“The holidays stress people out so much. I suggest you keep it simple and try to have as much fun as you can.”
– Gaida de Laurentiis
Having just graduated from five hectic and speedy years of university, there were many ways we could have celebrated our liberation from the confines of the law library, the endless essay deadlines and the hectic non-stop lifestyles we had been leading in the cosmopolitan, fast paced cities of Aberdeen and Glasgow. We decided to commemorate the occasion by going to the Isle of Lewis. Along with my flatmates Nadia and Fraser, my fellow Aberdeen law graduate, Neil, my good friend Thomas (who followed the trip by jet setting to London for business) and my Diploma comrade, Greig (who has also documented the trip with some excellent shots over at his blog), I boarded various modes of transport on Saturday morning in order to reach Inverness, where I would join them all and we would set off on our journey of self discovery on the Isle of Lewis.
We had the privilege of staying in Tolsta Chaolais, a quaint and secluded village located on the west side of the island near Carloway. We have nothing but sheer praise for the cottage we stayed in. The landlords were nothing but friendly and welcoming, which was a perfect introduction to the island, given we had battled through snow (yes, in April) for about two hours to reach the cottage after departing the ferry, and wanted nothing more than to get into our pyjamas and have a lazy evening before our week truly began.
In preparation for the trip I bought what was probably the most practical pair of shoes I have ever owned (shout out to Mrs Matheson for the invaluable advice)! Apparently, burgundy pumps wouldn’t have done much good when climbing rocky cliff edges. I was actually quite excited to get into the shoes on the Sunday, as I had worked whole outfits around them in order to channel a sort of Zooey Deschanel-goes-hillwalking look. (I wish I was kidding.) Admittedly, the floaty skirts and skater dresses could probably have been left at home in favour of thick jumpers and jeans, but what’s a trip to the isles of Scotland if there wasn’t an injection of floral print involved somewhere, I ask?
My Regat-boutins were put to the test on Sunday after a hillwalk turned slightly messy and we had to jump over fences in order to escape the charge of some Highland cows. Well, it was messy for everyone else but I refused to risk snagging my cable knit tights on barbed wire and took the long way round to reach the gate to escape. The cows turned out to be friendly though, and didn’t attack us – they even posed for some photos for Thomas! Granted, they were slightly emo looking, so it came as no surprise that they were up for some sultry photo graphs to be taken.
Upon arrival on Saturday evening the owner of our cottage, Sandy, informed us that we must not hang out washing on Sunday. Not that we had any intention of doing so, but we were now very much aware of the practices on the island. So, instead of putting on a wash, Fraser and Thomas, the wonderfully determined and patient drivers for the entire trip, took us to the Callanish Stones – they were older than the Egyptian Pyramids, according to our useful fact distributor, Fraser. I found the formation and layout of them really interesting and it’s little wonder that they had been used as a backdrop and inspiration for various creative projects. There was some stunning scenery on the way, as you can see – it’s incredible how blue the water is and we were lucky enough that the unpredictable Scottish weather held up for us the whole week. Greig was busy clicking away with his DSLR, and many of my snaps included him being all photographer-like and cool-looking.
The transition from peaceful fields and the sound of rippling rivers to the hustle and bustle (in the loosest sense possible) of Stornoway was not a simple one. Driving around the town, you could hear the cries of “Eh… I want to go back” and “I don’t like this at all” emitting from our cars. Not to do Stornoway any disservice, it is a lovely little town with cute shops and friendly people, but it seems we had “become one” with nature and was finding the adjustment to seeing more than three people on the same street (Not even a rugged path carved by the hooves of sheep… STREET!) just a bit too much to bear. We stocked up on vital provisions such as Peroni and jaffa cakes at the supermarket and also picked up some lunch at a local chip shop.
The shops there are recommended – Mosaic on Bank Street on North Beach was a lovely little gift shop boasting delightful trinkets and shabby chic pieces. You’ll notice it straight away as it is housed in a bright turquoise building! We also spied Delights, which is on the same street, but in a pink building – they sold some lovely Alison Appleton teacups and pots, which would definitely have been snapped up had I not had so much luggage to haul onto three different modes of public transport on the way home. (Upon arrival home I discovered that they were much cheaper there than I can find anywhere online… damn my tendency to bring too many dresses on holiday). They also sold some nom-some food and drink, such as fresh sunblushed tomatoes, lemon drizzle cake and Teapigs teabags, which Greig stocked up on. There is a shop called WWE Shop on Kenneth Street which, as well as selling all your electrical and crockery goods, also has a counter selling various types of fudge – so naturally, we all indulged and spent our pennies on something sweet. I chose the Malteaser fudge, but my favourite had to be the Oreo one, which I stole a bit of from Nadia. Definitely worth it.
We visited many beaches on the trip – the first one was Bolsta Beach which we randomly stumbled upon on Sunday during our car travels. Having grown up near the Peterhead “lido”, this was such a stunning sight and in such stark contrast to what I had been used to. Neil and I had a lovely walk ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the view and picking shells on the way. I don’t think words can really do it justice so I’ll just present you with the image:
Right, so I thought, well that’s pretty impressive, and didn’t think it would get much better than this. However it was surpassed on Tuesday when we drove out to Port Ness.
Again, words kind of fail me here, and now, a week later, I still can’t get over how blue and serene the sea is. I’ve never been to the Caribbean, but I’m sure that these beaches are just as stunning as the ones out there. The scenery lends itself to quiet thinking and relaxation and it gets to the point where you just want to take it all in with your senses rather than trying to capture the moment with your 12.1 MP Fuji camera (in turquoise).
There were two delightful dogs who followed us around at Port Ness – they impressed us massively with their mad climbing skillz as they scaled down cliff faces that were almost vertical. They played about and would disappear for a while, then reappear to make us coo over them again.
It was agreed amongst all of us that Butt of Lewis was our favourite spot. Although it wasn’t the calmest of days, and indeed the spot had been recorded by Guinness as the windiest spot in the UK, the peace of the area almost hypnotised me into thinking that it would be absolutely fine to sit at a cliff edge as the wind batter my ears to point of ear ache. It was an incredible experience, and I don’t even think I’m exaggerating… Every time I tried to think about something, believing this would be the perfect spot to form resonant and meaningful thoughts, the crashing of the waves against the rocks and the teal hues that shifted below me made all those attempts futile, and I just went with it. It was all rather strange, yet subtlety wonderful, and I’d love to sit there again.
The last beach we visited on the Friday was one on the way to Uig. It was a massive stretch of sandiness, shells and water and made for a perfect picnic spot.
Despite the Easter holidays, it was very quiet, save for some dog walkers. It was beautiful and was a good close to our tour of the beaches on Lewis. Some of the group ascended some precarious hillsides and Nadia and Fraser mined some quartz for us, which now sits on my desk as a souvenir of the trip – I saw some of the photos and the view was quite something indeed. I wasn’t so adventurous or active; I sat on some dunes for an hour or so and contemplated the various profound issues in my life, such as which city I was going to move to this time, what junk food I was going to buy in the Community Shop and what I was going to read on the train home on Sunday.
A blog post would not be complete with a breakdown of the food we chowed down on this week:
Sunday – Pasta bake by Nadia.
Monday – Lasagne by Nadia and Neil.
Tuesday – Scallops and Black Pudding by Greig.
Wednesday – Salmon Fried Rice by Anita (egg-free version by Nadia). Followed by strawberry cheesecake courtesy of Nadia.
Thursday – Thai Cafe on Church Street, Stornoway – Chicken and Cashew Nut concoction with corn cakes for starter.
Friday – Epic Roast™ by Commander Ross and Lieutenant Matheson. Followed by Fort Banoffee Pie™ built by Nadia and Thomas.
Every hour, every day – Flapjacks, tablet, muffins and tray bakes from Mrs Matheson.
We entertained ourselves whenever we weren’t sightseeing. I liked sitting out in the garden on some rocks which had been constructed into a bench-like shape – on Tuesday, sheep were delivered to the field we overlooked so they provided entertainment whilst I sipped my green tea in the mornings. There were also chickens in the garden next door and they woke us up in the mornings, although the cockerel got a bit confused and cock-a-doodle-dooed every hour, on the hour, for a couple of days. We often went for walks after dinner, and we barbecued on a rocky beach on Wednesday.
I was also knitting a scarf with Patons Colour Works Aran in “Kilt” – I was hoping to get it finished, thinking the cottage would be the perfect place to be sitting in front of a peat fire whilst clicking away with the needles, but I kept getting distracted and dropping stitches so it may take a bit longer… I also got a lot of time to read, whether that was in the chair on the landing, in bed, or out in the garden. I was reading Quiet by Susan Cain: it’s a refreshing book, laced with experiment results, statistics and the quietly-successful stories of entrepreneurs and academics, therefore giving me confidence that it’s perfectly OK that I don’t want to hang out with people all the time, or that I actually quite enjoy silence – I’m looking forward to delving into it some more back now I’m back home.
As a group, we often indulged in board games, such as Monopoly and Scrabble – the former, as expected, led to arguments and friendship breakups. (I diffused the situation by pretending it was a Ouija board after sinking a couple of Coronas). We also played Charades, and being the sophisticated individuals that we are, we obviously gave each other perfectly sensible things to act out for their team. Examples include the 40 Year Old Virgin, The Vagina Monologues and The Kama Sutra. There are some actions that should not be performed in front of friends. That is all I’m saying.
And on Saturday, we all began our long journeys home. Car, ferry, more car, and then train for some of us, whilst I stayed in Inverness for the day before travelling by train back to Aberdeen, then bus home to Peterhead. It was tiresome to say the least. I don’t travel well and it is only now, twenty-eight hours after arriving home, that I’ve settled back to normality. Right now I am happy beyond words that I am sitting in my pyjamas in bed, getting fed and watered by Maw Wong.
Having been in a bit of state merely five days before the beginning of the trip due to the fact I “do not like change”, this was probably the best way to ease me gently into a life where I would no longer be able to text Neil on a whim to go to the pub; drive around Aberdonian suburbs with Thomas of an evening; go to yoga classes with Greig every Monday or walk down the corridor to a living room where Nadia and Fraser would be hurling abuse at each other.
I kept saying on the trip that we would have a five year reunion and meet up again on the Scottish Isles, and I do hope that that will happen. It was a place that allowed us to giggle uncontrollably upon drinking strong coffees, and yet feel comfortable just sitting in silence on cliff edges watching the waves roll by. It was a place that allowed us to take amazing shots and experience stunning scenery with one another. Whilst others may plan a trip to Malaga to celebrate, we decided upon a different kind holiday destination (even Papi Wong was taken aback: “What is there to do?”) and it allowed for many good memories to be made. For me, it was the best way to draw to an end the crazy stint I had had as a student in Aberdeen and Glasgow: to spend it with the people who jointly had made me laugh and smile non-stop for the last five years.