Monday, 26 October 2015

In search of Gaelic, my road trip to the Isle of Lewis

Last week, in an attempt to improve my spoken Gaelic and try and do something about my horrendous English accent, I nipped up to the Isle of Lewis for a couple of days.

Being a bit of a ferry geek, I was keen to take a trip on CalMac's new ferry the Loch Seaforth. Like most folks I have spoken to, I find it smart and swish but full of design quirks that beggar belief. The main thing is the televisions. Gees! There are TVs everywhere! Even in the lounge where you sit with the dog, all the seats face one way and there is even a TV on the wall BEHIND all the seats, so you'd have to crick your neck 180 degrees to even see it.

Nice ferry CalMac. Just ditch the tellies, please!

Not one was showing BBC Alba of course, but full marks for the Gaelic announcements on board.

My accommodation in the village of Achmore (near Leurbost) was at a B&B called Westend, run by Gaelic Tutor and local celeb Maggi (Magaidh) Smith.

You'll see on Magaidh's sign something I wish other Gaelic-speaking B&Bs would do - be PROUD of the Gaelic spoken! I was welcomed with tea and biscuits and a warm craic in Gaelic. It was then that I realised that I'm not as fluent as I would like to be, but hey. We spoke English when I couldn't cope any more, so don't feel that you need to speak Gaelic if you don't want to. As is the mantra at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, it is all about just using the Gaelic that you have, no more and no less.

For £30 per night including a nice brekky of fresh fruit, muesli, cereal, and yogurt, it was a nice place to stay. The room was cosy, clean and comfy. It does lack a desk but Magaidh allowed me to use her camping table in the laundry room. Wifi ('island' speed) is included. OK for basic browsing, but don't try and download anything.

The new, immaculate shower room and WC is directly across the hall, and as this is the only guest room Magaidh has, you have exclusive use.

Like many islanders, Magaidh has about 395 jobs on top of all the charity and voluntary work she does. Conversation opportunities were limited to breakfast, and a chat in the evening - pretty much the same as any B&B host. However, for an additional fee you can book her for an hour or so if you need to go through anything you're stuck on. It's definitely worth calling for a chat first if you are coming here on an informal language break.

Most of my Gaelic conversation was with friends that I had met beforehand. However, one evening Magaidh was running a wee cèilidh in Stornoway and I was invited to that. Sadly, there was limited opportunity to speak Gaelic as most of the native speakers spoke to me in English as usual.

All in all I had a nice time and enjoyed my autumn break on the beautiful Isle of Lewis. Every time I visit Lewis, I fall in love with it just a little bit more.

As for the Gaelic, you will get nowhere near as much from such a break as you would from a short course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig - here there is far more of the  'holiday' element. However, you'll get a stack more opportunity to use what Gaelic you have by staying here with Magaidh and being introduced to local folks than you would by staying in an impersonal hotel.

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