We had gone to bed early – exhausted by the journey from Poolewe to Uig.
What felt like a full night later, I woke, refreshed, to find the sun streaming through the bedroom curtains… Not a sight we were used to on this trip.
I smiled. It’s always nice when something really special ‘just happens’ on your birthday. Ahead of me was a day of gentle celebration and good food… However, for the next hour at least – since my travelling companions were all good sleepers – I had the world to myself.
Leaving my wife, Bernie, peacefully sleeping, I eased myself out of bed, put on a T-shirt, shorts and sandals and quietly ventured out into the lounge, then into the kitchen of the holiday cottage, smiling at how much better this place was than our rather basic accommodation at Poolewe.
I made a pot of tea – a cup is never enough – and grabbed a handful of cashew nuts; my usual start of day. Following the glow of the intense sun, I turned to go out onto the patio. As I slid the patio door open, I caught sight of the wall-clock. It was 05:30 in the morning…
As with the previous evening, the extent of the summer light was startling. The outside deck was flooded with the dawn, and it seemed to spill over into the rest of the garden. Clutching my tea, I sat down to commune with a dawn that had just broken over the nearby hill…
I could try to describe the beauty of that moment, but with this photo we can share it…
A birthday dawn of extreme beauty. I sat and gazed for a long time…
After two more cups of tea, I reluctantly left the natural splendour of the loch-facing garden and ventured back into the cottage. The ever-present midges were starting to feast on me and it was time to get the day started.
A leisurely two hours later, we were enjoying an egg and bacon breakfast surrounded by sunshine in the dining room. But as the meal progressed, the skies began to darken, and a chillier wind could be felt entering the open door. My main present brought a smile: my longed for coat… I would finally be not only warm, but weather proof…
No-one apart from Paul, whose people-carrier we were travelling in, realised that I had left my walking coat back in Cumbria, and had been relying on a windproof top plus three layers for survival…
Not any more! I slid the new coat on and ate my final slice of toast and marmalade wearing it. The darkening skies were beckoning… I was ready for the challenge.
We had a few simple things planned. After the tiring previous day, we wanted a gentle pace. We had heard that there was a local cooperative store a few miles away. The plan was to top up the car with fuel and see if they had any fresh produce. The following day would be Sunday and all the island’s shops would be closed.
But first, the two dogs needed some serious exercise; and a beach was called for. The frisky Collie and the blind but happy black Labrador had been wonderfully patient throughout yesterday’s journey. Now they would need a good run on another of Lewis’ famous beaches.
We consulted our detailed map and located a long beach – Uig Sands – not far from the cooperative store. A two-in-one approach would suit us well. We drove straight to the beach without stopping, but noticed a mysterious sculpted figure set back off the road. The dogs were too desperate, so we didn’t investigate. There would be time on the way back.
The Collie and the Labrador howled their way out of the people-carrier and we watched them chase off along the sands. My new coat – on since breakfast, was perfectly warm against the increasingly cold winds on the open expanse of beach. It was a warm and happy moment!
We walked for over a mile along the beautiful beach, stopping only when the incoming tide made the sand too wet to continue. An hour later, we were back in the car and intent on a coffee at the community co-op. But first we wanted to investigate the mysterious figure by the main road.
We had heard of the Lewis Chessmen, but didn’t know on what part of the island the famous Viking figures had been discovered. It turned out that the mysterious figure marked the most likely spot, though the exact location is not known.
The figure above, carved in oak by Stephen Havard, was commissioned in 2006 by Uig Community Council and erected with the co-operation of Ardroil Grazings Committee. It is based on one of the kings in the famous collection of walrus ivory chess pieces which were discovered near here in 1831.
They were found by Malcolm Macleod of Pennydonald, hidden inside a small stone structure in a nearby sand dune. Eleven of the exquisitely carved figures are in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and 82 in the British Museum in London. They were probably made in Norway in the twelfth century during the 450-year period when the Norse ruled the Western Isles.
Back at the holiday cottage, the two ladies and I were treated to several rounds of gin and tonic. Paul had nobly offered to drive that evening to the local ‘fish and chip’ shop to get our tea, since nothing else was open. We were to eat them in the car overlooking Uig sands…
At least that’s what they told me… You can imagine my surprise when we pulled up at the most modern looking building on the island – the Uig Sands Restaurant
We had a delicious seafood dinner. The restaurant – one of the best on Lewis, is run by a local fishing family who have successfully diversified.
Soon, we were back at the cottage, being warmed for bed with a dram or two of single malt. It had been the most wonderful day… and I hadn’t been cold, once.
Continuation onto the the Hebridean Island of Lewis:
A Hebridean Diary: Part One – Impressions of Lewis
A Hebridean Diary: Part Two – Long Road to Uig
A Hebridean Diary: Part Three – Of Coats and Kings (this post)
©Stephen Tanham 2022
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.