I’ve often written about travelling to the Scottish islands – Harris, Lewis, Mull, the Orkney Isles, Shetland – remote outposts of the far north of our own island home. My perspective is usually that of holidaymaker, traveller and visitor. Perhaps not your typical tourist, if such a thing exists, but certainly my visits are not much more than a dalliance with island life.
My trip to the Outer Hebrides this year was to a part of Harris I hadn’t been before, the bays area, along the so called Golden Road (so named for how much it cost to build). It is a bleak landscape; treeless, rocky, full of lochans and peat bogs, similar in some ways to the flow country in Caithness. It is wild and beautiful and full of life, but it is a harsh and unforgiving landscape.
The ruggedness and remoteness clearly encourages creativity. In a 2 miles stretch there are 3 art galleries, a ceramic artist and photographer, and that’s in one small area. The road is dotted with artists and artisans drawing inspiration from their surroundings. It’s a tough place to make a living and a tough place to live; people have to be self-sufficient, resilient.
I have never met anyone more resilient than Eddie. He and his wife owned the holiday cottage we were renting for our stay. I don’t know how old he was, almost certainly retired, but it was clear that he had some illness which affected his speech and his core strength. It later transpired that he was living with late-stage Parkinson’s. This didn’t seem to hold him back: he cycled most days, did jobs about the house, gardened, and cooked. We learned that in 2015 he had undertaken a charity bike ride up the spine of the Uists and headed all the way up to Stornoway. Physically this should have been impossible, but he has grit and determination which seems to make up for some of the physical challenges he must face daily. Eddie is not a native islander, but he has certainly adapted to island living and displays those characteristics – both flexibility and toughness – which make the difficulties he faces wholly surmountable.
He also makes an awesome Key-Lime Pie!