Tuesday, 5 June 2018
A prolonged shower in Lewis
Our Hebridean holiday was scheduled for the second half of May, which we hoped would give a reasonable chance of good weather. An early start from home saw us arrive in Ullapool in good time for the morning ferry to Stornoway. The MV Loch Seaforth is a fine vessel, now well established on this route, for which she was specifically built in 2014. At 8680 tonnes and 118 metres long she's the largest vessel in the Calmac fleet and can carry 700 passengers and 143 cars.
We left Ullapool on a bright and pleasant morning, but armed with a forecast which showed strong winds by the evening and then a passing front which would bring rain for a time. After a very comfortable crossing of the Minch we disembarked and drove south through Lewis to Harris (the two are actually one landmass but considered very much as separate islands) to the cottage we'd rented in rapidly strengthening winds. By evening the rain had arrived - and continued for 43 hours. In these parts this is known as "a shower"........
The following day was Sunday; and pretty much everything on Lewis was shut. The tradition here is very much steeped in the Free Church (or "wee free" as it's sometimes known). This Presbyterian and evangelical church is a quite austere form of Christianity - and Sunday is kept as the "Lord's Day" when nothing except worship should happen. There continues to be opposition to any business or organisation wishing to operate on a Sunday in this island, and it has to be said that churches are well attended
We took a drive around the north of Lewis, much of which is a huge raised peat bog. The wet conditions seemed to add to the austere nature of the landscape. I confess that I don't have the resilience of spirit to be able to live and to thrive here.
As it was still raining into Monday, we decided to have a day visiting some of the celebrated ancient sites of Lewis, but the first place we arrived at was somewhat more recent in origin. The Norse Mill and Kiln near Shawbost is a restored example of horizontal mills which were once active all over the island.
The water was let in via a lade (channel) to turn horizontal paddles which powered the upper millstone, grinding corn which was fed in by a hopper. Remarkably, the Shawbost mill only ceased operation in 1930 and similar mills remained operational until 1945.
The building opposite the mill is a kiln where grain could be dried using a small fire. The construction is very traditional and may show Norse origins - hence the name.
On the moorland approach to the mill, a discarded millstone lies by the side of the path. At this point in the day the rain was still falling, but with a forecast for a dramatic improvement by mid afternoon. Even in these conditions, there was the occasional splash of colour though.....
We thought this to be Lady's Smock, or Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis) which also grows in a damp part of our garden at home. We were careful not to pick any of it - which in the month of May is considered very unlucky and is associated with being bitten by Adders in a tradition stretching from northern Europe to France!
Bog Bean (Mentyanthes trifoliata) was beginning to flower in many of the pools. A common aquatic plant, it seems to thrive here; and Lewis has an abundance of pools for it to populate. It's a pretty plant and has many medicinal applications.
Perhaps the brightest thing around were the abundant Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris) one of the most common wildflowers of the Outer Hebrides. Despite the rain, we were finding plenty of interst and we hadn't yet got to the places we aimed to visit.....