Sunday, 23 November 2014

Lochmaddy, North Uist : faraway, deeply Scottish and with a modern Art Gallery.

I simply can't resist the particular charm of these small civilized places, with almost every modern facilities, but completely isolated in a semi-desert and bare netural environment. Like genuine european "Ultimi Thuli", these are the last refuges in Europe for those seeking quietness and simple life merged in pristine and protected Nature.

North Uist is sub-arctic, at its 57º N latitude. Trees are scarce (mostly rowan trees, or mountain-ashes), the island is almost plane and covered with grass or a few shrubs.

The Vikings arrived in the Hebrides in 800 AD, where they built large settlements, but later the island must have been almost deserted in large periods of History. Presently some 1300 inhabitants live there, scattered in small or minuscule settlements.

The main 'town' is the fishing port of Lochmaddy, where the ferry from Skye or Harris, more frequented islands connected to the continent, arrives at least twice daily with supplies, the post, news from the world... and visitors ! Yes, because Lochmaddy became a small-scale Mecca for walking and cycling tourism, offering a surprising choice of lodging places.

In North Uist, the severe lack of trees does no harm the natural beauty of freshwater lochs, estuary heather moorland, inlets and grassy hills.

Lochmaddy (Scottish Gaelic: Loch nam Madadh, "Loch of the Hounds") is the administrative centre of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

Lochmaddy village.

Coordinates: 57.60° N, 7.16°W
Population: ~300

The Tourist office, close to the ferry terminal.

The village sits at the end of a sea inlet and, due to the rocky coast nature, is the only settlement on the east coast, but not far from the villages in the west of the island.

Lochmaddy's Sheriff Court.

The Old Courthouse, now a character B&B.

The first mention of Lochmaddy is dated 1616: "Lochmaldie on the coast of Uist is a rendezvous for pirates". The natural protection of the local harbour made it ideal for raids against ships sailing nearby.

Lochmaddy's harbour at dawn.

Nowadays the same good harbour makes Lochmaddy the ferry port for the island, and the village has the only bank, courthouse, tourist information office, post office and youth hostel on North Uist.

The Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre

The Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre stands close to the high-tide mark in Lochmaddy. The oldest building, from 1741, was originally an inn.

This is a major a focus for cultural life in North Uist. Taigh Chearsabhagh include a museum, where displays of local life and history can be seen. There are also two galleries.

Chris Drury's boat.

It is worth visiting for its family-run café alone. The shop stocks a selection of books, pottery, jewellery and crafts, plus music by traditional Scottish musicians.

The 'Hut of the Shadows'

Along the shore, after crossing a suspended bridge over a deep inlet, stands a traditional, turf-roofed building. Hut of the Shadows was built on 1997 on the end of a spit of land and surrounded by sea, islands and sky; the work, also by welsh artist Chris Drury, is a grass-roofed, stone tumulus which mirrors the shapes of the surrounding islands.

It has a curved passageway leading into a small chamber which, by means of a lens and three mirrors built into a wall, projects on to the opposite wall, the reflections of Loch nam Madadh´s waters like an old blurred movie.

Winner of several prizes in 1997 and 1998, for the protection through art of rural Scotland.

Another artistic intervention: a mosaic macquerel, part of a the sculpture trail in North Uist.

Caledonian MacBrayne's  MV Hebrides, the twice daily ferry.

Still in northwestern Uist, a rather peculiar feature is the Scolpaig Tower, a weird octogonal tower on a small islet in a low-tide inlet lake.

Built over an Iron Age dun on a small islet in Loch Scolpaig, it's a Gothic-style lunacy from 1830 with the noble intention of providing employment and income to starving natives.

But, on the island of North Uist, the most distinctive landmarks are the turf-roofed thatched houses, like this one in the northwest, at Malacleit near Sollas.

Struan cottage, on the shore of 'Traigh Vallay', 10 miles from Lochmaddy.

The Uists have lots of deserted beaches, tiny villages and areas teeming with wildlife.

'Traigh Udal', North Uist, near Malacleit

'Scolpaig bay' beach

Monday, 10 November 2014

Maniitsoq , ex- Sukkertoppen,
the Venice of Greenland

Maniitsoq (formerly Sukkertoppen ) is a town in western Greenland, the sixth-largest town in te country.

Maniitsoq is located between the two larger towns of Nuuk and Sisimiut.

Coordinates:  65°25′ N, 52°54′ W
[some 120 Km south of the Arctic Circle]

Population:  ~ 2 800 (6th largest town in Greenland)

The town is idyllically placed in the middle of an archipelago, surrounded by fjords and mountains.

Many-coloured houses are scattered up the slope from the sea.

Maniitsoq is one of the most spectacular towns in Greenland, mainly because of its framing by an astonishing scenary.

The local people like to see Maniitsoq as the Venice of the Arctic, as it's built on several islands connected by a few little bridges over the water inlets.

Water is always present.

But in winter this is a snow-white kind of Venice.

Another typical feature is the long staircases climbing uptown from the waterfront area. There are level streets leading along downtown, but to go up the steep slope you must take the staircases.

View at the top :

229 steps to climb...

The old stone church, from 1874, is iconic and one of the best buildings in town.

The Museum consists of four buildings, dating from 19th century colonial era.

These buildings originally stood in the center of town, but in the early 1970s they were moved to the north side of town to leave space for the new fish factory.

At right, B-6,known as 'gingerbread house', and which today houses the museum's art collection.The permanent exhibition consists mainly of art and crafts from local artists.

The Museum offers a good insight into the former settlements and colonial period, and also contains an exhibition of costumes, art and history.

The town was founded as Sukkertoppen , in 1782, by Danish colonists, meaning Sugarloaf, as the nearby mountain suggests. Until 1940, Sukkertoppen was the largest town in Greenland !

The fish farm and factoryare the main economic activity, but tourism has dramatically increased in recent years: the proximity to the Arctic Circle is one of the town's attractions.

Hotel 'Toppen Garni', Maniitsoq

Ideal for kayaking around the islands and into the fjords !

The crater

In July 2012, the existence of a 100 km wide crater centered about 55 km south-east of Maniitsoq was proposed by scientists. The crater structure is believed to be around three billion years old. If confirmed as an impact crater, this crater would be the oldest and largest on earth.

"A 100 km-scale, circular region centered at 65° 15′ N, 51° 50′ W (...) comprises a set of highly unusual geological features that were created during a single event involving intense crushing and heating and are incompatible with crustal orogenic processes."

The deformed granite, spread throughout an area measuring 35 by 50 kilometres, is centred on the supposed impact site. Such large-scale deformation of granite could not have happened over such a large area through any known terrestrial geologic process.

Finnefjeld mountain, 1050 m high, is believed to be the crushed core of the asteroid.

The most compelling evidence is the presence of granite-like rocks that are crushed, melted and pulverised in a way that can only be explained by a sudden, massive impact.

Huge, tremendous, catastrophic event...


Quiet nights in Maniitsoq.