We hadn’t long been together and Andy was planning on meeting me at the end of my trip in South America to travel the last 3 months together. This was a pretty big deal so I reckoned we needed a little travelling tester. We were both going to be back in the UK for a while before my sister’s wedding so couldn’t venture too far so I thought: let’s do Scotland. For the years that I had lived there I had wanted to travel over to the Outer Hebrides. Having only made it as far over as Skye before, I was especially keen to go to Harris and Lewis. With the surname Harris, I thought Andy would be quite keen to pursue this idea. He was kind of hoping for a romantic little house with log burning fire set-up, but it turned out that this was way out of our budget. Andy right now is a bit of a different person to who he was then, I’m not saying he was softer but having endured the elements for a career for so long, he was definitely less keen on the camping/hostelling idea than me. I had to know that he could do this or the South America trip would fall to pieces. I couldn’t afford anything more than budget stays with the odd treat once a month. The irony is that now he takes roughing it to a whole new level!
So, we began planning for ‘Harris hits Harris’ on a budget. Hiring a car was not only going to cost too much, but the ferry was extortionate with a vehicle and most of the places on the ferry were booked as it was Heb-Celt the weekend we were heading over. The only option seemed to be as follows:
- Catch the Megabus from Edinburgh to Glasgow (1hour-ish)
- Catch a CityLink from Glasgow to Uig on Skye (8 hours)
- Overnight in Uig
- Catch the ferry from Uig to Tarbert (1hour 40mins)
- Public bus it around the island during our stay
It was going to be a bit of a mission, but nothing compared to 20+ hour bus journies in Argentina so why not!
We began stupidly early in the morning for our first bus trip and then boarded the next with snacks and smiles. About two hours or so in; along the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond, we veered around a corner pretty fast and out of control. Being partly on the other side of the road, the coach nearly crashed into an oncoming vehicle; the driver overcompensated and we crashed into the rocks on the left-hand side of the road. It was a small crash to be honest, but it was still quite scary. We pulled over at the next safe place while the driver assessed the damage. He concluded that we couldn’t continue in this vehicle and had contacted Head Office for a replacement to be sent. Luckily there was a good old pub over the road so we headed in there for a sneaky pint, a game of cards and some food.
After a while we were back on the road again, thankful that we hadn’t risked booking the evening crossing to Harris for that night as there was no way we would have made it now! The rest of the bus trip was uneventful in comparison, bar the amazing views of Eilean Donan Castle on the Kyle of Lochalsh.
We arrived at Uig where we had booked in to the SYHA hostel. The unfortunate part was that we had to sleep in separate dorms as the only space they had available were in unisex rooms, but that was fine for one night. We were really excited about having a good feed so walked down the hill to the town only to find that nothing was open until later, bar one of the pubs. We were so pleasantly surprised to find that they served up top notch seafood for a decent price so we lapped that up and headed to a bar on the way back for a wee dram. That night was spent playing cards in the common room before saying good night and heading our separate ways.
Early the next morning we walked down to ‘town’ with our backpacks reedy to board the ferry. We drew in to a wet and grey Tarbert and made our way to the bus stop to catch the bus to our hostel. It appeared that the timetable I had previously gathered was incorrect and after some enquiring at the Tourist Office, there was no bus for another 4 hours. We were wet and needed to try and crack on with our day so Andy managed to get the number of a local taxi. They were the only taxi. For a small fortune, they were prepared to come and collect us and take us along to our place. While we waited, we decided to stock up on some basics for the next few days from the small grocery store and head for some tea and cake in the tearooms.
The taxi driver was the loveliest woman I think I have ever come across and in the short drive to our place she provided all the information we needed for the rest of our stay. We were to spend the next few nights at the No5 Hostel in Drinishidar where we had a private room booked in the house next door to the cottage. It was a great base and we were pleasantly surprised with the excellent kitchen facilities – simple pleasures. We were also able to hire bikes and kayaks, so this made not having a car a lot easier for exploring.
The next few days we spent walking, cycling, exploring and watching Van Morrison and other local acts at HebCelt. We were so fortunate to be gifted with a few of the sunniest and hottest days the island had seen that year, despite the rest of the UK suffering downpours. This was excellent for our cycling day and visit to Luskentyre beach. I’ll let the photos do the talking about what a stunning place Harris is:
On the morning of our departure we woke to another scorcher of a day. Andy went for a run whilst I prepared a scrummy breakfast of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and fresh bread from the post office next door. We opened a bottle of champagne we’d lugged all the way over there but had yet to drink and sat on the picnic bench by the dock. It had been a great little trip. In what was to become typical us fashion, we literally made the bus to the harbour with seconds to spare as I noted Andy’s lack of urgency when packing until the absolute last minute dash and go. We had a while to wait back in Tarbert so sat with a few ciders on the water’s edge waiting for the boat to pull in.
It was a glorious sail back to Skye and the polar opposite of the one on the way there. We sat sunbathing and enjoying the views of the mountains we passed along the way. On arrival into Uig we had enough time before our bus to squeeze in a scrumptious lunch of fresh crab and langoustines on the pub’s deck right by the water. Today was turning into a great day! We boarded the coach back to Glasgow and I reflected on the success of the trip and how it seemed I would most certainly be able to travel with this man for a few months.
We sat observing the beautiful views of the country as we passed, finally arriving for a pit stop in Fort William, where we had enough time to be able to gather some food and supplies. We still had some hours on the bus so we popped into Sainsbury’s for some snacks. Andy came back with a million ingredients for some kind of luxury salad that must have cost about £20, plus some Tupperware and utensils! I picked up a cooked chicken and baguette. I sat there on the floor outside of the supermarket picking away at my chicken carcass while he slowly concocted his little speciality, which included some of the chicken too. By the time he had finished, the bus was about to depart. £20 special salads were not going to be an option for the budget travels we had in mind so I had to have a word. Andy was not willing to compromise on health when it came to travelling so it seemed. He would learn! Whilst I was in agreement, this kind of extravagance and admin was not really feasible for budget backpacking, and some kind of compromise would have to be found.
Boarding the bus again with his salad, Andy began munching away. There had been a couple of ‘interesting’ characters (Jakeys), that had boarded the bus after Skye and one of these was coming up the stairs with his MacDonald’s in hand only to be told by the driver that hot food was not allowed to be consumed on board. This didn’t go down too well and a small argument followed where the guy was told he had to throw it away or get off and eat it but the bus would have to leave him there. He ignored the driver and came and sat down stuffing the food into his face, filling the bus with his complaints about how (you have to imagine saying this in a strong Glaswegian accent): “It’s just a MacDonalls! I’m just wanin tae eat ma MacDonalls! Whit’s his problem wi MacDonalls?!” etc. I encouraged Andy to put the salad away for now. He was having none of it! The bus driver meanwhile was getting more and more irate and next thing we know he has called the Police! Eventually they turned up (Andy’s salad disappeared into his bag) and boarded the bus. The incriminating evidence had been demolished, save the brown paper bag and mayonnaise covered wrappers it came in. More shouting of the word MACDONALLS could be heard from behind us and the guy’s female companion started getting involved. Next thing we know, he was being escorted off the bus (still screaming about ‘MacDonnalls’).
So, for over an hour we were sat there in the baking sun enduring this drama before we were on the move again. Finally we drew up into Glasgow where we were met with darkness and a missed connection. We worked it out though as a team and I thought, “Okay, this could work!”.