies, MacCaulays, MacPhails and others all running around, the men fired up by testosterone, hunger and the want of a bigger drinking horn. The women were equally as fearsome fighting, hitting everything, fired up by the want of new trinkets, deer skin clothing and a more handsome stronger partner. A Neil MacLeod was also involved he getting a major sulk on after losing a battle and went to hide on a small island where he was captured and hung in Edinburgh in 1613 after possibly a bit of quartering as Mel Gibson went through.
I know one of Neil’s descendants himself a McLeod with a kingdom at Margaret River. The modern day Neil dropped the ‘a’ as he had trouble pronouncing it with gravel in his mouth. There, I have neatly and accurately I hasten to add, encapsulated the history of the Island Lewis/Harris apart from the fact that Ollie Cromwell’s forces came along in 1653, and gave the whole island a good reason to have a community sulk as they slaughtered anyone whose name started with ‘Mac’, burnt villages, pulled down castles, firstly plundering them and generally caused mayhem all in the name of religion, reformation and we are right.
By the way, Stornoway Black Pudding is a Gourmet Black Pud granted ‘Protected Status’ in 2013 by the European Commission, as the Chinese were producing the same thing with the same packaging from a small village in China named Stornoway.
Back in harbour at Ullapool we trudge up the hill to our overniter at the three storey Bespoke Caledonian Hotel. In my book ‘Bespoke’ means particular or planned for, special even, but its effin well not. From a distance the hotel looks sort of Fairytale like with a few turrets, gargoyles and trinkets strung about, its fenestration rather delightful, but up closer, its obvious that either Clive Palmers or Ollie Cromwell’s mob have been by and stripped it, slaughtered the Scottish people inside, replaced them with scruffy, untidy, incomprehensible Balkans peoples, and as we find on entering, plundered its inside and its been left like that.
By bloody cripes, this is the dirtiest, filthiest accommodation we have had on our trip. Our room, 213, accessed via stairways, passageways some of them used as storerooms, fire doors, ha ha, smelly worn/torn carpets, paint peeling from walls, as on we trudge to the next attack on our sensibilities and there at the end of a very long tunnel is our smelly, tiny cell.
Oh, it has a small room adjoining which is a breeding ground for bacteria. On the Nigerian photo shopped website, shame on you booking.com its called an ‘en-suite’. Grr grr. We settle in, Sue finds a pair of Spider Man blue and red undies in a drawer, we’ve paid, we go out to escape via the snakes and ladder labyrinth this place is. Luckily, we find around the corner, Ceilidh Place, on West Argyle Street http://www.the ceilidhplace.com a peaceful practical soothing refuge. Its a combo bookshop, a nice one too and I have long experience with the setout, flavour, quality and smell of bookshops, a bar, ditto. AND it flows thru into a restaurant and very good accommodation. We dwell in the bookshop, its shelving, Scottish authors predominate, theres no Mills and Boon crap, sorry Mills and Boon lovers, so much we would like to buy, but luggage space? We make a note for book.depository.com later and into the bar we go sitting on stools between an ageing man, stooped, bewiskered, an explosion of grey hair, any person who seems old like me is ageing, named Fraser and a thin tall man aged in his mid fifties, Mike. Mike wears a short sleeved shirt whereas I have five layers on. He’s either mad or English/Scottish. Turns out he’s both.
Ahh Miss, a Dalwhinnie single malt for Moi and a Pinot Grigio for She, please. Whisky in Scotland, and we found this in Ireland also, is about a third cheaper than wine. So, I can have, every third whisky, on Sue’s house as it were. Yay. Then Cameron, Cam, arrives and sits between me and Fraser. They are mates from a hundred years ago arriving on a Viking ship and they have been plundering whisky at this bar ever since. Cam is more amicable than his mate Fraser. The barmaid, a backpacker of the female species, attractive, short cropped hair sees Cam walk in, and as he sits down his glass of whisky of the cheap blended sort, 2 pounds a pop, is set before him, Fraser and Cam exchange grunts and struggle to remember where they left off their conversation of last night. I assist and Cam espouses the benefits of his cheap blended 2 pound glass and my 3 pound 45 pence glass of Dalwhinnie. He loses.
Meanwhile Sue strikes up a yak yak with Mike on tother side and he turns out to be rather intelligent, quick witted, articulate, knowledgable and I find I’m out of my depth as I am none of those things. Oh well, perhaps a tad bright come borderline intelligent about some things. Perhaps. We book a table for dins, the bar flows into the restaurant as it does into the bookshop behind us and we invite Mike, in a mood of comradeship and because he is starting to build a house at Achitilbuie the small coastal town where we spent our last three nights in a Crofters Cottage, to join us. Small world.
Mikes gay, nothing wrong with that, and he has engaged what seems to be a very expensive architect to design his house and was in Ullapool awaiting the arrival of said architect from Stornoway on the ferry in the morn. Then a drive to site, inspect a driveway as nothing else is happening, drive the architect back to the ferry and ta ta architect on what would have cost Mike, and his partner, 1,000 pounds in fees. Seems like a scenario for Grand Designs with Kevin McCloud waxing lyrical as this house of Mikes, and I have gravitas in the field, is going to cost an awful lot of money, come in way over budget, have a myriad of minor, major and catastrophic problems with the architect finishing up with a new Porsche and/or run through with a Dirk after being quartered by Mike and/or his partner. The house is to be timber framed with a sod roof. Why a sod roof, ahh, no easy answer to that one apart from there are two others built into a hillside close by and the architect likes them. Mikes house is not being built into a hillside and is on the high side of the main road through Achilitibuie which means nobody will be able to see the roof. Sheep will. Theres only one road through the village of Achilitbuie.
Reluctantly after saying ta ta’s to Mike, Cam and Fraser, we head back to our cell at the Bespoke Caledonian Inn sleeping on a lumpy mattress with sheets washed two weeks ago, looking as though left over from a Viking Raid and that Ollie Cromwells soldiers forgot to loot. They should have, and burnt the hotel as well. Breakfast next morn isnt much to tell mum about, its crap. Waited on by Balkans mafisio who I later find at 1030, book out time is 1100, in our room cleaning up, he grunting aggressively at my going to our room with our key to check that the room bacteria was OK. I bet the Spider Man blue and red undies are still there.
We are extremely glad to leave the Bespoke ha ha, Caledonian Hotel but sorta like Ullapool. 7/10 for Ullapool. Ooroo from Des.
PS As in many Australian jobs, backpackers or interlopers through the free borders of the European Union, are running the hospitality business many of those people friendly, happy and excellent at their task. Apart from at the Bespoke Caledonian Inn. Grr grr again.