A Travellerspoint blog

June 2021

City Break

sunny 16 °C
View Belfast '21 on IainT's travel map.

Street Art

Street Art

My quest to escape continues.

This time the experience is very different to the Outer Hebrides - Northern Ireland.

I took an Aer Lingus flight from Edinburgh to Belfast. That experience was also very different to my Inverness - Stornoway one last month.

Edinburgh Airport Departures

Edinburgh Airport Departures

Edinburgh is a large airport by Scottish standards. It is my local airport. Until the pandemic I was using it several times a year. I know it well. It was a busy and crowded airport.

Now it is virtually deserted. Almost none of the shops are open. A few of the food and coffee outlets are, but not all. It felt weird… but safe.

Quiet

Quiet

The park and ride bus I usual use to get there is on an hourly service, as compared to every 20 minutes before. It is inconvenient, but perfectly understandable. The Scottish Government is picking up almost all the costs.

My flight was on a 72 seat ATR 72. I would say it was 60% occupied. Flying with Aer Lingus is more mainstream than on one of Loganair’s wee hops. We were told not to touch anything in the plane unless absolutely necessary. We were told there would be no cabin service (a 45 minute flight, so no hardship at all.) We were told to ring for the cabin crew if we absolutely had to use the toilet. We disembarked by seat row number (very challenging for Covidiots, sad to report.)

As an aside, on arrival in Belfast City Airport I was pulled aside by the police and interrogated about where I work, where I will be staying, and why I have come here. No health questions, oddly enough. Well, it was easier to get into Armenia with an Azerbaijan stamp in my passport.

Probably the thing which bothered me most was the way he pawed my passport as he took pictures of it.

I had carefully checked the Northern Ireland health regulations (different from the Scottish ones) before arranging the trip, and again before leaving, to make sure I was not breaking the rules. I even did my Covid -19 test on the morning of departure.

So was it a routine security check or a pandemic related one?

Titanic Quarter

Titanic Quarter

In Belfast as in Edinburgh, the 600 Bus from the airport to the city centre was running hourly rather than every 20 minutes. I had a 45 minute wait for the next one. I could have taken a taxi. I see a taxi as more of a virus risk than an almost empty bus, so I opted to wait for the bus.

Belfast City Airport

Belfast City Airport

Well, I wonder how the return journey will be. So far, despite minor inconveniences and the usual scattering of Covidiots (tiny minority*), I have felt comfortable and relaxed about the travel.

  • One of them was on my bus to Edinburgh Airport. A man in his late 60s. No mask. He was on the flight to Belfast too, wearing (half) a mask but not covering his nose. I do ask myself what goes through the minds of people like that. “Nothing much” is probably the answer.

Posted by IainT 21:28 Archived in Ireland Tagged scotland edinburgh ireland airlines belfast Comments (0)

Lewis

sunny 15 °C
View Stornoway '21 on IainT's travel map.

Bostagh

Bostagh

… and Harris… and Beàrnaraigh Mòr.
 
Three islands in 4 days. Well, kind of. Read on…
 
Beàrnaraigh Mòr (Great Bernera if you prefer the Anglicised name) is an island in its own right. It is connected to Lewis by a small bridge, but it is still a bona fide island. It is small – population 252. I visited it on my last trip to Lewis, but it hosts one of my favourite beaches and I decided to renew the acquaintance. Nothing has changed. It is still beautiful.
 
Lewis and Harris share the single island known as Lewis and Harris. Someone somewhere must know why one island has two names, but it is not I. Lewis occupies the northern half.
 
To avoid allegations of favouritism, I visited both. Purely out of convenience, my accommodation was in Lewis – a settlement called Bac (Back in English) just north of Stornoway.

4am Dawn

4am Dawn


 
I had a few objectives in mind for my trip. Seeing places I missed the last time was one of them. Box ticked. On my only full day I drove south through Na Bàigh (The Bays) on South Harris’ east coast. It is quite jaw dropping. Desolate. Almost uninhabited, but with tiny communities hanging onto the rocky shores. Beautiful too.

Na Bàigh

Na Bàigh


 
After that I drove north on the west coast of South Harris – white sand beaches and turquoise water. More beauty.

South Harris

South Harris


 
That evening (sunset was about 22:00 at the end of May) I went to the most northerly point in Lewis – Rubha Robhanais (Butt of Lewis in English). The landscape there is different again to what you find in Harris. Still beautiful, of course.

The End

The End


 
Another objective was to eat well. I had dinner in my bed and breakfast one night – I really enjoyed it and it was great quality. Being “at home” meant I could have a couple of glasses of wine with it. The other night I went to HS-1 in Stornoway. It falls into the casual dining category, but I loved it. Relaxed and relaxing, plus top quality and great value for money.

HS-1

HS-1


 
My 5 star bed and breakfast produced 5 star breakfasts. This limited my lunch options. Having said that, I had my best sandwich for a long time from Loomshed Deli in Tarbert. Fresh and quality ingredients – goat’s cheese, chutney and rocket on a wholemeal roll. I sat in the sun and ate it while looking out over the village. The other lunchtime I got more good quality light stuff at The Storehouse, which is part of the Lews Castle Museum and a very pleasant place indeed.

The Storehouse

The Storehouse


 
In all these places the service was friendly and professional, and that professionalism included their pandemic hygiene arrangements.
 
Another box ticked.
 
My final objective – apart from enjoying myself which is kind of self-evident - was to get as far away from home as possible, and not just in the geographic sense. I already knew Lewis and Harris would get me to that objective. It is like another world compared to central Scotland.
 
That was my 4th visit, but the first two were day trips to Stornoway for work. I would go back, without a doubt. A little research has indicated that I could have a few days just hiking now that I have used the car to explore most corners of the island(s).
 

Posted by IainT 06:19 Archived in Scotland Tagged landscapes food scotland restaurants l lewis stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh leòdhas na_hearadh Comments (0)

The Bottom Line

sunny 15 °C
View Stornoway '21 on IainT's travel map.

System Check

System Check

Another weekend. Another pandemic escape. Another island.

Last weekend - pandering to my urges to get as far away from home as possible - I made it as far as Lewis and Harris, in the Outer Hebrides. I set up camp in a 5 star bed and breakfast in Bac, a few miles north of Stornoway.

Bac B&B

Bac B&B

Within Scotland - although we are now allowed to go a wee bit further - it is about as different as you can get from my corner of the Central Lowlands. Orkney and Shetland would be rivals, but that is about it.

To get there you have the choice between a long drive and then the ferry, or a very short flight. For a 2 night break I decided the time was right to get on a plane again.

Time

Time

My 25 minute flight (scheduled to be 40 minutes, but the wind was behind us) was my first flight since February 2020. Believe me, it was a strange experience.

My departure was from Inverness, which is a small airport with flights to London, Paris and Amsterdam before the pandemic, as well as local ones. Now… not much is moving. My 14:00 flight was the only one on the departure board.

INV Departures

INV Departures

The shops were shut although the food outlets (one landside and the other airside) have been kept open. Passengers were easily outnumbered by staff. Whilst it was a disorientating experience, it certainly made me feel completely secure in terms of hygiene and distancing.

INV Burger

INV Burger

My Loganair flight was on a 34 seat Saab 340. 10 passengers and 3 crew. I suspect they do not sell the aisle seats in each row, so that brings capacity down to perhaps 24. Anyway, it too felt entirely safe.

The airport in Stornoway is even smaller than Inverness. My bag arrived on the carousel about the same time as I got into the terminal. 20 minutes after arrival I was in my rented car and on the road.

Leaving

Leaving

My confidence about getting on a plane again came mostly from having had both doses of the vaccine (Pfizer). The low levels of infection in most of Scotland - including where I live, the Inverness area and the Outer Hebrides - was another factor. Anyone travelling to the Scottish islands is advised to obtain 2 negative tests in the 3 days before travel. I did.

Posted by IainT 09:29 Archived in Scotland Tagged planes scotland flights lewis airlines stornoway islandlife steòrnabhagh leòdhas Comments (0)

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