The Deaf, The Daft & The Ditsy
The Deaf, the Daft and the Ditsy, a four legged journey across the Hebrides.
If I was to sum up our adventure in one word it would be "humbling". On the 10th August I set off to the Outer Hebrides with my rescue animals, dog Pip, who is deaf and my ditsy mare Connie. Our plan was to walk/ride the length of the islands to raise funds for Blairgowrie Riding for the Disabled in Perthshire Scotland, of which I am Chair. We were undertaking the adventure unsupported, which meant we were, or rather Connie, was carrying all of our camping, corralling and cooking equipment.
We set off from the southerly island of Vatersay and headed north, covering both Vatersay and Barra in two days. Crossing our third island, Eriskay, some of the rare Eriskay ponies came trotting down the hillside to say hello.
Continuing onto South Uist I couldn’t wait to start the Machair Path, 36km of sandy trails and beaches, what more could we ask for? Two days later we arrived to a warm welcome at Howmore Hostel. We’d had our biggest day, over 9hrs and 32km after getting lost, arriving at a fence with no gate and having to back track and then getting into boggy ground, before jumping a ditch and having our panniers end up under Connie’s belly!
Howmore, which is a Gatliff Trust Hostel, had never had a horse stay, warden Betty had been there for 30 years, her mother was warden before her and her daughter looks set to take up the reins.
We remained northerly bound and spent a storm bound day at the Community Riding School in Benbecula, a wonderful community led initiative. We then briefly touched on Grimsay before crossing North Uist where we crossed over the tidal beach to the truly stunning island of Valley. Uninhabited but with beautiful, albeit hauntingly old mansion ruins we spent the afternoon watching the tide come in, leaving us island bound, exploring the bays and routes bareback, stopping off for lunch on the beach with Pip and Connie roaming free. It was to be our favourite day of the trip, our own island, all to ourselves!
We then headed again north and had a very welcome day off on small but beautiful island of Berneray. Although beaches were around each and every corner, you never took their beauty for granted.
Another short ferry crossing brought us onto Harris where we took the Old Road to Tarbet. A former packhorse route it led me to wonder what it was like, back in the day when horses would have been part of everyday life on crofts. It was a lovely, albeit boggy path which climbs up to a bealach, which gives stunning views across the loch behind. Unfortunately we went into a bog, Connie floundered, sending me off over her shoulder crashing onto solid ground. We’d lost a boot, which was no surprise really as I had to lie on my stomach with my arm at full length to recover it! This brought us to another Gatliff Hostel, Rhenigidale, where Connie made friends with a pet Hebridean sheep!
We then ran out of tracks and paths and so instead of heading north and hitting busy roads I decided to head to the most westerly island of Scalpay and then to the easterly isle of Great Bernera. I then boxed northwest to the stunning Callanish Stones before setting off again with panniers full of kit. We arrived at the Butt of Lewis, the most northerly point of the Outer Hebrides on 26th August.
It was with mixed feelings I took some final pictures and shed a wee tear remembering the adventures we’d had. Despite being deaf Pip was never on a lead, being a collie she is clever and knows to simply stick behind Connie’s feet whilst on the road sections. Connie soon got into a routine, at around 6.30am each morning she would stand outside my tent pawing the ground as if to say, come on, it’s light, we need to get going! The weather wasn’t kind to us; it rained 16 of the 19 days we were on the islands. Two days had winds of over 50mph where we just had to hunker down and wait it out.
The islanders were so warm and welcoming, everywhere we went we were offered a field, food and often a bed, though I stuck to my "unsupported" mission and camped each night. People stopped in their cars, came out their houses and chased after us to say hello, give a donation and wish us luck. Old men came and shared their pony stories with me, recalling the days when ponies took peat off the moors, ploughed the fields and took children to school!
We rode across 13 islands, covered approximately 230km over 16 days and raised nearly £4200. It's an experience I will never forget and I will forever be in debt to my four legged comrades who followed me day after day without question. We are still fundraising at Blairgowrie Riding for the Disabled, we need to build an arena to allow us to give good quality and regular lessons to a larger number of children with disabilities. If you haven’t already done so, but would like to donate, please visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/thedeafthedaftandtheditsy