Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rodel - Part 3

Part 1 here.

The first time I ever went to Rodel was in 1976 on a yacht, my father's doughty 26 foot (7.9m) Westerly Centaur. It was low tide and we were looking at having to anchor in the outer bay - Loch Rodel - for enough tide to cross the bar into the inner harbour, Poll an Tigh-mhĂ il (pron. "pollan tie vall", I believe it's Gaelic for "Pool of the rent house". I think a "rent house" must be something like a tithe barn - a place where rents paid in kind are stored.)

So we were approaching very slowly in flat calm with the trusty Clyde Cruising Club pilot book (the old blue hard back one if anyone remembers that) open on the coach roof when we spot what looks like a rock in an unexpected place. Cut the throttle back even more - it's OK, it's just a seal's head above the water. Move on a bit and the "seal" appears to be two dimensional. Inch forward and it's a shark's fin - a basking shark.

We sailed gently along side it. It was as long as the boat - 26 feet. Cruising at less than walking speed just under the surface of the clear water in Loch Rodel in Harris. A better writer would be able to describe this better than I but all I can say is bloody amazing. There's more awareness about basking sharks nowadays but that was the only time I've ever seen one, 33 years ago.

Pity to have to put up a pic of a dead one but it's the best pic I found to put in perspective how enormous basking sharks can be. I reckon the one we saw that day must have been almost this size. (The pic is copyright Jonathan Riverwalker.)

Once ashore, the Rodel Hotel was from a previous era and that's from the perspective of the 70s. The public bar was a corrugated metal extension out the back which had rusted a good few inches up from its concrete base - a real drinking den. We had dinner in the dining room - I recall very heavy starched linen table cloths and napkins and having coffee after in a conservatory with a vine.

The hotel closed not long after with only the public bar remaining operating so I was interested to hear that it had been refurbished and was open for business again under the management of the next generation of the same family which had owned it for ages. We arrived to find it looked like this:-

Ah, the renovation is not totally complete, I thought: they've yet to paint it. In the bar after dinner, we got chatting to the proprietor. What colour was he going to paint it - white or perhaps a Tobermory yellow or pink? "Oh we're not allowed to paint it!" he replies. Turns out the restoration of the building was part funded by Historic Scotland and they imposed a condition that the building be rendered with exactly the same plaster (I'm not sure that's the right word - mortar perhaps) as would have been used when the house was originally built in the 1780s by Captain Alexander MacLeod of Berneray - right down to using sand from the same beach (of which there are many on Harris). And as it wouldn't have been painted in the 1780s, it's not allowed to be painted now!

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