Today, Monday, we head across the Minch to Lochinver with little to see but the sun and the sea. Everything is stowed away and I slip out of Stornoway harbour, quiet now, with the exception of the Ullapool ferry, loading cars and wagons for the mainland.
We pass the lighthouse to starboard, and leave the shipyard and Eye Peninsula to port. Out into the Minch we go. Below I set the way point for the entrance to Lochinver, check the barometer, steady, and back on deck I set and trim the Haslar. We are now ready for the crossing.
Three silent hours have passed and I am suddenly aware of a noise astern. I turn to look and see the red and white Stornoway rescue helicopter approaching at about one hundred feet. As she circles us, I consider giving her a call on the VHF to say hello, but instead I wave a greeting and receive a wave in return. She flies away to the south and I suddenly hear on the VHF, - 'Venture, Venture, Venture, this is Rescue 103, over'- I switch to his working channel, grab my glasses and with one ear on the VHF peer away to the south. Sure enough I can see the helicopter circling a fishing boat. On the VHF I can hear the crew of the helicopter asking the skipper of the boat, if they can carry out a practice winching operation. The skipper of the Venture agrees.
Continuing to watch through my glasses, I suddenly see a small orange figure drop from the helicopter towards the trawlers deck. He attempts to land between the stern derrick and the forward wheelhouse - no, he's not happy and the helicopter rises to try again. I hear on the VHF, the pilot tell the skipper he will try again and asks him to continue on his present course and speed. And try again he does, this time successfully. The orange figure lands and the helicopter circles away before returning to retrieve its crew member. A brief thankyou and he's gone, away to the south, to be swallowed up against the dark backdrop of Skye. For Lazy Beaver and I, and the crew of the fishing boat, the excitement is over for the day and it's time for him to fish and me to lunch.
Late afternoon, and I can see on the horizon, the great mountains of Sutherland, true masterpieces of nature, and the backdrop to Lochinver - Cul Mor, Suilven, Canisp, Quinag and the great Stac Pollaidh (Stack Polly). I can use Polly as a visual marker to lead me directly into the entrance of Lochinver, even though my Decca tells me I'm on course and closing fast the way point.
We've arrived, the way point is reached and we pass Soyea Island, guarding the entrance to Lochinver, and I am looking to anchor away from the fishing pier, but inshore, adjacent to the local small boat moorings - quickly the anchor's away and all is quiet.
Lochinver, a medium sized sea loch well sheltered by a narrow entrance. Its modern claim to fame is that recently, to help with local unemployment, the Highland Regional Council have spent millions building a new fish pier and covered fish market - good! There are echoes here of Lord Leverhulme and Leverburgh, but times have changed and this enterprise, backed by EEC money seems to be succeeding.
I look around and see, not only the fish market installations but behind, the Lochinver Hotel, in all its gothic splendor. The glass in its pepper pot turrets and dormers glints in the evening sun. With my glasses I can see expensive cars in the car park, and behind windows and between curtains, drawn back for the view, I see diners at tables, elbows on white table cloths, hands hovering over Sterling silver and white china. I contrast this with my wally mug and plate, and 'silver' cutlery marked Made in Taiwan - but know that I would not change places with these land lubbers for their pension.
On the east and north shores of the loch there are little white houses, many refurbished and some new - locals perhaps? Only a few. Most are holiday homes with Volvo's, Range Rovers and BMW's parked alongside, with strange number plates.
Lochinver was yet another location which suffered during the Highland Clearance, at the hands of the Landowner. This time it was the Duke of Sutherland, who no doubt thought he was doing his best, but caused untold misery. He forced out hundreds of families in favour of sheep and deer. Many died in the most miserable circumstances. Only the lucky ones made it across the sea to Canada and America.
With the thoroughness of bureaucrats, the Sutherland managers kept detailed records of their shipments of people. In one area alone no less than 1,288 people were evicted and their houses, and what possessions they could not carry, burned.
The Duke was known as, 'an Diuce Dubh', the Black Duke and when he died in 1833, his Duchess built a monument to his memory, and to add insult to injury, her estate managers took the hat round to what tenants remained, and ordered them to contribute!
On another occasion she decided to build a mausoleum in a local graveyard. When it was dug, the old bones and coffins were thrown aside without a single thought. The locals coined a saying, 'The Sutherlands clear you even after you're dead'
I must not dwell on these matters long past, but to understand the Highlands one must have something of their history. Let's look towards tomorrow - south and Plockton.
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