Home is…

“I read within a poet’s book
A word that starred the page:
‘Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage!’

Yes, that is true; and something more
You’ll find, where’er you roam
That marble floors and gilded walls
Can never make a home.

But every house where Love abides,
And Friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home-sweet-home:
For there the heart can rest.”

– Henry Van Dyke, ‘A Home Song’

 

With much of the two-person jobs completed and after two very busy months working on Blue Heeler, I took the opportunity to fly 17,000kms to Australia for a fleeting visit. I hadn’t been home for two years and although Skype and FaceTime are convenient for a long-distance traveller to keep in touch, it’s not quite the same as a visit. My disappearance gave Wayne quiet time to fine-tune the engine repower and finish off some of the projects. The engine had to wait until my return for its official start.

Two days of train and plane, once again I was back in the great rugged land down under. The photo above shows just how big this vast continent is compared to the UK.

Out from Tullamarine airport along the country roads, decaying remains of slow kangaroos, or even slower wombats, are strewn along the roadside. A big roo would certainly wipe out the front end of my rental car so my tired eyes scan the road for wildlife. The parched countryside shows little evidence of winter rains with barely a green tinge to the thirsty paddocks. Summer is just around the corner and it was already hot and dry in Victoria. Terrible bushfires up north in New South Wales and Queensland are a deadly reminder of how harsh this country is.

It’s good to see Mick again after two years. He looks the same as always and once I’ve slept off some of the jetlag we venture across the McIvor Highway to the Axedale Tavern where a ‘chicken parma’ is high on my list to devour. Mick introduces me to the friendly folks of Axedale, some whom I’ve met before, and we enjoy a few drinks too. They are good people at Axedale and regularly support amazing fund-raising efforts for the Australian NPC Disease Foundation. 

A couple of hundred kilometres in the northeast of Victoria is the town of Benalla where Mick’s sons live; my nephews Matthew and Tim. While I notice the town hasn’t changed much in the almost 40 years since I went to school there, I do detect changes in Matthew and Tim and the deteriorating effects of the terrible NPCD. From beneath Tim’s waist-long dreadlocks, he is frail. Still, I am received with big grins from both which delights me no end. I give them both big hugs, thankful to see their smiles again. While Tim spends much of his time quietly plucking one of his eight or so guitars or new banjo, older brother Matthew mows his mum’s lawn to within an inch of its life while his fur-friend Buddy looks on. I hug them once more and say farewell as I hold onto the tears that fill my eyes. I’m not as brave as they are.

Lakes Entrance

In Gippsland in the east of Victoria I spend time with my mum and dad, both octogenarians. One day we visited Lakes Entrance stopping for a pub lunch after wheeling dad along the waterfront. Their current house is filled with memories of my youth – a familiar rug I crocheted forty years ago; familiar Tupperware in the cupboards; perched in the pine hutch a simple polystyrene can holder with a poorly stitched ‘DAD’ on black vinyl; and a set of World Book Encyclopedia from the late 1960s which is now a historic relic and amusing to flick through after all these years.

We talked, laughed, napped and enjoyed the mild but windy spring weather. Before long it was time to say farewell and once more I depart.  From the coastal plains of Gippsland to the leafy outer suburb of Healesville the familiar road is windy and scenic. Along the Healesville/Koo Wee Rup Road the tall trees and flourishing green undergrowth is so different from the flat land to the east. Overlooking the town of Healesville is the adorably cheery home of my brother Dave and Judi and the Squeaky Door Artspace. Such incredible talent between the two of them and their property is a canvas for complex mosaics and incredibly expressive paintings. It’s good to see them again as we sit on their back verandah sipping a cuppa and admiring the surrounding hills.

Soon enough it was time for me to return to the UK. I drop my rental car off and fly 20 hours, stopping halfway in Abu Dhabi. A ride on the London Underground, then a few hours north and I’m back at Whitehaven in time for a beer with skipper before a much-desired sleep. I’m so happy to see him so he gets a big hug too!

Whitehaven, our winter home

The next day I was given the momentous task of pressing the start button for the new Volvo engine. I press the ON/OFF button then START. A slight cough as coolant and oil began their journey around the engine, then it settled into a regular hum. Hooray! With relief Wayne let out his breath and I smile at him – my husband of 37 years has many talents!

Three months of long hours and finally we launch

We spend the subsequent few days finishing off the work – reinstalling the cockpit floor/engine room lid; fitting the new toilet/holding tank; replacing a broken bearing flange for the Windpilot and painting it up; plus some minor plumbing jobs and getting in some walks before the weather turns colder and the days darker.

Soon after on a cold, calm day the guys in the boatyard, Alan and Ritchie, launch our little Blue Heeler into the chilly water. Before the travel-lift slings are removed though, we scurry about the bilge and engine room checking the many newly installed skin-fittings and hoses for leaks – luckily no drips or alarms going off. Wayne checks the rudder and engine room – all good.

The engine purrs with seawater gushing out of the exhaust as it should. The new Flexifold prop and refurbished rudder feel smooth as we motor towards our winter berth. By the end of that day, tools are stowed and Blue Heeler is tidied up and reverted to its former glory. We are both tired but manage to clean ourselves up and go out for dinner at the local pub. It was time to relax.

For those interested in the more technical side of the work we did, I’ll follow up soon with some notes on the engine repower. Until then…wherever you are and whoever you’re with, there’s no place like home.

There’s no place like “Blue Heeler”

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Almost there…

Since my last post, I’m delighted to announce that Blue Heeler now has a new Volvo Penta D2-50 engine. That sounds so easy when written down, but changing engines hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park.

We were asked why we eventually decided on a Volvo over a Beta or Yanmar engine. For a while Wayne had his sights set on a Beta engine, mostly due to its ongoing affordable parts and good reviews. Volvo parts on the other hand are horrendously expensive compared to other manufacturers, but in the end, the overall cost of the Volvo versus the Beta wasn’t so different, and the mounting ‘footprint’ of the old Volvo was the same for the new Volvo – so the scales tipped in Volvo’s favour.

Over the past month, we’ve worked every day towards improving our little Blue Heeler – some days the smallest seemingly most insignificant jobs can take hours. The four main projects this year– new engine and propeller, drop rudder to replace skeg and bearings, install new toilet and holding tank, and replace all the skin-fittings. In addition are the usual jobs we do when the boat is hauled such as antifouling.

During this same period, my sister Diana visited us at Whitehaven. But as we are living up high in the boatyard in a state of relative disorder aboard, the boat was in no state for guests so she found a BNB in town not far away. Despite me helping Wayne with some jobs and running to the marina office to pick up parcels and deliveries each day, we managed to spend most of our days together taking day trips to Workington and Cockermouth, or just walking around the hills overlooking the town of Whitehaven to finish up with dinner aboard and a few drinks. Fortunately the weather was pretty good during her visit.

On one of those fine, calm sunny days during Di’s visit, we’d arranged to lift in the new engine. Had we waited any longer the lift would’ve been delayed for two weeks as the travel-lift was due for a service. After the bimini roof was removed, the travel-lift was expertly driven close to the boat by Ritchie so the jib crane attached to the travel-lift was in the optimum position to raise the new engine six metres from the ground to the engine room. Wayne, myself and boatyard hand Dave stayed on deck to direct the engine through the small opening of the bimini structure then down through the cockpit floor into the engine room. My sister Di had the important role of event photographer.

The engine length is exactly the same size as the cockpit opening, but with cables and wires in the way, suddenly it seemed smaller. Inch by inch, Ritchie lowered the wire with the engine dangling on the end until the 250kg motor was at the entrance to the engine room. Using an additional lever hoist, we angled the engine so that it eventually made its way down below the forest of cables and wires. From here Wayne could direct the new engine onto the floor of the boat. We would fit the engine on the new mounts ourselves. Now at the bottom of the engine bay, the hoist was removed and the boys backed the travel-lift away and helped us return the lid of the bimini. All done in an hour!

From here the fun begins…

New prop shaft and Flexofold propeller

To ensure the angle of the propeller shaft meets the gearbox at the exact angle, the engine mounts needed to be raised at least 43mm. Thinking about what would be the most suitable material to use, I suggested G10 epoxy glass blocks rather than stainless steel, as the epoxy is tough and can be easily drilled. We’d recently bought 10mm sheets of G10 to use as backing plates for the skin-fittings and it was fairly easy to cut. Having four blocks ordered was straightforward and these arrived within two days. Everything we need for these projects has to be delivered, but good job the delivery system in the UK is really good so everything arrives fairly quickly from all corners of the UK (except our toilet which came completely smashed in a box).

Again, this job sounds easy when written down, but eventually Wayne worked out the exact locations of the mounts and using a newly purchased 500kg lever hoist, we raised the engine and Wayne secured the blocks after which we lowered the engine on the mounting pads for the final time.

With the engine finally in place our attention was drawn back to completing the final couple of skin-fittings. Unable to have too many jobs on the go at one time, it’s better if we both work at one thing at a time – it’s more efficient and less chaotic on board. Although while he has his head buried in the engine room, I might finish off some plumbing, prepare the hull for antifouling or duck out to Tesco for groceries.

This week we installed our rudder, new skeg and bearings so that big job is almost finished, with the cosmetic exterior work remaining. As I’d already spent a couple of days painting the hull while Wayne worked inside, only the rudder and a few other areas need antifoul before we are launched.

The new loo…

Our new Jabsco toilet is waiting for its turn – still upside down in the saloon with the holding tank and new valves also yet to be installed, but that’s an interior job and less important than making sure the exterior work is done. As it is, I’ve had to wait until midday to start painting as the dew-point is too close to the outside temperature, which is not ideal for painting.

Of all the jobs, the skin-fittings and valves are finally completed; the rudder is in, and the engine is in with only the connection of hoses and wires. The antifouling is 99% done and daily deliveries to keep the marina office staff busy are finally dwindling.

First coat of antifoul…looking good!

Last weekend the clocks changed back to UTC time so now the sun rises around 7am and sets around 5pm and the days will get much shorter as winter approaches. The days are quite cold now – already the mercury has dipped to 1degC. This time last year we were heading south from Norway on our way to Germany to hole up in Flensburg for the winter.

To finish off October we had a surprise visit from old friends Rex and Claire from Perth, Australia. With a table of Halloween ghouls seated nearby, we enjoyed a meal and a few drinks and talked about what we’ve been doing for 12 years since we last met and how we’ve aged since the 1980s since we first met Rex! Great to see you both!

So, with most of the work done that require four hands, I’m taking a jaunt myself, flying to Melbourne for a fleeting visit to see the family, who I haven’t seen in two years. This leaves Wayne to spend some quality time with his new engine and work on the final stage of the engine repower. When I return we’ll start the engine up then we can return our little Blue Heeler back into the water. Oh, and there’s still the loo to put back together.

Until then…

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What in the world are we doing?

I’ve been unusually tardy of late, as far as updating my blog that is. My last post was back in August and the weeks have slipped by so quickly. Prompted by inquiries from friends I thought I’d better give an update.

So, what in the world are we up to now?

After a week or so wrapping up our sailing season dodging tricky winds within the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, we took a quick detour to Bangor in Northern Ireland to avoid the south-westerly winds, then had a fantastic sail directly to Whitehaven Marina in Cumbria. That was our final sail of the season. Over the past three years, the idea of replacing our old engine with a newbie had reached fruition, and our focus shifted entirely towards weeks of major work aboard Blue Heeler. By the end of August our sailing season was over.

So what’s wrong with the engine? Nothing more than age (happens to us all!). At over 20 years old and although still running (it got us from Australia to the UK and still has plenty of miles), we want a sound engine to spend the next few years without major mechanical troubles which would likely present themselves between some remote islands in the Pacific. Plus the fact, Volvo parts are horrendously expensive and overall the price of a new engine seemed like a good deal compared to buying a number of other parts while the engine grows older and less reliable.

Before we could even figure out exactly what was required, we first had to find a place where we could do the work ourselves while also living aboard. This isn’t easy in the UK as few places allow live-aboards in a boat yard. Fortunately our far-reaching search was fruitful, and Whitehaven Boatyard came to the rescue. In early September Blue Heeler was hauled out, washed and supported in a cradle – this is our home for the autumn months.

Rudder skeg to be replaced

An engine repower can be complicated on a boat, but Wayne has all the skills and experience to do the work himself and with me helping of course. While the boat is out of the water, we’ve taken the opportunity to do other major jobs too. Removing the rudder was a priority. Although we’d dropped the rudder in Thailand back in 2013, we weren’t happy with the slight movement that had developed since then. It made sense to remove it to replace all the bearings, seals and this time install a brand new bronze skeg. This skeg, plus other unique parts for the boat were sourced via Hallberg Rassy’s HR-Parts division.

Off with his head!!

One place that has to be kept in good condition is the head and ours was getting a little manky. The stainless steel holding tank was original (circa 1996) and although the welds were touched up in Thailand (as we had a little leakage) it seemed like the perfect time and location to replace that too. We had thought about a plastic tank, but the size and weight didn’t seem to fit the space well, so we opted for a tank specifically designed for the space – also bought from HR-Parts. Over the side the old one went, along with seized ball-valves and stinky hoses. Our toilet bowl and pump were also original and the base had broken (a potential disaster in rough seas!), so over the side that went too. I even splashed out and bought the best sanitary hose I could find; it has a vanilla smell. Can’t wait to have a new dunny that smells nice!

How’s your sea-cocks?

One job that may be easily overlooked by boat owners until it’s too late is seacocks and skin-fittings. It’s not always easy to identify whether a skin fitting (aka through hull) is defective. Over time the metal can weaken and fail – skin-fittings and seacocks/ball-valves. Out on the ocean is not the place to find out whether your bronze bits have deteriorated. Some of ours looked okay but once removed we could see that although the handle turned, the ball was fixed in the open position. In two cases the balls were entirely missing. Over the side they went!

The job to remove and install skin fittings and valves is laborious (we exchanged nine) as they are usually located under the floor or at the back of a small cupboard suitable for a pint-sized person. The valves can be quite costly once additional fittings, hoses, and other items are added to the order.

Then there are the sometimes unexpected jobs that crop up along the way; corroded sea strainer connecting pipes, changing the layout of the engine room; removing wiring and other components; replacing tired engine room insulation; installing strainers; running errands; dealing with Raymarine service division when our MFD died (that’s a whole other story!). Before we could even begin any work we had to remove sails, drogues, guitar, bags or stuff, and anything else we won’t need for the next six months and transport it to a storage place in nearby Egremont.

As Chief Passer O’Tools and Logistics Organiser, my initial focus was to thoroughly clean the interior of the hull – engine room oil spills, mould and other goo that builds up over time in these cold latitudes, plus scraping hours of old sealant. This gave Wayne time to understand how he would install the new engine and study all the technical stuff.

Keeping the boat habitable and the beers cold is pretty easy to do despite the disorder. Each day I prepare an easy crock-pot dinner (amazing what you can cook in a slow cooker – lasagne, Tom Yum, whole chicken) and after a day’s work we quickly tidy up, have a beer, a shower, then have a feed. If we are really busy, there are many eateries around Whitehaven (the nearby Fraser’s fish and chip shop offers a huge piece of cod with chips – yum!).

Lunch with Ann and Chris was a delightful surprise!

Staying focused on what has to be done keeps us on track to get the major done before the weather turns cold and horribly wet. We are up early and finish at normal knock-off time, but work seven days a week. So busy that we haven’t even explored the nearby pubs in the six weeks we’ve been here. But we did have a lovely distraction with a visit from Ann and Chris who we sailed with in the Indonesia/Malaysia rallies back in 2012/2013. Great to catch up over a beer and lunch at nearby Bransty Arch pub.

Happy days!

As I write this, Blue Heeler has no engine, no toilet and no rudder installed and we’ve almost finished installing the final valves and skin-fittings. Tonight was a crock-pot feast of roast lamb with a cheap bottle of Spanish Tempranillo from Tesco. I’ve already sold the old engine on Ebay and our new Volvo engine arrived last week, on the same day as our new toilet plus a heap of other stuff.  In the middle of all this chaos, we’ve managed to stay fairly positive within the confines of a small boat in a boatyard.

Views of Scotland from the boatyard

The good news is that Whitehaven is pleasant enough to walk around and the people are very friendly and give a cheery “Y’orright?” in delightful Cumbrian dialect. Tesco is just next door so it’s easy to grab groceries in the middle of a busy day (their selection of wine is pretty good too!). The marina complex is a five minute walk from the boatyard and has good showers, toilets and laundry facilities, and friendly people. Anything we need can be bought online and the delivery service in the UK is impressive. The boatyard has toilets, electricity and water and a few rabbits darting around. Strong winds can be a little unsettling so high above and it rains a lot. Whitehaven has an interesting history so I’ll write more about that in the coming months once the work is done.

So that’s about it for now. My sister Diana has flown from Perth Australia and will visit us this week so that will be a pleasant distraction from the work; although we still have the antifouling to do and the extra hands would be useful…

Next time I hope to show you lots of shiny new stuff aboard our little Blue Heeler.

Until then…

 

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Scotland: Highland hiking and a wee bit of history

Scotland may not have the warmest weather, but as far as hiking goes, there is an abundance of trails and paths crisscrossed over the islands and coastline. Staying fit while living on a boat isn’t as easy as some make out, particularly the sort of exercise that gets the blood pumping. So for me, the chance to jump ship and head for the nearest trail is something I enjoy.

From Stornoway, we returned to Portree to fill up with diesel. We had wanted to hike some of the trails on Skye, but transport to and from trailheads without a car is not easy, and requires catching the intermittent bus service or hitchhiking. Ideally a walk from an anchorage to a trailhead is much easier. So we stayed aboard that night to enjoy the calmer warmer weather with the Cobb cooking some ribs on the aft deck.

Eilean Donan Castle, Kyle of Lochalsh

The next morning, from Portree we continued on the familiar route motoring under the Skye bridge and the Kyle of Lochalsh. Through the mist we took a side trip to Eilean Donan Castle for some photos before heading south along the fast flow of the Kylerhea strait. We anchored for the night at Loch Na Dal before heading to Mallaig the following day, again making good use of the south flowing tide.

Mallaig Harbour

 

View of Loch Nevis

Mallaig is a touristy town filled with exuberant kids that’ve taken a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig (famous from the Harry Potter movies). I looked into doing this trip, but it was fully booked at this time of year. There are short walking trails around Mallaig so we hoofed along a track for a couple of hours with views of Loch Nevis, finishing off our exercise routine with a pint of ale at the pub!

The next few days produced no wind and warmer than usual weather – around 20degC. Not particularly good for sailing, but great for walking. Heading west we motored 15nm to reach the island of Rum, located to the east of Canna in the Small Isles. I’d discovered a good hike on Rum and the weather was perfect for the walk.

Rum mooring field – Blue Heeler all alone…

Rum has ten moorings – relatively new – so at 10 pound a night we grabbed one for a couple of nights. Payment is easily paid online, or you can walk to the Rum Bunkhouse to make payment.  There isn’t a dedicated dinghy dock, but the nearby floating pontoon which belongs to the MOWA company can be used.

On shore is the small community of Kinloch. Kinloch has a post office/shop/community centre, plus a camping area and a couple of ‘glamping’ cabins. A most impressive building is the Kinloch Castle. Built from red sandstone, the building is open for public tours in the afternoon but our timing was off and we didn’t make it for the tour, but I did peek inside the windows. Nonetheless, the views from the castle out into the bay across to mainland Scotland are quite impressive. Apparently Queen Victoria’s kids used to come here for holiday shenanigans.

Kinloch Castle, Rum Island

The island of Rum is a native sanctuary to many seabirds; the most abundant are the Manx Shearwater. The estimates vary, but they say over one third of the world’s Manx Shearwaters return to Rum each year to breed and raise their chicks. Red deer and goats also inhabit the island, plus the oldest Highland Pony stud in the world are located here on Rum.

Sturdy, sure-footed Highland Pony

To get our legs warmed up for the next day’s hike, we took the trail north off the town which took around an hour. Following a series of painted ‘wellies’, you will find yourself at Croft 3 – a local croft which offers a variety of local produce and crafts.

To help us identify walks throughout the highlands is the website Walk Highlands. Used in conjunction with the app ‘Viewranger’, I can import GPX files and have the route and tracking displayed on a topographical map on my iPad. The website also provides descriptions of each walk plus other useful information, such as walk difficulty, terrain, plus ‘bog factor’ (many walks are very boggy!).

Example from the Viewranger app

The Hallival and Barkival hike is 13.5km long and takes us up two peaks – Hallival (750m) and Barkival (590m). We left the boat at 9.30am then walked towards the village and headed along the Coire Dubh walk – a 2.9km trek. From the end of the Coire Dubh walk we continued southeast towards the ridge of Hallival.

We are boat fit which generally means that we can sit for days as ballast as we cross oceans, but on land things get a little shaky as our dormant tendons and muscles are flexed back to life. The initial part of the hike is a good trail which slowly ascends to 200m. The next stage is across boggy, rocky ground following a narrow goat trail. Up on the ridge at around 550m, we looked up at Hallival, still shrouded in an impenetrable mist at the top, so we headed west to the clearer peak of Barkival at 590m. The views of the Rum Cuillin were amazing, although the cloud floated around the peaks, the highest is Askival at 810m (2,659 feet).

Gorgeous views

There were pockets of midges in the air, but nothing too bothersome, although there is rumour that a second wave of these notorious bitey beasties will appear before summer’s end. Walking through the soft terrain at the top, small holes are dug into the hillside – the nests of the shearwater. After a rest and a bite to eat, including a sweet bite of whisky tablet, we trudged downhill and returned to our dinghy by 4.30pm.

The next day a slight northwest wind was ideal for a trip to Tobermory, 27nm away, on the Isle of Mull.

Baby spinny!

Under the shadow of the Rum Cuillin, we motored an hour before we could turn off the engine and get the sails out. Not enough wind to keep the foresail billowing, so with wind less than 10kn, we dragged out our secret weapon – Baby Spinny! With our small spinnaker we can sail in 5-12kn of wind and sail along at an acceptable speed.  Over the course of the warm day, in seven hours we travelled 27nm – not fast, but at least we had a lovely day on the water and weren’t wasting diesel.

Tobermory harbour is filled with many moorings with virtually no anchoring room close to town, and it’s very deep, we decided to grab a mooring. As part of Highland Week, a sailing regatta was taking place offshore as we approached, but we beat the fleet and managed to snag a mooring ahead of the competitors. Already 4.30pm, we decided to stay aboard in the warm weather and would go ashore the following day. At 8pm, the Tobermory marina guys came to us by dinghy and asked for payment of 17 pound per night for the mooring.

The next morning after walking around Tobermory for a couple of hours, with nothing attracting our attention except window shopping along the charming colourful waterfront buildings and visiting the Coop to buy some supplies, we threw off the mooring line (a long heavy chain in fact) and motored to Oban, 26nm to the east.

Lismore lighthouse

Approaching the Firth of Lorn, the water began swirling and white tips ‘roosts’ spread across the water. The tide was strong and a current of up to 3.5kn against us had us struggling to keep 2.5kn of speed over ground.

Once we’d passed the Lismore lighthouse on Eilean Musdile to our port side, the current eased and we continued on to Oban with a CalMac ferry bearing down on us from behind as we entered the north channel. Heaps of room though and we continued on the starboard side of the channel and headed into the Oban Marina located at Kerrera Island. As usual, first things first – laundry, showers, and a beer with friend Brian who was berthed at the marina. We took advantage of the marina’s weekly mooring rate and stay a week, which gave us time to order in a part for our outboard and do a few small jobs aboard.

Oban Marina with Oban town in the background

Oban Marina is a ferry ride away from Oban town and the ride is complementary for boats staying at the marina. Kerrera Island is a popular place for tourists to visit – walking trails around the island, a Farm Shop which sells fresh farm products, plus a newish restaurant at the marina itself. At the farm I bought half a dozen duck eggs and some pork and apple sausages. Looking over the marina is Hutcheson’s Monument which is a short walk from the marina. Erected in 1883 the obelisk is dedicated to David Hutcheson, a ship-owner who operated services to the islands. The Caledonian MacBrayne shipping company (CalMac) still runs ferries to the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

There are a few trails around Oban. A nice walk is south of town up to Pulpit Hill and onto Gallanach, which is around 8kms.

Kerrera Island, Oban

A short walk north along the waterfront takes you to Dunollie Castle with nice views of Kerrera. The castle is quite dilapidated to say the least, but the museum was nicely presented and on Sundays a pipe band puts on a show. Over the past 1000 years, Clan Chiefs and Lords of Lorn ruled large areas of Argyll & the Isles from Dunollie. Nowadays, Dunollie remains the ancestral home of the Clan MacDougall and this week was the annual gathering of the clan where MacDougall’s from around the world come together for a variety of activities.

After a week at Kerrera, it was time for us to move on. Already the season is changing and it won’t be long before autumn is upon us. We’ve chosen Blue Heeler’s home for winter so now we begin our slow journey south.

Until then…

 

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Scotland: Stornoway, Outer Hebrides

Over the past couple of weeks the weather improved – over 20degC some days and the wind eased. But with a good southwest wind, from the small isle of Canna we headed north to visit the largest town in the Outer Hebrides, Stornoway.

Stornoway is located on the island, Lewis and Harris, the largest Scottish island and the third largest in the British Isles (after Great Britain and Ireland). The population is around 8,000, around one third of the entire Outer Hebrides population. Harris is the hilly southern part of the isle, while Lewis is to the north.

This region is quite remote. Less than 200nm away to the north are the Faroe Islands, and a similar distance to the northeast is Shetland. Stornoway attracts tourists, but fewer than say Portree on Skye. The pubs don’t have typical sidewalk outdoor seating as there’s a good chance of rain most days. But inside is warm and cosy. While the EU suffers yet another heatwave, Stornoway’s temperature struggled to reach anything close to 20degC.

Over 60% of the locals speak Scottish Gaelic and the Hebrides has the highest number of Gaelic speakers in Scotland. Children learn Gaelic and it’s compulsory learning in the first two years of secondary school.

To the ears the dialect is either a charming rhythm or a baffling mumble of sounds where you might be lucky to identify a word or two. Either way, the locals are friendly and offer a cheery ‘hello’ as you pass. Signs throughout the region are bi-lingual.

Crofting is a big part of the local economy and has been for many years. The Highland Clearances of the 1800s had a big effect on the island as landowners took up up large swathes of land. Denied their rights, many crofters left the islands to seek new beginnings overseas. Nowadays, in most cases a crofter pays rent for the land and buildings, while roads and fences are provided by the crofter. A croft is typically around five hectares but can be more or less.

Tourism has certainly helped create diversity among the crofters. Local outlets that produce of meats, honey, jams and liquor, and creative artisans are dotted around the island and sell their products in Stornoway or directly from their croft. One of the most recognisable products is the famous Harris Tweed. To supplement their income, many also have other jobs within the community.

A full Scottish breakfast

Another of Stornoway’s well-known products is Black Pudding. This sausage is tasty and bursting with zinc and iron, as it’s made from pork blood, suet, and oats. Definitely not for vegetarians! A Scottish breakfast is tasty and filling on a cold morning – beans, mushrooms, sausages, black pudding, egg, square sausage and a tattie scone!

To keep the fires burning, peat has been used traditionally for hundreds of years. Though nowadays many have more modern methods of heating in their homes. Peat is an organic soil with more than 60% organic matter and exceeds 50cm in depth and gives off a unique scent when burnt. The low fields of Lewis are rocky, lumpy and boggy, and apparently the peat can reach down to 5m or more.

Like many locations in this part of the world, evidence of our ancestors can be found on Lewis and Harris. The Calanais Standing Stones are a bus ride away from Stornoway and presents another intriguing glimpse into the past. Archeologists can only speculate as to why they exist.

Hide and Seek at the stones

The stones were erected around 5000 years ago and in the mid 1800s were discovered buried under a thick layer of peat. Today the stones provide entertainment for the many visitors, particularly children. Some people were spotted with their hands pressed to a stone and eyes shut perhaps trying to connect to something spiritual.

Back at the Stornoway marina, Blue Heeler is safe from all winds and tucked in nicely in the town centre. We arrived on the final day of the HebCelt Festival, held on the grounds of Lews Castle. We didn’t have to buy tickets as we were right next door and could hear the music – light Celtic music, modern rock, and some heavy techno with a bass that vibrated through the boat.

There are many local yachts, a few foreign yachts – French, German and Norwegian, but we are the only Aussie boat. There are plenty of shops in Stornoway, a good-sized fisherman’s co-op to poke around in, plus plenty of pubs and fish’n’chip shops too.

Heavy rain and strong winds from the southwest kept us on board for a couple of days, so we used that time to catch up on other jobs until we had a weather window to depart and head back across The Minch and return to Portree, Skye.  

 

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