Day 8 - HOWMORE TO BERNERAY

After breakfast I got myself a nice little spot in the corner of the lounge and started to survey the good choice of books on the shelves. Note, the laid back priority - sit back with a good book rather than do some urgent washing. Chris was looking forward to another repack – a whole day of jotting down what item was in each pannier as well as a good search for his cutlery pack. A shop was just a short distance down the road. So it was that we settled down for the day. Well, that was the plan until about half past nine – why half past nine? That’s the time the two girls from Glasgow made an appearance from their beds. They gaily informed us that a bus was leaving Howmore at ten and it went all the way to the next hostel at Berneray. A quick check of the bus timetable not only confirmed the time: it was the only bus on the islands that would take bikes. So it was from serenity to mad panic – we had half an hour to get loaded up and to get to the bus stop. Well, we did it, with minutes spare and with the bikes loaded into the boot we had a bus tour of Benbecula, and I am afraid to say the journey was nothing special. North Uist is a particular bleak sort of place, the North West part of the island dominated by flat-roofed concrete buildings belonging to the MOD. The island of Berneray is a different story however, and is an exemplary little island.

The only way to travel in gale force winds! and Two small tents - we got soaked from the sea spray during the storm that night

By the time of our arrived at Berneray Hostel the bus was rather of full waifs and strays, all seeking solid building shelter for the night and there was a rush to the hostel by about twenty people to bag-a-bed for the night. As our bikes were in the boot we were always going to be last there. By this time the winds were quite strong although it was dry.
These hostels, by the way, do not have 'staff' its a free for all. Payment is either an honesty box or the a local comes round late in the evening and collects the money.

We did have a logistics problem in that we had no food! We passed a shop which I thought was a couple of miles down the road. It was too dangerous to cycle and we had now plenty of time, so after pitching our tent in the lee of the storm, actually a roofless, ruined croft (the wind probably destroyed it this morning)! We walked back down the road; it was a hard journey, we knew the shop shut at five, what we didn’t know was how far away it was. We never made it - by five o’clock we still had no sight of the shop, so we turned back. The winds by now were very gusty, as if building up force for the coming night’s entertainment. So it was that we again raided the leftover food in the hostel fridges and managed to scrape together a reasonable meal. I wish I could meet the people who left this food just to say a big thank you. This was the second time we had used this little treasure trove - those heading home leave their excess food for the starving masses coming behind them.

The position of this hostel was even better than Howmore, literally by the water’s edge and in the rapidly approaching storm certainly was quite a sight. Climbing into the sleeping bag I was resigned to a sleepless night – a force nine gale in Southern England, for example, would have inflicted severe damage and be national news. I must admit to a certain apprehension and packed all my kit should an evacuation needed. And Chris in his Wendy house? Well, he chose also to camp it out rather than kipping on the only space available – the lounge floor of the hostel. His tent door had no ties at the bottom so it flapped noisily but even that was eventually drowned out by the wind. So it was we prepared for a rough night, thankfully Radio Scotland kept me company. Just after midnight came the shipping forecast. Can there be anything in any language to match the poetry of the shipping forecast? I doubt it.

Rockall, Hebrides, Southwest gale 8 to storm backing southerly, severe gale 9, imminent’. Rain, then squally showers. Moderate, becoming poor..

There is you and the radio, its 0045 hrs, your day is over, now lulled by the haunting music of ‘Sailing By’. You cannot help by lie there with a picture of the sea areas in your mind as the forecast goes around the coast, glad you are at this time, hopefully secured to a solid piece of immoveable land.

You only need to be lying in a small tent less than 50 metres from a raging sea to know the realities that those simple words describe, the thrashing of my little nylon home in this sodden, fragile environment against the full force of nature. That’s the poetry of it all, the unruffled calmness of the announcer verus the vastness and violence described from a safe BBC studio in London.