We sailed from North Uist to the Shiant Islands. At supper in the cabin the night before, while the wine and beer flowed, the skipper told us as story about the blue men of the Minch. They lived on the stretch of sea we would be sailing on to the Shiant Islands. Legend has it that men of the Minch speak in Gaelic and are mischievous and if you see them you have to speak to them in Gaelic in rhyming couplets. I have problems speaking in English in rhyming couplets and I only know three words of Gaelic; one is “Uisge Beatha”, meaning water of life, another is good night or “Oidhche mhath” and the final is cheers or “Slainte”. I couldn’t make up a rhyming couplet with three words, although I suppose that the men of the Minch would enjoy the word for whisky. I asked the skipper if he knew how to swear in Gaelic but he said it was far too polite a language to swear in and the only bad phrase he could think of was to “go and chew on a broom”.
We had a good wind and a pleasant journey. There’s a wonderful feeling when the sails are full and the boat heels over, but the landscape was very different from any we had seen before. I kept a look out but could see no blue men in the sea!The cliffs of the islands gradually became visible; steep basalt, angular jutting rocks and more birds than I have ever seen before, nesting, flying and on the water. There was a tremendous noise from the birds.
I was given the option of going ashore to sit for an hour near the birds or to walk up a cliff. After a dramatic fail to walk up a steep slope in Derbyshire last year, I decided to sit on a beach. Most of the others chose to walk up the cliff, and the dinghy was launched over the side of the boat to take us ashore. I was left on a pebble beach while the dinghy returned to the boat.
It was amazing to be so close to the birds. I didn’t move much and moved slowly and quietly. It started to rain heavily and I sheltered under a protruding rock, at the same height as the nesting birds.
The birdsong was very loud.
It was wonderful to be so close to the razorbills and puffins.
The islands were very atmospheric, and it was sad to leave them the following day, in the mist and rain. We safely sailed to and from the Shiant Islands without meeting any blue men of the Minch.