With good friend and surf buddy, nicknamed “Bell” for reasons I won’t go into, moving all the way across the pond to start a new life in Canada, we decided to give him a send off. And what better farewell than a road trip to the Outer Hebrides? We assembled a motley crew of surfers and climbers, looked on a map, and headed north. Very north. About as north as you can go in Scotland.
Bell’s trusty red van, Eric, was on its last legs, and this was to be its final journey. Somehow he had persuaded some poor soul to buy it in a week’s time, and was debating whether to risk one final trip up north. He didn’t take much convincing and we all piled in and set off at the crack of dawn, followed by Dave’s equally rusty green wagon. This was going to be a long drive, made longer with the 50mph maximum Eric could manage. The drive to the Highlands went surprisingly smoothly, and that night we pulled up in a lay-by and set up camp. “Camp” involved Bell reclining his driver’s seat while my buddy Stemmo and I squeezed into what was aptly known as “The Coffin,” which was the bit above the boot of the van. To give you an idea of what it’s like, imagine lying in a wide coffin about six inches from your best mate’s hairy face. No matter how long you’ve known friend, it’s not a pleasant scene to wake up to. This was to be home for the next three days.
Dawn finally arrived and we set off to Ullapool to catch the ferry to the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides. Once we’d each demolished a heavenly bacon sandwich at the port, we boarded the ferry. After about two hours of bobbing around on our trusty vessel, we landed at Stornaway, jumped back in the vans, and set off towards a spot called Dalmore that we had seen on the map.
The thing about the Outer Hebrides is that there is literally nothing there. Not even trees. This makes for incredible, barren scenery and the drive was stunning. On arrival at Dalmore, we sprinted to the cliff to check the wave situation, and we weren’t disappointed. It wasn’t big, but it was clean and luckily I’d convinced Bell to let me squeeze my trusty longboard into his van. Only Stemmo and I suited up. To my amazement (and disgust) the other boys were keener on climbing the sea cliffs nearby. “Fair enough,” I thought. “More waves for us!” With only the two of us in the water, we were in utter paradise: The crystal clear water and perfect little waves, was reminiscent of Barbados. As we were daydreaming, however, we were reminded that we were actually in the Hebrides. A icy sneak set came in and capped us on our heads. We ran back to camp to grab our 5mm hoods, as the unexpected brain freeze was unbearable and we didn’t intend to get out of the water again until our shoulders wouldn’t paddle anymore. The next five hours consisted of us hooting, laughing and sharing some really fun waves until dark.
Anyone who has surfed in the Hebrides knows, you have to prepare for all types of weather. The next day was one of those days where you get four seasons in one day. When the glorious morning sun abruptly transformed into a dark windstorm, we battened down the hatches. The landscape had turned from a near perfect beach break to a flat windswept monstrosity. As we sat in Dave’s van (one of the only vans that has a chimney for a log fire in the back) we thanked our lucky stars we had paddled our hardest yesterday and had definitely made the most of it. The day was spent driving round Lewis, and all the way down to Harris, in search of waves in the ever-changing weather conditions. As they say up there, we had “Nay luck.”
The time came to head home and we drove to the port, absorbing our last glimpses of the breathtaking scenery. Earlier I referred to Eric as Bell’s “trusty” red van. It’s true that it was Bell’s, it was red, and it was a van. It was most certainly not trusty. Just like a child being sent to boarding school and not wanting to leave its mother’s side, Eric didn’t seem to want to leave Bell. After cooking a fry-up of champions at the ferry station depot, he decided now would be a good time not to start. In a huge line of ferry traffic. Dave was sandwiched in the traffic, so couldn’t give us the usual jumpstart. Finally, we managed to squeeze a small car next to us, convince the driver to get out in the pouring rain and lend us his jumper cables. This was great, and got us onto the ferry. Predictably on the other side of the water, when we got to back to the mainland, she once again refused to start. Another jump start from Dave and we were off…but only as far as the main street. This time he totally conked out. The stubborn laddy refused point blank to fire up, even with numerous jump-start attempts and strong words of encouragement. There was no other option. Eric needed professional help. We called the breakdown service, who towed him all the way back to Inverness, with Bell riding shotgun. Stemmo and I wedged ourselves in the back of Dave’s van and caught an uncomfortable but welcome lift home. We later got a call from Bell saying he had arrived safely, Eric had magically started and he had sold him to the poor bloke who had travelled from England to buy the van. He claimed to have mentioned that Eric was a little temperamental, dropped the price a bit for the guy, and even given him a cup of tea. Let’s just hope van-karma doesn’t turn round and bite him in the bum when he buys his first truck in Canada.
We are already a planning a replica trip to the Hebrides on Bell’s return in a few years, but maybe with a new motor. But then again, where’s the fun in having a reliable van on a surf trip?