Since we started the B&B over three years ago, a number of our guests have either travelled to or travelled from the Outer Herbrides or Western Isles. The northernmost headland of the islands, Lewis and Harris, make up the largest island in Scotland and are renowned for their contrasting landscapes and attractions. Harris is characterised by high mountains and beautiful white beaches and Lewis, although with mountains in the south and some beautiful beaches dotted around the coastline, is comparatively flatter but is a land which is steeped in history and culture, going back thousands of years.
In autumn last year, we took the opportunity to see for ourselves what Lewis and Harris had to offer. We set sail from the village of Uig on Skye (a 20 minute drive from the B&B) to Tarbert on Harris, eventually locating ourselves in a tiny village in the South Lochs or Pairc area of Lewis.
View from the our bedroom window at South Lochs
As we did not have enough time to see all the places of interest recommended in the guidebooks and the internet, we decided to concentrate our first day on the attractions strung out along the north west coast of Lewis.
The first place we decided to visit was the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. Although people have lived in the west coast of Lewis since the iron age, the cottages in this ‘modern’ settlement only date back to the late 1800. However, they still provide a valuable insight into how people lived in this beautiful but harsh environment. The village also offers a wide range of accommodation from 2 star group accommodation to 4 star family cottages.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village
The visit to Gearrannan whetted our appetite for our next place of visit, the magnificent Standing Stones of Callanish (or Calanais, which is the Gaelic version). The Stones are renowned for being one of the most spectacular megalithic monuments in Scotland. However, upon our arrival at the site visitor centre, we were surprised to learn that there are over 20 cross-shaped settings of standing stones in the area, all erected by a bronze-age society about 5000 years ago.
Standing Stones of Callanish
The most famous monument in the area is Calanais I, a complex arrangement of some 50 stones. At it’s heart is a circle of 13 stones between 8 and 13 feet tall. The tallest stone at the site lies within this circle and is 16 feet high and weighing about 5.5 tonnes. Looking north from the main circle is an avenue formed by a double row of stones, while single rows of stones extend east, west and south from the main circle. It is believed the unique and fascinating collection of lines relate to lunar phenomena.
Feeling that we had been suitably educated for the day, we decided to head to some of the famous beaches in this area of the island. The first beach we visited literally left us speechless. Uig Bay (or Camas Ùig in Gaelic) is best known as the place where the Lewis Chessmen were discovered following a storm in 1831. They are 12th century chess pieces (of Nordic origin) made of walrus ivory and are currently exhibited in the British Museum in London and at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Large scale replica of King Chessman guarding Uig Bay
We were, however, left breathless with the size and scale of the beach at Uig. We walked for miles on the pristine sand along the coastline and towards the sea. It felt like we were miles away from anyone and anything.
Out last port of call on our fleeting visit to the north-west coast of Lewis was to Bostadh Beach. Located on the island of Great Bernera it is easily accessible by road and bridge and again provides a glimpse back in time with a recently restored iron age mill, which like the Chessmen, was unearthed in a storm as recent as 1993.
Iron Age Mill
Now, when you notice the lack of descriptive text for the second part of our trip to Harris, you may think I am being biased towards Lewis. However, this is definitely not the case, in fact, I felt that Lewis needed a little extra help advertising itself. You will understand what I a mean when you see the following photographs.
When the sun shines on Harris there is no better place to be in the world. Kasia and I were just saying that if the island was just a bit closer to civilisation we would definitely retire there, in a cosy, wee cottage beside one of the beaches.
Finally, on the last night of our visit to the island, we were blessed with a spectacular display of the Northern Lights. We have managed to see the ‘Lights’ a few times since we moved to the north of Scotland but this was certainly the most active and colourful display we have seen to date. An amazing parting gift from the island which has made us even more keen to return and spend more time experiencing the sights and sounds of this unique and inspiring land.