Every year I spend the first 3 weeks of September on Lewis and this year I was lucky enough to get to stay in Dollag's Cottage for the duration of my stay. For the most part the intention was to spend my time fishing for trout but as it was I ended up seeing eagles, Northern Lights, catching 5 salmon in a day and getting up to a range of other things as well as my trout fishing. With this in mind I thought it might be fun to write a blog detailing my trip. For the most part this will be of interest to anglers but it will also detail lots of other things to do whilst staying on the island. Either way I hope that you will enjoy hearing what I got up to for the first three weeks of September 2012.
Dollag's Cottage @ 7 South Shawbost
1st September - Saturday.
Left Belfast in the middle of the night for the early ferry to Troon. It must be said that getting the Ferry directly into Troon is great as it saves driving up from the other ports. The traffic was relatively light and I made good progress north. Even the A9 proved without event and I set the cruise control at 60 and just sat there leaving it on 60 on the dual bits to make sure anyone wanting past could do so easily. In truth mostly there was no one close either in front or behind. I stopped in a few places and got my little stove going to brew some tea and made it into Ullapool in nice time for the ferry. In the past the Ullapool ferry car park was usually empty until an hour before the ferry sails but with so much traffic now using the service it is necessary to book in advance if you are to be assured of a place. Despite a reasonable wind the crossing was uneventful which was a relief as I don't sail well and it was good to be back on Lewis with 3 weeks stretching ahead of me.
2nd September - Sunday.
Sunday's are traditionally very quiet on Lewis with most facilities being closed and so it was an ideal excuse to have a good lie in and then head to my girlfriend's for a big Sunday lunch. The all important weather was checked and it looked like we were heading for a breezy week with heavy rain on Thursday. Either way it is looking reasonable for fishing.
3rd September - Monday.
As I haven't fished much all year it was great to get up and put the rod in the car and head off to fish some lochs. On Lewis it is hard to decide where to start but in the end I'm off to the sun lochs and the sheep loch beyond. On reaching the smaller of the sun lochs and starting to tie flies on to my cast I spotted an eagle fly past between the loch and those that I'm heading to further out on the moor. The breeze is pretty stiff and after some fishing on the sun lochs I head out across the moor towards the sheep loch. Out on the moor I find that there is a eagle sitting in the heather in front of me and I manage to get some photos. As I work my way towards the sheep loch another eagle gets up from behind a mound on the moor just yards in ahead of me.
When I get to the sheep loch I catch a good trout and decide to retreat to an old sheiling to make some lunch. These buildings are in many cases generations old and were used during the summer by the locals. Even today there is often enough of them standing to offer shelter for the wandering angler and his stove for making tea. I took up residence in the sheiling, made some tea and lunch and then went back to my fishing before heading back to the sun lochs and then my car.
4th September - Tuesday.
I had some arrangements with my girlfriend today but had the morning free and so fished along Loch Urrahag at the village of Arnol. This loch comes right up to the road but is over a mile long so it is handy for a quick cast or even for a full day out. It wasn't long before it was time to head back for some lunch and then off to town with the boss.
5th September - Wednesday.
Another afternoon of arrangements but I thought to head out across the moor to some lochs in the morning with a view to having lunch on the moor and then heading back to the road in time to fulfil my appointments. It was a lovely day to be on the moor and to sit behind a rocky outcrop making and eating my lunch. It is hard to beat lying in the heather and admiring the view with tea in your hand and a few good fish in the bag.
Despite my usual aversion to salmon fishing I decided to make some arrangements for salmon fishing on Friday as the forecast was still for rain on Thursday and Dollanna wanted a salmon. I called in with the keeper and arranged to fish the river on Friday with the hope of getting a salmon.
6th September - Thursday.
Not a nice day today with rain and a good breeze so took it easy in the morning and sat in the cottage keeping nice and warm and reading my kindle. Sometimes it is nice to chill out and have a day to do nothing.
In the evening we had a Ceilidh with some relatives and even got a performance of Psalm singing from a Precentor in the Free Church which was great.
7th September - Friday
The day of the salmon fishing! It is rare that I fish for salmon and, by and large, I have little interest in it but this year for some reason I was inclined to have a cast or two in a river to see if I couldn't get a salmon for the pot. Despite some rain yesterday the river is lower than I would like and chances are looking slim indeed. In saying that the weather conditions are ideal with a good breeze and plenty of cloud cover. I fished hard for the day and hooked, but lost, one fish and saw another. Not much for a day I guess but it was a wonderful day out and the heather is in full bloom brightening up the lunch spot for the day. During the day I'm joined by two eagles for a while I don't see them having any more success than I did. Reports from further up the river indicate that two anglers up there had a fish each with one coming in around 9lb.
8th September - Saturday
Have a quiet morning as getting ready to head over to Auberge at Carnish for dinner and B&B. The area around Carnish can be spectacular with great hills providing excellent stalking for red deer and also huge beaches. The building looks out across Uig sands and provides great views and an excellent spot to relax and enjoy an escape for a few days. Unfortunately the weather is not great but even so we manage a walk on the sands and, of course, a visit to Uig shop which looks small from the outside but sells everything known to man.
We have a good dinner including Cajun venison, haggis with chilli sauce, duck, profiteroles and a strawberry thing that meets the approval of the boss.
9th September - Sunday
Took it easy and toured around Uig during the morning and then headed for home for a late lunch. Got our lunch made for us and had a house full of people so had a great afternoon entertaining and being entertained.
10th September - Monday
Decided to set out for Loch an Tobair parking on the Gress track and wandering the moor in search of a fish. The wind was pretty cold and gusty and I never do very well for trout under such conditions but even so had a great day out on the moor and enjoyed the walk. Fished Loch Eagisgra and Loch na Fola on the way out. When I reached Loch an Tobair got a phone call to say that we had a dinner reservation for 1900 so this required a pretty sharpish walk back to the car to make dinner in time. Went along the south side of Loch Fada Caol and saw lots of grouse out there. The GPS claimed I was making 2.7mph on the moor and 4mph coming back down the track which I consider pretty good progress in view of how difficult the ground is. Went to Borve for dinner and enjoyed a great night out.
11th September - Tuesday
In over 20 years of spending September on Lewis I don't think I remember such a cold day with the car showing a maximum of 7 degrees on a stiff wind. Take it easy in the morning waxing boots and sorting out the contents of jacket pockets and rucksacks. It is always good to get a day off to laze around the house and put things in order for more fishing days that are to follow.
The waves breaking on the nearby coast are throwing salt and spray into the air and there is an area just out the back of the cottage known in Gaelic as the "hole in the sea" which acts like a blow hole. Intended to head out there while there was a good swell coming in but in the end had a big steak dinner instead and the hole in the sea was forgotten.
12th September - Wednesday
A spectacular day. Each year when I visit Lewis I always set aside time to visit Loch nan Geadh. In all that time I've never caught a fish from it, nor have I ever seen a fish move on it and it seems likely to me that it doesn't actually hold any trout. However, it has become a tradition to keep trying and today was the day. On the way up the hill to the loch the wind was cold and you could just feel in the air that the summer was over and that the change had begun.
There are fantastic views in every direction on the way up to Loch nan Geadh and from the loch itself so I took my time wandering up the hill, making tea in a sheiling on the way of course, and just enjoying the view and the day out. Sometimes I find it interesting to reflect, when I use the sheilings on the moor for shelter, on who might have been the last person to make tea within its walls and how many generations that was after the first person laid the stones that still stand as a tribute to them.
On reaching the loch I fished for a while with the expected result - there was no sign of any fish life on the loch. The name of the loch means the "goose loch" and while I've never seen a goose actually on the loch as the day progressed the sky became filled with the sight and sound of geese flying in from the Atlantic on their way south.
As it is the goose loch sits on the shoulder of a hill and I'd never actually been to the top. Knowing full well that there were no fish in the loch and having spotted that there was a decent looking sheiling for tea towards the top of the hill it seemed only right that I should climb up and take a look. As it was the views made the climb worth the effort and the sheiling proved ideal for the making of tea which, as you will know by now, is a top priority.
On reaching the top of the hill there was a little cairn and I took some photos looking into the back of the hills which can be seen out the front of Dollag's Cottage. Then it was time to make my way back down to the loch and see if I could catch a fish. I couldn't. I really don't think there are any fish in Loch nan Geadh but it is well worth the effort to take yourself up there on an autumn day when the skeins of geese are filling the sky and tea can be made in sheilings that are generations old - it adds a whole new meaning to perspective.
13th September - Thursday
Needed to go to town today to see a few people and stock up on some supplies so set off for Stornoway early. Managed to get in to see Donnie Maciver in the Outer Hebrides Fisheries Trust as I always enjoy a chat with him and there is probably no one on the island who knows more about the trout lochs and the fishing than Donnie. If you are fishing on Lewis then be sure to try and make contact with him as he will be able to point you at some great fishing, and will also save you many miles of walking to lochs that only hold very tiny fish.
Was talking to an visiting angler in Sportsworld and pointing him at some good fishing but he seemed reluctant to head out in the prevailing weather conditions. It was certainly fairly windy and wet but ideal weather for salmon fishing especially. In the afternoon we went to the Callanish standing stones visitors centre for afternoon tea and met him again with his wife and he still seemed reluctant to accept that the conditions were ideal for fishing.
In the evening I went to some fishing and while I saw salmon I didn't hook up with any of them. However, I made arrangements to get some salmon fishing for the following day on a nearby river with high hopes of coming home with a fish.
14th September - Friday
Off for some traditional Friday salmon fishing and on arrival I found the river in good condition with lots of water and so I had high hopes for a fish or two. Within the first hour I had a salmon on the bank and the pattern continued throughout the day with success on nearly every pool I fished. I ended the day with 5 salmon, though I didn't kill them all, and believe that if I'd started earlier and made a longer day of it then I might easy have had a double figure day. There was a strong but relatively mild north westerly wind blowing right up the river and while it did make casting a little difficult it is not a big river and so long casts are not required. It was also relatively overcast and so the conditions were just perfect for salmon fishing with a good wave on any of the pools that tended to have flat water.
In the evening we got food from "40 North" where you can get good tasty meals including Indian food and pizza. We took this back and enjoyed a great feed. All told I think 5 salmon in a day is pretty much a red letter day for someone like myself who rarely fishes for salmon and who can claim no real knowledge of the matter.
15th September - Saturday
Working at sheep today as lamb sales are due soon and so there are things to be done. I know very little about sheep but I can stand where I'm put and wave my arms about along with the best of them and while this isn't exactly helpful it makes me fell like I'm doing something and keeps me warm. There is still decent water in the rivers today and so I imagine that there will be a few people doing well at the salmon again today.
16th September - Sunday
Had a very quiet Sunday today and it was great to be able to lie in and lounge around the house and have a late lunch.
17th September - Monday
Decided to head out to Lochan a' Sgeil today to see if I could get a fish from it. Most times I've gone to this loch I've taken a different route but today I thought to go out the Gress track and work my way out to the loch from there. By the time I fished a few lochs on the way and, of course, located a suitable sheiling for making tea, it turned into quite a walk and took me all morning to walk out to the loch.
On the way back from the loch got hit by some big showers of rain which gave me some great rainbows. On one loch there are some modern sheilings which are still in regular use and it just happened that the end of the rainbow appeared to land on a little blue sheiling providing quite a spectacular photo opportunity. In the evening quite a few people dropped in and a bit of a Ceilidh was had once more.
18 September - Tuesday
Had some arrangements for today and so had a relatively quiet day with a run to town. The rivers still look in reasonable condition though the water has dropped back a lot so decided to go for some salmon tomorrow.
19th September - Wednesday
This is likely to be my last day fishing for this year and to be honest the river could do with a little more water. However, get myself together and head out for a little salmon fishing. I work my way up the river with no success and without seeing any salmon though I do, unusually, bump into another angler. After lunch it seems to be about time to head back down and I decide to fish a few key pools on the way back but again see nothing. On the very last pool of the day I'm carefully fishing the flies around when I get a head and tail take like a trout and off goes a good salmon. He puts up a great fight and by some magic set of circumstances, which will be understood only by other anglers, in my attempts to net him I end up on my hands and knees in the river. I have to highlight that I didn't fall in, it was just that I concluded that this would be the best way to achieve a salmon on the bank. Eventually after a titanic struggle I get my 5lb salmon onto the bank, snip off the flies and that is my fishing season over for another year. Finish off a wonderful day with a display of Northern Lights as I return to Dollag's Cottage in the evening.
20th September - Thursday
Off to town today to see lots of people and say my goodbyes and also to stock up on Stornoway black pudding. Although it was cool it was a wonderful day for taking photos and we went to the Callanish visitor centre for lunch and to take a quick walk around the standing stones which are quite amazing. I didn't have the camera and so there are no photos but enjoyed a good lunch. In the evening headed over to town to drop by on a stalking friend who had lots of good stories, encouragement and suggestions for me.
21st September - Friday
Depression is setting in as the prospect of the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry looms for me. Spend the day packing and visiting a few folks and head to bed early as an 0500 start in the morning.
22nd September - Saturday
Despite the depression at leaving awake to a stunning morning with a clear sky and every star shining brightly. Arrive at the ferry terminal to find people scraping ice off their cars but the good news is the sea is calm and once we get going and the sun comes up the view of the west coast is nothing short of spectacular. Take it easy on the drive back down to Troon for the ferry and get the stove going several times to make some tea. Stop in Dunkeld as is my tradition and there is a boat on the Tay above the town plus an angler fishing from the far bank. Watch them for a while but they don't have any luck. It is hard to believe that 3 weeks have gone past so quickly but it is also the case that I've packed a lot in and for the angler on Lewis there just never is enough time.