Christmas that happened in June.
‘How about a nice hot cup of coffee.’
We heard somebody say on the other side of the tent cloth. Alex and I looked at each other, the wettish sleeping bags and the violently flapping tent cloth creating a mist inside the tent. Coffee might not be a bad idea at all.
The wind was blowing like a hoolie when we unzipped the tent and there he stood, David, looking very Scottish (for a Welsh man) in his yellow wellies, corduroy trousers, and a hand-knitted sweater overlooking the sound between Scarp and the island of Harris while sipping his coffee.
‘The weather won’t improve in the coming day, you know. Seams to me like you’re stuck.’ He said looking down at us as we crawled out of the tent.
‘Yes, it looks like that’ Alex agreed while looking in the same direction as David.
‘Better get yourselves inside the house, it’s a bit blowy out. Did you have breakfast already?’ David asked.
We met the retired salesman David and his wife Lesley, a physiotherapist, the day before as we landed on the slipway of Scarp on a glorious sunny afternoon. They saw us riding the big swell waves on the 1 kilometer stretch of sea between the island of Scarp and Harris from their house. As we entered the sheltered bay, the sea was turquoise blue and the sands almost white in the lovely sunshine. You might just think it’s the tropical Caribbean. Knowing full well after putting my feet in the water to exit my kayak, this water is way too cold to be a Caribbean sea temperature. But David and Lesly and the elderly dog named Toby greeted us warmly. Gentleman David insisted to help Alexander carry the kayaks well above the waterline near to his small RIB (rigid inflatable boat). I was not to do that, it was a man’s job! I would suffer that abuse again on other days when David was not around.
Immediately we were invited for tea at their house after we had changed into our normal clothes. First, we had lunch on the slipway enjoying the warming sunshine. After putting the kayak gear in the sun to dry we walked up to the house.
The house sat sheltered behind the hills and had a protective layer of dark green metal as an outer shell and white windows looking out over the sound. A ruin of an old blackhouse right next door and a similar dark red house half a kilometer towards the sea. There is a nice restored house with a faded red telephone box to the left of the cottage. The rest of the houses are in various stages of dereliction.
The door stood invitingly open and the dog greeted us enthusiastically upon entry.
Entering the small hallway where all the coats, hats, and wellies were kept, we heard Lesley and David welcome us in.
‘No, no, no, keep your shoes on otherwise you’ll have cold feet’, Lesley insisted.
‘Tea?’ She asked while looking at us expectantly. ‘G&T is at four’, she added with a smile.
So we started chatting with a cup of tea and ginger nuts, Alex’s favorite biscuit, and we learned much about Lesley and David, the island, and the people living on the island in summer.
And before we knew it it was 4 o’clock. G&T’s were poured.
‘Would you like some lobster and crackers with that? We catch them ourselves around the island’.
We never had lobster before so we didn’t know what to expect. But what lovely sweet meat, what a gorgeous taste. I never tasted anything like that. Alex immediately wanted to know how to catch lobsters, so he picked David‘s brain about this.
‘You can come with me on the boat when I go out to empty the pods if you like. Tomorrow is not good going out, there will be a storm’, David promised.
‘Will there be a storm?’ I asked, looking outside at a brilliantly blue sky with some friendly white fluffy clouds.
‘Yes, there will be a southerly gale building up overnight. I heard it on the VHF at one o’clock, I missed the forecast at four but we will listen at seven for the shipping forecast.’ David said.’Stay for dinner and we will listen to the forecast together’.
At 19.10 the VHF came to life.
‘All stations, all stations, all stations this is Stornoway Coastguard, Stornoway Coastguard, Stornoway Coastguard with the….’
And the forecast predicted indeed a wind force 9 southerly gale.
After thanking David and Lesley for a wonderful evening we went back to the kayaks. When we walked down we discussed spots to put the tent up which sheltered us from the southerly winds. We gathered our stuff and walked up to a nice spot that looked quite sheltered. David was outside walking the dog and agreed, this was the best spot. We pitched the tent and after a cup of cider, we went to sleep. That was yesterday…..
We had a nice cup of proper coffee while the wind was howling around the house, we discussed our options. Putting up the tent somewhere else, putting the tent down and getting the stuff inside the house to keep the sleeping bags dry, and put the tent up tonight after the wind eased a bit….
‘Or you can just stay with us and sleep in the guest bedroom in a comfortable bed with a hot cup of proper coffee at seven.’ David concluded rather dryly. We looked at him in surprise, ‘Really? Do you mean that? We don’t want to be a nuisance,’ I asked David and Lesley. ‘This is Scotland when the weather is bad, you ask the travelers in.’ David said firmly. ‘Besides, you will be soaked to your skin if you stay out in the tent and it is so easy to avoid that’
OK, good point, no arguing here. We took the tent down and got the sleeping bags into the house to dry, they were already a bit dampish.
There was a nice selection of secondhand books in the house, so I spent my afternoon reading a good classic novel. David was so amazed that I could read English books because I’m Dutch and never had to ask for the meaning of a word. Alex and David went out for a walk over the island and came back soaked. In the evening we played scrabble. David and Lesley won of course. But at Jenga, we beat them.
The VHF announced that the next day was going to be wind force 8 again but with less rain.
At seven David woke us up with a nice cup of coffee and I helped cook porridge for breakfast. We went for a walk over the island and it seemed like the wind was easing in the evening. We cooked together and spent the evening scrabbling. We tried a mix of Dutch and English words this time and we played Jenga.
The third day was beautifully sunny with low winds. We went out in our kayaks to circumnavigate Scarp. The sea was a bit choppy but manageable. We had a lovely day out and we’re thinking of going back on our kayak trip the next day. In the late afternoon, David and Alexander went out to empty the pods and came back with 2 lobsters and some crabs.
But when we listened to the VHF that evening, there would be another wind force 8 gales coming from the north this time.
‘Looks like you are stuck for another 2 days.’ David concluded.
‘Oh, no!! We have to trespass on your hospitality for more time!!’
I must admit, I felt a bit bad. I was torn in two. Although we loved our comfortable and safe stay at Lesley and David’s, we also wanted to be on our own again and not bother anyone anymore. I guess I missed our freedom. On the positive side, I would learn how to cook and clean crab and lobster.
When we got out of bed the next day, the house was very cold. The northerly wind and rain really brought low temperatures. David was heating the house to a livable temperature by putting the coal in the stove. In the morning, Lesley and I were cleaning the crab and lobster with a hammer to crack the shells and a fondue fork to get all the meat out of the nooks and crannies. We made crab cakes for dinner that evening. We were sharing the food at that time. I made a daily trip to the kayak to get some food. Apples, carrots, courgettes, all perishable were shared together. Lesley is a fantastic, imaginative chef, she created some interesting dinners with a mix of foods for her larder and fresh foods. But, you won’t find the recipe in any cookbook. She even grows some fresh herbs behind the house which she protects with a knee-high stone wall covered with green fishing nets to keep out the hungry rabbits and sheep.
In the afternoon Alex and I did some washing. The wetsuits needed a good rinse to get all the sea salt out. We counted on some good sunshine the next day.
You know, I always wondered how Scottish people dry their washing outside with the unpredictable Scottish weather. This was my moment to learn how they manage the drying….
Well, it involves picking up the washing from the grass and hanging it back on the washing line about ten times. This might vary depending on the wind force. The pecks are not more heavy-duty than we have in The Netherlands and the washing line is pretty similar as well. I conclude that drying the washing needs stamina, patience, and time, eventually, it will be dry. And you will find the missing sock or knickers somewhere on the island a few days later when walking the dog.
Dinner was delicious with crab cakes and an interesting mix of vegetables and beans. In the evening David put some wood on the fire and we looked at pictures and told some good stories with a wee dram of whiskey. It was lovely.
The next day was still windy but sunny. The coastguard predicted an easing wind in the afternoon. We could dry off the wetsuits and we made plans to pack the kayaks and move on. It is interesting to see how far our stuff was spread out in the house. In every room, we found something that once came out of our kayaks. Walking back and from the kayaks, we managed to pack everything again. But the food was low. The first stop would be Tarbert to do some shopping. This was the same for David and Lesley. David would go to Hushinish point by boat and take the car to Tarbert or Stornoway the next day. Of course, we were invited to do the shopping by car. But we wanted back into our kayaks and back to our all exclusive holiday.
Saying goodbye to Lesley and David was difficult. We spent some precious days together, sharing food, games, and stories. We learned from each other and this always makes our own world bigger.
Thank you, David and Lesley, for being on Scarp and opening up your house to two total strangers. It really felt like Christmas, Christmas in June.
Wat een goed verhaal weer!
Dank je wel!!