Stornoway Stories(1)

Stornoway Stories(1)

Celebrating the result of the Scottish  referendum, I took the plane to the furthest north west reach of our  still  United Kingdom. British Airways once the world’s favourite airline kept me in suspense but eventually allowed me on the plane despite fears of over booking.  BA if it insists on employing female sumo wrestlers as stewardess must widen the aisles, otherwise, I see tears before landing.

The Isle of Lewis  in the Outer Hebrides has like many islands  a secret, a tragedy and  a difference . Its secret lies in the Callanish  Stone circles. There is one main mini Stonehenge ,two or three nearby and  another half a dozen close . All dating from 2500 BC. A time when the farmers on the island could grow barley where now peat is dug and  only a few sheep stand mournfully in the bog. As the climate once again warms up it is the wild Greylag geese which are the problem. They used to fly away in the winter now they stay and attack the meagre crops.

Its tragedy lies in the Admiralty launch Iolaire. On New Years Day  1919 it was bringing the naval reservists back to the island and at  entrance to Stornoway harbour, in the full view of the waiting families, it hit a rock and sank. 208  drowned and no family on the island was untouched. In all the Great War cost the island  over 1000 men. The population today is barely 14000. Above Stornoway stands a  mock castle as a war memorial paid for mainly by Lord Leverhulme who owned the island at the time. He  had bought it  from the Matheson (Jardine) family.

The difference on the island is that Gaelic is still officially the first language and the Free Church of Scotland holds sway. Nothing opens on Sunday and few would dream of kicking a ball or putting out the washing. This is a church where you go twice on Sunday, pay in ten per cent of your income,say grace before every meal and believe in every word of the Bible. Gays and ambitious women need not apply.

I was cycling. The twenty miles  from Stornoway to Callanish  in the West. A beautiful day, the sunshine made even the brown bogs seem cheerful, across them gurgled streams on their way to feeding the numerous lochs. To the south I could clearly see the snow covered hills of Harris. Heartbreaking.

I inspected the stones at Callanish,it being Sunday the visitors centre was closed. Whilel I was there two young men dressed in  kilts took selfies by the Stones holding up the Scottish saltire. Perhaps we should drop the fixture.Then ,as it does,  in the mid Atlantic the weather abruptly changed.

Wind turned to rain, to hail to snow. I wasnt due at  the nearby Creagan B&B for two hours. There was a toilet I could hide in or I could try my luck. It was in. Ann Smith was home,  a strong  looking handsome woman, a recently retired nurse . She welcomed me. Y ou must have lunch with us. No, no, I lied. There is plenty. A little later Angus came in ,he had been visiting an ancient parent. The pork joint was carved. We sat. Bowed our heads and a long grace was said. Like the Italian  national anthem the grace seemed to stop,deep breath and then start again. So much to thank for. The lemonade was poured.

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