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The Jaguar of Our Dreams and the Car Hire Company of Our Nightmares by Sherrie Hansen

You might be wondering how we ended up driving a loaded Jaguar e-Pace SUV around Scotland in the first place, given as we are folks of average means and thrifty habits. The short answer is that we were given a free upgrade – in part because we’d been waiting for the smaller car we’d ordered for three hours. We hadn’t slept or showered for more than 24 hours. We’d also been forced to buy an expensive insurance policy that cost almost as much as the car rental itself, even though our USAA Credit Card covers accident insurance on our rental cars no matter where in the world we happen to be. Long story short, I think the car hire associate felt sorry for us and decided to throw us a bone.

Scot - Jag

I have to admit that we got a bit spoiled in the Jaguar. The seats were plush and comfortable, the ride was smooth. It had a back-up mirror that responded to the cars movements to direct you with curved lines. The GPS was very helpful in finding our way around. It was an amazing car.

Scot - Rocky Road

When we hit a sharp rock along the side of the road on our second day on the Isle of Lewis and ended up with a seriously flat tire in the middle of nowhere, we assumed we could get the tire changed and be on our way. But the impact of hitting the rock, which more or less bounced us against a ridge of razor sharp rocks and back again, was a hugs gash in the rear passenger side tire and a cracked wheel rim on the front passenger side tire.

We were pretty shook up, and not knowing exactly what had happened, prayed our way to the nearest sign of civilization, about three miles down the road. The tire held out until we  turned into the driveway and drove across the cattle guard, when it went completely flat. The place we found ourselves at looked to be a Scottish version of Outward Bound. We were immediately greeted and offered help in changing the tire. Only one problem – there was no spare and the patch kit the car hire company had provided was woefully inadequate. (An associate later told us they remove the spare tires on their luxury cars because they are afraid someone might steal them.)

Scot - Scaladale

From there began a long, frustrating day of repeatedly calling the car hire company’s help line, waiting, and when no help came and no one called back, calling them again. Repeat. And repeat. With no means of transportation, we had to cancel our lunch reservations at North Harbour Bistro. Thank goodness for the kind and very helpful staff at Scaladale Youth Center – Mark and I obviously aren’t in danger of starving to death, but I can’t imagine what would have become of us if we’d had to wait for more than 7 hours along the side of the road with no water, shade, or bathroom facilities.

Scot - Harris viewIn the end, our car hire company told us we would have to find our own way back to Glasgow (over 200 miles and a three hour ferry ride away), where we MIGHT be given a replacement car. So much for the fancy-schmancy insurance policy with promises of roadside assistance and replacement vehicles they’d forced us to buy. This was not a good time. We were hungry, frustrated and completely lacking in any kind of faith in the car company. 

Scot - Harris mountains

But possessing a good dose of Midwest ingenuity, we started calling around to local garages and car hire companies and found ourselves a little Peugeot in Stornoway that we could have for 24 hours while we sorted things out. We hitched a ride into town with a staff member at the end of his work day. He regaled us with stories of life on a remote island while we drove hurriedly home so he could change and go out into the peat bogs and cut peat – free fuel for all willing to go to the work of cutting, hauling and stacking the bricks. He was doing this for his mother, who needed enough to make it through two winters, as he and his fiancé were going to be married and take a year long honeymoon. We were so impressed by this man!

The car hire office was already closed by the time we arrived to pick up our “new” car (they’d left the keys under the seat and parked it on the street). The effects of our delicious breakfast had long since faded, so we had some dinner and headed back to our B&B, which was an hour away, in Uig. On our way back toward the place where we got stranded, we saw a tow truck with “our” Jaguar on his bed – almost 10 hours after our incident with the rock.

Scot - Uig B

We’d lost a whole day of our much anticipated time on Lewis and Harris. The next morning was also spent trying to find a rental car that we could use for the remainder of our trip. There were no car hires on the Isle of Skye where we were scheduled to get off the ferry on the next leg of our trip, and our ferry left from Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris, on the opposite end of the island from Stornoway. The biggest obstacle was that the car hire companies on the Isles of Lewis and Harris only rent cars for use on the island.

Scot - Harris house

It seemed like an impossible situation until a young man whose sister lived in Glasgow said that we could take their company’s car off the island and get it to his sister at the end of our trip so she would get it back to them. We had to pay an extra fee, but it was worth every penny not to have to cancel our reservations or become foot passengers hobbling along with our luggage, trying to find a bus or train that led to Glasgow. Best of all, our faith in people was restored and then some as we dealt with the kind locals from Lewis and Harris. These folks really went out of their way to help us!

Scot - Scalpay food

The day started getting better almost immediately. We made it to the wonderful restaurant on Scalpay for lunch and I had the chance to visit the official Harris Tweed outlet store to buy fabric as planned.

Scot - Harris Tweed

Mark scored an empty blue gin bottle from the Isle of Harris Distillery to use as a water bottle at home, just like they had at North Harbour Bistro. Afterwards, we walked off a little of our delectable lunch at Luskentyre Beach.

Scot - L Beach

The white sands and tropical-looking blue waters were amazing, while the Belted Galway cows grazing along the shores kept things quintessentially Scotland. 

Scot - cow

After another trip back to Stornoway to switch out our little Peugeot for the even littler Honda Jazz we would use to make our way back to Glasgow, we were off to see the Standing Stones by sunset one last time, and enjoy our comfortable B&B before catching the ferry in the morning.    

Scot - Honda

And you know what? Our little Honda did just fine! It was definitely not luxurious like the Jaguar, but it was great for navigating the narrow roads to the beach. It sat comfortably, and all of our luggage fit, between the boot and the backseat!

Scot - narrow roadsAll’s well that ends well? We’re still fighting with the original car rental company over what we should and should not be required to pay for the short-lived pleasure of driving their Jaguar, but we saw everything we really wanted to on Lewis and Harris, and, we ended up on the right ferry (reservations required) at the right time to the right place. We loved the Isles of Lewis and Harris – the people, first, the Callanish stones second, and my fabric treasures third. And let us not forget Mark’s empty gin bottle – a found treasure that we love, mostly because we got it for free.

Scot - Gin bottle

Because luxuries like Jaguars are nice, but life’s simple pleasures are the best.

Scot - Kilmartin sheep 

Stay tuned for more adventure on the Isle of Skye, and in Loch Carron, setting of Golden Rod, the mountains and gardens of Applecross, Fort William, and the ancient sites of Kilmartin Glen.

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Lewis Trees and Harris Tweeds – the Scottish Travelog Goes On… by Sherrie Hansen

We planned to stay on the Isles of Lewis and Harris for 4 nights because it coincided with the relaxing mid-point of our recent trip to Scotland. My husband says once I get away from home and business, it takes me a week to relax, and that a week before we head home, I start to get tense again, thinking about what’s waiting for me. When we go on a three week vacation, it’s the middle week that’s golden.

Scot- Keeper's House

My midge-bite covered body was looking forward to rest and relaxation on Lewis and Harris. The islands are only 14 miles wide and 100 miles long, so we felt sure four days would not only give us time to see all the sites but to spend some time chilling on Uig Beach, near the Keepers House where we were staying.

Scot - Uig beach

I couldn’t wait to see the mysterious, now famous Callanish Standing Stones seen in Outlander.

Scot - Callendish stones

The seas were calm on our three hour ferry ride from Ullapool to Stornoway and our expectations were high.

Scot - Ferry

We drove our rental car off the ferry to find a sweet downtown area surrounded by a wandering park topped with a beautiful castle. We settled into a little restaurant with a creative menu (I had chips – big English-style French fries – topped with gourmet mac and cheese topped with the most wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth roast beef ever. Yum!)  A few doors down, we found a shop filled with thousand of yards of wool Harris tweed remnants at reasonable prices. I left with a lovely assortment.

Scot - Stornoway food

We set off for the castle at the top of the hill, surrounded by lovely old trees, with a great view of the sailboats lining the harbor. The story, or so we were told, is that a man bought the Isles of Lewis and Harris with ill-gained proceeds from smuggling drugs, only to have his wife refuse to move to the Islands because there were no trees.

Scot - Stornoway Castle

She reconsidered only after he planted a small forest and built her a castle. And a beautiful castle it was!

Scot - Stornoway castle ceiling

We left Stornoway to meander toward out B&B on the other side of the island, thinking, “How long could it take to drive 25 miles?” More than an hour of narrow, windy, twisting, single track roads later, we arrived to a warm welcome from a cute pair of lambs, checked into our spacious room with a view, and set off to explore Uig Beach.

Scot - Uig sheep

The fog was already setting in – or had it ever lifted? – giving the treeless peat fields, hills and dales an atmospheric glow as the sun crested and slowly sank toward the west.

Scot - Uig fog

The next morning, after a delicious, made-to-order breakfast at Uig Sands Hotel, we drove north along the Western shore to Callanish Stones, which turned out to be laid out in the shape of a cross.

Scot - Uig stones

I took a lot of photos even though the skies were foggy and grey, and later, more photos with a blue, sunny sky, and later still, with the sun setting behind the stones. Walking amongst the stones was so magical that I didn’t want to leave.

Scot - Uig sunset stones

We were back in the Jaguar, driving toward the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, an open-air museum with restored blackhouses – long stone cottages with thatched roofs, and Dun Carloway, the remnant of a stone broch (small tower) that’s roughly 2000 years old, when we saw a church with a parking lot full of cars. According to the sign, the service had just started, so we decided to go on in and found ourselves in the midst of a very unique worship service.

Scot - Uig blackhouses

Unbeknownst to us, the Free Church of Scotland has no adornments (stained glass, paintings, crosses) and no musical instruments. The songs are chanted psalms and the women wear hats. I fit right in, and the people were very welcoming, but I missed the lively music and aesthetics of our church services.

Scot - Lewis fence

That afternoon, after more than a good bit of hiking up to the tower house (and back down again) and down to the sea behind the blackhouse village (and back up again), we arrived at the very northern tip of the island, or the Butt of Lewis, where we found a beautiful lighthouse and cliffs covered with hundreds of pink flowers and thousands of sea birds.

Scot - Lewis flowers

We finished off the day with a delicious meal at Uig Sands Hotel, where the chef treated us to house-smoked salmon delicacies and more. We chatted with guests from England, Germany and the Netherlands over dinner. It was all very relaxing and enjoyable. I’m glad I didn’t know what awaited us the next day!

Scot - Uig sands

Our plan was to drive over the bridge from Harris to explore the small island of Scalpay and its red and white striped Eilean Glas lighthouse on the island’s eastern cliffs. We had made reservations months earlier for Scalpay’s famous North Harbour Bistro, which we were told was THE place for a tasty and memorable meal, followed by a visit to award-winning Luskentyre Beach with its white sands and blue waters.

Scot - Harris beach

But as fate would have it, our plans were meant to be broken – as were our poor rental car’s tires and wheel rims. I’ll post the next installment – The Jaguar of Our Dreams and the Car Hire Company from Our Worst Nightmare – in a few days.

Thanks for coming along on the next jaunt of our journey.

Scot - Uig sheep single

You can learn more about Sherrie and her Wildflowers of Scotland novels at https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/.

Wildflowers - Stripes

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Filed under photographs, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen, Travel