The weather had been cold and wet these last few days in Dalmore, and strange to relate, it was mid July. I suppose it was no better in Shawbost or Bragair, but today it was calm and the sky was blue. Over at No.4, Taigh 'houdie, Iain called a meeting of the resident cats and dogs. Soho, Rupie and Guinness were discomfited at the sound of the word "meeting". "A meeting," mused Stowlia, "this must be serious. Never heard of a meeting in this house before." Murdo could sense their anxiety and tried to reassure them with a smile.
Iain. " Shonnie, over at No.5, wants to discuss a proposition with us, which will also involve the cats and dogs in Taigh Glass".
"O, bhobh( Dear me), a meeting - now a proposition. Whatever next ?" Stowlia had more than a little of the Jeremiah in her, and was uneasy with what she had heard. The rapid movement of her eyebrows betrayed some anxiety, which in turn unsettled the cats. The meeting was convened outside Shonnie's weaving shed, opposite the hen house.
Shonnie. " We were thinking that, weather permitting, all of you might like a sail in my boat tomorrow afternoon, out on the "caolas"(Gael. " estuary, strait") to Loch Roag and the islands off Bernera. It will have to be a very calm day, and we must all behave responsibly while on board. We will have ourselves a picnic on one of the islands, and we may even catch a few fish, for later on."
Any doubts that our wee friends might have harboured were now removed. A general outcry of barks and meowing ensued, partly from relief, but more in excitement at what tomorrow held in store. The cats brushed against Shonnie's and Iain's legs, and Fancy, Stowlia and Jura went barking mad, howling their delight in unison. This, the animals thought, must be the most exciting thing that ever happened to them. Well, to be fair, it isn't often that cats go on a cruise, although dogs have been known to go fishing.
The big day arrived, and the weather was perfect. Well that's what everyone thought - everyone, that is, except Iain Shoudie.
Iain Shoudie. " If one looks out there on Dalmore Bay, the sea appears calm, from here to the far horizon. A good day to go fishing out of Loch Carloway, you might think. That is not always the case. In this village, by tradition, we were told to examine the state of the waves out there at Rudha na Trileachan, the point out there on the far left of the bay ( the Oyster Catcher's Headland). It could be that the sea looks calm, but if the waves are breaking strongly on the rocks at Rudha na Trileachan, then fair weather cannot be guaranteed out on Loch Roag. But, as you can see, things are fairly calm out there, so the sail is on!
It was by good fortune that Shonnie's cat, Tom, decided to come down from the Beinn (hill) on the very day of the boat trip. You will remember that Tom served on His Majesty's ships during the war (Ratter RNR), before retiring to Dalmore as a warrener. Normally a private individual, Tom was persuaded to join the rest of the "crew" aboard SY 92, moored at the Dunan at the head of Loch Carloway.
In case you are wondering, Shonnie's little address to the animals was in fact simultaneously translated by Iain Shoudie for his little friends.
The boat eased itself round the Dunan Pier with Shonnie "at the helm", and with the little outboard on full throttle, the boat gently cut its way through the flat-calm of Loch Carloway. They passed the little village of Doune on the port side, and a few minutes later the deserted hamlet of Laimishader appeared on the opposite shore. Shonnie told them that before the pier at the Dunan was built, the remains of an Iron Age fort occupied the site, built nearly 2000 years ago. The beautiful little village of Laimishader had been occupied until about 100 years ago, and had always been known in Lewis as an early Christian site, where miracles could happen. Long after it was a ruin, and up until more recent times, a mother with her sickly child would shelter in the ruins of the church overnight, hoping her prayers would bring healing to her child. Victoria asked Shonnie if sick puppies and kittens were ever taken there by their mothers. Shonnie noted how earnest was Vicky's question, and with a smile, assured her that it was likely - why not.
A gentle breeze passed over the boat, and occasionally one of the crew would have a fine spray of water lick their face. Fancy was properly attired for this sea voyage, wearing, as he was, his full motorcycle gear - leather pilot's jacket, leather flying helmet and a pair of American aviator goggles. She sat beside her master, Shonnie. He gave Fancy a short "spell at the wheel", but it was difficult, having only "spogs"(paws). Victoria asked Guinness if her blue-cream coat looked OK, what with the wind and the sea spray. " You look smashing, hen", replied Guinness who came from Glasgow. Passing the lighthouse at Aird Laimishader, they were now in the "caolas" proper, where the wind was fresher and the waves a little livlier. Iain Shoudie remarked that the sea was fine, but Jura and Stowlia lay together at the bottom of the boat, feeling a little light-headed.
"We are nearing the island of Little Bernera", said Shonnie. "We will go ashore there to picnic, to look around and to relax." The boat slowed as it passed between rocky spurs to reveal the most delightful little golden beach. This little lagoon was home to a number of Atlantic seals, who started barking at the boat's approach. " Do you dogs understand what the seals are saying?" asked Soho. " But of course," answered Stowlia. " The Big Fella. there on the rock is asking if we know his cousin, Ronnie in Dalbeg Bay." "And do you?" said Soho, with the hint of a Cheshire-like smile on her pretty face. The boat finally beached on the golden sands of little Bernera. To be honest, the wee folk were happy to be back on terra firma, and they enjoyed exploring the island with not so much as a house on it. But there once was a farm and house here.
In fact, said Iain Shoudie, the first Maclennan to arrive on Lewis, was granted the lands of Little Bernera by the overlord of the island, Lord Seaforth, Chief of the Clan Mackenzie.
" And all of the Maclennans on Lewis had their beginnings here, back in around 1700. Murdo and I are descended from that very first Maclennan, the Tacksman of Little Bernera. And before you ask, So-sally, you are descended from the first Maclennan cat on Little Bernera.
" You will have seen the small graveyard above the beach. That used to be resting place of the Carloway people before the cemetery in Dalmore opened in around 1910. The burial party would have to row all the way out here to bury their loved one. If the weather was stormy, and lasted more than three days, then the body was interred in the little cemetery in Cirbhig, across from the Dunan."
"I could listen all day to Iain Shoudie," said Vicky. " He has a way of making the old times come alive."
Tom Warrener had been fairly quiet throughout the day, and Shonnie noticed it. This would be the first time Tom was at sea, since he served along side his friend Shonnie in the Royal Navy at the end of the war. Shonnie invited Tom to sit at the stern with him, recalling the time they served together down in England. Shonnie cradled Old Tom in his arms as they turned for home. The men started fishing with the hand-lines and invited the crew to step forward to assist. They struck lucky almost immediately, and within a short time they had enough for a fry-up. Seoras met them at the Dunan with his van, and transported skipper, bosun and crew back to Dalmore.
This was a day that they would fondly cherish for years to come. Think about it - cats and dogs fishing for haddock. Quite unbelievable !