Thursday, 4 November 2010

Crossing the Minch Inch-by-Inch

Perhaps it’s natural for somewhere as remote as the isle of Lewis that the journey to it’s shores is an adventure in itself. I lived and worked in Stornoway on the isle of Lewis for 11 months. I met some brilliant people, laid eyes upon some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever encountered, ran over a sheep, seen a man fight a bin and lose, visited the best ‘worst’ night club ever, ate the finest black pudding known to humankind, offended half the islands free church community with jokes about Aids and Princess Di, tried to order whisky in Gaelic, got my first clubcard, lived through a hurricane, seen a goalkick taken in a head-wind blown out for a corner, and most importantly, made at least 4 friends.

When travelling to Lewis your transport choices are....

  • the Ferry


  • the Flight

(this isn't a joke this is the actual plane that takes you there)

The flight is considered by true sons and daughters of Lewis as cheating. The travel choice of the weak, frequented mainly by my flat mate and I and other ‘outsiders,’ ‘Weegies’ and ‘Edinburghers’...‘Edinburghites’...‘Edinburgalians’.... people from Edinburgh. My Afro-Celtic flatmate and I must have looked like the drug smuggling version of Turk and JD, because whenever we took the flight we were always subject to the ‘random’ bag search......

One time I was taking the flight back from Edinburgh and there was a gentleman who thought he was boarding a flight to Prague (how he made this mistake I’ll never know). A member of the airport staff retrieved him and his luggage just as we were going through the, "there’s-only-one-exit" pre-flight safety routine. I would have loved to been witness to this guys reaction if he had actually completed the journey to Stornoway.......

Another time an, erm, ‘heavier’ gentleman, was asked by the airhostess to counter-balance the plane by moving from the back to the front. I had never considered my 12 and a half stone frame could potentially save the lives of my fellow 8 passengers by merely moving seats. Not only that, while I was boarding the plane I noticed some sticky tape on the propellers (there obviously to stop the propellers flying off). I started to get that emotional, cold sweat. I was panicking. The Battle of Britain music played in my head accompanied by imagines of spluttering engines, mid air collisions, snakes on a plane, our boeing 747 ditching into the sea never to be recovered and the black box blaming my fat arsh for swapping seats. I didn’t want to fly on the god-forsaken, piece of shit excuse of an aeroplane. I wanted off.....

Why oh why did she have to wait until after we’d taken off before she asked me to move seats.....????

I decided to take the ferry next time. Surely no one will expect me to change seats to counter balance the vessel? The ferry.  The choice of real, authentic, (in-bred), island folk. I wouldn’t be nearly as nervous. The only thing that could threaten the ferry safely crossing the Minch would be a bad northeasterly or a North-Korean sub. I'd prefer my chances in either of those situations than risk plummeting to my death in a glorified washing machine

Relative to the outrageous cost of flying, (flybe could start a cross-Atlantic service for the price they charge for a flight to Stornoway) the ferry at £15 return, would appear to be a bit of a bargain. However, when you consider that half the time the ruddy thing is cancelled and the other half you’d trade places for a smooth voyage on the titanic, or an uneventful crossing on the Mary-Rose, you quickly realise your £15 hasn’t got you very far, worse than that in fact, it’s only got you to Ullapool.

The worst crossing I ever encountered was before I moved to Lewis. I was 17 and our school team was playing against the high school in Stornoway. It was a big game.  The Stornoway team had made it to the final of the Scottish Schools cup the previous year, but we still fancied our chances. We departed from Ullapool the evening before the game and arrived at, what-felt-like, some time the following week. It was awful. That night the crossing had more ups and downs than an escape podule in a Chilean mine. I spent the whole journey looking like Pete Docherty on a particularly bad come down. When not huddled in the foetal position trying to off-set the inevitable bouts of vomiting I was out puking over the side ‘feeding the seaguls’. When we got there we slept on crash mats in the school hall and played the game at silly o’clock the following morning. Circumstances had conspired against us and led to a particularly bad (I should really say typical) performance from myself in the sticks. We lost 8 or 9 nil, it could have been (was) 10 I’ve chosen not to remember.

As the defeated, sea sick travellers set about their journey home our captain couldn’t believe we played so badly, and felt the standard of the opposition didn’t warrant their place in the final......

Lewis and the town of Stornoway warrants your attention and is somewhere you should, no need, to visit. Forget improving rail services, forget dualling the A9 and forget building a new forth-road bridge, lets get started on a bridge to Stornoway. That way we can leave the ferry and the flights to the people mad enough to take them; those that are mad enough to live in Lewis in the first place...!!

(PS. The 'Minch' is the stretch of water that seperates Lewis from the Scottish mainland)

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