RODEL JOGS

I have previously written of my visit with my mother over 40 years ago to the hotel at Rodel at the foot of the Lewis/ Harris archipelago on the Western Isles.

John and I revisited it on our travels earlier this summer. Once again it initially presented a rather unwelcoming appearance, with no doors that looked as if they opened. We pushed one and entered the space which I immediately recognised as having been the men-only drinking den into which my mother and I had inadvertently stumbled all those years ago but which was now a modern and attractive restaurant. The hotel owner/manager was a charming and attractive man whose family had owned the hotel for three generations. The locals called him ‘Dolly’ but I knew that this was simply their nickname for ‘Donald’.

I told him how my mother and I had visited over 40 years ago and described my fascination with the strange Indian furnished room. He looked rather vague and said so far they had only renovated half the hotel and I got a distinct impression that somewhere behind the boarded up windows of the un-restored section of the hotel the Indian furnished sitting room probably still mouldered.

Anyway our room on the second floor (they had telephoned to enquire if I would manage this) was entirely suitable and comfortable but I was not feeling well that day and so I lay on the bed and John went out to get me some medicine. As it turned out he had to drive to Tarbert, so he was gone for quite some time.

When John returned, I took the medicine and felt a bit better so we decided to descend to the dining room and eat our meal. On the first floor we were waylaid by a harpy who emerged from the dark recesses of her quarters and stood, fully blocking our path. She was ugly, elderly and bossy. Were we in the room above? she demanded. John who does not object to being questioned quite as quickly as I do, assented. Well, she declared, there was very little noise insulation between floors, and their afternoon rest had been dreadfully disturbed by the incredible noise we had made, and would we please ensure that we placed our feet more quietly on the floor. We were quite astonished both by her remarks and by their tone.

“Madam,” John now spoke (always an ominous beginning), “I fear you are mistaken. My wife has been unwell and lying on her bed unable to move, and I have been to Harris to get some medicine for her. Whatever noise you allegedly heard was certainly not made by us. Kindly stand aside, you are blocking the way.”

The woman appeared astounded to be so addressed, but she moved. Apart from giving her a disdainful glance, I never acknowledged her at all.

Dolly welcomed us warmly to the dining room. John told him that a guest had waylaid us and complained at length about the poor noise insulation in the hotel, and had requested that we place our feet more quietly on the floor! We were at a loss to understand this as we had been resting; besides we found our room charming and comfortable and the noise insulation entirely acceptable. We later saw the harpy have a long and vehement conversation with Dolly but she cut no ice with him.

It was only as we were almost finished our (delicious) meal that I remembered that owing to my indisposition, my drugs had not worked, and in an effort to bring them in and recover my mobility, I had held on to the foot of the bed and jumped with 2 feet together for 20 times, and I had done this at intervals of 5 minutes. 5 or 6 times.

Rodel is a place where odd things happen.

ISLAND HOP

In the last few weeks, we’ve undertaken a tour of the Western Isles in celebration of our upcoming 40th wedding anniversary. We went to Skye on our honeymoon 40 years ago and after one day, fled from the man-eating midgies, and we’ve never been back since.

We were on the road for five weeks. It was interesting and enjoyable. When we arrived in Oban to commence our tour, it was engulfed in a ‘happening’. I hate happenings, but was slightly mollified as a pipe band was playing’ Raglan Road’. I never did establish what exactly the happening was.

Our first island was Coll (of the inner Hebrides) which was very lovely. We had a charming room with a magnificent view in the delightful Coll Hotel, where the food was superb. The island was beautiful with magnificent flora and fauna. The macher (flower filled meadow) was unusually rich this year, they told us. We saw swallows, herons, heard the cuckoo, seabirds, and we actually both saw that elusive rasping bird, the corncrake, with one chick. I would return to this island for the simple pleasure of it – its only downside is that its beaches, which are apparently lovely, are largely inaccessible.

It’s neighbour, Tiree, is flat and featureless with neither trees nor rocks nor sand-dunes and therefore its glorious white sand beaches are largely useless because there is no shelter. (An Atlantic wind blows most days.)

Barra was an attractive island with particularly beautiful stones and our room had a view of Kishmul Castle, which is a tiny island in a salt water bay which has a spring of fresh water. (Here’s red wine and feast for heroes, and harping too…) You can fly to Barra but the plane lands on the beach so you have to go when the tide is out. (Nothing would induce me to attempt this…)

Then on to the Uists, South and North and with Benbecula sandwiched in between. These islands are linked by causeways. There were some lovely fresh water lochans with shining rocks and white waterlilies. (‘Like the white lily floating on the peathag’s dark waters…’ ) We came out from having a coffee in a small hotel and standing right beside us on a promontory was a magnificent stag with his 12 pointed antlers silhouetted against the sky. He was standing so still that I thought he was a statue (like a Spanish bull) but his eye was very bright, and with a toss of his antlers he bounded away and disappeared into the landscape. We had decided to visit Benbecula when visiting a museum in New Zealand where a shipload of people from the islands had (eventually) settled. We were singing the words to the tunes they were playing, and we signed their book and spoke to them, and realised the ladies running the museum called the island BenbecULa. We were not going to be so impolite as to correct their pronunciation, but in our reply to them we pronounced the place name after the Scottish fashion, with equal emphasis throughout the syllables. As we left, we could hear the ladies practising their newly learned island name. John said to me, Maybe we’d better go there, and check that we’re right. Well, we were.

And so to Lewis and Harris. Whereas the south of this island archipelago is aggressively catholic, icons of Mary every few miles, the North is uncompromisingly protestant. Everything – I mean EVERYTHING – is shut on Sundays. Shops are shut, golf course is closed, no public transport, public monuments are locked. I don’t know how they get away with it. This island was aggressive in its history with rebellions and political action. It could not truly be said to be welcoming to tourists. Yet if I stated my credentials – my grandfather built a house in the village of Sandwick – we were welcomed with open arms as one of their own; but I won’t do it. The owner of an eccentric shop where we bought Harris tweed some two years ago remembered me and asked after my cousin.

We travelled across Skye which unfortunately had a monstrous cruise ship skulking in the bay outside Portree. This vessel held almost 2000 people who were vomited out onto the island and utterly over ran it so that everywhere was infested with mannerless voyagers.

We sailed back to Mallaig and that ended the island part of our holiday. I enjoyed it. Not a midgie to be seen. If you’re thinking of going on an adventure there, off you go. But book early, and don’t plan on spending Sunday in Stornoway!