Recently, I have too often found myself on my phone scrolling asininely through my Facebook newsfeed having no recollection of consciously choosing to unlock my phone and open the app itself. A detox seemed to be necessary, so, a few days ago, I threw social caution to the wind and deleted the Facebook app from my phone.
After the intense paranoia subsided from the separation with my Facebook App, I thought about another time that I was able to truly disconnect. It was last year in Scotland when I was able to savor every minute spent on the Scottish Outer Hebridean Islands of Scalpay and Harris.
I remembered leaving the ferry port on the Isle of Skye. Everyday thoughts faded away with the phone reception.
Scalpay is a minute craggy mass adjoining the south easterly nook of the Isle of Harris. The rented house we stayed in sat in a sheltered central gully of Scalpay, next to a small bay where fishing boats sought refuge from the sea.
A never-ending pile of books and board games sat inside for when there was rain. Deific scenery lay outside for when there was not. One look at an island sunset would cause a staunch atheist to ponder how such a sight could come to be. Even the wind and rain is God-like in its ferocity. It is not surprising to learn that three churches serve a community of just 200 people.
Even though I would strongly advocate a chilled-out week of relaxing, reading and generally unplugging, there are a plethora of activities within a short distance. Most will involve venturing over the bridge to Harris, but fishing, walking and sailing are possible on Scalpay. A walk to the lighthouse in the sea salt-laced wind will exfoliate your face better than a posh spa day. Interestingly, Robert Louis Stevenson (grandfather of the renowned author of the same name) built Scalpay’s lighthouse in 1825.
Until 1997, one would have to take a ferry across to the neighboring Isle of Harris. Now the bridge allows for free access to the larger Island on which the world-famous beaches could be mistaken for Californian sands… if it were not for the temperature, that is. The Harris Outdoor Adventure Company rents an abundance of water sports equipment. You will see many surfers and kayakers on the sea.
Driving round Harris, signs for the Harris Tweed shops pop up frequently along the road. Protected by an Act of Parliament, only the high-quality Tweed weaved by locals on the Island can bear the official Orb of authenticity.
Before venturing back to Scalpay for dinner, we stopped at the Harris Distillery. The distillery is in production of its first Whiskey, “The Hearach.” A 12-year wait for the first bottle allows them to produce delectable Harris Gin in the meantime. We took a tour round the distillery where the process of Gin and Whisky making was explained enthusiastically by Sandy, one of the locals employed by the distillery. Huge investment and subsequent tourism has brought many jobs to the islanders, it is considered an island project. Even the remains of the fermented grain is fed to cows nearby, who are presumably very happy about this. The gin comes in a design award-winning bottle and tastes as good as the bottle looks. Small phials of sugar kelp aromatic water are sold alongside, so you can literally drop a taste of the Island in your G&T.
Traveling back across the bridge to Scalpay, bottle in hand, we stopped at the North Harbour Bistro for dinner. Local produce is prepared by a French-trained, but Scalpay-born chef. The restaurant has only five star reviews on travel websites and, due to their demand; the seats are filled on a first-come-first-served basis.
Put simply: I have not had a better plate of seafood. This is a must experience. What’s more, when timed correctly, the sunset can be viewed out the windows of the restaurant. Such a view after such a meal brings a matchless sense of satisfaction and tranquility.
After walking the short distance back to the house, we played a game of chess and had a Harris Gin and tonic. Unbothered by the world beyond the Isle of Scalpay, the contentedness and absence of need for endless social upkeep was profound. While only a mere glimmer of this was evoked when I deleted the Facebook app, doing more to attain that feeling can only be a good thing. Taking a trip to Scalpay and Harris would be better, though.