I first went to Lewis and Harris back in 1985 and have been promising my wife, Lynda, that I would take her to see these wonderful islands ever since.
We both recently read the fantastic Peter May trilogy about a Scottish policeman, Fin McLeod, who returns to his native Lewis after a personal tragedy. Inspired by May’s powerful and poignant descriptions of the people and life on the islands, we were genuinely excited about our 5 day tour which I put together!
We travelled to Uig on Skye to board our ferry and less than two hours later docked in Tarbert, the main town on Harris. We stayed at a tremendous guesthouse just 5 minutes’ drive out of town. You are guaranteed a warm Hebridean welcome and first class hospitality at Ceol na Mara (Gaelic for ‘Music of the Sea’) in the experienced hands of the Mitchells!
I couldn’t wait to show Lynda the beaches on the West coast! Frequently cited among the ‘Top 10’ beaches in the world, the beach at Luskentyre on a sunny day is something to behold! From the powder white sands, to the crystal clear turquoise water lapping at the shore, to where the land spirals upwards across steep and spectacular heather-clad hillsides – all topped off by the strip of land between beach and mountain which was carpeted by a mass of yellow and blue flowers – Heaven!
If you’re feeling brave, circumnavigate the ‘Golden Road’, so called because of the costs incurred in its construction; the scenery on the East coast is rocky and rugged. It is in stark contrast to the West of the island. The people are incredibly friendly – make a stop at one of the many Harris Tweed producers or Art Galleries, all of which showcase outstanding local talent and give you an insight into the culture, past and present!
There are many wonderful walks. The island is a bird lover’s paradise – there’s nothing more spectacular than an encounter with a Golden Eagle before 10 o’clock in the morning, we never stopped talking about it all day!
Journeying North into Lewis after a couple of days, I thought I had prepared Lynda for the contrasting landscape but even I’d forgotten how striking the differences are! Gone were the majestic mountains and sea lochs, replaced by massive expanses of peat-covered moorland. The peat provides a natural, year-round fuel supply for the crofts, homes and hotels across the island. All the hard work of cutting and gathering the peat is repaid in spades in the long, dark, wet and unbelievably windy winter nights!
There are many fascinating places to visit on Lewis, including the breathtakingly huge expanse of beach at Uig (another Uig!) where the famous Lewis Chessmen were discovered, to the mesmerising standing stones at Callanish and the excellent Blackhouses Museum at Gearrannan. You can stay there on a self-catering basis in suitably modernised accommodation, of course!
We stayed in Stornoway at the Royal Hotel. Our very comfortable, large room overlooked the picturesque harbour. There’s a choice of good places to eat but to savour some of the best seafood to be found in the world, try the ‘Digby Chick’ in Bank Street but book ahead to avoid disappointment!
Take time to visit the poignant memorial to the 205 men who perished in the Iolaire disaster on New Year’s Day, 1919. The tragedy virtually wiped out a whole generation in the small, close-knit community.
On a cheerier note, no visit to Stornoway would be complete without purchasing a local Black Pudding! The delicacy has been granted protected status, putting it alongside the likes of Champagne and the Cornish pasty! It comes in a variety of guises but for me, MacLeod & MacLeod’s is the best in the business – check it out!
Lews Castle, which overlooks and dominates the town’s skyline, was gifted to the town by Lord Leverhulme in 1923. The Victorian building is currently undergoing refurbishment with outline plans for it to be rejuvenated as a luxury hotel. We have vowed to return to the island on its completion! If you’ve always thought it was too far to travel, think again! Do yourself a favour and go visit the Outer Hebrides! You'll not be disappointed! If you would like any hints or tips I’d love to hear from you.