The first four images were taken on the return from Eilean Glas along the Out End Road. Unlike MacCaig we were not “greeted all the way”, just a hearty hello from one dog walker – he had an English accent. In the afternoon we drove the road from Tarbert to Leverburgh, following a circular route around South Harris.
There are only two images from the southern tour; the storm that was gathering over Taransay and Luskentyre broke over Scarista, Leverburgh and the circular road north back to Tarbert. This only served to instill a desperate urge to return. South Harris is the most spectacular of the small islands and there is more to see, not least the sandy graveyard at Luskentyre:
She was buckets
and water flouncing into them.
She was winds pouring wetly
She was brown eggs, black skirts
and a keeper of threepennybits
in a teapot.
Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
By the time I had learned
a little, she lay
silenced in the absolute black
of a sandy grave
at Luskentyre. But I hear her still, welcoming me
with a seagull’s voice
across a hundred yards
of peatscrapes and lazybeds
and getting angry, getting angry
with so many questions
Norman MacCaig – an extract from his poem Aunt Julia, March 1967.
Then it was north again and the twelve mile road out from near Ardasaigh to Hushinish.
In this last image, a house on the small island of Scarp is just visible, top left.
In 1934, the island was the location for the launch of Scotland’s first mail rocket. On July 28th the islanders gathered on the eastern shore of Scarp to witness events. Gerhard Zucker, the inventor of the system, pressed the launch button, there was an explosion, a flash of flame and when the dust settled, all that remained was a shattered launch pad and scattered smouldering letters that never left the island.
A second launch was attempted at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle some weeks later. This was equally unsuccessful so the islanders of Scarp never got their superfast broadband connection to the mainland. At one time there were thirty two families living on the island and now there are none – if Zucker had succeeded maybe things would have worked out differently.
A film loosely based on these events was released in 2006. Directed by Stephen Whittaker and starring Ulrich Thomsen, Shauna Macdonald, Kevin McKidd and Patrick Malahide, the film was given a limited release in Scotland.