The Western Isles – Or There And Back Again VII

By Bernie Bell

A bit of a rant – and then a Wonder – a bona-fide Wonder.

 Tuesday, we caught the ferry from Leverburgh to North Uist
Leverburgh pier B BellAnd here’s the rant – if you want to get straight to the Wonder – you can skip the rant, and I’ll never know!


It’s something I’ve noticed, travelling – the ’go to’ activity for people, is to sit down, get out their machine and become glued to it.  Even if they are with other people, they get out their machines and spend their time tippy-tapping and ‘swiping’.  In this case, on a ferry between Harris and North Uist, which weaves its way slowly,  carefully and picturesquely between islands, smaller island, skerries and rocks.  Some folk sat and looked out, some went outside to look about them, as it was a fine day.  Some sat down, and got out their dratted machines.

Each to their own, it’s their business what they do, but I can’t help feeling that something has gone wrong somewhere, in human interaction when I see that – if alone, they don’t  look and think or day-dream or read a book ( except for one woman – hurrah for her! Reading a book, an actual, made of paper…BOOK!).  If with others, they didn’t sit in comfortable companionship, or chat or point out the surroundings to each other.  No – many were , in the midst of great, wild beauty, glued to their machines.

It’s where Big Brother meets the Capitalist Monolith.  They are constantly on their machines, which means that they can be monitored and traced, at any time ( many choose this to be so), and their habits and likes and dislikes and shopping habits can be registered.  I needn’t labour the point, as it’s all come out recently.  But, on a ferry, part of an adventure – they don’t notice and absorb, don’t meet and exchange – just – ‘go to’ activity – the unthinking devotion to the dratted machine.

I hope that the fashion will change soon, and that, with young people in particular, it might become ‘un-cool’ to be always on your machine, maybe seen as a sign of being a bit lacking in resources and interest. As happened with smoking, which is now not only seen as un-cool, but as just, plain, stupid!

End of rant.

Leaving Harris and the Fixated Ferry Folk behind us, we arrived on North Uist and drove down to Lochmaddy where we called by the Arts Centre/museum/café, to ask how to get to the camera obscura, which I’d read about in the visitor information booklet ‘Made in the Outer Hebrides’, produced by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The lady on the desk gave us clear instructions, and we parked, considerately, at a junction of tracks and headed off for the bridge to the Hut  of Shadows!

Bouncy Bridge Lewis B Bell

It would be possible to walk from the Arts Centre, but….I get tired easily!

What a place.  The walk there, and the bridge, which bounces,  is an experience in itself – then we followed the sign post and arrived at the Hut of Shadows.

Hut of Shadows B Bell Lewis

It’s a camera obscura, set up by Chris Drury    in a very cairn-like structure.  In ‘Made in the Outer Hebrides’, there are illustrations of the hut in cross-section, very reminiscent of archaeologists sections through cairns.

Hut of Shadows B Bell Lewis insideIt’s pitch black when you go in, and it takes some time for your eyes to adjust. This photo of the entrance from inside, shows the contrast between outside and inside


Then as your eyes become accustomed to the darkness, you begin to see an image form, which becomes something like a soft water-colour painting, of the sky, sea and hills outside, projected onto the internal wall of the structure.  A little bit of magic.  I wondered if James Fox, who made the television programme ‘Forest, Field & Sky: Art out of Nature’ has been there? I think  he’d like it.

It’s also groovy to look into the  mirrored space in the wall, which produces the image

Hut of Shadows B Bell mirrored space

There’s a strong smell of fish, and we wondered if otters like to go there, for shelter, or to eat their fish?  A bit smelly, but a nice idea, that we were sharing the otters place.

It’s brilliant, and we had a lovely, sunny day for it, which is pretty much vital, for the camera obscura effect to work.

This is part of a series of articles by Bernie Bell on her trip this year to The Western Isles – you can use our search button to find more.

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