I’m just back from a wonderful trip to the Outer Hebrides. My other half and I hired a vintage VW camper, affectionately called ‘Nora’, and spent a week exploring Harris and Lewis.
Harris and Lewis are two places on the same island, though each with their own distinct character. The island is often missed out in travel guides, with Skye generally stealing the show. I was recommended to visit by a colleague when I told him I liked beaches, and whilst the beaches did not disappoint, there is a lot more to love about this beautiful part of the world. In no particular order…
1. The scenery
I’ve never taken so many photographs of one place in my life. Everywhere you go you feel you’ve ventured into some sort of David-Attenborough-style, dramatically beautiful, remote corner of the world. There aren’t many people around, so it is possible to feel completely ‘off the grid’ and get lost in the absolutely stunning outdoors. Several nights were spent just peacefully watching the sunset over the sea. If you, like me, have a hectic lifestyle, this is the place to be if you need some perspective, peace and tranquillity.
2. The Beaches
I know this is also ‘scenery’, but the beaches need their own mention. If you fancy yourself sinking your toes into white sand, sipping a local beer and staring out at a turquoise sea – head to the west side of Harris. ‘Horgabost’, ‘Seilebost’, ‘Scarista’, ‘Luskentyre’ and ‘Hosinis’ have to be up there with the most gorgeous beaches in the world. You could be in Greece – just with fewer people, and slightly less predictable weather…
3. Rogue sheep
The sheep definitely think this island is theirs (and I have to say it seems there are more sheep than humans, so, fair enough). They found their way to all sorts of insane places, and we often found ourselves giving way to them crossing the road.
4. The people
Everywhere we went people were so welcoming and friendly! Almost everyone we met would stop to have a chat with us. All seemed (rightfully) proud of where they live; and were happy to give you a hand with places to go or things to do.
5. The history
There is no shortage of culture or history here. Lewis Castle, found in Stornoway, has a great exhibition which provides insight into the history, culture and way of life of the islanders. This is a great place to start if you want to get an idea of the world you’ve come to. The history dates back to Viking times, with many place names being Viking in origin. Over the years the islanders have always been connected to the world by the sea, exporting goods globally. The notion that this community is in some way cut-off from the rest of the world is definitely quashed by this museum.
You may have heard of a little show called Outlander? Well, the real-life version of the stones are found in Lewis: The Callanish stones date back 5000 years and are a fascinating historical landmark. There are other stone circles situated throughout the region; the origins of all of them remain a mystery.
6. The Food and Drink
Since we had Nora and were wild camping, we mostly made our own food. However, we had a taste of what the island has to offer from the Temple Café; a very homely family run café on the west of Harris serving delicious fresh food and great coffee. They also do a very tasty pizza take-away on Fridays: we had ours sat overlooking Scarista beach, listening to the waves.
Check out the ‘Eat Drink Hebrides Trail’ – a self-guided journey for visitors to trying the local produce; think fresh seafood and venison.
Also, not to be forgotten – the award-winning Harris Gin. The distillery is in the town of Tarbert and there are tours for £10 per person, or you can just taste a wee tipple for free! Infused with sugar kelp, it is quite unique in flavour and well worth a try.
7. The Wildlife
There is an abundance of wonderful sea-life to be seen around the Outer Hebrides. We took a trip out to the stunning Shiant Isles with Stornoway Seafari, where we were lucky enough to see white-tailed eagles, dolphins, seals and puffins. There are lots of boat tours around, so plenty of opportunity from other parts of the island if you’re not visiting Stornoway.
We had a great time on this trip and will definitely be going back. You can take the ferry crossing from Skye, or from the mainland at Ullapool. Alternatively you can fly into Stornoway. I would recommend camping/caravanning as the best way to experience the Harris – having the van gave us the freedom to explore and find incredible spots to set up camp, and I thoroughly recommend Harris Classic Campers. There are of course some hotels and B&Bs available, if this is more your thing. Either way, expect to feel truly ‘away from it all’ in this pretty remote but very special place.