Tuesday, July 29, 2014

An Leac Bhàn - Berneray

One of my most cherished old books on the Scottish islands is Alasdair Alpin MacGregor's Searching the Hebrides with a Camera (1933). This wonderful book inspired me to find ways to set foot on remote isles such as the Monachs, Ensay, Pabbay and Killigray. It also sent me to the northern tip of North Uist, opposite Berneray, to search for a certain boulder that lies at An Leac Bhàn.

An Leac Bhàn (the white slab) had been the traditional ferry-point to Berneray, and a large boulder there marked the spot where, if you made yourself visible, the ferryman on Berneray would come fetch you. The stone is pictured in Searching the Hebrides with a Camera, and MacGregor writes about resting on it while waiting for the ferryman to come over:

Down through the silverweed and the iris-flags I linger to the foreshore at the Leac Bhàn, and seat myself upon a boulder that has known me for some years now. This boulder and I seem to recognize each other. It invites my weight with an intimacy convincing me that even the things men describe as inanimate object may have personality.

MacGregor's photo of An Leac Bhan (c. 1930s) - boulder at far right
During the spring of 1997 I found and sat upon MacGregor’s boulder. If I’d looked a year later I’d have been out of luck, for it became part of the Berneray causeway in 1998, buried under tons of quarried stone, never to be seen again. When I sat on it (last photo), waiting for the Berneray ferry the causeway would soon replace, the memories captured in my mind from reading MacGregor’s book came alive, and I was taken back sixty years to that day of wandering he so well described, a day when he sat at An Leac Bhàn awaiting the ferryman.

Looking towards Berneray from An Leac Bhan (1997)
Berneray ferry approaching An Leac Bhan (1997)
Seated on MacGregor's boulder - now buried under the causeway

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