So having pretty much bossed Barra and surrounding isles we hop-scotched our way over to Eriskay; I can’t say we were sorry to leave the wooden pod hostel place, but Barra was a dream and I’d love to go back someday. Patchy grey cloud dominated the sky, a breeze blew about a bit which kept things cool, and best of all no rain to spoil the fun. We were set for a day of days, a bag-fest of astounding proportions, no timetables and restricted only by tide in a bid to explore as many of the tidal islands around South Uist as we could.
We started with the shrewdly named Orasaigh on the south west coast, a sizable and satisfyingly island-shaped island with an easily surmounted summit, accessed by a short causeway from the mainland. Half-way along the causeway we debated the inclusion of a small tump that was home to some general Uist detritus i.e. bit of old tractor, pallet and/or lobster cage, and I was totally in Camp Put-It-On-The-List.
As a side note, lately when we’ve been uncertain about whether an island counts or not, the last resort to calm a naysayer has become “Could you at least have a picnic on it?” I will stick my neck out and say you could definitely have a picnic on [Un-Named Island]. Ambling up to the summit of Orasaigh was pretty great, with fantastic views over the sparsely populated landscape behind us and the open sea laid out in front, the tranquility only interrupted by the chronic chirrup of nearby oystercatchers – par for the course round these ways!
Our next destination was further north into Boisdale territory, and a set of tidal islands on the east side of South Uist. The environment was not the most inviting, sea-weed blanketed rocks and thick, sticky mud were the only terrain between us and several viable bags so Sam and I got creative in making the crossing. Sam opted for the Plank of Wood technique, masterfully balancing said plank repeatedly on various rocks and walking carefully along, whereas I opted for just taking my shoes off and plunging into the mud barefoot. Not only was my method astonishingly slower (due in part to the squeamishness involved in sticking my feet blindly into muds of unknown depth), but also failed to take into consideration what would happen vis a vis footwear once successfully crossed over. This meant that I was barefoot for the next hour or so as we made our way across oozing mud, barnacled rock, prickly grass and sharp stones. The silver lining came in the form of actual silver linings as the sun started to break through the clouds, which always gets me in the mood for enjoying helps me to enjoy the simplicity of being able to pal around drinking ciders, and we had soon bagged a fair number of the tidals we had set out for.
On returning to our car we bumped into a local crofter who obviously wanted a conversation but wasn’t quite sure how he was going to go about starting one. He plumped for confusionary tactics, pointing out that my car was not parked in a good place (His house being the end of the road, the next house probably a good mile away, and not another building/vehicle/thing in sight), and, had a large lorry come along, would have found it difficult to turn around, however, he also directed us to the note left on the windscreen inviting us into his croft.
Whatever his true feelings about my parking, the conversation was started, and he had a terrific way of talking about six different things simultaneously with intricate cross-references and intelligent links and jumps all over the place. Subjects covered included crofting, rules for laying roads to houses in sparse communities, Scottish independence, tree growing and re-settling ex-addicts from the mainland on Uist. He was also very excited about his house being in the pictures for our blog, so Eoghann, these are for you!
After that stimulating discussion, we made our way up to Benbecula, to check out some more tidal islands near the Co-op just over the border. The terrain here was much more enjoyable, sandy beaches separating the various islands in the bay; a straight forward walk at low tide. We were able to bag a bunch more islands here before panicking about the tide coming in, which it had done surreptitiously and by a surprising amount - the small channel that we waded through on the way out was now a river ten foot deep. There was nothing to do but follow the channel round to find where it looked narrowest and attempt a crossing. We got wetter than we had planned when we started out, but we just about made it back safely!
Our accommodation was booked at Paul’s Bunkhouse, as we had stayed before and remembered Paul as a bit of an island hero. Sure enough, when we turned up and were warmly welcomed by his mother, it wasn’t long before Paul arrived and warned us about the TV crew coming to film him about something or other. He gave us specific instructions to keep out of the way, but of course Sam had left his shoes in the car and so off he went and no doubt got in everybody’s way, I couldn’t bear to watch of course. We had a bit of a chilled one that evening, just a few ciders on the hill behind Paul’s, absorbing the fantastic scenery, brightly illuminated greens and blues in the evening sun.