It is early morning when I pile myself, the cameras and lenses, the waterproof cover for the camera, the sound recorder and wind shields and microphones, the spare batteries and memory cards, and the little GoPro video recorder, the rainproofs and sunhat and sunglasses, the flask and sandwiches, the suncream and the Avon Skin So Soft, otherwise known as the best midge repellent around…. into my hire car. I am starting to love my little car, bundling it full and steering a course across the islands to the next anticipated destination.
Today it carries me under a still blue sky. The sun is steadily warming the day; no breath of wind, just the humming of the bees and the crystal call of the skylarks. I turn left off the road out of Stornoway, heading the thirty-odd miles south for the Isle of Harris, about an hour’s drive.
A sign welcomes me to Harris and I cross out of Lewis along the road that runs the length of the islands. With the journey south the flat peatlands of the north fold into ever-more lumpy and undulating hills, finally bursting into an infinite pattern of dramatic mountains, black and rugged, bare to the wild weather that whips around their craggy tops. But today they are glowing in the sunshine, the grass emerald green, sheep wandering at will across the road. To left and right lochs are nestled in the peats, and round every bend in the road another dark peak cuts into the sky.
I am meeting with Matt, ranger for the North Harris Estate. North Harris, once under the lairdship of the castle, is now fully owned by the community. A trust, working alongside the crofters, manages the land on behalf of the community.
I arrive in Tarbert where the Estate offices are, and I bundle myself and my gear into Matt’s vehicle, to head along a track originally built for the stalkers from Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, and into the hills. We are in the territory of the Golden Eagle, with one of the highest densities of breeding Golden Eagle populations in the whole of Europe; an abundance of open moorland habitat and nesting crags in the hills make a perfect home.
After walking up the glen and into the hills for some way, recording the streams and the birds, listening to Matt’s stories of the estate, we turn and head back towards Huisinis beach.
The twelve-mile single-track road tumbles and twists over the landscape, but there is no greater surprise than to suddenly travel right through the huge gates and past the large front door of Amhuinnsuidhe Castle. Amhuinnsuidhe means, “sitting by the river” which the castle does, taking advantage of the salmon that return every year from the sea to spawn.
It is only a couple more miles past the castle to the shell sand of Huisinis, which sparkles white in the dazzling day; the water is a silent Caribbean blue. Beyond north Huisinis lies Scarp Island, now immortalised in the Scottish film The Rocket Post, which tells the heart-warming story of attempts in 1934 to fire rockets from Harris to carry the mail across.
Harris is a place of Atlantic salmon and red deer, otters and seals, eagles and skylarks. In Celtic mythology the Eagle is revered– symbolising the soul, wisdom and age. It seems no wonder to me that so many eagles make Harris their home.
In the afternoon I leave Matt and head alone onto the tiny village of Rèinigeadal, along another single track road that dips and turns with every contour of the land, to the end of a sea loch on the east side of Harris. A road and electricity only arrived at Rèinigeadal in the 1980’s and a two-hour walking track, across the hills to Tarbert, was used every week by the children going to school.
At the end of a day of recordings and photographs, I finally drag myself back onto the road north, to what already feels like home in Stornoway.
(Some more information on Harris can be found on the digital resources page of the blog)