From St Kilda to Stuttgart – part one

The Oban Times - - Letters - AN­GUS MACPHAIL an­gus­macphail@ya­

IT HAS been a long time since I trav­elled through and to so many vary­ing lo­ca­tions in one week.

From the re­mote and rugged cliffs of St Kilda to the emer­ald glens of Antrim, to the golden wheat fields of East York­shire, to the bustling streets of Stuttgart, through the oys­ter, raw her­ring and cham­pagne bars of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Air­port, I got back to where I started un­der the majesty of Ben Ne­vis in Fort Wil­liam – and all in six days.

The first three days were won­der­ful, the fourth a mixed bag, the fifth an ar­ray of the worst travel ex­pe­ri­ences I have ever had, and the sixth a won­der­fully tran­quil and re­lax­ing jour­ney home.

Since bring­ing the St Olave back down the Cale­do­nian Canal to the sea in May, we have been wait­ing for the right weather con­di­tions to co­in­cide with a suit­able time to take a voy­age out to St Kilda. The fore­cast for last Tues­day and Wed­nes­day was good and sched­ules were flex­i­ble enough to free up the time, so off we went.

On the way out to Eriskay, where we were go­ing to fuel up and spend Tues­day night, we stopped off in Tober­mory to de­liver a few birth­day presents for Alas­dair ‘Step­toe’ Ma­cLean. He was out fish­ing but we left the loot with his wife Iona. With all the writ­ing about scal­lops over the past month I had built up quite an ap­petite for them so couldn’t miss the chance of a good feed in MacGochans. With its close prox­im­ity and as­so­ci­a­tion with Isle of Mull scal­lops, the qual­ity of prod­uct served here is con­sis­tently bet­ter than any top restau­rant.

Scal­lops are in my top three favourite foods, but in too many restau­rants what you get is a taste­less mouth­ful of dis­ap­point­ment. Not so in MacGochans and a good plate full lo­cally landed suc­cu­lent, sweet amaz­ing­ness was en­joyed im­mensely by my­self and my able ship­mate, Duncan Kennedy from Knoy­dart.

Good com­pany and good food – a never fail­ing com­bi­na­tion.

As we were steam­ing out of the Sound we spied Step­toe him­self haul­ing creels just to the south of us, so we swung by to wish him a happy birth­day. Twenty years ago to the day, I was out on the Dawn Treader with Step­toe. I was 18 and was just hav­ing a day out be­fore play­ing the box in MacGochans that night. Life is full of an in­fi­nite range of par­al­lel time­lines si­mul­ta­ne­ously mov­ing with different per­cep­tions of speed, length and changes of self within each. It does not feel very long at all since that day in 1997 and nei­ther do I feel very different.

Con­trast­ingly, we filmed the Alive video shots of the Dawn Treader in al­most the same lo­ca­tion but much poorer weather only in Septem­ber last year and that feels like a life­time ago. More im­por­tantly than all that the­o­ret­i­cal pon­der­ing was the fact that when came round on Step­toe’s port side he passed over a bas­ket of prawns. Prawns are in the same re­gion as scal­lops on my favourite food list, so a feast was go­ing to be had when we were tied up later on.

The sea was calm as we passed the Cairns of Coll then sailed on­ward across the Sea of the He­brides and as we neared Eriskay, a few har­bour dol­phins ac­com­pa­nied the slowly in­creas­ing north-west wind.

The Acair­said Mhòr in Eriskay was once home to one of the most renowned small fleets of her­ring ring-net­ters in the coun­try, op­er­ated by the es­teemed MacK­in­non fam­ily and it was the his­tory and the once thriv­ing bus­tle that filled my thoughts as we tied up at the now quiet har­bour.

Af­ter re­fu­elling, we set­tled down to a feast of prawns and waited for the rest of the gang to ar­rive off the ferry from Mal­laig.

To be con­tin­ued ...

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