Angus Taylor - Hebrides - Spring 2008
I'll begin my personal tale of the Hebrides by proudly telling you that my mother's epic journey as a war bride from her home there in 1946, with me in her arms as an infant and my older brother Willie in her hand, has been recorded in a book called 'Bras Buttons and SilverHorseshoes'. This is a book written by Linda Granfield that contains a series of stories about British war brides that immigrated to Canada after the war. How her story came to be published in a book is another story. There's a Pier 21 connection. Gander had lots of war brides and so that part of the story is not unusual. But every story is unique. What I have come to realize about my mother's journey (since I have returned to her birthplace so many times and have seen the place from whence she came), is that when she left there in 1946 she and her family would have felt they would never see each other again. Today traveling around the world is no big deal. Back then, leaving home would be equivalent to going to the moon. It took a lot of courage for all war brides to take that journey. Some couldn't take it and came back.
The Outer Hebrides are situated on the NW coast of Scotland and when you speak to Scots on mainland Scotland about the Hebrides it reminds me so much of what I hear from mainland Canadians when I tell them I'm from Newfoundland. Invariably they will say, with all sincerity ...'I 've never been there but would love to go some day!' Well that's kind of like the Outer Hebrides. They are a series of islands beginning in the South with Barra, then in a Northerly sequence followed by South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist and finally Lewis and Harris. The Gaelic is the mother tongue although most people, particularly the younger generation, speak English. I remember one time my wife and I hitch-hiked through the islands to catch a ferry and we were picked up by a taxi driver who dropped us off at his house while he did a few errands. He finished his errands and got us to the ferry on time. I think his name was Allister and when asked if ever he had left the island, he mused momentarily and said ' Aye ......once.......when I fell over the wharf!' No wonder as Newfoundlanders we have such a sense of humour. We came by it honestly. Lewis and Harris is the Northern most island in the Outer Hebrides where my mother was from. She was from a small village called Balallan on the Lewis end of the island. The house where she was born and where she gave birth to my brother and I is still there and still part of the Macleod family. I've had many a sleep there and countless venison stews and boiled salmon over the years following a day trekking through themoor . If you don't count sheep the population of Balallan is about 100. Counting sheep it's about 10,000!
To get to the Outer Hebrides you can fly directly from Glasgow. Or, a more adventuresome way is to travel to Ullapool and take the ferryacross (about a 3 hour crossing).Stornoway is the main sea port located on the Isle of Lewis. Stornoway has a population of around 7,000 and began as a main fishing seaport for the Outer Hebrides. It was there that my father, who served in minesweepers with the Royal Navy during the war, met my mother. I've been back countless times and try and go every year and can't really get into too many stories for two reasons: first I'm a one fingered typist and secondly, the stories would be too self- incriminating. I go there to visit relatives ( my Aunt Jessie is my mother's sister), do some salmon fishing, some hill climbing and trekking across the moor and help my cousin's husband look after his sheep.
This winter another cousin 'Bochie' and I climbed a few hills in Harris and spotted, at a rough count, at least 100 deer during our trek for the day. There are almost no trees at all on the islands so spotting deer is common. BTW there are so many Macleods (and MacDonalds etc.) that the men are commonly referred to using a nick name. Charlie MacLeod (married to my cousin Julia) is referred to as Charley 'Barley' because there would be so many men named Charles Macleod. Murdo MacLeod is 'Bochie'. Good food and a peaty dram are also part of the visit and, as a special treat, a feast of the Guga with Paddy and friends.
Attached are a few pictures that will give you some sense of what Lewis and Harris look like but like the old saying goes, you have to go there to really appreciate it. Most of these photos were winter shots.
The one showing the beach at Harris (below) is a springtime photo.
The ones called Crobeag refers to where my cousin's husband Charley 'Barley' keeps most of his sheep.
(Go to www.charlesmacleod.co.uk and you'll find his business website. He makes the best black puddings in the world.) The Top of Roineval shot is from the top of a small mountain behind Balallan. Reminds me a lot of Newfoundland. The surfing photos were taken this winter.
There are lots of websites that give plenty of info on the Outer Hebrides. Just a click away.