Saturday, June 8 – Glad I was not a Herring Girl

Today was a tender port which means that we could not pull up to the dock but had to anchor away from the port and ride in the lifeboats over to the dock. At tender ports, I typically either take a ship tour or we don’t have anything scheduled that requires us to be at the dock at a certain time. When you schedule an independent tour at a tender port, the chances of being delayed are increased because you never know what your tender number is going to be or if there is going to be a problem with the tender boats.

As 4 star mariners, we were given a letter that said we could go to a certain room and would be escorted to our tender whenever we wanted to go ashore. However, since we are on a Holland America tour – we are to go to the Showroom like yesterday. Today we had to be there at 8:15 for a 9:00 tour (to allow for the tender ride over). Today’s tour is Lews Castle Grounds on Foot which was a walking tour of the town of Stornoway, the Lews Castle, and its grounds.

Stornoway is actually on the Isle of Lewis which is the largest island on Scotland’s Outer Hebrides archipelago. Archeologists have found evidence of inhabitants of over 6,000 years. The Isle of Lewis was ceded by the Kingdom of Norway to Scotland in 1266.

I was worried about the weather because it was predicted a chance of rain and I was not looking forward to a 3.5 hour walk in a rain like we had in Inverness; however, it stayed cloudy and windy but no rain.

We had a group of 13 and we met our guide Ian at the dock. He was a 71-year-old retired schoolteacher who gave walking tours once or twice a week. He began his walk at a brisk pace, and I worried about some of the ones in our tour but we all kept up pretty good. The tour description did say that we would be going over some rough terrain and uphill.

At the dock, there were memorials to the maritime accident of the His Majesty’s Yacht Iolaire (Scottish Gaelic for “Eagle”). Ian explained that Iolaire was carrying sailors who had fought in the First World War back home. On January 1, 1919 at night, as the ship approached the port of Stornoway, a few yards offshore and a mile away from the safety of Stornoway Harbour, she hit the infamous rocks “The Beasts of Holm” and sank. Those on board would have been able to see the lights of Stornoway. The death toll was officially put at 205, of whom 181 men were representing almost an entire generation of young men from the Islands. He said the population has never really recovered.

So, on that happy note, we started on our walk. We first stopped at one of the statues dedicated to the “Herring Girls”. In 1914 a combined 20% of the Isle of Lewis’ population were involved in the herring industry.  The ‘Herring Girls’, followed the herring fleet around the coast each year. The women worked in teams. There were three women in a team – two of them gutted the herrings, while the third – packed the herrings. The gutters were very adept and it only took one stroke of their knives to gut the herring. The girls worked very long hours – often 12 hours a day, always outside, and had to deal with the inevitable cuts on their hands and arms which were also being dunked in the salty water of the fish barrels. Ouch. By the Second World War, the herring industry had been overfished and the “Herring Girls” were no longer needed.

So now I am pretty depressed about Stornoway. It was a pretty port with numerous pleasure and fishing boats and even a New York billionaire’s yacht that he keeps docked there for his visits but the history is just sad. We stopped at a dockside fish stall that was displaying fish caught that day. I recognized the salmon but most I had no clue. Frankly, it didn’t look all that clean and I couldn’t see the refrigeration. Maybe there was a lot of ice beneath.

We next stopped at the Harris Tweed office. I had heard of Harris Tweed but I didn’t know it was such a big deal. Harris Tweed is a tweed cloth that is handwoven by islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides. This definition, quality standards and protection of the Harris Tweed name are protected by the government action – the Harris Tweed Act 1993. Don’t even think about calling yourself Harris Tweed if you are not.

There were several in our group that were anxious to purchase something made with Harris Tweed. Ian said if we wanted a traditional Scottish kilt and all its accessories, it would set us back about 1000 pounds (around $1300). Chuck and I passed on the Harris Tweed. Never did find out what others bought.

We walked on to the Lews Castle. It is a Victorian era castle built in the years 1844–51 as a country house for Sir James Matheson who had bought the whole island a few years previously with his fortune from the Chinese Opium trade. Yes, now he would be considered a major drug dealer. Back then, he was a successful entrepreneur.

In 1918, the Lewis Estate, including the castle, was bought by industrialist Lord Leverhulme from the Matheson family. He gave the castle to the people of Stornoway parish in 1923. I’m pretty sure he realized that it was a big albatross.

During the Second World War the Castle was taken over as accommodation for air and ground crew of 700 Naval Air Squadron.

After the war, the Castle was used for accommodation for students of Lews Castle College in the 1950s. After the accommodation closed, the building was left disused for several decades. The Castle College is still operating on the property and has about 2000 students studying everything from Information Technology to Gaelic History and Culture.

The building is now owned by the local council and was awarded £4.6 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable it to be converted into a museum on the bottom and apartments for rent to tourists on the top. We were given time to tour the small museum and get a snack at the café. Many of the rooms are still being renovated and they have started hosting cultural events.

After looking at the museum, we started walking the paths on the grounds to the highest point on the property where we could have a nice view of the town and harbor. The paths had a lot of pretty flowers and plants. Nice and shady and most of the path was paved. At the top, we could even get a glimpse of the Scottish mainland in the distance.

Now we started our walk back. Once we got back to the town center, a number of the group decided to break off and go shopping (got to get that Tweed) or eating at one of the restaurants. It was nearing 1:00 and Chuck and I decided just to go back to the ship. Ian was going home to play with his grandchildren. I liked him.

We had a late lunch in the Lido, spent some time on the Sea View deck, and had a nap before getting ready for the evening. Tonight, we ate again in the main dining room. I had the shrimp and pasta and Chuck had the pork. We had a table of six – mix of Canadians, an Australian woman, and us.

Tonight’s performance was an encore performance of the singer Jo Little and the Chapman Twins. Since I hadn’t seen either one of them earlier, we went to the 9:00 show. They were good but I was glad that each had 20 minutes. I don’t think I could have sat through each of them for 45 minutes.

Got back to the room to find a letter about our upcoming Ireland ports. Because our arrivals and departures are somewhat dependent on the tides, our times have been adjusted and Foynes has been changed to a tender port. I am not happy about the new tender port because I have an independent tour that day. Luckily, I am not the one who organized this tour so I don’t have to worry about contacting the tour operator. I’ll just have to talk with him so we can decide what to do about tender tickets. I do need to contact the tour operator of the Belfast tour and let them know about the change in time. We are leaving 30 minutes earlier than planned. I hope it will still be OK with the tour as I am really looking forward to going to the Giant’s Causeway. I am beginning to hate getting letters in the mailbox.

Tomorrow is a welcome sea day. No alarm clock. No set schedule except for the luncheon that returning guests get to attend. We have also been invited to the award ceremony to see the recipients of the medals for their number of sea days. We have a bronze medal for 100 sea days. Will be a while, if ever, before we get a silver one for 300 sea days. I hope to get caught up on editing pictures. If I was a better photographer, I wouldn’t have to do so much cropping, shadowing, etc. Should go to the gym but that will probably be a hard no.

Tonight’s towel animal is a frog.

Stornoway trivia –

Stornoway black pudding is a gourmet black pudding, and was granted PGI (protected geographical indicator) status in 2013 by the European Commission to prevent inferior puddings produced elsewhere being marketed as “Stornoway” or “Stornoway Style”. – (black pudding is a type of blood sausage made from pork blood, with pork fat or beef suet, and a cereal, usually oatmeal, oats or barley and the use of certain herbs such as pennyroyal.) I wouldn’t eat it on a bet – gourmet or not.

The Lewis chessmen or Uig chessmen, named after the bay where they were found, are a group of distinctive 12th-century chess pieces, along with other game pieces, most of which are carved from walrus ivory. Discovered in 1831 on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, they may constitute some of the few complete, surviving medieval chess sets, although it is not clear if a set as originally made can be assembled from the pieces. When found, the hoard contained 93 artifacts: 78 chess pieces, 14 tablemen and one belt buckle. Today, 82 pieces are owned and usually exhibited by the British Museum in London, and the remaining 11 are at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Ian and the Herring Girl
Some of the Lewis chessmen on loan from Edinburgh museum
Castle Being Restored
View from the top

Author: mmmtravelmemories

A retired college administrator who loves to travel. I write to remember the experiences and, I hope, to inspire others to make their own travel memories.

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