Unexpected weekends part II.

The Hebridean Celtic Music festival in Stornoway was always in the back of my mind as one to hit but the means to do so didn’t reveal themselves until it was almost too late.

Aidan O’Rourke was performing with Kan among the Saturday night headliners and he threw an invitation and a place to stay in my direction, all that remained was how to get there.

I asked Isobel of Bygone Drives if I could borrow her Morris Minor but instead she offered a Mazda MX5. It’s a 2004 plate Euphonic, meaning a 1.6 engine but with bigger wheels, leather, heated seats, a decent stereo and a few choice extras. I thought that heading to Ullapool on Friday night would keep my options open. I would pop to the Ceilidh place, catch a tune or two then find somewhere sensible to stay before the morning ferry. I hadn’t factored in the Tall Ships. Ullapool was mobbed and soaked and there was not a room in town so it was either back to Inverness or North into the unknown. It turned out God’s own country starts a few miles North of Ullapool. The hills come at you in layers and as the rain eased I peeled off along an extraordinary single track road following signs for Achiltibuie.

It’s been a while since I had a proper drive in an MX5, I have a Mk1, I cant justify running it but cant bear to part with it. This one is quieter, a bit heavier and more civilised so it feels slow at first but then you find a good road and hang onto the revs and the steering gets into its dance, it’s really poised and well damped with so little inertia you can balance its movements in all directions and don’t need to do 100 to feel like it’s flying. You can also have the roof down in a flash between downpours.

In the pub that evening the locals spoke of the road to Lochinver as being a wild one and I figured that at a push I might just do it and make the ferry. It bucks and weaves across moorland one minute, past lakes, peaks and through woods, rattling between dry stone walls and cliffs, the road all the time barely wider than the car and with odd cambers, changing surfaces, blind crests and invisible tightening bends. The MX5 is such a wriggly responsive little cart of a car it might have been made for here. I got back to Ullapool feeling like my blood had been carbonated, and missed the ferry.

That meant an unexpectedly pleasurable afternoon back at the Tall Ships. The coastguard put on a display, I explored a Danish square rigger and a couple of pubs and 500 folk gathered along Shore street for a Strip the Willow.

Then it was time for Heb Celt. Arriving in Stornoway at 9pm on the last night is hardly fully committed but I slid in, caught Kan folking up a storm, dropped in for a few minutes of KT Tunstall then headed across to the Arts Centre for Saltfishforty with Anna and Mairead, a dash more Kan, caught up with loads of friendly faces from the Insider and went on to a late (all) nighter in the Royal Hotel.

We took the 2.30 ferry back to Ullapool on Sunday afternoon (full of even more lovely people), I picked up the car and was back at Inshriach in time for tea. Next year I’m planning on taking the car over, staying for the whole festival before camping my way down through Lewis, Harrisa and Uist, probably catching the ferry back to Skye and perhaps getting home in time for tea on Thursday. I’m taking the MX5 if someone doesn’t get there first.

This rather lovely little video by Tom Pickles, appropriately and coincidentally set to music by Lau (Aidens’s other band – see all the Insider festival chat if you don’t know them) shows the Lochinver to Ullapool bit.

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