On Tuesday this week I boarded around 9 in the morning a Caledonian Macbrayne ferry bound for Tarbert in the Outer Hebrides. The ‘Outers’ are a chain of islands just north of Skye. They are known for their ruggedness and folklore. It has only been in the last two decades that accessibility to the islands became easier and that people began to take holidays regularly to this place. Even after my visit however, I will tell anyone who has interest in remote places of the world that these islands remains to this day a true land’s end. A definite place where one can hide from the world as much as Bonnie Prince Charlie did from the English on these islands in 1746. The sky was red when i boarded the ferry. I was about to find out why.
As the ferry rounded out of Uig bay from whence our departure was out of, I saw as we headed northward towards the archipelago, a giant black cloud loomed in front of us. Like a predator who did not have to chase his quarry, but simply has to wait for it to come to him.
Come to him we did. I went inside after the winds became strong enough to blow me overboard and sat in one of the many luxury lounge chairs that were all empty except for four other passengers. Two of them being workers on the ferry.
It was deathly quiet in the cabin. The winds could not be heard, but from below came sounds of the engines chugging slowly as we lurched over every wave. It was almost unnerving. Being in a storm on a ferry headed to a chain of islands known for its legends was not so easy to quell the uncertainty and the excitement inside. Rain and sea mist was thrown hard at the window. I had a hard time holding the rocking in my stomach but gallantly did.
When the craft finally pulled into the Tarbert port I disembarked starboard side and headed to catch the local bus to Stornoway, the major town on the Isle of Harris. It was cold here in Tarbert and I predicted there would be snow soon. The snow came just as soon as the bus left Tarbert going down the precarious roads towards Stornoway. It came hard. It came fast.
After reaching Stornoway the weather changed dramtically. Here was better weather than I found even on the Isle of Skye. It seems Stornoway was popular here not for just the University it boasted or for its large port big enough to dock a freighter but its location contained better weather conditions than throughout the rest of the island. I was thankful for that as I was to spend the night here in this town.
The town was quaint and I checked in to the “Heb Hostel” right in the centre of the town. After setting down my bag and getting acquainted with my roomates for the night (the sleeping arrangement was dormitory style) I left to find some warm food and do a little Christmas shopping for family and friends. While the light slipped away the streets around the plaza became more and more filled with toddlers on the shoulders’ of parents and light sticks running around the square, being held by of course small children in high excitement. I realized everyone was coming out to watch the annual town Christmas show and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to enjoy it with them.
I watched as the local bagpipe band came out and played up a large hullabaloo followed by an award ceremony for the local town leaders and the Royal Lifeboat Rescue Team. When the Lifeguard team received their awards I pondered in the back of my mind how what it might have been like if I saw them in a different light-like as if they were pulling me off a sinking ferry in a tempest similar to earlier that day. I didn’t ponder long on it.
Next morning I rose early for coffee and breakfast. It had snowed through the night and I could feel it before I saw it. I was ready and anxious to get where I was going. It was the whole reason I came out here in the first place- to see the fabled Callanish standing stones.
These are no ordinary stones and I thought no better time to see them then right before the encroaching “end of the world” was to come. Erected around 4,000-5,000 years ago by ice age paleolithic hunter-gatherers their true purpose is yet to be understood by modern scientists. It could be just as much of a site which animal or maybe even human sacriface was witnessed as it could have been just a town center for simple gatherings.
I board the bus as the sun rises and head for Callanish. There was only one other passenger aboard besides me who looked to have the same agenda as mine. I could tell by the look in his eyes. The intrigue of the stones were in him as well.
I arrive. The ground is in a hard frost and I imagine that it would look like this as it did 5,000 years ago during the receding ice age. The land around is barren and silent. I am alone with the stones. I feel a vibe droning from the very core of the rocks. I spend hours with these monoliths. I don’t want to forget their power.
I head back to Stornoway three hours later and take an abbreviated trip back to Tarbert and back on the ferry. It is dark and I can’t enjoy any view. I find a quiet part of the cabin and settle there. I sleep all the way back to Uig dreaming about the stones.