Lewis, Mealista 1979.


LEADER:- Pete Weston

ASSISTANT LEADERS: James Bomphrey, John Deighton. Brian Dickinson, Tim Haley, Jonathan Orr, Hugh Lorrimer, Mark Pratley.

MEMBERS:- John Bird, Paul Bloomfield, David Broom, Jonathan Carr, William Cox, Kieran Dampsey Neil Drumnond, Quentin Elvidge, Frank Farnham, Denis Hetier, Giles Hetier, Jonathan Hick, Martin Lawrie, Philip Lewis Ian Martin, David Mason , Robert Nichol, Jason Oliver, Tim Orme, Andrew Purvis, David Rolinson, Andrew Smith, Andrew Tetley, Adrian Thomas, Stewart Walker, Darren Ward, Tim Williams, John Wright.


Ullapool pier was as I'd remembered it, MacBraynes still ruled and had rather splendid new offices in what had been the Seaman's Mission, and there in the corner of the car park another memory was stirred - a large pole covered in groundsheets which could only been the SHS equipment and food. However, I was mistaken. This was a cunningly converted boudoir for Hugh - who was one half or the advance party. John was using the more functional but infinitely more boring tent. Everything was ready for the start of the Mealista expedition, so we waited for the bus carrying Jonathan (the walking public address system), Jamie (the somnambulist in anything above a force 6) Tim and Mark.

By the time we reached Stornoway and the very comfortable Retirement Centre (many thanks to George Newhall) we had already discovered that a few of 'the lads' were already characters. Zingy had been marked for an early bath (which he never did get), DM was having his patches read by everyone and AT was sleeping.

Ullapool Pier, the departure pier for ferries to Stornoway. 1979. Copyright Dr Neil Clifton



Stornoway Pier, 1979

Copyright Dr Neil Clifton

The ride to the site was uneventful and home was quickly pitched. The next morning we took the camp apart, moved it a kilometre and set it up again. A small clerical error on my part but a good warning of the joys to come arranged by a higher authority. The real Mealista site was excellent, a near flat water meadow behind a storm beach of large shingle. Golden sand outside the front door lapped by a sea of incredible clarity. Ideal in ideal conditions - a sense of security pervaded the party.

In retrospect it is all too comfortable to remember only the good days and the halcyon times. The problems that were mastered with determination, the canoe trips that became longer and more and more adventurous (more rewarding, especially the trip to the beach on Mealista), the strenuous but interesting walks and the digging of various pits and ditches.

However, the true flavour of the Mealista '79 expedition is not to be found in these successes - to concentrate only on the good is to ignore the real challenge which Mealista set. The times when the CA calmly ignited a small incendiary device (laughingly known as a pipe) whilst the leader had hysterics, are best forgotten perhaps. To do so would be to ignore the very evident change which was wrought in the thirty-five.


Playing in the surf, the beach on an incoming tide at Mol Forsa Geodha Mealista, on West coast of Lewis. Copyright Donald MacNeill, Jul 2007

With so many new members one must admit that the weather (though typical of recent years) did not make for an easy or comfortable stay. After each storm the camp came back to normal more and more quickly as the group of individuals became a well-motivated team. The real test of our young band came towards the end of the expedition when a real storm appeared from the south-east. By 9.00 pm the stores tent had been dropped for safety and the first of the Icelandics had collapsed. An hour later, one Icelandic less, and the battle for the large marquee was joined. The night is a story in itself and each member played a vital role. Around midnight (only three Icelandics left for 28 people) it became very obvious that if the marquee went, and we had already written off the remaining Icelandics, the expedition would evacuate. By 2.00 am the storm was at its peak, continuous Force 8 winds with gusts to 9 accompanied by driving rain. Two Icelandics were left and for the next four hours were literally held up by the fourteen in each tent. At this time the great peg making industry got under way - the A,Ls splitting (with a mallet and spade) a 9 x 9 length into pegs four feet long to hold down a very wilful marquee. The occasion was not without humour. Jamie had slept through it all and was only awakened when the Asst. Leaders tent re-pitched itself 20 feet away. By 6.00 am the storm had abated, by 9.00 am the camp was cleared up and jerry-rigged Icelandics were being erected. By the evening meal the storm was only a memory and fast fading. The expedition had not only survived, it was already working towards tomorrow.





west from Taireabhal, This hill is near the end of civilisation in Lewis. ~1km inland from Mealista


Copyright Alan Reid

Oct 2012

Mealista 79 was not an easy holiday, it was an expedition to a remote and rugged coastline, to a site whose conditions tested equipment and members to the full. New members had a real taste of camping without an escape route- the more experienced will have seen how demanding the Western Isles can be. Next year the weather may be better, the site drier, the expedition longer - the Islands and the Islanders will be the same and their help and concern is acknowledged by all. Mealista '79 will either have dampened your enthusiasm or whetted your appetite.