To recuperate from my glandular fever and my double hernia operation, I was granted 14 days compassionate leave - and I certainly needed it! I decided to get away for a complete rest without telling anyone where I was going. Very early in the morning, I set off up the A1 from North Luffenham and, apart from several refuelling stops, continued driving until, 600 miles later, I ended up in the Royal Hotel Thurso. That was almost as far as I could go without actually leaving the UK. A few days later, I crossed The Minch on a MacBrayne Ferry from Ullapool on the mainland to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. I stayed a couple of days and nights in the splendid Caberfeidh Hotel in Stornoway. I then continued south from island to island, hopping on and off ferries, until I eventually came to rest in Lochmaddy on the island of North Uist.
Above: I took this image on Lochmaddy quayside on 15 August 1977 shortly after I had left the ferry seen in the background
Before breakfast one morning, the cleaning lady came into my room in the Lochmaddy Hotel and caught me sitting on the bed, wearing only my underpants, with headphones on and spouting Russian into a hand microphone connected to equipment in my half open attaché case. The room maid looked both flustered and suspicious. She insisted that she'd knocked twice before entering, then muttered that she would return later, and departed. The equipment was actually nothing more suspicious than my portable tape cassette recorder and the Linguaphone Russian tapes. I had decided that while I was on leave I would try and catch up on Russian lessons I had missed in recent weeks. Remember: there was still a Cold War with the Soviet Union on-going at that time and anything Russian was suspicious. I heard nothing more about that incident but, as it happens, I had already decided to move on that day to South Uist. I set off as soon as I had dressed and paid my bill; one might suppose that was indecent haste.
I took this image of Tarbet Village, Isle of Harris, in August 1977
On my way south from Lochmaddy I had to cross the large island of Benbecula which lies between North and South Uist. I knew that there was an important RAF air defence radar station somewhere on the island but I had absolutely no wish to meet the RAF while I was on compassionate leave, so I gave the station a wide berth and continued my drive south on empty roads. It was a beautiful summer day and, for the first time in many weeks, I was feeling both mentally and physically fit and I was at peace with the world.