South Uist 1972.
SOUTH UIST EXPEDITION 1972
Leader: Alan Fowler
Camp Administrator: Jim Turner
Officers: Philip Brown, Peter Spours, John Wignall
Boys: Craig Roscoe, Ian Smith, Mike Reynolds, Gary Hewett, Steve Pope, Mike Hayward, Mike Landon, Tim Key,
Richard Osborne (Ozzy), Steve Hill-Jones, Jonathan Seville, Chris Jones, John Benjamin, Nick Deeley, Steve Kane.
If the world really were flat, South Uist would lie on its western brink, on the edge of the abyss. When the sun is shining the island is lit with pale marine and sky blues so that there is a great sense of space and remoteness. Storms bring a different feeling of isolation; one confined by whirling mist and the noise of wind and rain. The barren landscape is perpetually on the edge of life, prehistoric and unwanted. For the fourth time a Society expedition came to the island, made brief contact with the people of the island, and then disappeared 'beyond the end of the road' for two and a half weeks. Perhaps 'disappeared' is not quite the right word, for at least four people on the island were well aware of our existence. The manager of the Co-operative at Daliburgh, for example, who supplied us with our perishable food, saw us come dripping out of the mist and rain more than once. Mr MacPhee of the school in Lochboisdale welcomed us out of the dark when we first arrived tired and laden with kit. The Macaulay Brothers took us to the end of the road in their lorry and coach when we were still fresh and pale, and returned us a fortnight later weather-beaten and tanned to the pier head at Lochboisdale. Most of all, Donald MacDonald knew us to lie a path, a gate, and two bits of moor from his ever-open front door. What with helping us to move our equipment into and out from the site, advising and assisting us with our fishing and boat-handling and post, he was in many ways a father to the expedition. We are very grateful to these people who had direct contact with us and were friendly and helpful in all their dealings. Most of all we are grateful to Donald and his sons and friends for their assistance and tolerance of our amateurish ways!
What did we do while we were in isolation? Undoubtedly the most prominent activity was walking and, apart from the miles some members clocked up on the way to their sleeping tents and back, most of the rugged east coast of the island was explored this being some twelve miles of rocky mountains, deep glens and precipitous cliffs. The west coast, consisting of windswept machair and grey sandy strands, was visited on three occasions, and two groups of members travelled to the extreme north of the island and on into North Uist — not entirely on foot, but still an interesting achievement. After the first three days the weather was generally bad, and this goes a little way to explaining the lack of project work done compared with other expeditions to this island. In spite of this, some good work was done — notably in the field of botany by Ian Smith and company; in ornithology — a solo effort by Gary Hewett; in geomorphology by Phil Brown and company; and in meteorology by John Wignall and company. Readers may draw a little more enlightenment from the list of prizes which I am now able to publish. A general prize for catching your leader by surprise and amusing his wife goes to the entire expedition (just wait till the Conference, you lot) The prizes for sharpness of wit and accurate location of water at all times both go to Chris Jones — an unusual combination (and even they were out to dry) . I was undecided whether to award a prize for the largest or the smallest total catch of fish, and I feel that the contestants themselves were a little undecided about this, too. On reflection, however, the prize goes to Mike Reynolds (well endured, Mike!) The prize for the best turned-out, nearly-genuine Scotsman goes to Tim Key, and his sole rival, Phil Brown who plaid it by ear (ouch! - Ed.), must get a mention. This is the same Phil Brown who is remembered (in different ways in different quarters) for the construction of the Gnome Canal and the detonation of the Chairman. We shall henceforward hold a fireworks celebration on the night of l0th August during which toadstools should be thrown onto the bonfire. The departure of the half-past midnight boat from Lochboisdale at half-past four in the morning wound up the expedition in familiar style. We left behind us some bleached grass and muddy patches, and some wisps of smoke from the end of a fire. In a year the land will have forgotten us. How long will we remember our experience?
Some internet photos to follow shortly
From Ian Smith
I was on the South Uist 1972 and Mingulay 1975 expeditions, as well as paying a visit to Knoydart 1977. I had a wonderful time, and loved the Hebrides, despite the rain and midges, but haven't been back since. I came across your SHS site by chance; I am soon to retire, and my treat is to be a 2 week cycle tour of the Hebrides and Skye so I have been researching background information. I am grateful for your efforts to compile al this material which I thought was lost forever. I have really enjoyed reading many of the trip reports, and spotting references to some of my former friends and acquaintances on later trips.
I could add my botanical survey of Mingulay if I can find it - lurking in a box in the loft somewhere; I note it isn't included on the site.
I would be interested in understanding what became of the SHS and why and how it came to an end. Times change, and some of the earlier reports speak of a time of different expectations and standards, not least attitudes to Health and Safety!