Chapter 4: Aug 5/7 - Lochinver to Stornoway
Arrival at Thule
For all that it is a poor harbour and virtually impossible in westerly winds Lochinver with its blue, grey, pink and lavender colouring has perhaps the most cheerful aspect of any place in the British Isles. There is a fine salmon river flowing through a beautiful wooded glen down from the moorland and Loch Assynt, while dominating the whole scene is the great elongated cone of Suilven startling in its eccentricity, a huge column with a rounded top, symmetrical in every inch of its two thousand four hundred feet of perpendicular majesty. At dusk it often appears like a pale grey ghost, while at dawn with the red glow framing its Rhadamanthine immensity, it looms cimmerian black like a terrible judge of the Inquisition.
Modern man is viler than his fathers for the houses of Lochinver with some glaring new exceptions are agreeable to the eye and dignified in their natural gardens of rock and heather and thrift. The old Scottish architects built finely, with a sense of fitness and beauty. Like the French their structures blend with and are complementary to the scenery. The modern stuff is only fit to be razed.
There was some idea of going further north, perhaps to Loch Glencoul of happy memory, so we went out to have a look at it, but as soon as we reached the open sea the aspect of the Rhu Stoer was not encouraging, so we returned and lingered another day.
We were luckier next morning for after weighing anchor at 6.30 we had a grand sunny crossing of the North Minch in light to gentle airs with a long easy swell. With the sun in our wake we cantered along like a horse on the downs or perhaps like that ship of the desert whose movement is a fascination and a dream. Stornoway was reached at 10.30 which was excellent going for a passage of thirty eight miles. We had arrived as usual on a bank holiday, a fact which caused considerable delay, for the Booster was hard put to it to track down his friends. But he lived well up to his name, for he evidently told the tale and told it well and we and he acquired much publicity in the Scottish press.
So this was Thule; whether 'ultima' or not I do not know. Some say the name belongs to the Orcades rather than the Hebrides. Hitherto we had never thought much of it. Stornoway is too reminiscent of the workaday world and Glumaig the little bay where we were wont to anchor, the 'bottomless hole' was mild without excitment. But we were to revise our opinion. There is more in this great island of 'The Lews' to give it its comprehensive names than meets the eye of the casual visitor to Stornoway. According to the philologists the name Lewis or Lews seems to mean a land covered with water. If so the description is not inapt. If you take a quarter segment of a circle with radii leading west and south from Stornoway to a distance of five miles you can count up to a hundred inland lochs large enough to be identified on the half inch map. I ought to point out for the sake of accuracy that The Lews does not include Harris which is mountainous and only sparsely endowed with inland water. Imagine what a paradise for anglers is here. How often being completely fed up with one loch they can try their luck in not merely a hundred but a thousand others. Surely here is the place where hope springs eternal in the angler's breast.
Again in the interests of accuracy I ought to state that there is a low lying tract in the south east of Harris where at least six score lochs may be counted - not so sparse!