Because we had risen so early and wasted no time getting back on the road, we had several hours left before the ferry was to sail from Tarbert. We decided to use them seeing a little more of the island and set off back towards the tiny port. The morning was still clad in grey mists, but that took nothing away from the beauty of the hills, moorlands and lochs through which we passed. There were few places where we could stop to get pictures on Lewis, but it was enough to just drive through the wild majesty and to be there.
Seeing a sign for a café, we turned off the man road towards Ravenspoint… a name at which we smiled, given our associations with these birds… hoping to find coffee. The road took us along the shores of Loch Èireasort, an eight mile long sea inlet whose name echoes a time when the land was home to invading Vikings. We saw no sign of coffee for miles, so sat beside the shore for second breakfast from our supplies, watching the clouds, before turning back to rejoin the main road south.
We eventually found a small shop where we replenished our foodstuff before continuing southwards. The bleak peat moors had already given way to more mountainous country and was now changing yet again as we moved from that part of the island known as Lewis to the Isle of Harris. The rocky terrain and narrow road that snakes between the hills effectively hid the landscape ahead from view. We had no expectations, no idea of what we would find… until we turned a corner and saw paradise laid out before us.
The clouds broke, leaving a sky full of both drama and sunshine. The sea was a rainbow set in turquoise crystal, ringed by dark hills, emerald lawns and silver-gilt sands. I have never seen a lovelier place… and it took my breath away.
I stopped the car and we got out, awestruck. Who knew? I might have believed my eyes had I seen the scene as a picture in a travel brochure for some tropical island… but here, so far north… and in the British Isles… No photograph does it justice. The clarity of the sea, the shimmering opalescence of the air, the contrasts and colours, brilliant… jewel-like… I was lost for words.
It was odd too… yet again the rainbows. We had worked with rainbows at the April workshop and they had been waiting for us around every corner, or so it seemed. Sometimes in places you might expect, like the spray from the ferry’s wake. Other times, they were most unexpected… like the rainbow seas we had been encountering. We shouldn’t have been surprised… It had been just a few weeks since the April workshop and, every year, the symbolism we work with at that event seems to play out visibly on our travels. At this point, though, we were just lost in wonder, little knowing how weird it was going to get the following day…
We drove on, stopping occasionally to just drink in the landscape. The water was pristine, glassy and deep… you could see the clear seabed and all I wanted to do was dive in and lose myself in the turquoise depths. There is magic in the air and the shores are bordered by machair, the fertile, grassy dunes, strewn with wildflowers. You can easily understand why so many legends have emerged from these waters.
Above one beach, overlooking the Sound of Taransay, we spotted the ten-foot tall standing stone called Clach Mhic Leoid, or MacLeod’s Stone. Little excavation has been done at the site, so there is no official interpretation of the stone. There are boulders clustered close around its base… it may be part of a burial place or sacred site. It may have been a clan marker or part of a stone row or alignment. All that is known is that it was erected five thousand years ago, around the same time as the stone circles of the island, and that a skull was found close by in the dunes of the shore.
It is certainly not an isolated site, as one of the houses by the roadside at nearby Horgabost has the remains of a chambered cairn in its garden. I don’t often get garden-envy, but…
It was almost noon by the time that we finally found our first coffee of the day… and the first comfort stop too. The Seallam visitor centre also has a bookshop… always fatal… and we came away with a book of Scottish folk tales sporting a unicorn on the cover… another of those symbols we had been working with over the weekend and which had kept putting in an appearance.
Considerably more comfortable, we hit the road once more. We were hoping to reach the southernmost point of the road, at Rodel, which had a medieval church that we wanted to see. By the time we arrived, we had driven the island from east coast to west and almost from top to bottom, meandering down small roads in a state of dazed wonder. The church would provide a grounding return to normality… or so we thought…