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Day 5 – Polonnaruwa and Elephant Safari

22 Mar

Pancakes and syrup started off a day exploring the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, which reached its height of glory in the 12th century, when it was a thriving commercial and religious centre. The city still maintains many of its spectacular buildings and monuments, with arguably the most impressive being the Quadrangle. This sacred precinct originally housed the tooth relic. It contains a superbly decorated circular shrine which is one of the most ornate buildings in the country.

We start off looking at some bricks that rose to three stories.  The other 4 storeys that were part of this building were made of wood. Together, this was the King’s Palace – Parakramabahu the Great (1153 -1186) to be exact.  We witnessed workers carefully removing the concrete that had been applied in the 1980’s to help preserve it and to help obtain UNESCO recognition.  Thankfully there were also some small remaining pieces of decoration.  And a toilet.

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We avoided joining a saffron clothed monk lecturing white clad school children, but did wonder how 100+ pairs of similarly sized black shoes were going to be identifiable after entering the shrines.  Female teachers or chaperones are obviously a must as well.  Not quite sure who invited Beyonce.

The prince’s pond, outwith the walls, also proved some photogenic shots of the aforementioned.

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Doing our best to avoid the tat sellers, we visited the quadrangle – with all sorts of buildings.  Mostly temples though, so it was hardly worth dressing this morning.

“The Temple of the Tooth”, previously contained this ancient relic, which was the symbol of power for the Sri Lankan kings.  The ”Circular Relic House” contained another good moonstone example, and also provided some shade.  We also saw a 7 tier pagoda, of Thai design, and a large stone “book”.  Too many others to mention!

Tried to get a selfie with a monkey, but it wasn’t playing ball!  Another monkey stole a pen from a school child, but our guide Sunil came to the rescue.

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With some chilled refreshments inside, I managed one more dagoba, this one containing several “image houses” around the main stupa.  One of these contained a collection of very young pups.  Cute overload.

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We drove on briefly, past the ancient commercial hub and walked to the Galvihara – four colossal figures hewn out of solid granite.  The reclining buddha is 14 meters long.  A standing buddha had its arms crossed in a “sympathy” pose.  The other two were sitting meditating buddhas, one surrounded by paintings, or what’s left of them.

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When stopping for lunch, a large group of monks passed by, each carrying a shelter and walking on the side of the road on conveniently placed banana leaves.  The locals had arranged this, when they realised that the Thai monks were undertaking a long route march.  I’m sure a bus would have been quicker.

Managed to skip the rice and curry buffet lunch in favour of a chicken sandwich.

Kaudulla National Park was next on the itinerary – in search of elephants.  Several national parks were potential sightings, but as we loaded up 4 to each jeep and drove off, it became clear that this was the one.  We start off tamely with a grey heron, a sea eagle and an abandoned wasp byke.

Arriving into an open plain by a lake, 4 elephants were immediately in front of us, totally unphased by our presence.  Suddenly, our jeep sped off with the rest, and in front of us was an amazing spectacle of 40-50 elephants heading our way.  Young and old, male and female – all searching for the best grass to eat, and water to drink.  They played in the water, looked after their young – some barely a week old – and shook the dirt off the grass they uprooted before using their trunks to stuff it in their mouth.

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In the distance a huge, lone male with the biggest tusks appeared and headed towards the group.  Egrets scattered everywhere.  Our own jeep herd constantly repositioned itself to keep ahead of the main elephant herd, providing the best photo opportunities.  Elephants were meters from the jeeps, and some had to reverse quickly if they came too close.  The photographers who had loaded up with telephoto lenses, quickly tried to change to wide angle lenses!

As the huge male, crossed some water, it shot a huge plume into the air.  Reaching the main herd, it tickled a female’s back leg with its trunk, resulting in a bigger piddle than expected.

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We repositioned again, to witness three elephants swimming and also some painted storks and lapwings.  Eventually it got to the stage where there were no more pictures possible, and we simply managed to enjoy being so close to such large creatures.

Driving back to the bus, we avoided many bridge building projects on narrow roads.  An ice cream van was a welcome sight as we dejeeped, and it got a brisk business.  King coconut juice was the other option.

Our overnight stay was in Dambulla, that we had passed through the previous day.  Basic hotel, but fully functional.  It boasted several restaurants nearby and we choose a pizza place with fantastic lime juice.  Too much pizza though!  There was still time to relax with a cocktail – Arrack, passion fruit juice, lime juice and soda.  So good you had to try it twice!

Not a bad night.  Bit warm though.

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Day 4 – Rock Carved Buddha, Dambulla Caves, Polonnaruwa

21 Mar

Following toast, jam & cakes, we drove for 90 minutes, passing women harvesting rice crops.  We stopped briefly for a few of the group to give a small child a packet of sweets.  I dropped off the forwarding address for the dentist bill.

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First real stop of the day was to the Avukana Ancient Rock Temple – a 12m high Buddha that had been carved from the surrounding rock / cliff.  A new modern roof protects the 5th Century sculpture in its jungle setting.  Not quite sure why.  It is the latest in a long line of roofs.  Although we found it interesting, the monkey frog in the pond was also an appeal, not unfortunately listed in the guide books.  Yes, a frog that looks like a monkey.  It really does.  The statue had a huge wasp nest hanging from its right elbow, giving it a somewhat more striking presence.

Moving on, we also had time to find the cotton that comes from the fruit of the capoc tree, eating some small sweet bananas and some typical Sri Lankan “Hawaiian” biscuits (coconut flavour, of course).  We had a short walk along the side of a large reservoir – stopping for monkeys and plants that react to your touch by closing up, and then reopening.

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We reached the cave temples at the small town of Dambulla and faced some gruelling steps in the heat of the day.  The white clad school kids were all looking fresh as we handed over our shoes to a wild haired man and then trudged to the jobsworth entry attendant.

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We squeezed into the first of five caves to find a reclining buddha.  The second cave contained 57 statues in various poses.  One of these included a cobra hooded Buddha, which was supposed to have protected him when meditating in heavy rain.  These are ~2100 years old.  The third cave had 56 statues, including one of the last king of Sri Lanka.  He stood a respectful pace behind the buddha statues, but looked scary.  Atmospheric lighting and heavily painted rock ceilings made these caves unmissable.  Cave 4 contained an annoying high pitched ant deterrent, so we didn’t linger long time in the smaller caves 4 and 5.

Making friends with more monkeys on the way down, we then headed for a village tour.  Jumping on tuk-tuks, we headed off into the jungle.  Well, most people did, but there weren’t enough tuk-tuks,  so I settled on taking pictures of bullocks, with their owners initials carved into them, until one turned up.  The driver asked if I wanted to take the wheel, and I changed into the front seat.  As I drive an automatic, lurching was the best this could be described.  A clutch was foreign to me, especially on handlebars.  The accelerator seemed to go the incorrect way too.  But I managed a few bits of straight road before handing back to the driver.  Never did get the lesson on where the brakes were.

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Joining the rest of the group at the village hut, we were shown a coconut preparation demonstration.  Taking the outer layer off, cutting it open with a machete (drinking the juice), and extracting the shredded coconut from the inside with a special hand tool.  The two women also demonstrated the grinding of chillies using a large stone.  This was then combined with ground onions and lemon juice to make a coconut sambol.  This was added to the other lunch ingredients – rice and curry! – which we then had to eat off a banana leaf using only our hands.  Much harder than you might imagine.  The secret is to get the correct combination of sauce and rice, to form it into balls and throw it at your mouth.  Water buffalo curd and honey rounded off the meal – thankfully in plastic bowls with a spoon!

What followed was a masterclass in processing food.  Any members of the group who tried to copy, just ended up looking foolish!  Firstly it was pounding the raw rice to separate the shell from the rice.  This was then wafted in the wind (winnowed) to separate the two.  Red millet was ground.  This was slightly easier.  Lastly, we had a demonstration of leaf / frond weaving.  These were used as roofing on the huts.

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After this, we headed to the small lake, where what can only be described as tables lashed to 2 canoes were awaiting us.  One poor local man tried desperately to point us in the correct direction as we slowly burnt to a crisp on the water, with no escape possible.  I was at the front, which meant that the non swimmer was furthest from the supposedly available life jackets.

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Deboating, we then headed for the bullock carts awaiting us.  Tuk tuks and motorbikes were able to overtake, but cars had a huge problem on the narrow roads.  We arrived back and emptied the fridge of the nearby shop of all his cold drinks – which resulted in my drinking Mountain Dew Neon, a high sugar, high caffeine product!

Driving on, we arrived at “The Lake” hotel, Polonnaruwa.  This is a 7th century man-made lake.  The hotel greeted us with a fresh juice drink and a towel to clean ourselves.  Showering was more important than catching the last rays of sun over the lake from the viewing platform around the swimming pool.

The evening meal option was only really in the hotel.  A buffet was available – containing the standard rice and curry, but also much more.  This didn’t suit some of the group who were after the previously promised a la carte menu.

After a tense stand off, french fries appeared.

Other interesting notes from today – only 85% of Sri Lankan homes have access to electricity.  Hoping for 100% by 2025-30.

Also, “How many pecks can a woodpecker peck, if a woodpecker could peck wood?”  20 per second apparently.  That’s a possible 11,000 a day.

Bloody annoying though.

Day 3 – Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Buddhas & Steps

20 Mar

The morning walk to breakfast included meeting a host of local wildlife including a humongous bee, a palm squirrel, and a couple of owls.  Thankfully, none of these were on the breakfast menu, and I settled for toast and jam again.

Our resident bus cleaner offered us frangipane as we boarded our bus and Sunil, the guide, tried to entertain us with some terrible dad jokes.  I laughed.

First stop of the day was to a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the ancient capital of Anuradhapura.  It was originally founded in 500BC and is showing a few tell-tale signs of needing repair.  Well preserved ruins is the perfect oxymoron here.  We passed the incense and candle lighting outside the gates, as the place had previous burnt to the ground.

Inside, after shedding our shoes, and navigating the sand and roughly hewn cobbles, we found out about the 2200 year old bo-tree (where the original buddha became enlightened), buddhist auras, the lotus leaf which looks like a cobra and how long it takes for your feet to burn on any surface.

The offerings in the temple included various flowers, cakes and coins wrapped in cloth and tied to the railings.  A white band was available for a small fee, presumably to help the buyer achieve enlightenment.

As usual, I felt that the tourists with the cameras were somehow interfering too much in the otherwise peaceful atmosphere.   However, without the entrance fees, I doubt that they could afford the props that held the sacred bo tree up.

Reunited with our shoes, briefly, we headed to Lowamahapaya, which consisted of 1600 or so stone pillars which the monks were asked to count.  Presumably a purpose similar to asking Scouts to separate hundreds and thousands into unique colours.

Lots of dogs, some with very large appendices, lay in our path as we headed to several more temples, each with their own burning sand and stone floors.  Shoes on, shoes off.  Briefly, these included the Brazen Palace, once a nine storey residence for monks; the 4th century Smadhi Buddha masterpiece and the Ruwanmel Maha Saya Dagoba – a 90 metre-high dome-shaped shrine towering over the surrounding countryside.

Women chanting, flower laying blokes and painters and plasterers were hard at work up very tall pioneered ladders with lime in buckets.  The monks seemed to be of the clipboard carrying types.  Even the bricks awaiting use were piled into dagoba shapes.  (A dagoba is a Sri Lankan term for a temple, pagoda or stupa.)

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Lankaraya Stupa, Abhayagiri Stupa, a moonstone (look it up), snake charmer, monkey on a bicycle wearing shorts, discussions on mythical animals consisting of 7 real animals on a guardstone, monks dressed in saffron robes, reclining buddhas (are they dead or just sleeping – check the toes are aligned or not!) and twin ponds with more monkeys. After all that, we found a cool spot that sold iced drinks and emptied it of ginger beer.  Jetavana Stupa was then too much for most, as taking your hat off in the middle of the day was getting a bit dangerous, but I managed a quick clockwise circuit.  More monkeys ignored the do not climb signs and scampered up the front of it.

Lunch was a pleasant surprise – The Grand Heritance – which provided the standard all you can eat buffet option, fantastic lime sodas or a la carte sandwich and french fries options.

We travelled 8 miles to Mihintale, which was the site of a momentous meeting between the monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa, introducing Buddhism to the country.  We saw the Alms hall, which had a phallic shaped trough where the monks would fill up with donated rice.  Then it was on to climb the “Great Stairway” – allegedy 1840 steps, but only 250 were used to get to a plateau with three options.  After removing shoes, we firstly climbed a very hot rock face with only a few feet places cut into the slipped polished rock surface.  Several up and downs took most of us to excellent views over the surrounding countryside.  Getting down again was even more of an adventure!

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Secondly, we climbed another 200 or so steps to another dagoba – painted white with a red stripe of material around it.  This is being shown, as it is a donation to the monks – to be cut up and used as robes.  I met a jolly North Korean monk in one of the shrines here.  The third climb of 100 steps was to a buddha statue with the best views of the other two.

Descending and returning to the hotel, we had time to freshen up before heading out to a group meal that consisted of rice and curry.  However, instead of the standard 4 bowls, this time we had lots to chose from!  Fish, chicken, coconut sambol, herbs, banana leaf (the best!), chillied lotus, radish curry, leafy salad, lime chutney, poppadums, and lots more!

A great end to a great day!

Day 2 – Fish Market, Toddy Tappers & Safari

19 Mar

Started the day with breakfast, unsurprisingly.  Toast & Jam.  Result.

The group all assembled on time, and our bags were marked, so that they would magically appear in our next hotels room.  The bus driver, Genie, whisked us off for a whistle stop tour of Negombo, including the temple and fish market from the previous day.  This time however, the fish market had much more activity.  Fish were being landed, sorted, gutted, salted and then dried on the sand.  The crows, dogs and egrets were all too well aware that the fish were too salty for their taste.  I gained a lot of information from a local fisherman who asked for a donation for his time.  Unfortunately, I still wasn’t quite used to the currency and ended up tipping him a small fortune for 10 minutes of his time.  However, I can now tell you the difference between ( and mostly identify) cuttle fish from coral fish, bamboo shark from …. sardines.  The 2004 tsunami wiped away a lot of the infrastructure and affected the livelihood of these fisherman.  My guide lives and sleeps in the fish market – a concrete structure that smells of fish and is covered in bird poo.  Wild mangy dogs are his companions.

Back on the bus, we moved on, finding out about the local culture from our guide.  Although 70% of the population are Buddhist, most people are happy to have “god insurance” with 2 religions under their belt.  The Tamil Tigers, previously of the insurgent / terrorist type, now have no problems.  It was clear that everyone was welcome, and they meant it!

Our next stop was to a “toddy tapper”.  We skipped past the “Japanese Elephant” aka JCB to witness the highly skilled climbers perched high up in coconut trees, expertly trimming the coconut branches on a daily basis to extract the natural “toddy” juice that would normally form in the coconut.  A sample was provided – it tasted slightly burnt, but was otherwise pleasant.  It is normally then distilled into Arrack.  One tree produces 2-3 glasses of toddy per day.  Vandals can cut through the high ropes connecting the trees so that workers fall.  Doesn’t sound very sporting.  99% of the workers are male.  No monkeys are used for this highly paid job.

We drove on, past a house displaying white flags, which are a sign of a death in the family.  Sunil also handed out some sweet bananas and raided a field to show a fully grown rice plant.

A brief toilet stop at a hindu temple (Murugan) proved interesting, as they had security guards insisting on the females of the group covering their legs and shoulders.  Despite the fact they weren’t actually planning on entering the temple.  The Intrepid tour company bus also started a parking war with our bus.  Our driver sources some jammy doughnuts, but the smell of poo when I followed where he came from was enough to put me off exploring any further.

Ayubowan – A wish for a long and healthy life – was just one of the many Sinhala words that we didn’t remember.  However, the Portugese have a lasting legacy here in the shape of “wine shops”, which no longer sell wine, but do sell other alcohol products.  Other Sri Lankan claims to fame, including having the first female prime minister of the world.  Exciting mounted when Sunil announced an elephant crossing the road.  Unfortunately, he was only showing the road warning sign.

Lunch at a roadside stop consisted of rice and curry in buffet format.  Chips and sandwiches were also available, but not for me on this occasion.  Ginger beer was the only cold drink available and so was ordered by everyone!

Moving on, the road turned single track as one family had decided to dry their rice on the tarmac.  Chillies and chocolate were also out for drying in the safety of their own land.  At a local school, a collection of motorbikes and tuk tuks were waiting to collect the children.  Our guide informed us that EVEN woman can ride motorbikes now.

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We arrived at Wilpattu National Park and transferred into 6 seater Toyota Landcruisers – open to the elements, but with a roof for shade.  We set off on the lookout for the “Big Three” – elephant, leopard and black sloth bear.  The 2 hour trip, turned into a 4 hour marathon, that was enthralling and yet disappointing at the same time.  I witnessed many different types of deer, monkeys, kingfishers, lizards, crocodiles, water buffalo, egrets, storks, cormorants, peacocks, turtles, dragonflies, jungle fowl, hornbills, bee-eaters, and various other unidentified birds.  As for the leopard, we did see tracks, but not the beast itself.  The black sloth bear was only to be found as a picture on the spare wheel cover.  A single male elephant was however spotted munching away behind some trees.  So distant that we weren’t sure if it was actually an elephant or not.  It definitely had a trunk, but could easily have been a Paul Daniels magic trick.

Returning to our own bus, we drove on to Anuradhapura, an ancient capital, for the night.  A hotel group meal followed with a very tasty Nasi Goreng being most welcome.  Most excellent hotel.

Day 1 – Arriving in Sri Lanka

18 Mar

Arriving in Sri Lanka via Dubai was uneventful, but proved once again that travelling with Emirates is a definite bonus.  Dubai had an Irish band who seemed to be celebrating an Irish 6 Nations win until the early hours.  Missing a flight due to the queue in McDonalds is probably not covered by travel insurance.  Thankfully, I didn’t.  Just.

At 8:30am, after 20 hours travelling, I was met by the Explore rep and bundled into a taxi with air conditioning that didn’t seem to mitigate the outside temperatures.  We drove for about 20 minutes to the nearby hotel in Negombo – a beach resort with a terrible beach that you weren’t able to swim in safely – if you could swim!  I mean, it was covered in sand, and had water and stuff…

The hotel was unable to provide a room, but I met a couple of others from the group, and the three of us took a tuk tuk (for 2) into town.  We wandered around the almost empty fish market, the prison, the site of an old fort and many fishermen either mending their nets or relaxing in their boats – all in the bright midday sun, whilst our sun tan lotion languished in our bags at the hotel.

Seeking shelter, we headed for the Lagoon view restaurant, only to be met with a gloomy room where we persuaded the owner to turn the fans on.  The coldest drink was quickly downed (through a straw, as the glasses weren’t to be trusted) and we exited towards a tuk tuk.  The driver was happy to take us to St. Mary’s church (roof fund required) and to a very colourful hindu temple (for Tamils), where a wedding was taking place.

Back at the hotel, after finding time to check-in, I wandered along the beach, found an ice cream seller, and witnessed crows keeping cool and eating coconuts as well as the locals bathing.  Avoiding the large sail boat owners wanting to take you for ride, was easy, although constantly required.

Walking through town, I saw some modern art, including children screaming at fences.  Hmmm. The group briefing introduced most of the group (17 – 1 to arrive later) and the guide – Sunil (Sunny).  His English is good, but his sentence construction left us all in doubt as to what he was actually saying.  Here’s hoping we all get there.  I’m sure it’ll be fine.

For the evening meal, a few of us went to a local restaurant (whilst the rest stayed in the hotel).  I had rice & curry.  This was actually, several dishes – chicken curry, dahl, pineapple, coconut sambol and a sweet chilli sauce.  Delicious.  All washed down with some local hooch – Arrack.  Very whisky like, and therefore firewater.  Not to be repeated.

A great introduction to Sri Lanka. First impressions – very friendly people, if a little on the hot side!

Packing Again

16 Mar

There is something definitely wrong here.  I’ve packed, it’s within the weight limit, I don’t think I’ve missed anything, and there are still plenty hours before I leave.

Even the PC is working!

Off to Sri Lanka tomorrow, for a more “normal” trip.  Other people I know have actually already been there.  I know, don’t be shocked.

However, it is still an Explore! trip, so part of the experience is obviously the group.  I’ll be meeting them on Sunday!

All this is assuming that the “Beastie from the Eastie” doesn’t cancel the trains, bus or plane.  And if I don’t get caught up in a riot, curfew of whatever is happening in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and assuming the internet is still turned on there, I’ll be updating this as normal – lots to start, tailing off as I get to the end of the holiday!

I hope you enjoy!

Day 3 – Stornoway to the Isle of Harris

9 Aug

After a restful night in calm conditions, I loosely packed up the wet tent after a hot shower and headed into Stornoway.  Amazing how many coffee shops there aren’t. And those that did exist, weren’t open.  Eventually settled on “Ad’s”, on the basis that it was the only business open (at 9am!)  A wonderful hot chocolate and bacon rolls followed though.

After that, it was off the to the grounds of Lews Castle and the Woodlands Centre (which have very nice toilets) for a pre-booked Segway tour.  I joined a family from North Wales with two teenage sons (15 & 17) who had just finished cycling the Hebridean Way. Parents were the support car!  Finlay, our instructor, showed us the basics of how to get on and off a Segway in the relative safety of a gravel car park.  I was wondering why some of them had knee and elbow pads on.  We all had helmets. I’d not been offered anything else.

Once we were all experts at doing slow circles, we set off along the paths of the Lews estate, where the last lesson was how to fall off whilst going uphill.  Not me, the mother.  To much, controlled, hilarity of the other members of her family.  Once we had also mastered the descent, Finlay led us off at speed along a wide track.  My speed limiter kicked in at about 20-30mph!

At a very scenic spot, he stopped to explain why there was a dilapidated cottage there.  Rhododendrons were recently outlawed and removed, and for years people had been walking past this spot, not realising that the remains of a gamekeeper’s cottage was hidden beneath these huge bushes.  The gamekeeper was in charge of making sure there was no illegal fishing of salmon on the river.

On narrower tracks now, following the river upstream, we avoided friendly dogs and bemused tourists in equal measure.  Next stop was to a manicured garden, created recently to much consternation from the Stornoway residents (who are not exactly open to change!)  There also featured a water fountain fed from a spring (not the river) with a distinct metal taste.  Not to be repeated.

As we headed back to Lews Castle, we avoided Gallow Hill – the highest point in Stornoway – and the site of all recent hangings.

After safely returning the X2 Segway, I headed to Lews Castle – which is in the middle of being restored, but has a very modern museum tacked on the back, with some very interesting and well thought out exhibits.  As well as island life, the machair, gaelic, fishing etc… there was also a section featuring 6 of the Lewis Chessmen, found on a beach in Uig, sometime before 1831.  Most of the 93 pieces that have been found are in the British Museum (London) or the National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh), so it is a great privilege for the new museum to have them on loan.  They are hoping to be able to keep them (or swap them for others).

“… where the weather has so dominated daily life.  Not because of any extremes of termperature but because of its changability.”

Peter May, 2013

Stopping only for a panini in the Castle café, I then headed south, leaving the Isle of Lewis behind to head to the Isle of Harris.  I was most disappointed to discover that the separation between these two “Isles” was a very small stream.  No one has yet been able to explain the distinction to me!  The change of scenery was dramatic and also instant.  The moors of Lewis gave way to the rugged hills of Harris.  A steep climb, with perilous edges at times, was the highlight of this road.

Arriving in Tarbert at the Isle of Harris Distillery, I found the Historic Scotland “coo van” again.  Although the tours were fully booked (I knew this in advance), they did offer a free sample nip, both with and without the added sugar-sea kelp water.  Definitely with!  TO allow the effects to wear off, I walked around Tarbert, taking in the highlights – the ferry terminal, hotel, tourist information office and brightly painted Tarbert Stores.  Also on show was the Harris Tweed shop.  My idea of hell.  Couldn’t even afford a tea cosy, although they did have a very nice line of tweed waistcoats.

I turned off the “main” road toward Grosebay – a tiny place reachable only by the narrowest and windiest of roads.  It is part of the “Golden Road” around this part of South Harris.  The reason for the detour was to visit another Harris Tweed shop “Isle of Harris Knitwear Co” – this one was somewhat less touristy.  In the garage, come shop, a large lady described how she could tell the difference between the weavers, and that although the tweed was woven in the homes in Harris, the garments were actually made elsewhere.  Meanwhile in the house, the ground floor was taken over with rails of jackets and waistcoats for the discerning millionaire.  Available in both standard and lightweight, in case you read this far!  The Harris “Orb” stamp showing the sign of quality.

Back on the road, I headed to Luskentyre beach.  Just as well Google Maps work offline, or I would have been completely lost – despite there only being two roads!  All the signs are in a foreign language, and here they don’t even both to translate them!

The beach stretches for miles, and the car park isn’t where Google thinks it is – a good 2.5 miles further on in fact.  It was hoaching!  The beautiful white sand beach however, had plenty space for everyone, including campers, dogs and walkers (and the odd tourist with a camera!).  The wildlife was plentiful – many starfish, a small (traditionally clear) jelly fish, and another deep red jellyfish covered in seaweed that would have fed a family of 4 for a week!  The marking made it look like it had swallowed a turtle.

The blue green water was too appealing, and only cold if you strayed too far from the shore.

After dusting off the sand, I follow the crowds (OK two other cars) back along the single track road and then on to Horgabost Campsite.  This was the most disorganise sprawl I’ve ever seen.  A “lucky” few had pitched up overlooking the beach, whilst others had settled for more sheltered sites near the road.  I compromised on distance to carry anything, and ended up near the sand, the car and the toilet block.  The borrowed Vango Force 10 was quickly pitched and pegs buried, to the surprise of everyone else who had brought the kitchen sink and had their huge tents swaying violently in the wind.

Immediately back in the safety of the car I headed to Northton and Croft 36 – home of the much publicised and researched takeaway to the tent service.  Arriving at 6:15 to the hut outside, I discovered that you actually need to prebook the day before.  The notice in the shed to enquire in the house, so I did, and was met with a barking dog and apologetic owner.  However, all was not lost, as 5 minutes further down the road was Leverburgh.  I say 5 minutes, but like all of these villages, it goes on for miles and miles, with a single house here and there.  Even the shop, post office, hall and school are not together.  The ferry terminal was even further.  But next to it was a very posh restaurant – “The Anchorage”, with prices to match.  The served be a wonderful bowl of carrot and ginger soup, some fish pakora and a white chocolate pannacota.  Nice.

After finding that CalMac had free wifi at the port, I returned to the campsite to find the less enlightened campers slaving over stoves and raw chicken.  I amused myself whilst reading until the light rain started.  Retiring to the calm of the tent, I heard the screams of the children passing by and the howling of the wind.

It reminds me why I don’t like public campsites.  Firstly, because of the public, and secondly because they are campsites.

Today’s sound track was brought to you by Isles FM (where possible), BBC Radio 2, and CD 6.