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  • mcneiljune2

Scotland: March 22nd-4th April, 2024

Updated: Apr 18

Friday March 22nd, 2024.

My brother Baz and the Tez joined me at the Marriott Hotel, Glasgow airport at the start of an adventure into the unknown. Already, Baz had incurred a £5.50 fine for an inadvertent 37sec incursion onto airport land, which we hoped wasn't a portent of things to come. He had done us proud with provisions for the week, including his soup maker and we remained optimistic even when we received notice that our ferry to the Isle of Harris had been cancelled because of bad weather!

We were due to travel through the Highlands of Scotland to catch the ferry at Uig the following evening, Saturday. Instead, we were notified that we'd been re-booked to sail early Sunday morning. It meant we'd be able to travel without haste to our ferry departure location the following day, as well as Baz being able to return to the hotel following his Parkrun. Accommodation was hastily arranged for that night at Uig, ready for an early departure the next day.

One of the themes on this trip was the commitment Baz had made to ensure he continued to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. I average 8,000 daily although I do have the odd day off! Steps - Baz : 11,940 June: 4590

Saturday March 23rd, 2024

Never before having been in an electric vehicle (EV), I wasn't sure what to expect of my transport for the next two weeks. I was somewhat relieved to see that Tez wasn't treated by Baz as anything special. The inside was his typical arrangement of things in place for convenience rather than style/comfort! I shared my footwell with my camera bag and a solid object with Baz's bobble hat on top. Don't question, I told myself; there was room for me and my things which was of most importance! It was only after a few days that I learned the solid object, was a box containing the ashes of Baz's much loved dog, Gordy, who'd died the previous year.

We set off much later than anticipated for the 6+ hours journey to Uig. If we'd known the delights which awaited us on the road, we wouldn't have tarried. The scenery which unfolded as we drove along was unbelievable! We kept stopping to take photos just totally in awe of the stunning scenery. First though, we needed to find a charging point for the Tez. This was new ground for Baz; it meant familiarising himself and Tez with non Tesla charging points. Baz had done his homework however and having made our way to a charging point at Glenfalloch, a non descript location way south of Fort William, we found only one of three connections was working and it was occupied. Problem was, the two people trying to charge their car, didn't seem to have a clue what to do. Baz to the rescue! Turned out they were foreign holidaymakers en route to Edinburgh and had hired an electric vehicle without knowing how it worked (either adventurous or stupid!). Baz not only solved the problem for them he also generously paid for their electricity; about £12. I hoped we might be building up brownie points if needed for later on in our trip!

It wasn't long before we spotted snow on distant mountain tops. Our conversation comprised exclamations of "wow", "stunning" and "unbelievable", closely followed by "shall we stop?", which invariably, we did!

Approaching Glencoe, vehicles and people became more numerous. With no places to stop alongside the road, we had to join the throngs in official parking areas. Jossling alongside people who'd been disgorged from mini buses and coaches, it was difficult to sometimes find a spot where the inevitable selfies weren't being taken. We knew that the area around Glencoe had been featured in the film Skyfall. Peering at some images on the mobile, we were pretty certain we'd spotted at least one of the iconic locations.

Time flew by. We raided the provisions cool box for food and drank coffee from our flasks made up in the morning. Last of the great spenders are we two! Our picnic took place where we were able to appreciate the view of a magnificent waterfall cascading from on high. We were surrounded by unimaginable beauty, however we also had to complete the journey to Uig. Feeling a sense of anticlimax as the magnificent scenery gave way to more mundane vistas, we still had a fair distance to cover and the journey stretched out ahead; we shouldn't have tarried earlier - too late to have such thoughts! The light was beginning to fade as we headed towards the bridge over to the Isle of Sky. Built in 1995 to link the island to the mainland, we were pleased that the heavy toll charge had long since been abolished and we were looking forward to finding our bed for the night. However, rounding a bend before we reached the bridge, we were suddenly confronted by a sight of pure beauty. Eilean Donan Castle situated on a small island at the confluence of 3 lochs was breathtaking to see as the sun was sinking. We were on our own in the car park and managed to take a few photos before the sun disappeared. We could have flown our drones, however we were too tired and darkness came quickly.

Leaving Eilean Donan with the promise that we'd be back, we made our way to the ferry port at Uig to find out where we needed to check in early the next day; we also had to charge Tez! Then it was on to our B&B. It was countryside and dark with few houses. The owners had said they would be going out at 6pm and would leave everything ready for us. The satnav told us we'd arrived yet the house was in darkness. Undeterred we drove in, triggering lights and quickly realising this wasn't it! The Tesla is quiet so Baz quickly turned around and we sneaked out, having a bit of a giggle. Another 10 mins along the road and we found our B&B and with much relief made ourselves at home. The owners had left a well stocked fridge and cupboard full of cereals for our breakfast the following morning. As we'd be leaving early for our ferry, we had our breakfast 6 hours early and tucked in before calling it a night. Well, I did at least. Baz took himself off out into the inky black night to complete his 10,000 steps goal. I was vaguely aware at one point that he was missing, however I rationalised that as he's an adult he didn't need me to worry! This B&B was the only one available near to the port and no twin beds were available! We weren't the only one affected by the ferry cancellation. Needs must however and we should have an award for managing the double bed together. There was a demarcation line in the duvet and neither of us crossed it during the night! Steps - Baz: 14,118 June: 1,348

Sunday March 24th, 2024

After a few hours sleep we were back at the ferry terminal and again plugged into the charging point for Tez - every kWh counts, grab it while we can! The crossing was relatively short - 1½ hours and largely uneventful, save for a rainbow and Tez's alarm going off down on the car deck until Baz put the security setting to "dog"! Quite appropriate really as Gordy stayed in the footwell.

On landing at Tarbert, we made another stop to top up Tez. Baz had sussed out a free charger close to the port. After tenaciously grappling with the charge card and cable sequencing, he did indeed achieve free electricity, albeit at the slowest charge rate. Free is free though! We were finally ready to head to our home for the week at Calbost, on the eastern coast of the Island of Harris. Well, almost ready! There was yet another stop at a charging point close to the junction leading to our accommodation. Tez topped up, we turned off the main road towards Calbost. The one carriage road width seemed much longer than the 10-15 mins we'd earlier calculated. It wouldn't be a quick blast along the road to the charging point whenever Tez needed sustenance, that was clear. Although we'd chosen a remote location, we were struck by the paucity of other dwellings and signs of life. The number of sheep we encountered though, more than made up for the lack of life elsewhere! We'd arrived!

We quickly made ourselves at home and set out to explore. Some Highland coos on the opposite side of the loch from us were a lovely sight. Climbing to some high points, we saw some magnificent stags heading away from us. Everywhere we went we felt eyes upon us; sheep dominated the landscape, some behind fences others roaming free. There was also evidence of a previous community with numerous, overgrown ruins visible. Baz also spotted a humorous sign on a now empty shed indicating hens once lived there! We had our first homemade soup made from leek, sweet potato, chorizo, carrot and stock cube. 19mins and we were eating. There was a chance of a weak aurora forecast and the last effort of our first day was to go out after dark with hope. We thought there was a faint aurora, however as it was almost full moon the best view was of moonlight reflecting on the loch. Steps - Baz: 15,390 June: 13,442

Monday March 25th, 2024

A beautiful sunrise greeted me through my bedroom window. It beckoned me outside to investigate a track along from our accommodation towards the sea. I was obviously following a route used by sheep. Cautiously working my way to the furthest end point, the views were magnificent both out to sea and looking back inland.

We decided to head out to find the Callanish Stones on the west side of the island. Of course a stop to charge the Tez was factored in en route. An adjacent tea room was open and we went in for coffee and cake. Baz had read a Trip Advisor comment which ripped into the manager and called him extremely miserable; so, naturally, we had to go in and see if he really was miserable! We made a joke of it with the young guy serving us, who said that the manager wasn't there. He was aware of the comment and had a wry smile when we joked about what we'd read. As he said: "What can you do?"

Underway again we eventually saw stones in the distance and drove along a dirt track before pulling up in a parking area close by. To say we weren't impressed is an understatement! We saw some more stones in another area and reckoned they might be more of an ancient monument. Squishing across water-laden peat bogs we arrived to find another disappointing collection which we tried to photograph in every conceivable way to assure ourselves we weren't missing something.

As we headed back to Tez via a less watery route, we spotted a herd of coos. Making our way towards them, we spent a lovely time connecting with these gorgeous beasts who are also very photogenic! They definitely made up for the Stones disappointment!

En route back to Tez again, in the far distance and on the top of a hill, our eyes caught sight of yet more stones. We saw tiny people walking about. Surely this was the much heralded ancient monument? We set off to investigate. They were indeed the Callanish Stones we were looking for. Set in a beautiful area they provided a more photogenic opportunity, however there were too many people about. We decided to return another day with our drones.

On the way home we caught sight of a fire beside a loch. Judging it to be peat burning, I crossed the road to take some photos. I was startled to see a flock of sheep hurtling across a field towards me and then coming to a stop just in front of me. I reckoned they must've thought I'd come bearing gifts! Before returning to Calbost, there was yet another top up for Tez at our now closed cake and coffee stop.

The narrow road to our accommodation didn't seem quite so far now and as there was still time in the day we decided to fly our drones as the wind had dropped sufficiently. I achieved my first flight out to take some images of derelict former dwellings now covered with vegetation.

Baz reaquainted himself with his beast of an FPV drone. It differs from mine in as much he's immersed in the experience via goggles. Takes a mind switch to use one after the normal drone!

A walk in complete darkness before bed (the moon was behind cloud) completed yet another full day. We had soup for dinner! Steps - Baz: 10,592 June: 9,329

Tuesday March 26th, 2024

We were out this morning before any wind began to increase. I knew that there was one particular perspective I wanted to capture with my drone, which called for relative calm (both from the wind and me!). I am so pleased that I achieved my vision.

Full of a sense of achievement we decided to head south to suss out the very different landscapes. I was interested in finding shapes and colours and hoped that some salt marshes I'd read about, might provide my first inspiration. The area was much smaller than anticipated although I was able to see possibilities. There was no nearby parking which meant a bit of a slog along a narrow road with both my camera and drone equipment. I took photos with both; I felt my drone offered the best perspective, however didn't feel able to fly too high as I was operating right next to a busy road with traffic thundering past.

Deciding to move on further, we saw a sign to Seilbost Beach and headed towards it. The views were spectacular. The colours of the water ranged from dark blue to turquoise with bright white sand. There were also black rock contrasts. At every opportunity I flew my drone and it was a beautiful experience. The wind was increasing and we were also hungry. Heading back to Tarbert, we left Tez charging at the free charging point and went to buy a few groceries in a little shop where we bought two leeks, a packet of biscuits, a bottle of Lee & Perrin and a loaf of bread! Leaving the shop we spotted a small cafe where I had the most delicious bacon and caramalised onion buttie (or cob, up here!).

Replenished we headed back towards Calbost, stopping on the way to fly our drones across a loch towards a small operational ferry. Baz also took an image of us and our shadows; his bobble hat makes him look taller than he is!

The sun was beginning to set as we turned into the home stretch. We could see mountains on the mainland at some points. Things were due to change however; the forecast for the next day wasn't good. For a change, we had soup for dinner! Steps - Baz: 11,123 June: 5953

Wednesday March 27th, 2024

Today, the island wanted to show yet another of its sides. The wind was howling, the clouds were low and there were rain/sleet showers. Drones were grounded! Nonetheless, we ventured out into our surrounds; we were on the island to experience all that it had to offer, after all.

It was still early when we climbed down to the inlet where sea and loch water meet. Animal tracks are best followed in such situations and after finding one the sheep use, I worked my way down through the vegetation and boulders to where I could see and feel the ferocity of the waves crashing on the rocks. Baz meanwhile chanced his luck peeking around the headland to experience the full force of the easterly wind blowing.! It was exhiliarating; the rawness of nature was on show for us and we were totally captivated.

After such a bracing start to the day we decided for a more low key trip; a walk around Stornaway. I had visions of being able to wander in and out of shops to keep dry and warm as well as gain a sense of what the town was about. There's a descriptive Scottish word which perfectly summed up the capital of this island for me - dreich! I didn't venture out of the car at all. We discovered that Stornaway is extremely bleak. If there is anything to see, beyond endless dour, grey buildings, then we didn’t see it.

What Stornaway did however offer, was a couple of free NHS charging points. Once we had located said charging points, we parked in one of the bays, plugged in Tez and then proceded to have a picnic. We whiled away the time chatting and found ourselves discussing whether or not the seagulls on the house opposite had an innate understanding to land on the leeward side of a chimney pot. We concluded that they did, in order to ensure that if they were blown off, it would be onto the roof, rather than down the chimney where death awaited. Several cars pulled up and people entered through doors to some sort of NHS clinic. We received some inquisitive looks as we were quite plainly having a picnic, however people generally were in a hurry to get out of the rain. Our conversation continued and led on to the topic of free charging points at medical facilities. We thought that if the NHS could afford to provide free charging facilities, then surely it didn’t need yet more taxpayers’ hard-earned money thrown at it. We thanked NHS Scotland regardless and continued to fill up, both with sustenance for us and leccy for Tez.

On the road again and heading back to Calbost, the sky began to brighten up a little and colours started to emerge; it was worth stopping to take some photos even as the sleet showers kept coming in. Baz was off doing his own thing and I couldn't see where he was. What I hadn't realised was that the car had locked itself and only Baz could open it. The rain and sleet had started to come in again. There was nowhere to shelter which meant I just had to wait for Baz to emerge from his hiding place below a bridge; structural things, apparently!

Back at Calbost and mindful of the cost of central heating, we had a go at lighting the fire with kindling and logs left on the hearth. A few times we thought we'd had success. We were burning peat: the lack of eco-credentials for it makes its warmth all the more pleasant. How dare we? As we were quickly running out of firelighters with only momentary flares of fire, even that sense of rebellion dissipated. We turned on the central heating and hoped the owner would be aware of the state of the weather!

In the evening the wind eventually died down and we set off for a walk to explore a road which led down to another sea loch and where a fishing boat was moored. It was a couple of kilometres from where we were staying and gave us a good work out walking back up a relatively steep incline. Light was beginning to fade and we promised ourselves that we'd return to this spot and find a way to the edge of the loch.

Another full and adventurous day, full of surprises. Steps goals completed and we had, no, not soup and although I don't recall clearly, I believe beans and toast featured! Steps - Baz: 11,178 June: 8,547

Thursday March 28th, 2024

I awoke in the night and rushed for my camera to take a photo of the beautiful moonlit scene from my bedroom. The sunrise wasn't too bad either!

Then it was off to the iconic beach of Luskyntyre. I'd read about a landscape photographer who had spent 30 days at this beach capturing outstanding images at different times of the day and in all weathers. I'd been intruiged.

We left early and were treated to unexpected gems along the way. The sleet and snow of the day before had left its mark on the mountains tops. There was little wind which resulted in glass like lochs with beautiful and clear reflections. We just had to keep stopping and drinking it all in!

Reaching the beach it was as we'd hoped, no people, not too much wind and the sun beginning to appear. There were however a couple of issues over which we had no control; the state of the tide and the direction of the sun. On reflection, arriving an hour earlier with the tide still in, we'd perhaps have had more opportunity to play around with long exposures and create more interesting images.

There was also the issue of forgetfulness on Baz's part! I somehow rose above the temptation to rub it in after his comments about me forgetting our flasks a couple of days previously. Not for the first time, he had forgotten to put the SD card in his drone. A spare one I had proved to be corrupted, however I took pity on him and offered to lend him the one out of my drone! Not only did he fly his normal drone, he also gave the beast an outing again!

We had a joyful time flying our drones and taking photos. We'd brought a picnic and traipsed back to the car with our gear to eat and drink with the idea of returning again as the elements changed. As we sat eating, so the car park started to fill and the thought of all those boots walking across the pristine sand was too much; we left! Naturally, as we passed through Tarbert and the free charging point, we satisfied Tez's needs before heading back to Calbost.

There was another feature we wanted to photograph though, a waterfall which we'd discovered on our first day of exploration at Calbost. Parking Tez we headed the kilometre or so to access this, the only waterfall we'd seen on the island thus far. We spent time climbing and getting as close as we were able to the waterfall (one of us much closer than the other!).

After achieving our goals and as the wind increased again, we headed back to our warm, cosy bothy and a homemade tortilla. What, another day without soup, I was missing it! Steps - Baz: 10,458 June: 8,989

Friday March 29th, 2024

Today we had an invite to visit some friends of a family member. They have lived on the island for decades and we made arrangements to find our way to their home for 10am.

The idea was for us to leave early enough to get to the Callanish Stones and fly our drones before other people arrived. Before we left though, I was able to capture a beautiful sunrise from the furthest point we could get to along the sheep track. The next matter to be dealt with was to negotiate a way past a flock of unco-operative sheep! There was a traffic hold up as we turned the corner to head away from our hideaway; the sheep just didn't bother to move which prompted Baz to have quite a conversation with them! Before we joined the main road, we caught sight of some beautiful reflections in a still loch. This was the loch we'd walked down to a previous evening and where we hoped we'd be able to reach the edge.

We stopped off at the Callanish Stones and I was hopeful of being able to capture the long morning shadows of the stones with my drone. There were heavy clouds about, however after a few flights, the sun came out and I was lucky. Baz was trying to line up the Stones and spent some frustrated time wondering why his structural engineering skills weren't working. Eventually, the penny dropped: he announced that prehistoric man clearly hadn’t heard of Pythagoras’s Theorem and setting out with a 3-4-5 triangle, so consequently there wasn’t a 90° angle to be seen anywhere. Terrible workmanship he declared!

Whilst flying our drones, a short haired collie came up from nowhere and dropped a stick in front of us waiting for it to be thrown. Trying to concentrate on both dog and drone, we took it in turns to indulge the collie. I wasn't fast enough at one time and she came and sat right in front of me waiting for a fuss too. Lovely moments.

As we walked through the protected area we saw four young girls jumping all over the ancient stones taking selfies. I heard their Spanish voices and told them it was prohibited to touch the stones! They must’ve been a bit shocked to be told off in their language on a remote Scottish island!

We found our way to the remote (yes, really!) location of our hosts and spent a lovely few hours learning about life in that location. An 80 mile round supermarket trip would surely have me living off the land. Nonetheless, we could see the attractions and a fast internet connection was definitely attractive! We were told of three near locations worth visiting. We chose the beach in the hope of being able to fly our drones and not have to do too much walking. There was a hike down to the beach, however as we descended it gave us a chance to have a look at what we might want to photograph.

We had the beach totally to ourselves and made the most of our good fortune. I was fascinated by the raw beauty of the place and had a lovely time seeking out shapes and colours as well as flying my drone. Baz also let the Beast loose and freaked me out when I was concentrating on the beach and he flew above me!

Heading back to Calbost, we turned off the main road and Baz pulled into a parking area; he was pooped! All the driving had eventually caught up with him. He pushed the button in Tez to snooze, whereby his seat reclined and all went quiet. I left the car and went and sat nearby on a bank overlooking a tidal river.

Baz hadn't snoozed of course, the lure of his phone proved too much, however he was rested. We pushed on only to come to a rapid halt as we saw young deer looking at us over a fence! Yet another stop further along the road because there they were, the sheep waiting to welcome us back. Baz, naturally had a chat with them, they were less talkative on this occasion. Scrambled eggs (or omlette in Baz's kitchen) and something else I don't recall for our evening meal!

Steps - Baz: 11,763 June: 5,175

Saturday March 30th, 2024 For some reason I had it in mind that the hour's change happened during the night and I was puzzling on how the wall clock in the lounge had updated its hour when not connected to the internet. Baz asked what was up and I explained. A roll of the eyes and a withering look together with a laboured explanation of how the hour change would happen this coming night, not last night, ensued!

Today we said goodbye to our lovely temporary home to headed northwards to Stornaway again in order that Baz could complete his 557th Parkrun!

We needed to be in Stornaway for his 09.30 start and made it in good time. The parking location for this Parkrun was in a car park associated with a golf club. I opted to wait in the car and have a spell of people watching - fascinating to see how long it took blokes to get their golf kit and themselves ready to march to the course! We were allowed into our B&B early which was a bonus as it was mizzling outside. The lady on reception asked what breakfast we'd like and agreed a time earlier than scheduled in order for us not to be late for our ferry. As Baz wasn't there and having given my order, I said he'd let her know when he arrived. I happened to mention that he was my brother and I sensed her pause in what she was doing. She then mentioned that there was a double bed in the room she'd allocated us. I assured her I'd booked a twin bed room and looking relieved, she asked if we'd mind waiting a little longer whilst she changed things around for us!

The kindness shown by the staff of the B&B started to change our original view of Stornaway. Later on we ventured out to find somewhere to eat "brunch". After walking along the sea front looking for suitable venues, I asked a couple of elderly ladies if they could direct us. Not only did they direct us, they accompanied us too and we had the pleasure of listening to the wonderful lilting dialect of these islands.

Having sorted out where we needed to go early the next day to catch our ferry, we headed back to our B&B. On the way we came across a street preacher plying his trade in the rain with a few earnest followers seeking redemption, or something. We also spotted a fish and chip shop. Baz headed to a location to charge Tez at a rapid charger (no, me neither!). It apparently gave him the opportunity to have a private disco rave whilst waiting for the charging to complete.

We were packed and ready for tomorrow's early ferry trip and I hadn't taken a photo all day. We pushed out the boat tonight for our evening meal. I had fish & chips, Baz had sausage & chips, filling, however not as tasty as anticipated!

Steps - Baz: 17,432 June: 5,096

Sunday March 31st 2024

Leaving Stornaway early as well as losing an hour with the clocks going forward meant we were thankful that the sea was relatively calm and we could relax. We also claimed front row reclining seats in the upper deck viewing area and were gently rocked across the Minch to Ullapool!

The scenery as we entered Ullapool was stunning and unexpected. We disembarked and drove a few hundred metres and stopped the car. Buying a coffee and cake for Baz, we sat on the sea wall to take in the vista. I just didn't expect a busy port to comprise such a small, colourful community of buildings in such an idylic setting.