Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Another mobile phone free retreat for Alex Salmond at 17 New Tolsta

For the past four years I’ve attempted to let out the croft house at 17 New Tolsta and certainly during that first year I had hopes that this might just work as far as paying for its upkeep. The house was very basic but there were annual improvements and several people rebooked which was the best possible indication that they enjoyed the house and the location. However each year the number of weeks rented out declined to the point that this past season there has been not a single enquiry. Selfishly I have enjoyed having the house to myself and with friends over from Australia it has been far from a solitary time.
The season started with an extra ordinary display of soft white cotton grass out on the moor as if winter had returned to carpet the moors again and was a direct result of last years fire and the subsequent re-growth. The long days of June saw the growth in the vegetable garden pick up after a slow start. July was holiday month the dawn’s golden glow gilded everything including the lilies, late evening walks and wild camping with plenty of opportunities to swim before the jelly fish peeked.

Having no holiday bookings I was free to open the parlour and hall as a summer art gallery but despite having put a sign out on the beach road only a hand full of people have bother to call in. There has been no shortage of traffic particularly at the weekend, people making their way down to our two magnificent beaches and certainly no decline in the number of camper vans bristling with bikes and surf boards filling the car park and tents pitched out on the machair or sheltering in the dunes.
 The latest trend when decamping is to burn the tent leaving scorched grass and a few charred metal posts. This year there have been three such incidents and this week I found two abandoned tents blown beyond the dunes flapping manically in the breeze hooked on the barbed wire fence. The camper vans have over the years got a bad name as they come fully equipped from the mainland and are of little benefit to the local community. At most beaches there are large wheelie bins which often in high summer struggle to contain the quantity of rubbish generated by visitors. I observed a camper van driver a few weeks ago while down on the island of Berneray having used the facilities at the ferry terminal to dispose of his chemical toilet he then headed across the car park with a large plastic bag of rubbish for the bin that was situated at the top of the slipway. On finding the bin full to overflowing he spotted that some idiot had dumped a bag alongside which had been subsequently ripped apart by seagulls. So instead of hanging on to his bag until he found another bin he took a furtive look around and dropped his bag along with the growing mess. Disposal of garbage is a costly business as tourist numbers increase year on year so the least visitors can do is keep their rubbish in their vans until they find a bin that isn’t brim full. It is not difficult to fathom out why my own self catering holiday Croft House seems to be of no interest. Certainly it can’t be the price as it is one of the cheapest on the island and the end of the road location with the two wonderful beaches of Traigh Mhor and Garry make it an exceptional place to stay. Looking around at successful self catering places it would seem that what they offer is total luxury; new kitchens and en-suite bathrooms, television and internet connection and it goes without saying guaranteed mobile phone reception. Well we have none of these, this is a traditional croft house with its stack of peat out front that fires the old Rayburn stove and as for the technology there is simply no need for it, the location is more than enough and surely a true holiday must mean freedom from a logged on world. Alex Salmond when asked this week where he would go to wind down after the referendum said the Island of Colonsay as he thought it still had no mobile phone connection. Here in the coastal wilderness of the Isle of Lewis you can remake contact with nature, watch Minkie Whales out in the Minch or Sea Eagles along the cliffs or simply lie down on a bed of orchids and breathe in the perfume of the machair, maybe rediscover your partner, your children or even yourself. No 17 New Tolsta is a refuge from the hustle of modern life where I can guarantee wonderful solitude and yes, no mobile phone reception or internet connection, no land line or television but a chance to truly relax discover the rugged calm of the vast moors roam along the dramatic cliff coastline or walk bare foot along our beaches. Well that’s my every day existence and yes it is a tough call.

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