Labour Day marks the official end of summer for most people in this part of the world.Â School starts backÂ tomorrow and there’s no more holidays in sight until mid-October and Thanksgiving.
Not unlikeÂ yours, I’m sure, my summer wasÂ a busy one.Â It flewÂ by.Â I’d forgotten how membership in an activelyÂ competing pipe band adds exponentially to the speedy passing of warm (and this year, wet) summer time.Â As in yearsÂ pastÂ I spentÂ precious vacation time in Glasgow for the week leading to the world pipe bandÂ championships.Â This year I stayed on a little longer to journey to the Outer Hebrides, to Benbecula.
In the many years I’ve journeyed toÂ Scotland I’ve never managed to make the trek to grammy’s home town, or, more accurately,Â “home place”Â – there are really no “towns” in this part of the Outer Hebrides, at least not asÂ I know them.Â
The tripÂ from Glasgow to the Outer Hebrides is not easy and certainly not cheap.Â Ask Boswell and JohnsonÂ (a journal I recommend reading).Â The surface route isÂ all road or rail and ferry – and long.Â Â By air its a toddle, a 45 minute flight.Â The path of least resistance can often deceive andÂ the breezy flight doesn’t disappoint:Â no stand-by cheap tickets here -Â you can expect to payÂ $700 (CDN) for the pleasure of a bumpy air-borne jaunt.Â I did.Â And context?Â The return flight from Toronto to Glasgow was ’round about $1200 (I was lucky to arrive home on Zoom Airlines four days before they went bust).Â Â Anyway, IÂ didn’t have the time for the more adventurous and economical surface journey and made up my mind to go, and to fly, all the while thinking of that great Yiddish proverb, “if not now, when?”.Â Merry Christmas to me.Â
I knew of Benbecula and the Uists from what I’d heard from grammy (cold, barren, impoverished [I can rememberÂ my grandmother telling me they’d gather bluebells to eat toÂ stave off hunger], peaty, hard,Â Gaelic – and beautiful) and what I’d read and heard from others who had been.Â And, from a few, who hail from the place, or who have folks that do, as in the case, for instance,Â of Roddy MacLeodÂ [his mum].Â I had a picture in my mind’s eye.Â On this trip I was determined to soak up a little of the atmosphere, and, if I was lucky, get aÂ closer look-in to my own roots.
I flewÂ out of Glasgow onÂ yet another one of the rainy, overcast days that plagued theÂ excellent PipingLive festival, and “worlds week”.Â After 10 minutes in the air, the clouds broke and I, along with the ten or so others rattling aroundÂ the cabin of the SAAB 340 turbo-prop, enjoyed an unfetteredÂ view of the west coast of Scotland – all the way to Benbecula.Â The decision to flyÂ lookedÂ to be a fair one, after all.Â The scenery from 12,000 feet was unforgetably magnificent.
The airport in Balivanich, Benbecula is small, maybe the smallest I’ve yet flown to; Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, is Heathrowesque in comparison.Â Here’s a view from the front doors of the airport; aÂ bucolicÂ sight that lived up to my island preconceptions:
The woman from the car hire place was waiting for me in the arrivals area and handed me the keys to the car afterÂ a signature, a glance at my credit card andÂ her instructions to, “leave it in the car park unlocked when you’re done – with keys in the sun visor”.Â I was off and running.
One of my first stops was the Creagorry Inn (now the Isle ofÂ Benbecula Hotel)Â where I’dÂ be staying.Â My grandmother worked here in 1912.Â I was looking forward to having a look around and picking up, maybe, a vibe of a working place, a place once an employer of kin.Â I found a bit of aÂ Fawlty Towers feel.Â A hotel proudly representingÂ the diversity of anÂ EEC country that is the UK,Â including a helpful, Bayram, the Turkish bartender.Â Â I had imagined diversity in this part of the Outer HebridesÂ to centre mainly around religious lines of the Christian kind, with Gaelic dialects and, perhaps, right or left-handed pipers making up the difference.Â Â TheÂ diversity of people that now make up the Western Isles would be a theme of my visit, from the older London couple that staffed the Creagorry Post Office, the hotel’s South Asian cleaning staff,Â to theÂ non-Scots check-outÂ person at the Co-op.Â I found next to no opportunity to practice myÂ now not-so-handy, “Ciamar a tha sibh?” or “An toir thu dhomh pÃ²g?”.Â I have to sayÂ now, my disappointmentÂ was not in theÂ diversity of the Western Isles that IÂ experienced -Â this was all good;Â “cool”, in fact;Â rather, it was the scarcity of Gaelic, and the potential for contact with possibleÂ “rellies”.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Still, Benbecula and the Uists did not really, truly disappoint.Â I came to the place withÂ a couple of pages of hand-written information courtesy of my Auntie Eileen.Â I knew where to go for some serious looks at the life that was my grandmother’s a long time ago.Â My grandmother was born in 1890 and died in 1987, not far from the final resting place of the famous Lewisman, Donald Morrison, the Megantic Outlaw, a fellow immigrant to Canada.Â IÂ stood in the ruins ofÂ her black house across from the oldÂ school house in Torlum.Â Like so many Gaels I know, stillÂ well preserved –Â resilient, in fact.Â I managed toÂ walk the same ground andÂ saw the same sea.
All in all, I was glad toÂ tromp aroundÂ bonnie Benbecula and can happily suggest you do the same.Â I know I’ll be back.Â A few photos here for those especially interested.
M.Â Â Â Â
PS.Â To put it all in the realm ofÂ the here, the now:Â Blackberry users note:Â service isÂ fine from Lochmaddy to Lochboisdale.Â
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.