OK, so Blogger is still playing silly devils with header images. It lets me put in an image at my chosen size but messes the image up so that it is very soft. It is not a question of it doing it because it needs to resize it - it doesn't need to. The blog header width is 1184 pixels wide and I resample the image to 1184 pixels wide so it should fit exactly without Blogger messing with it. It seems that many others are having similar problems - time Blogger got off their backsides and sorted it - it's been like it for weeks.
Way back in 2020, when lockdown prevented Lindsay and I from going on a booked holiday based on the Outer Hebridean island of North Uist, we'd booked a replacement visit for the same period in 2021 and kept our fingers crossed since then. This really 'went to the wire' as our bookings would have us travelling from home to a Travelodge near Stirling on Wednesday 19th May, then driving to Mallaig on the Thursday where we'd booked an evening ferry to take us to South Uist for a two-night stay before driving up to our accommodation on North Uist on the Saturday. The first hurdle that loomed large was waiting for the ban on travel between England and Scotland to be lifted - this happened on the Monday, just two days before our booked departure!
The second hurdle was totally unforeseen and that was getting a phonecall from CalMac on the Monday afternoon to say that our ferry booked for the Thursday evening would not be running and that the only alternative to cancelling altogether that they could offer was for us to get a ferry on the Thursday morning from Uig on Skye. This would add 81 miles to our driving distance at the mainland end and 42 miles at the Outer Hebrides end. However, this was not a significant problem compared to having to be checked in at the ferry port at Uig by 04.15 on the Thursday morning after a journey timed at 5 hours! This, for a while, threw us into a flat spin. However, I managed to find a solution which, although not ideal, got us out of a hole. We'd leave a day early (less than 24 hours after notification of the problem!) and bring forward our booking in Stirling by a day (which, to my relief, was done without a problem) and then stay in a B&B in Uig (which, it seems, I was extremely lucky to find).
So here is how the holiday unfolded.
Tuesday, 18th May Ashby de la Zouch to Stirling
cloudy, with showers
After a panic packing session on Monday evening and Tuesday morning, we managed to set off after an early lunch. We had an unventful journey via the M1, M18, A1, and the Edinburgh City Bypass, arriving at the Travelodge in time to sort ourselves out before trotting over to the M&S Foodstore to buy a selection of items for a cold evening meal. Knowing that our next night would be a very short one, we turned in early.
Wednesday, 19th May Stirling to Uig, Skye
mainly sunny, but with a cool breeze
Breakfast was also facilitated via a visit to the M&S Foodstore before a gentle start on our travels. We'd only gone a few miles before we found ourselves approaching Doune, and the Scottish Antiques & Art Centre, which is home to the Café Circa. We couldn't resist a comfort stop here even though we'd been on the road for less than half an hour as we knew from past experience that there were wonderful cakes to be had - yes, it was a bit decadent!
I was quite surprised to see a pair of Oystercatcher on one of the roofs as this was, as far as I could make out, a long way from water. One of the birds was doing its morning aerobics.
|Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Scottish Antique and Arts Centre, Doune|
In the Glencoe area, we started seeing snow on the tops, and this required a photo stop or two.
|from the road in the Glencoe area|
|view from a couple of hundred metres up the road from '5 Glenconon'|
Thursday, 20th May Uig to Lochmaddy (N. Uist) to Lochboisdale (S. Uist) - and bits between
cold, wet and breezy to start, turning brighter but cold and windy before noon
It was a cruel start to the day with the alarm waking us almost before we'd got to sleep. We woke to a chilly morning with light rain but, fortunately, only a light breeze. We'd packed most of our stuff into the car the evening before, so as not to disturb the neighbours and were at the ferry port in good time to down our picnic breakfast before boarding the ferry.
It was a relief when we eventually got under way with Lindsay and I finding seats on a deck that was open at the sides, but roofed. But, oh dear, we've turned round and are heading back onto the dock! This consternation lasted for a while until we relised that a huge mobile crane was coming on board and it could only be fitted onto the ferryat the end which was opposite to the one that we'd all boarded on. Phew!!!
With it being a damp grey day at 05h00, the light was quite dreadful, but I stayed on the open deck for the whole journey (Lindsay got too cold and had to go inside) and did manage a few photos.
Soon after leaving port I took some shots of the Island of Harris/Lewis at the north end of the Outer Hebrides - it would be an hour and three quarters before we arrived at Lochmaddy at the North end of North Uist, some way south.
|Harris/Lewis from the Uig to Lochmaddy ferry|
|Razorbill (Alca torda) - from Uig to Lochmaddy ferry|
|Puffin (Fratercula arctica) - from Uig to Lochmaddy ferry|
|Gannet (Morus bassanus) - from Uig to Lochmaddy ferry|
|Dolphin species - from Uig to Lochmaddy ferry|
|Curlew (Numenius arquata) - Committee Road, North Uist|
|Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (female) - Committee Road, North Uist|
|Greylag Goose (Anser anser) - Committee Road, North Uist|
As we headed south, we were pleased to see that the Hebridean Smokehouse was in operation, although not open at this hour, as this would be one of our most important sources of food later in the week!
Causeways took us over the island of Grimsay and then onto the island of Benbecula.Here we left the main road south and headed through Baile Mhanaich and stopped near Aird to check out the view.
|fishing boats - from near Aird, Benbecula|
|Sanderling (Calidris alba) - Benbecula |
|Dunlin (Calidris alpina) - Benbecula|
At first, all we saw were two Red-breasted Merganser.
|Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) (female) - Griminis, Benbecula|
|Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) (male + female) - Griminis, Benbecula|| |
It was pre-ten o'clock and we had time to kill before we turned up at our hotel with the intention of asking them if they had a lounge we could snooze in until it was time to check in to our room. We therefore went on an exploration of the B891 which heads to the south-east of Benbecula.
This Red-breasted Merganser decided to make a break for it when I stopped the car.
|Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) (male) - from B891, Benbecula|
|ponies - beside the B891, Benbecula|
|Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (female) - beside B891, Benbecula|
We didn't get that far, as 3 miles (5 km) along the road we found the Borrodale Hotel and decided to try there. We had a splendid lunch here and were extremely impressed by the Covid precautions being taken, to the extent that we asked about room availability with a view to sacrificing our booking at the Lochboisdale Hotel. They were fully booked that night but agreed to hold a room for us for the following night in case we found the Lochboisdale unacceptable.
After lunch, we set off to Eriskay and soon found the Am Politician and were glad we hadn't opted for eating there, purely because the place was small and seemed busy, judging by the cars in the car park, and we didn't feel ready to start mingling with people in close confinement.
There is an interesting story about Am Politician. The restaurant is named after the SS Politician boat which, in February 1941 was wrecked off the coast near the point where the pub stands. It's cargo was around 40,000 cases of scotch whisky. None of the crew were lost, but some of the islanders helped themselves to some of the cargo, before the revenue men put a stop to it. This is the event which provided the inspiration for the famous and delightful film 'Whisky Galore!'.
A bit further down the road from Am Politician is a cemetery with a grassy area beside it which has access to the beach some way below. Sheep were grazing here, totally unfettered, and these two lambs seemed relatively unperturbed by my presence.
|lambs - Balla, Eriskay|
|Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) - Balla, Eriskay|
|Sanderling (Calidiris alba) - Balla, Eriskay|
|Eriskay Ponies (the ones in the background!) - Eriskay|
|beach near Geàrraidh na Mònadh, South Uist|
|Sanderling (Calidiris alba) - near Geàrraidh na Mònadh, South Uist|
Friday, 21st May South Uist and Eriskay
cold and very windy, but mainly dry with sunny spells
After a lazy start, breakfast was good, although I only have cereal and a yoghurt with a pot of tea - even when in a hotel. However, it was disappointing that the fellow serving breakfast was hovering over us without a mask - something that I'm sure was in breach of the regulations, but was probobaly condoned by the management, as the male of the owning pair not only wasn't wearing a mask but seemed to make a point of thusting his face within half a metre of my face when speaking to me. Judging by a rather unprofessional communication I'd previously had from him slating the current Scottish government regulations, I suspect that he was somewhat of a renegade.
Lindsay has a thing about standing stones and, having seen one marked on the map at Pollachar on the road towards Eriskay, that was our first stop this day. I omitted to take any photos of the standing stone, so here is one that Lindsay took with her phone. Apparently, it dates from around 2,000 B.C. and is just over 1.7 metres high (the stone, not the phone which is a little younger!).
|Pollachar Standing Stone - South Uist|
|Lindsay on Pollachar Beach, South Uist|
|Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) - Pollachar Beach, South Uist|
|Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) - Balla, Eriskay|
|Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) - Balla, Eriskay|
From here we headed towards the ferry terminal from where the ferry to Barra departs. From the hilltop above the terminal, we observed the approaching ferry.
|Ferry Terminal and Barra Ferry - Eriskay|
We made a full exploration by car of all the roads on Eriskay, and decided that we rather liked the place. It was then time to head north again as a return visit to the Borrodale Hotel for lunch was calling. This journey gave one of the main highlights of the holiday. Approximately 5 minutes from our lunch stop I noticed a Short-eared owl flying on Lindsay's side of the car, and it landed at a point where we could stop, with no traffic visible in either direction. I grabbed a quick shot through Lindsay's door window, but only then noticed that the lens was at 170 mm rather than its full 500 mm. This is the result, rather heavily cropped.
|Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - south of Daliburgh, South Uist|
|Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) - south of Daliburgh, South Uist|
|view across Lochboisdale to Lochboisdale|
|Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) (male + female) - Lochboisdale|
|Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (male) - by Lochboisdale|
From the South Lochboisdale road, we headed back north and took a side road to the coast at Kildonan. There was a fine beach here with the mix being a bit different, with Dunlin and Turnstone being dominant. The Turnstone looked particularly fine in their breeding plumage.
|Kildonan Beach - South Uist|
|Dunlin (Calidris alpina) -Kildonan Beach, South Uist|
|Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) - Kildonan Beach, South Uist|
We arrived to find our target bird, Red-throated Diver, visible in the far distance, and this is the way it stayed until the pair flew off eastward at a height. You can just about see them towards the top left in the record shot below. One of the Grey Seals woke up and came towards us.
|Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) -Loch Eynort, South Uist|
|Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) - Loch Eynort, South Uist|
|Rainbow - Loch Eynort, South Uist|
|Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) (male) - near Loch Eynort, South Uist|
Saturday, 22nd May south of South Uist to north of North Uist via an indirect route
cold and very windy with sunny spells
This day we were able to take posession of our self-catering property to the north of North Uist at 17h00. We therefore had a gentle run northwards to make that day. I spent time looking for birds around the hotel both before and after breakfast, with nothing exciting being seen except the suspicion of a Twite. Nevertheless, I did take a few photos.
|Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) (female) - Lochboisdale, South Uist|
|Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) (male) - Lochboisdale, South Uist|
|Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) - Lochboisdale, South Uist|
|Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - Lochboisdale, South Uist|
|Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) - beyond Bornais, South Uist|
|Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) - beyond Bornais, South Uist|
|Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - beyond Bornais, South Uist|
|Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (female) - beyond Bornais, South Uist|
|Twite (Linaria flavirostris) - beyond Bornais, South Uist|
|Eider (Somateria mollissima) (males + female) - beyond Bornais, South Uist|
|Sanderling (Calidris alba) - beyond Bornais, South Uist|
|Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) (female + male) - Loch Eynort, South Uist|
|Ctenicera cuprea? - by Loch Eynort, South Uist|
|? - by Loch Eynort, South Uist|
|Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) with prey - Clachan Sands, North Uist|
|Redshank (Tringa totanus) - Clachan Sands, North Uist|
|the Moon - from Clachan Sands, North Uist|