Towards the end of May, I was able to make a day trip to the Shiant Isles from Scalpay with Eilean Glas Rib Tours. A planned four-day trip the previous week had been cancelled down to inclement weather and has now been rescheduled for July.
It was a beautiful sunny day with calm seas as we approached the uninhabited islands. Their steep cliffs and architectural rock formations make them almost as awe-inspiring as St Kilda when viewed from the sea.
As we sailed into seal’s hole, an impressive rock arch, our captain, Kenny Macleod, told us about eating roast cormorant for Sunday dinner as child. Now cormorants are protected and they swooped around us, seeming to know this, with the puffins and razor bills that had gathered for the nesting season.
Like St Kilda, the Shiants are oddly inhabited for uninhabited islands. Two yachts were moored in the bay by the narrow isthmus that joins Eilean an Taighe (house island) to Garbh Eilean (rough island). We watched and shouted encouragement as three men from one of the yachts clambered ashore from a small tender.
As we rounded Eilean an Taighe and started to head back towards Scalpay, we passed the isthmus from the other side and had a good view of the house where I will in stay in July. The three men were by now scaling the 125m hill that makes up the bulk of the island. Through the binoculars, I saw a woman sitting in front of the house, sketching.
“That’ll be you in a few months,” said Kenny.
I did feel strangely connected to this lone woman. As it happened, I even knew her name, having checked the booking calendar to see if the house was free the weekend after I was supposed to go. I waved, clutching my binoculars, and she waved back.
As we headed back, ripping through water in the rib, I imagined what it would be like to be on the island on my own in July, holed up in that whitewashed shepherd’s hut. I’ve been poring over the map for months, picking out every shieling and rock that I want to visit. Perhaps this narrow focus is the attraction of small islands in a world that is mad for globalisation.
On the return trip, we called in at Bhalamus, an abandoned croft house on the desolate southeast coast of Lewis. That’s on my target list too. I’ve been ashore there before from my neighbours’ boat, and it is a truly beguiling place, but I have never stayed overnight.
Soon, I shall. By hook or by crook. Watch this space.