Wednesday was our last full day at the castle, and it was BY FAR, my favorite day of them all.
I have to talk about breakfast because there was bacon involved. I am only a little bit sad that I never took pictures of the food, but it just didn’t seem like a good idea. I’m ill-mannered enough as it is, you see. But breakfast – I suppose if I had access to Scottish/English bacon of the sort I enjoyed at the castle, I would eat breakfast for every meal. American-style bacon is great, don’t get me wrong, but in the steel cage match of cured pork products, American bacon goes down like Apollo Creed against Ivan Drago. There were eggs, bacon, smoked fish, bacon, more eggs, bacon, tomatoes, bacon, mushrooms, bacon, bacon, and bacon. Breakfast was awesome, is what I’m trying to say. I might not have mentioned that there was bacon there.
Breakfast was a great time to decide what everyone was planning to do that day. Ashley (the other woman in our group and I am surprised that I don’t have more photos of her) was so enamored by the previous day’s hunting adventure that she decided to go out again. She turned into a bloodthirsty warrior goddess once she was handed a gun. The rest of us decided to go out and shoot clay pigeons.
While I understand the need for the stag hunting and the culling of the herd and all that, I’m just not sure that I could shoot an actual living animal. But I will aim and fire at clay all day long because it’s fun to shoot things! THINGS, NOT ANIMALS. Ahem.
So after breakfast, we trooped over to the Picnic Room to make lunches and then to the Luggage Room to get wellies. It turns out that Ashley was wearing the one pair of wellies that would have fit me – all the rest were too small or waaaaay too big. Thus, no wellies for me. My hiking boots are waterproof but if I were to sink into the bog at any point, I would be fucked. Didn’t matter, because I am an occasional badass, so after a safety briefing and the signing of releases, we piled into the van to go shoot.
We actually had a “Trap Club” in middle school and I went out with the boys a few times, but that was 25 years ago and I hadn’t held a gun since. Turns out it doesn’t take much to remember what to do.
Apparently, I am a magnet for shotgun shells because no matter where I stood behind the shooter, whenever the gun was broken, the shells would fly out and land at my feet. I moved around, I moved back, didn’t matter. Shotgun shells like me, it seems.
It had been chilly and wet all morning, and then it started to rain on us. Even though I was supposed to be wearing the safety goggles, I had to abandon them because I couldn’t see out of them at all and I felt a lot safer when I could see what I was shooting at. It turns out that was the right decision because we all shot a few to warm up and I didn’t hit a damn thing. Then we decided to have a competition.
Best of 10, and whoever won got a bottle of the house whisky. We ended with Frankie, Steve, and Jim (how do I not have that many photos of Ashley and Jim?) tied at 5. Jim was our eventual winner, and he shoots lefty so he was the only person who did not hit me with spent shells. I managed to hit 2 (even though Innes let me shoot at 18 or something instead of 10 because I’m a lady and I’m cute). I’m not going to say how many Freddie managed to hit, but that number rhymes with “hero.” [grin]
Once the shooting was done, we went back to the castle for a change of clothes because we were all dripping. I’m not sure what the other people did that afternoon, but Reed, Freddie, Steve, and I hopped in the car and went off in search of a pub or an adventure and we found both. We went first to Tarbert, the nearest thing to a town, and after a couple of laps around the main drag, we asked someone and were directed to the “pub.”
I put that in quotes because I’ve been in a number of UK pubs (that number stands at about 38, which is impressive considering the total time I’ve spent in the country is just over two weeks. Do the math) and this wasn’t one. It was a stylish hotel-style bar and while it was nice enough, it wasn’t what we wanted. We had a pint each anyway, then left to walk around the town a bit. Steve, being English, requires regular infusions of fish & chips or he has to renounce his citizenship or something.
I wasn’t hungry, so I didn’t get any and while the boys were eating (standing in an alleyway with trash cans to avoid the wind, ew), I went into the shop opposite. You’d think that a place calling itself “The Harris Tweed Shop” would have more than this place did, but you’d be wrong. It was just a small shop with lots of weird things and a small-ish selection of tweed items. The boys joined me eventually (with their greasy fingers) and Freddie found a very nice jacket that he ended up getting. Reed bought a scarf (I think) and I got the coolest bag in the world – it’s made to look like a kilt and it’s an orange/grey tartan that clashes magnificently with every other article of clothing I own.
At one point, Freddie tried on what he thought was a hat (it is similar in shape to the knit wool caps he wears all winter) and it sent Steve into hysterics because what Freddie took to be a hat was actually a tea cozy. SO MUCH LAUGHING, and for the rest of the day, anytime anyone said “tea cozy” we’d all be off our heads again. Steve tried on every hat in the store and didn’t like any of them, so we decided to try our luck at the other Harris Tweed store.
This one was a little more what I had in mind, since it was ALL TWEED ALL THE TIME and the selection of items was mind-boggling. I made a complete spectacle of myself when I rounded a corner and saw a bin… full… of… YARN. OH MY GOD THE YARN. Of course I bought some. And Steve tried on every hat in this store but found one he liked, so we were able to get out of there eventually. There’s this stereotype about how women shop, but let me tell you – these boys shop like girls. It was pretty hilarious.
Once we’d been Tweeded-out, the gang decided to follow the road down the western coast to a place called Rodel which had a hotel with a pub. We had high hopes but (despite the amazing rainbow), those hopes were dashed when we arrived to find another clean, well-lit hotel bar. Is it too much to ask for a dirty, crusty old pub full of old fishermen? Apparently, yes.
The road to Rodel was one of the twistest, turniest roads I have ever been on, and that includes that insane road I drove on in Idaho between Wallace and Murray. That one is still the SCARIEST but that might be because I was driving. The road on the Isle of Harris is twisty and full of blind curves and since it’s only one lane, you have to sort of slow down or stop at the apex of a curve to ensure that nobody is coming up the opposite direction.
It was interesting to me to note that the weather almost went unnoticed. It rained a little, the sun came out for a bit, it rained some more, the wind blew, and it all seemed normal. It all was normal. If the weather did that here at home, people would be freaking out about it.
Around the corner from the Rodel Hotel and Disappointing Pub was St Clement’s Church. It’s a 15-century church built probably around 1520 by the MacLeod clan. It fell into disrepair after the Protestant Reformation and spent a great deal of time disintegrating (including a period of time when it was used as a cowshed) until it was restored by the Countess of Dunmore, Catherine Herbert in 1873.
It sometimes feels a bit strange to go into an old church because there is a lingering sense of everything that happened there. The feeling is doubly strong in buildings that predate the Reformation as this one obviously does. It’s more than twice as old as the United States which should stop being so astonishing to me, but it never does.
Via a set of extremely narrow stairs, it was possible to go up into the second level of the tower. Something about it weirded me out so I didn’t spend much time up there and instead took more pictures downstairs. These are grave slabs but it’s unclear if they were brought in from the churchyard or if they had once marked tombs inside the church.
The 8th, 9th, and 10th chiefs of the MacLeod clan are entombed in St. Clements. I’m not sure which of the chiefs this one is (I think it’s the 10th chief, John MacLeod) but these wall tombs are among the best examples of medieval tombs in all of Scotland. I’m sure it helps that this is one of the most remote places on the planet, and you’d really have to have a serious grudge against the MacLeods to go all the way out there to vandalize the place.
A 1549 history of the Western Isles claims that St. Clement’s isn’t the first church to be built on this site, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that this is true. This same book also claims that the church is part of a monastery, but there is no indication of that, either. The info points in the church weren’t super-detailed, but Wikipedia and other sources all agree on these points. Still, the tower is lovely, and there’s a restful feeling to the place.
There were a few crypts in the churchyard, most of them overgrown with the text of the memorial markers all but worn away. The gravestones that were still intact were mostly made of granite and dated from the late 1870s when the church had been restored and presumably put back in service. It feels a little strange to be walking over graves but there’s nothing else for it in churches like this.
The sun came out again and gave us another rainbow as we left the church. Instead of going back the way we’d come, we went onward and took the road up the west coast of the island. Some of the prettiest bits were fenced in so only the sheep could enjoy the view, but we found a place where we could go out on the rocks and watch the waves crash.
I picked my dainty way out there to join him (mindful of the fact that if I were to twist my ankle I’d be worse than fucked until we got home) and Steve offered to take a picture of Freddie and me together. After his own self-portrait, of course. I didn’t know he’d done it until later, and we laughed about that as we’d been laughing about pretty much everything all day long.
Freddie and I are literally on the rocks here. Haha, geddit?
Every time, I was surprised at how incredibly blue the water was. I’m sure a little bit of sleuthing would give me a good explanation for it, but I’m willing to bet that it’s that blue because that’s what color it’s supposed to be, and because it’s not full of pollution and greasy New Yorkers like the ocean on the Jersey shore.
All in all, it was one of the best afternoons I’ve had doing anything, anywhere, ever.
We made it back to the castle in time for tea, then it was time to get ready for the final dinner. I didn’t have nearly enough time to dry my hair, so apologies must be made. Because the universe is tricky, my dress was being all gappy in the front, which sucked balls because the damn thing fit in the store when I tried it on with that exact same bra. In a fit of organization, I’d completely cleaned out my toiletry bag o’tricks before we left, and divested myself of my legendary safety pin collection, so there wasn’t an obvious solution to my problem.
However, as with most things in life, I solved this problem with a little help from my friends. I had my JGz button pinned to my little purse, and I used that to MacGuyver the shit out of my dress and bra and it looked just fine. We then made our way downstairs for pre-dinner drinks with the rest of the gang.
Innes was in full kilt, and he said it was the tartan of the Isle of Harris. The examples I’m finding online don’t jibe exactly with what he’s got there, though. The whole outfit was just freaking gorgeous.
This is one of the only times we got a shot of the whole group. I wish we had gotten one on the first day to compare to this one, but aren’t we all adorable in our fancy gear?
I rarely consent to being photographed, but here I am chatting away with Reed and Mrs. Hall. I am still mad at my hair because it looked SO MUCH BETTER the previous night. Ugh, shut up, hair.
The procession into dinner had bagpipes as the soundtrack. I know some people really hate the sound of the pipes, but I love them. I always have. I’d love to learn to play bagpipes at some point, because why not?
There are few things in life I love more than a well-dressed man. Here are two exceedingly fine examples.
Michael is another one of the men who was on the trip with us. I only have a few pictures of him because he spent all of his available time fishing. He looks good in a kilt, though.
Because it was our last night there, everyone was hanging out, playing snooker, drinking, chatting up a storm, and just having a good time. It was nearly impossible to get a really good shot of anyone at the snooker table because the lamp hanging above it was just enormous and fairly low.
Rachael is the daughter of the house, and she is a delight. She’s very into the hunting and fishing that goes on and is pretty good at both of them. She seemed very down-to-earth and genuine and I had a great time talking with her. We have exactly the same name (with the exception of that extra letter “a” that she has), which was a cute coincidence.
I did say I have a weakness for well-dressed men, so there are quite a few photos of this nature. There would have been MORE but I was doing the creepy paparazzo thing as it was and I didn’t want people to start running away in earnest.
This one was taken fairly late in the evening, obviously.
Freddie again! I couldn’t get him to stand still long enough to get a really good photo of him, but I did try. And there’s Jim in the background! At one point, Jim wanted to bow out of the snooker so he could go to bed but he ended up winning the game, poor guy. He just wanted to sleep.
On one of the previous days, I had been wearing my Editors t-shirt and Steve recognized it. I knew right then that we would hit it off and get along well. Add to that his English accent, and I’m surprised I managed to refrain from kidnapping him because all I want out of life is an English boy to follow me around and talk at me all day long. Honestly.
After the snooker was over, the last vestiges of the group trickled out and found themselves around the drinks cabinet. Michael pulled out a bottle of something blue, all “What’s this?” That turned out to be my cue to head to bed. I can’t remember the last time I had laughed so much in one day.