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Lands of contrast: Scotland and Tenerife 

Being a Scottish lassie, you would think I would have visited every inch of my homeland. Unfortunately before coming to live here in Tenerife I hadn’t even been to the North of Scotland, always dreaming of going someday but preferring to holiday in the sun.

A few weeks ago my dream came true and my husband and I went back to Scotland and did a coach tour of the Highlands and Islands.

I am not going to bore you with a blow by blow report on my holiday but moreover I would like to stress the comparisons I have made between our lovely Tenerife and the ancient land of Caledonia.

We were lucky enough to have a couple of Geologists on our coach, Jack and Lorraine Powell, from Washington State. A mind of information on the rocky outcrops, standing stones and the general formation of such said rocks.

The first thing that struck me, particularly in Harris and Lewis was the ruins of buildings, known as blackhouses. Constructed with the local stone, six foot thick walls to keep out the harsh Scottish winds and rains, and roofs long gone – originally made from grass, heather, spelt and barley stalks, even whale bones have been found in amongst the ruins. Sadly the traditional blackhouses were replaced with concrete, stud partition walls and the people were said to feel unwell in the new houses, the walls that just could not breathe. The blackhouses also housed the sheep – and when they urinated the ammonia was actually very antibacterial and in fact the householders were never or rarely ill.

In Lanzarote the use of the local stone is seen everywhere thanks to the architect and artist Cesar Manrique. Sadly in Tenerife the use of local stone is only seen very occasionally and the most way in which it seems to be used is to dress landscaped gardens, as a sort of mulch.

The local stone, known as Lewisean gneiss (pronounced nice) can only be found in the Outer Hebrides. It is three times harder than granite, is the oldest stone in Great Britain and being three billion years old, is nearly as old as planet Earth.

Our stone on our Island, although old, is a baby compared to this wonderfully strong rock. Tenerife was formed a mere three million years ago, when Anaga, Teno and Valle San Lorenzo mountain ranges fused together after a volcanic eruption from Teide.

Jack Powell was fascinated by the age of our Island, as he put it, “Tenerife’s stone is like looking back in time at Scotland”

I saw various megalithic sites whilst there, but the main one and the most fascinating was, the standing stones of Callanish. A huge untouched structure created by the druids of the time, giving and paying homage to the moon, just one of the nature gods that they worshipped. Most sites of this stature are long gone but this was discovered under six feet of peat, and carefully uncovered and has been preserved ever since. Again a lot of the stones were made from Gneiss and absolutely huge. Above ground some were twelve foot and under ground they are said to be at least half of this.

I see our peak of Teide as a giant standing stone, it makes me smile every time I see it, and the power it held to the pre-hispanic people is not unlike the power the Scots druids gave to their stones, and places of worship.

Harris is famous for its weaving industry and the beautiful Harris Tweed. A woollen cloth not that unlike tartan but much coarser, and genuine tweed has to be made in Harris and Lewis. We visited an independent weaver, Norman Mackenzie – who lives with his wife and two dogs in a lovely little croft with an outhouse, where he weaves the cloth and his wife creates scarves and the likes for sale.

It was quite amazing watching this man at work, working on an original loom that will soon die out. The larger looms are what most people use these days, but it was that real hand made element that intrigued me. I couldn’t resist buying a metre of the most beautiful purple, pink and blue cloth, it reminded me of the heather in the hills of Scotland and the Canarian Lavender in the rural parts of Tenerife.

I also saw a demonstration of weaving sticks, which are used in various ways by people all over the world. I ordered a set and now have joined the masses who are wanting keep these traditional weaving techniques alive.

In the Spring of Tenerife the wild flower burst forth and all you see is a carpet of yellow and white from the wild margaritas. In Harris the “machair” which is the name given to the wild flowers and the general landscape of a particular natural area in Scotland, is ever changing and can be very different in each part of Scotland you go to.

The beaches in Harris are world famous for being so beautiful. Our beaches in Tenerife are not always beautiful but they cool us off from the heat. The beaches in Harris are like giant light bulbs, reflecting light from the pure white and natural sands into the true blues of the water, bouncing the sparkling rays back up into the sky and onto your skin, as you walk for miles along almost deserted coast. I will never forget this hour at the beach, its an experience for the soul.

I know what you are thinking, what about the whisky. Well yes we did go to a local distillers but what I really enjoyed was the gin distillery. Gin is the new whisky, well at least in the Islands and it is so good. We don-t need to make comparisons where alcohol is concerned, wine for me will always be Spanish and Canarian wine has the taste of the volcanic earth that nowhere else can imitate. In Scotland we have the peat which gets burned for fuel and the scent and power of this cluggy mixture makes our whisky and our gin unique, not to mention the addition of berries found growing in nature all around .

Lastly, I finally visited Loch Ness. Unlike most people on our coach I was not looking for the Loch Ness Monster, but instead the Nessie Hunter. On the edge of the loch at the Dores Beach there is a converted mobile library van, all kitted out with a log burning stove and comfortable and warm blanketed benches, bookshelves. Outside there is a variety of weird and colourful handmade items that loosely resemble the Loch Ness Monster, that the enigmatic owner makes to help fund his lifestyle, and of course his very useful telescope. Steve Feltham has lived like this since June 1991, in the hope of seeing the monster, an animal or sea creature that may or may not exist. Giving up his life in Dorset over twenty years ago, he has never faltered.

I had a chat with him and found him really lovely to chat with. You almost wanted him to have seen the monster so he had more to say, he was very engaging. I asked him if he sailed out onto the loch to fish for food, he simply said, ” no, I go to the supermarket” I was a bit disappointed I must confess, but perhaps he was not so crazy after all, the idea of someone giving up their life to do this sounds mad but he is living, I guess rent free, on the shores of Loch Ness. He also got presented with a certificate from the Guinness World Records for having held the record for the longest vigil seeking the Loch Ness monster, not everybody can say they have done that with their life. I just hope he has a warm house to go to in the Winter and a wife and at least a dog to snuggle up to.

The purity and unspoilt parts of Scotland was what made me jump for joy and even pull on my heart strings, feeling a tear run down my face as we drove back to the bustling city of Edinburgh, with Dougie Maclean singing Caledonia in the background. The parts of Tenerife I love the most are also the untouched and unspoilt and preserved beauty spots, the real Tenerife is where my heart lies.

By Margaret Tully