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A wonderful time in Scotland

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In his weekly The Bar Man column, Jeff Hoyle takes a trip up north…

After our weekend of fun and frolics at the CAMRA Members’ Weekend in Dundee, we took the road north, eventually reaching Ullapool which to our delight was midge-free.

We found a very nice bar for dinner, The Ceilidh Place which boasted some excellent beer from the Cromarty brewery. Next morning it was on the ferry to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, a surprisingly pretty little town.

Jeff Hoyle, AKA The Barman
Jeff Hoyle, AKA The Barman

After doing all the usual tourist things, there was time for a haircut, a visit to the Stornoway Sea Angling Club to try what was listed as real ale in the guide and haggis and black pudding pizza at the Crown Hotel washed down with an excellent pint of Fyles Ale.

The plan was to take in Friday evening’s big local football derby between the two Stornoway teams, but a late postponement meant a trip out into the countryside to watch Lochs play Point. After the Butt of Lewis, and the stones at Callanish (better than Stonehenge?), it had to be south, across the peat bogs dotted with ruins and monuments, testament to the highland clearances, before threading our way through the hills and taking the boat across the Sound of Harris (two little buoys?).

North Uist in the rain didn’t seem the most enticing prospect, but we rescued a young lady from a ten-mile walk and found the most amazing pub, the Westford Inn at Claddach Kirkibost, serving the only real ale within 75 miles.

Further south is Benbecula and as luck would have it, it was the weekend of the first round of the Highland Amateur Cup. Not only that, but the Dark Island pitch was directly behind our hotel, so we could watch the local team take on Ness.

Double delight! Next door was the sports centre where Barra were playing Point. Time to watch a half of each and grab a drink from the sports centre at half time! Heaven.

After that, the miles of sandy beach on the Machair by the missile range and the ruins of an early Christian chapel were a bonus. South again, and before catching the ferry from Eriskay, we had time to seek out the football pitch on the island.

Designated by FIFA as one of the eight most extraordinary places to play the game in the world, it lived up to its expectations, once we had found the track over the hills to reach it. No game to watch, but I have walked around and on it so that surely counts as a stadium tour on my nerdy map.

South again to Barra, where the highlight was watching a plane land and take off from the beach at the only airport in the world where commercial flights operate from the sand. What else to say? The food is good, especially if you develop a taste for the ubiquitous Stornoway Black Pudding.

I had the best fish and chips of my life at the Dark Island Hotel, an establishment where the initially reserved and seemingly disinterested staff became more engaged as the evening went on, to the point where I became very clued up on the local Irish dancing scene while supping the beer the manager bought me.

The roads are narrow, winding and often steep with passing places. The etiquette is to wave when passing a car, campervan, cyclist or walker, many of them attempting the Hebridean Way. By the end of the trip, the Bar Wife was merrily waving at empty parked cars. Would I go again? Despite the distance, ferry crossings, potential bad weather and lack of cask beer, emphatically yes. It is wonderful.



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