Travels With My Tammy

From an article in Tional by Cathie Lockie
Three and a half years old and about to have my first remembered memory of our annual holiday on the Hebridean island of Lewis, isle of the heather and ‘land of my fathers’.
Three o’clock in the morning with myself seated on our cabin trunk, wearing my new white tammy resplendent with long white tassel – my pride and joy.  Excited.  We were a family of five, my parents, my sister, my brother and me. We awaited the arrival of the Glasgow taxi, which was to take us to Buchanan Street Railway Station, where the ‘Great adventure’ would begin…..
The 4.15 train for Mallaig arrived and with lots of other passengers and a proliferation of cases and more important things like fishing rods, we clambered aboard. Three to four hours later and half-asleep, we left the train to walk across to Mallaig harbour. There was the steamer which was to transport us north to Kyle of Lochalsh – a journey of some 2/3 hours. Warm and sunny weather and warm enough to be on deck, open up our flasks and sandwiches and have a late lunch.  Sail over and we were now on the pier at Kyle. We would wait with our luggage until the ‘Sheila’, the Stornoway steamer, would dock. Another hour would pass as cargo and luggage preceded the passengers and rucksacked tourists were allowed on board. The sea breeze had become a stiffening wind by this time, threatening to ‘de-tammy’ me. I have this memory of great anxiety about this.

The Minch is well known for its turbulence and the cause of much seasickness. Indeed, stretcher cases have been known to be taken off at Stornoway, but steamers are much better equipped with stabilisers now. My father, a soft spoken highland gentleman, but a strict disciplinarian had one answer to this, ” Take the travelling rugs, get up to the top deck, fill your lungs with good fresh air – and don’t DARE to be sick!” And, you know, we weren’t!
Three hours on, past the Shiant Isles, known for it’s teeming bird life covering the rocks and once owned by Compton Mackenzie the novelist and celebrated author of ‘Whisky Galore’, who lived on Barra.
Four hours pass and the houses of Stornoway have come into view and the decks are lined with passengers, binoculars at the ready. The Stornoway pier was packed with townsfolk, as in these days, that was the event of the day. Down the gangway to be greeted by welcoming relatives and then conveyed to my father’s uncle’s house, a white haired old gentleman. There the little old lady (probably about 55!!) dressed elegantly in black long skirt and blouse, a white lace cap on her head, dispensed hospitality; tea, scones and cherry cake. Exchange of news in Gaelic, of course, was greatly enjoyed by the adults.
Time to leave and, freshened up, we collected the luggage and climbed into a pony and trap. For the road again to Loch Erisort, which is a long sea loch like a Norwegian fjord. Perched on my father’s knee and sheltered from the elements by his golfing umbrella, the clippety-clop of the pony all but sent me into a deep sleep. There was, however, one perilous moment when the umbrella, the wind, or indeed both, had united once again to take off my pride and joy, but by clutching hard with both hands I retained it.
Twelve miles along the Lochs road we alighted at the village of Laxay, my mother’s birthplace and childhood home. Relatives were waiting to greet us and to carry our luggage from the road, across the machair some distance to the loch-side. At that time there was no road round the end of Loch Erisort and one had to cross by boat. So, there was the rowing boat awaiting us with kind hands to assist us as we went on the final part of our journey to “Tir N’an Og!” Half an hour’s sail across the loch and Habost, final resting place in sight. Out of the boat, steep slope ahead, dear relatives helping and finally – home!
Into the house, a feast on the table, and the joy of my father to gaze yet again upon his dear Loch Erisort. I took off my tammy….!!