two names = one island
It may be confusing but Lewis and Harris - oart of the Outer hebrides or Western Isles are in fact one island. it is the greatest land mass of the Western Isles and the gaelic spoken differs in the two parts of the island. The administrative centre and largest town is Stornoway in the north and it is there you will have to do any shopping you need.
Some of the best beaches in the world can be found on Lewis. This can be the best way to spend a Sunday when everything is closed. Try my favourites:
Traigh Mhor (Tolsta) has good surfing and is 2km long. It's perfect for running on in low tide.
Traigh Ghearadha (Tolsta) has interesting rock formations and tunnels at the south end.
Bosadh (Great Bernera) has lovely soft sand is great for kids. It's popular with locals.
Traigh na Beirigh (near Bhaltos) has a good camp/caravan site.
With a population of over 6,000 Stornoway (or Steornabhagh in Gaelic) is the largest town on the Western Isles.
Most of the guidebooks I read (well, 2 of them) were quite disparaging about Stornoway, bemoaning the bland grey architecture typical of the town, and the fact there simply isn't much for the visitor to see.
For my part I have to say I found it a pleasent enough place, and if you visit Lewis you're bound to come here, either because you've arrived here on the ferry or plane, or simply you need to come here to pick up supplies, hire a car or whatever else.
There a few "sights", though the guidebooks have it right in so much as they're nothing much to write home about. There's a museum, castle (though you can't actually go inside) and erm...a few shops and pubs.
The Western Isles
After a weekend family get together near Blackpool, We headed up towards Oban on monday and arrived there in the early afternoon. We found a lovely little hotel on the seafront and booked in for two nights. We went into the town centre and booked a trip to the Isle of Mull, Iona and Staffa for the next day. Then after a look around the shops we went to get our dinner. I had been in Oban before and knew where to go for a good meal. We had decided that we wanted haggis that evening and quite by chance it was the special and half price that day. It was very tasty and very spicy. By the time we had finished our dinner it had started to rain but we were soon back in the hotel. The next day we woke up to very heavy rain and we had to walk to the ferry terminal for the ferry to Mull (there were no parking places near the ferry). The trip to Mull took 40 minutes and there was a bus waiting for us. That took us across the island to the ferry landing place for the little ferry to Iona. The driver/guide on the bus was very good telling us a lot about the islands nature and history and about life on the little island. The crossing to Iona only takes minutes but by the time we got to Iona it was dry and sunny. We had two hours to explore the tiny island of Iona and to see the cathedral there. Iona is known as the cradle of Christianity as St. Columba went there from Ireland and started to write the "Book of Kells" there. It was from Iona that Christianity spread through England and Scotand. We had seen the "Book of Kells" in Dublin so it was good to visit the place it was started. Then it was time to get the tiny boat which was to take us to the Isle of Staffa and one of the highlights of our trip - Fingels Cave. The trip planned in an hour on the island which would give you the chance to walk through the cave. Unfortunately, although we got very close to the cave mouth and could take some lovely photos of it, the sea was too rough for us to land.
So instead of our walk through Fingels Cave the captain took us on a trip through the tiny group of islands known as the Treshnish islands. They are all tiny dots of land inhabited only by sea birds and lots of Atlantic Grey Seals. We had wanted to see Fingels Cave because the composer Mendelssohn visited it and later wrote a piece of music about it
which we love. We were not too bothered about missing a walk through the cave because we loved seeing the seals which we would
have missed had we gone onto Staffa. After our trip to the Treshnish we went back to Mull where the bus was waiting for us. The trip back to the Oban ferry took us around the other side of the island. We got back to Oban just after 8 and then had dinner before going
back to the hotel. The next day we set of north again , this time heading towards the Isle of Skye. Again we had showers all day, but
fortunately when we wanted to be out of the car it was dry. We had a good view of Ben Nevis its top covered in snow while we were having our picnic lunch. We crossed over the bridge to Skye early afternoon. The last time I was on Skye you had to take a ferry. We stopped for the in the biggest town on the island - Portree. The next day we had showers again when we went exploring Skye. We
visited Dunvegan Castle which is the ancestral home of the clan Mcleod, that was very interesting. After lunch that day we went to
Uig to book our ferry trip across to the Island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, We wanted to go the next day but that ferry was fully
booked, so we decided to go the same evening. There are only two ferries each day (none on sundays). That was no problem but it
gave us 3 hours to finish exploring Skye. Knowing shops were few and far between on the islands we got our lunch for the next day before we caught the ferry.
The crossing to the Outer Hebrides takes about two hours and that gave us time to have a dinner on board. We like to take a picnic lunch each day as it means we are really free to go where we choose the whole day and if we see a nice place we can stop and lunch there. Anyway on the islands there are just no restaurants around -a couple in Stornaway which was quite a way from where we were! Found a lovely bed and breakfast place with a view over a sea loch. Spent the next day exploring Harris which is lovely in a strange way. It is a moon land-scape with no trees and very little grass. It is very rocky with 100's of lochs and little patches of heather. Some of the beaches have beautiful pearl white sand and clear blue sea. It was a lovely sunny day so if
you imagined a couple of palm trees you could have been on a troical island. The next day was not so sunny when we headed on to
Lewis. It is strange - it is one island divided into two parts known as Harris and Lewis and they are so different. Harris with its moonlike landscape and Lewis greener and more inhabited. Mind you there is only one town - Stornaway. The two small communities are very strict church people and everything closes on saturday evening until monday morning. You cannot get off the island on sunday and apart from one Indian restaurant there is nowhere to eat out on sunday. All museums and the few shops there
are closed. We had our picnic ready and spent the day exploring the very north of the island. There is also a ring of standing stones which are 4,000 years old which we visited.
We left Harris and Lewis on the tuesday travelling on by ferry to our next three islands - North Uist, South Uist and in between them the tiny island of Benbecula. We had a ferry from Harris (two hours) to North Uist but the three islands are then linked by narrow little causeways. Harris and Lewis are quiet but on these three islands you go back 50 years.
No shops of any size -everything has to be ordered by mail order, all food is bought on main land of Scotland and frozen, the only
coffee shops are in the couple of small hotels , nothing to do in the evening (not that Koos and I look for that). We stayed two nights in the original school building on North Uist which is a protected building and cannot be altered on the utside. We had a long walk one day and visited a burial site with burial cairn from the bronze age. Two whole days on the islands was time enough to see all we wanted.
From North Uist we took the ferry back to Skye where we stayed the night before going along Loch Ness to Inverness. We didn't see the monster, in fact we hardly saw the loch because of mist. Had an afternoon shopping in Inverness and then stayed near Culloden that night. We then visited Culloden battlesite the next day. It was there, in 1745, that Bonny Prince Charley fought the English and lost . From there we headed south through central Scotland . We took three days to travel down to the city of Stirling, there we visited the William Wallace monument. William Wallace is Scotlands hero who was filmed in "Braveheart". We had
planned to visit another English/Scottish battlesite - Bannockburn - there as well, but rain made us decided against it. So we travelled on down to my parents in Crook (county Durham) one day earlier than planned and spent our last couple of days relaxing with them before going straight down to Folkestone and getting the tunnel home.
We arrived home just after midnight on the saturday, so that
gave us sunday to do the unpacking, washing and to relax before work on monday. It really was a marvellous holiday and although we did have some showers we really only had two really rainy days.