On the Road
On the Road

With an old bike ...
... by Bill McLaughlin.

   Go to Chapters ...
A Day's Rest
A Moment

A Day's Rest

The hostel turned out to be about three doors along from the Ferry Boat Inn, on that main street. Its front windows looked back up the road that I had just travelled. Like they had been watching for me, waiting to see if I made it!

I joined the small crowd gathering on the sea wall - we were all waiting on the doors opening. I had actually made it before four o' clock!
We queued up when the Warden opened the white front door. I checked in, and was lucky. I got a bed upstairs, window at the front, facing the loch!
Great! Down to the kitchen, and cooked one of those messy, stew and potato mixes, all in the one tin. More liquid than meat, but what the hell, I was hungry, and I wanted to get out and explore a while.

It was Saturday night; the locals were all heading somewhere. I fell in with a couple of English motorcycle tourists, and followed the mystery tour. We headed along to the pier, past the Caledonian Hotel, and up into Argyle Street. I found this amusing, as was nothing like the Argyle Street that I had left behind in Glasgow. One shop instead of dozens, and no Trams!
We trailed the crowd into a small stone building, and were immediately asked 'Tickets'.
"Oops!" I hadn't planned on spending much on entertainment, my money was almost gone, and I would have to wait until I got to Cannich, where, hopefully Ma had sent on some cash!

I decided to brass neck it!
"Sorry mister. I left it in the hostel. I'll just go back, and see if I can find it."
As I turned away, my new English friends were paying cash to get in!
The doorkeeper called after me.
"Don't bother running back son. There's plenty room. Come on in."
As I passed by, he grinned and said ...
"Buy an advance ticket in Glesga, did ye?"
Another small victory! It seemed that everybody conspired to make feel that I was winning!

I had entered the world of the Highland Ceilidh for the second time in two days. This time, I would be drinking only 'Irn Bru' - our 'Other National Drink'!
The band was a three piece - accordion, fiddle and drums - and looked suspiciously like the previous night's entertainment. The highlight of the night was a guy with a guitar, who did a solo section; songs that I had never heard before. Folk songs, protest songs and ballads.

We got back to the hostel late, and, as we sat around the kitchen, someone produced a guitar. Another sing-song! But quietly this time, so as not to wake the early risers.
'Kum ba yah' sounded quietly through the building, chorus and verse, chorus and verse. Then 'The Foggy, Foggy Dew' - all about a bachelor who lives with his son! A strange concept to me. How can a bachelor have a son?

Next morning, I decided to stay over another night. The atmosphere in this place was hypnotic, and I took the day off from cycling. After a breakfast of eggs on toast, washed own with two cans of tea, I wandered off.
First stop was the pier, where I stood watching some boats offloading fish; the on-board cranes hoisting nets dripping right over the heads of the sightseers. Some of the fish were still alive, and thrashing about the nets. One heaved itself over the edge and came flopping down at my feet. It was huge; a cod or something!
A woman in a drab grey long skirt came rushing over, and nearly knocked me into the sea in her haste.
"Grab that son! That's my tea!"
I tried to catch the thing by its tail, and it shook, making me jump a mile!
"Stupit wee bachle'!" she shouted. "Get it! Get it!"
The fish disappeared into her shopping bag, and she disappeared with the roar of the fisherman in her ears.
Everybody on the pier laughed, and the man on the nets joined in. The fish wasn't grudged, but a token show of protest had to be made - probably to satisfy the boat-owner.

Still laughing at the scene, I was wandering off in the direction of the north of the village, when I got stopped by the English motorcyclists.
"It's a wonderful day for as run. Fancy coming with us?"
This one on a Panther bike, just like the one my old man had back home.
The guys had a bike each, so there was spare room on the pillion.
"Where are you off to?" I asked, not wanting to be abandoned in the wilderness if they weren't coming back this way!
"Oh, we heard of a place about seventeen miles away - Inverpolly - and it's supposed to have some cracking walks. Fancy it?"
"You coming back?" I asked; still unsure.
"Don't be silly! Of course we are. Now, can you ride pillion and not fall off?"
That decided me; a run on a Panther solo bike! Up to that time, I had only ever been on a sidecar combination. This was too good to miss!
I hopped on, and we took off. The wind whipped at my eyes, making them water, and the cornering nearly made me weep proper tears!

After the hair-raising run, we arrived at the foot of a Mountain called Stac Polly.
"Right young fella." said my driver. "You look after the bikes. We're off up that hill."
"No chance!" I protested. "I'm coming too!"

This was my first real experience of hillwalking, and after about half-a-mile, the hill turned into a mountain, and I began to regret my bravado. Each step forward was accompanied by an equal step up. Like steep stairs, except the steps were covered in heather or fern, and were uneven.
Ever upwards, and eventually on to rocks. Not proper rockclimbing, but it could have fooled me anytime!
As the slope got steeper, we scrambled over some loose scree, and into a small corrie with vertical sides and a narrow passage through.
Thank God that I had been cycling, for my knees were now shaking with the effort, but I still has some strength left. Enough to get to the Top?

I came out of the slit in the rock, closely followed by my companions. I spotted a ridge-like line in front of me, and almost yelled out, as I came abreast of the summit. I could hardly believe my eyes. It was like climbing a wall, and over the top, the most wonderful panorama spread out: lochans, mountains, coastline, the sea and beyond - the Islands.
The colours were like nothing I had had ever seen, nor anything I could have prepared myself for. Sweeping steeply down the other side of this razor ridge, were black rocks, purple blue heather merging with bright green fern, then the dark peaty Lochans A blue loch, then the land turned brown, then green, then back to heathers, all the way to the sea.
A haze lay across the sea, causing the blue to turn milky. Far away, a darker blue, almost black, outline of what we imagined were the Western Isles lay away across the Minch.

We sat in silence, my companions and myself. What was there to say?

A Moment

After a while, we started back down. This proved harder than the climbing. We reached back past the rocks to the knee high ferns, each step dropping to the limit of my balance, then it happened. A steeper step, hidden by the heather, and over I went. Head first into a large yellow Broom shrub, and out the other side on my feet. Over again, tumbling, panicking until I hit a level boggy bit of the hillside!
I laughed with exhilaration - not for the first time on this trip. The English guys flew past me; giant steps, leaping over tufts of fern and couch grasses. We all got to the lower slopes and fell about laughing like lunatics. Probably through relief at making it safely down!
It was a slow ride back to Ullapool, late in the afternoon. I was quiet and felt privileged. It was ironic; it had taken an Englishman to show a Scotsman, one of the best wonders of his country!

At teatime back at the hostel, it was toasted-cheese on bread, with some bacon and an egg, and another slice of toast on top. A 'sore haun', we used to call it.
After eating, another walk was called for. By this time, we had assembled a motley crew. Led by the two English boys, about a dozen of us set off for the point; the little headland jutting out into Loch Broom. The warden had tipped us ...
"Look at the Sky! Go to the point, and you'll witness a sunset that you might never see again!"
That was enough for us. I had already seen a cracker of a sunset at Gairloch, and if this was only half as good, it would still be worth seeing.

Some cloud had rolled up, and we thought we were to be disappointed, but the cloud had left a gap over the horizon between the sea and the land. As the gap got bigger, the sky behind took on a golden colour, and the edge of the cloud began silvering up.
The sun broke out low, and nearly blinded us with its brilliance, and for a while we had to look away. Then it began to sink, halfway across the horizon. It glowed bright red, and we thought that was as good as it was going to get.
About ten minutes later the glow disappeared, and for a second was gone - and then, the most amazing sight!
Long strips of bright red blasted the underside of the cloud, turning it crimson. The sky out at sea, became a bright pink, and the whole cloud looked as if it was on fire. Looking back inland, the light beyond the cloud was a magical kind of purple, turning to dark blue, as the sun sunk further.
It was like the world was holding its breath ... then bang! It was gone; the light extinguished and everything was black.
After a moment's silence, a loud cheer erupted, and I found myself joining in.
God had put us in our place again!

   Go to Chapters ...
A Day's Rest
A Moment

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Original story and material © 2005 Bill McLaughlin
Layout, editing and additional material © Dave Sloan 2005, 2016
'tachras' and 'Winding Yarn' © Dave Sloan 2005, 2016

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