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Lewis and Harris: Stone circles and spectacular beaches

Standing Stones of Callanish, Isle of Lewis
Standing Stones of Callanish, Isle of Lewis

Historical sites, Harris Tweed and spectacular beaches - you can have it all on the Isle of Lewis and Harris (Outer Hebrides).


Getting there

The ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway
The ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway

There are several ways to reach the Isle of Lewis/Harris: Loganair - for instance - offers various domestic flights to Stornoway or you can use one of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries between Ullapool and Stornoway (Isle of Lewis) or between Uig (Isle of Skye) and Tarbert (Isle of Harris). We travelled to Stornoway in our own car.

 

As usual, we took the DFDS ferry from Amsterdam to get to the UK.


Stopovers

As there are only very few motorways in Scotland it takes several hours to get to Ullapool.

 

As we were on holidays, we took our time and spent some nights in the Arrochar Alps and Ullapool on the way to Lewis and one night in Crieff on the way back from Harris.


Ashfield House Boutique B&B, Arrochar

Ashfield House Boutique B&B can be found at the northern end of Loch Long in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It is a perfect starting point for touring the Arrochar Alps or discovering their surroundings. I have never seen a B&B with so much attention to detail! :-)

 

It was the first B&B in which we were asked to leave our street shoes in the hall - absolutely understandable considering the fluffy cream-coloured carpet... ;-) All the rooms were super clean, thought-out and decorated to the very last corner.

 

First, we each got a welcome dram (carrying a note what kind of whisky it was).

 

Not only did we find fluffy towels in our bedroom, but also bathrobes and terry slippers.

On the sideboard, there were two kinds of homemade cake waiting for us under a glass dome (of course, they had a note stating what kind of cake they were and whether they were gluten-/allergen-free). As in many other B&Bs there was an electric kettle. However, not only cups and instant coffee were provided, but there was also a French press and freshly-ground coffee in a little jar as well as cocoa and tea. 

 

Breakfast was great. From "full Scottish" (bacon, sausages, hash browns, fried eggs and black pudding) via smoked salmon and kipper, toast, homemade jams, honey and fresh fruit to cereals - everything you could ever wish for was taken care of. Even the milk was served in the very decorative Harris Gin bottles. Of course, all dishes were made from local/regional ingredients and vegetarian or vegan options were available. ;-)

     

Although this B&B is quite exclusive I think you get really good value for your money.

 

A little anecdote:

When the breakfast room was not in use Cristina put up a folding screen behind its glass door so you would not see the disorder while she was laying the table...!


The Arch Inn, Ullapool

As we did not want to hurry all the way to Ullapool to get the evening ferry to Lewis we spent another night at the Arch Inn. It is located right next to Loch Broom, only about a hundred metres from the ferry's waiting zone. It gave us the opportunity to have a relaxed breakfast before lining up in front of the ferry terminal.

 

The Arch Inn has a bar/restaurant and several en-suite guest rooms. On some days there is live music. As the restaurant is quite popular it was good that hotel guests were allowed to book in advance (everybody else had to wait until someone vacated a table). The food was delicious and there were always people waiting in line...

 

When the weather is fine you can also sit outside.

 

As the guest rooms are located in the adjacent building you do not hear much noise from the bar (except for people standing outside for a smoke or something). Without having made a special request we got a room on the ground floor that had a wheelchair-accessible shower which came in handy for my partner who has a prosthetic leg which is not waterproof so he needs to take it off when showering. ;-)

Wheelchair-accessible shower at the  Arch Inn, Ullapool
Wheelchair-accessible shower at the Arch Inn, Ullapool

The Isle of Lewis

The Isle of Lewis is the northern part of the Isle of Lewis and Harris. It belongs to the Outer Hebrides and is one of the so-called "Western Isles" (the others are Harris, North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra).


Abhainn Cottage, Isle of Lewis

The very comfortable Abhainn Cottage can be found in Breasclete close to the Standing Stones of Callanish (we walked back from there). The house sleeps 4 people in two en-suite bedrooms. The bathroom on the ground floor has a spa bathtub with whirlpool and an infrared cabin. If you want, you can book massages which are carried out in a small spare room.

 

There was a three-tiered stand of homemade treats waiting for us on arrival which we - bit by bit - had  for afternoon coffee/tea. Yummy! :-)

A cake stand full of treats was waiting for us at Abhainn Cottage
A cake stand full of treats was waiting for us at Abhainn Cottage

The Standing Stones of Callanish

No-one knows how old the Standing Stones of Callanish really are or what their exact purpose was. It is estimated that the first stones were erected about 3000 BC and that they might have served as an astronomical calendar.

 

Callanish consists of three stone circles. "Calanais 1" is the main site (although its shape is more reminiscent of a cross rather than a circle), "Calanais 2" and "Calanais 3" are a lot smaller and "within spitting distance". If you look closely, you can spot them from "Calanais 1". All three sites are signposted from the main road.

 

Callanish 1 has a visitor centre which is closed on Sundays. Opening hours vary according to season so it is a good idea to check the website beforehand. The stones can be visited 24 /7 and there is no entrance fee.

 

I had planned to see a sunrise at the stones, but the rainy weather failed to comply with me. The sunset made up for it, though! :-)

Standing Stones of Callanish panoramic view
Standing Stones of Callanish panoramic view

Stornoway

Stornoway
Stornoway

Photo by: Hans-Werner K.

Stornoway is the largest town on Lewis holding about one third of the island's entire population. It has a sheltered natural harbour which was already used by the Vikings who named the place Stornoway after the Old Norse name "Stjórnavágr". 

 

Although I knew that Stornoway is the island's main harbour, I was not aware that even cruise ships go there nowadays (one was there when we arrived by ferry from Ullapool). 

 

As it was raining, we just had a wee stroll around the town. Although I am just a hobby tailor - but a big Harris Tweed fan - I even officially registered with the Harris Tweed Authority... ;-) 

 

Of course, I could not just pass by the Harris Tweed Hebrides shop without purchasing a yard of fabric (or two)...

My purchases from Harris Tweed Hebrides
My purchases from Harris Tweed Hebrides

We did not visit Lews Castle which offers a museum, a café, a whisky bar, shops and some luxury holiday apartments.

Rainy day in Stornoway
Rainy day in Stornoway

I had often heard that Stornoway Black Pudding was considered to be one of the best so we bought some and tried - I think it's true! :-)

 

By the way... Stornoway offers a good opportunity to to buy food for your self-catering unit. Often, there is no other possibility - apart from the occasional community shop which are few and far between.


Butt of Lewis

Butt of Lewis panoramic view
Butt of Lewis panoramic view

The Butt of Lewis is the northernmost point on the Isle of Lewis. The rocks are considered to be the oldest in Europe (3000 million years). We had an extensive walk along the coastline. There is no actual path, but the general direction is marked by wooden signposts. The ground is covered with short grass..


Carloway Broch

Heather in bloom at Carloway Broch
Heather in bloom at Carloway Broch

Brochs only exist in Scotland and are about 2000 years old. Brochs are roundhouses from the iron age that consist of a double drystone wall with a staircase to the upper floor in between. Most brochs are located in northern and western Scotland. 

 

Dun Carloway was built approx. about 200 BC and was used as a shelter for cattle raiders, a home and a pottery kiln. It is one of the best-preserved broch ruins in Scotland (with its eastern wall still being 9 metres tall).

 

At the moment, Carloway Broch is closed for conservation work, but you can still access the premises and take a closer look. There is a small information booth and a restroom. We did not have to pay any admission fee.

Carloway Broch
Carloway Broch

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

"Blackhouse" describes a traditional Scottish house type that has double drystone walls - filled with earth or peat - and a thatched roof. People still lived in the Gearrannan Blackhouses until the early 1970s before moving into new accommodation. Since the blackhouses were the last houses of their kind on the islands - in a spectacular location at that - it was decided to preserve them for future generations. You can find a little museum including an old - but still funcional - Hattersley loom for weaving Harris Tweed as well as holiday accommodation. 

 

There is an interesting film showing how peat (the traditional heating material) is gathered from the land and how Harris Tweed is woven. As I am a Harris Tweed fan I really enjoyed the weaving demonstration on the almost 100 year-old Hattersley loom. Would you mind knotting a few hundred threads together to start a new fabric? ;-) 

Please note that Gearrannan Blackhouse Village is closed to visitors on Sundays (as are many other sites on the islands). There are no admissions fees shown on the village's website, but we paid 3.50 GBP which was perfectly fine.


Abhainn Dearg Distillery

Abhainn Dearg (Red River) Distillery
Abhainn Dearg (Red River) Distillery

Although Abhainn Dearg Distillery has been there since 2008  - and therefore released its first 10 year-old Single Malt in 2018 - it is almost unknown. As you cannot read their sign from the road we did not even notice it the first time we drove by. The shop is set up in a garage-like building and you would never assume a distillery here.

 

We sampled the 10 year-old Single Malt - the smell of which reminded me a lot of pear brandy - as well as several variations matured in Sauternes, Madeira, Oloroso or Rioja casks. They were all delicious, but not available for purchase until Christmas 2019 so we could not take any with us. ;-) 

 

The distillery still operates everything manually so part of the bottles we took home were reduced to "drinking strength", filtered, filled into bottles, sealed, labelled and wrapped right in front of our eyes. As we had never witnessed anything like that before it was a clearly special event! :-)


Ardroil Sands

Ardoil Sands, Uig, Isle of Harris
Ardoil Sands, Uig, Isle of Harris

I consider Ardroil Sands one of the most impressive beaches on Lewis - it's incredibly huge. There is no way to capture its size in a photo. I shot a 360 degree video on my phone which I might post later on. This beach is definitely worth a stroll although we were almost blown away by the wind.

 

You can find a campsite, restrooms and showers next to the parking lot.

 

In 1831, the so-called "Uig Chessmen" were discovered nearby. They are considered the best-preserved medieval chess pieces (from Norway) and can be seen in different museums throughout the UK.

Uig chessmen, Isle of Lewis
Uig chessmen, Isle of Lewis

The Isle of Harris

Harris is the southern part of the Isle of Lewis and Harris and famous for its spectacular white beaches and turquoise water. Tarbert is the main community and main port on Harris offering a ferry connection to Uig (Isle of Skye). The Harris Distillery can also be found right next to the port.

 

As our accommodation was on Lewis we only had short excursions to Harris, but I am determined to come back to have a closer look. :-)


Hushinish Beach

Hushinish Beach, Isle of Harris
Hushinish Beach, Isle of Harris

Hushinish Beach is located at the end of a spectacular 12 mile single track road - the B887. It runs right through the premises of Amhuinnsuidhe Castle which also offers accommodation (we only passed through). There are several hiking trails and if you are lucky you can see dolphins, seals, whales or eagles. If you dare you can also go for a dip... ;-)

 

You can find more information on the local fauna in the shed at the end of the B887. It also has maps, showers, restrooms and waste containers.

 

As you can see in my photo we had quite rainy conditions so the stunning turquoise of the water was not really visible. However, l think it might give you an idea what the place looks like in bright sunshine. 


Luskentyre and Seilebost Beach

View towards Luskentyre, Isle of Harris
View towards Luskentyre, Isle of Harris

Luskentyre and Seilebost Beach are located opposite each other in a bay. They are both considered two of the world's top ten beaches. You can reach them via a beautiful single track road.

 

Another big rain shower sent us running for our car rather than spending more time taking photos...

A good excuse to return! ;-)

Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris
Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris

Horgabost, Borve, Traigh Lar uand Scarista Beach

View towards Scarista Beach
View towards Scarista Beach

As mentioned before, we only spent a short time on Harris mostly driving from one beach to the other (ending at Scarista). Not enough time to visit and take a stroll on them all.

 

Harris, I'll be back! :-)


Isle of Harris Distillery

Isle of Harris Distillery, Tarbert
Isle of Harris Distillery, Tarbert

The Isle of Harris Distillery opened in September 2015 after musicologist Anderson Bakewell found a group of like-minded people who wanted to stop the growing exodus of young people and open up new perspectives for the island. The distillery started with 10 employees (now 40).

 

Besides Gin - in a beautifully designed bottle! - there will also be a whisky called "The Hearach" which was not yet available during our visit. The shop employee told me that the whisky is sampled shortly before Christmas every year to check whether it is ready to be filled into bottles. Let's hope there is still enough of it left in the casks when the time comes (if they don't stop tasting)...! :-)

 

The distillery is located right beside the port of Tarbert - a stone's throw from the ferry to/from Uig (Isle of Skye). If you still have some time to kill while waiting for the ferry, why not take a look?

 

There is also a Harris Tweed shop which - of course - I couldn't ignore... ;-)

If you like scented candles you can visit the "Essence of Harris" shop nearby (closed on Sundays).


Adieu, Harris - Ferry to Skye

Bye bye, Harris
Bye bye, Harris

For a change, we took the ferry from Tarbert (Harris) to Uig (Skye) rather than going back from Stornoway (Lewis) to Ullapool. We had a short stopover at Talisker Distillery - you can find a brief update in my blog post on the Isle of Skye.

 

We didn't stay on Skye overnight (simply because everything was fully booked), but went straight to Crieff which turned out to be a bit unfortunate as it's quite a long way to drive. We reached our accommodation very late at night.

 

The crossing was wonderfully smooth and we were able to see a pod of dolphins (as we already did on our way TO the islands) 

Hello, Uig
Hello, Uig

Stopover

East Gatehouse Lodge, Monzie Estate, Crieff

East Gatehouse Lodge, Monzie Estate, Crieff
East Gatehouse Lodge, Monzie Estate, Crieff

I accidentally stumbled over Monzie Estate holiday lets when I was surfing the web. We had originally booked the Millhouse B&B, but were asked to swap for the East Gatehouse Lodge. This former gatehouse is now converted into a holiday cottage sleeping four.

 

It has two bedrooms connected by a bathroom. The octagonal bedroom can be reached via the spiral staircase in the tower while the other bedroom is accessed via a staircase in the dining room. If you pass through the bathroom you can ascend one staircase and descend the other. ;-) The bathroom is equipped with an old-fashioned bathtub from the castle.

 

The octagonal living room, a shower room, a small (but fully functional) kitchen and the dining room are located on the ground floor.

 

I am not sure whether it was a mistake, statutory requirements or simply the "Scottish art of improvisation", but the shower had no rack for soap/shower gel and was so small that you had to open the door and get the stuff from outside (you also had to open the door if you wanted to put them on the shower floor)...! ;-)

As a guest you are allowed to access the castle grounds. However, we could only have a look at Monzie Castle from afar as there was a film crew shooting. Due to the great backdrop and the fact that a security guard made sure no-one got too close we joked that they were certainly shooting the new 007... ;-)

Monzie Castle, Crieff
Monzie Castle, Crieff

We just strolled about the rest of the premises and discovered a beautiful ruin which can surely be turned into something really nice...


Crieff

Crieff is the second largest city in the council area Perth and Kinross. It is an important market town formerly know for its cattle trade. Glenturret Distillery and the Famous Grouse Experience are within a short driving distance. I especially liked the food hall. On the ground floor, you can find decoration utensils, gifts, books and a café. The upper floor is a deli where we bought a huge - top-quality - BBQ pack for the price of 20 GBP. Yummy!

Photos by: Hans-Werner K.


We spent two nights in Crieff before going back home to Germany. :-(


Weather

The weather was quite unsettled at the end of August/beginning of September and it rained a lot. I still enjoyed it as places weren't too crowded. 


Looking forward to your comments

Have you been to the Outer Hebrides and which is your favourite island?


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