For over 35 years I have been flying to Europe and my usual first glimpse of land after passing over the North Atlantic has been the north-west coast of Scotland. One spring, in June, we had planned another sojourn to Africa that died due lack of funding. With a month of vacation pending and no project in mind, over breakfast one morning my “better half” (bless her heart for understanding) suggested I might like to try somewhere else other than Africa. She reminded me that, after every European flight, I’ve always wondered out loud (concerning the Hebrides Islands) just what was down there and who would live in what appeared to be such a desolate spot. Her comment - ""why not go and find out". She expressed no desire to accompany me when I asked but also suggested that it might be better if I got out of her hair rather than moped about the house for three weeks. I accepted the suggestion forthwith.
And so to the internet. It took less than 25 minutes to arrange a flight to London, a commuter flight to Glasgow and then on to Stornoway, a rental car at the Stornoway airport, and a hotel room in what I thought was the most remote outpost on the island of Lewis (the northern most island in the Hebrides chain). It took an additional hour to pack a suitcase, load up my camera gear and be on my way. Less than 24 hrs later I wheeled into the car park at the Doune Brae’s hotel, village of Carloway, on the western coast of Lewis.
What a treat !! Trust me …. I’ve stayed in some pretty dingy digs over the years but this little treasure in Carloway is beautiful. It’s basic mind you, but that’s okay! Clean as a whistle and the service is excellent. Breakfast is included and free parking, all for less than it would cost to park your car in London. I immediately decided that day trips away would be ideal and I used the hotel as my base of operations for the rest of my stay on the islands.
The Hebrides are marvelous. Being fairly far north in latitude .. in June the sun sets late and rises early .. so I was usually awake around 4:00 am and could still read a book by window light at 9:30 in the evening. This provided me the opportunity to go for long walks along the cliff sides and across the moors before breakfast. Clean air, no sound of traffic, just the wind in the hair and sound of sheep and birds in the distance mixed with the ever present Atlantic breakers crashing into the bottom of the cliff-sides. Quite idyllic actually.
Driving took a little bit of getting used to (it’s not the fact that it’s right hand drive) as the locals have an odd way of using their limited “highway” system – it’s single lane for the most part – and people drive as if it’s the M-1 ( see the photos dealing with passing places). You have to learn the local protocol.
The language of choice is still Gaelic although everyone speaks English as well and it makes for an interesting mix in the local pubs when debates break out – and good discussions are always in evidence. The people are friendly to a fault and really seem to appreciate it when you ask about them and what it’s like to live in that area of the world. I had many a wonderful conversation during my travels simply by asking “what’s it like”?
There are many archeological sites that the universities in Scotland are excavating or restoring. Some date back to 1500 B.C. There is also a restored village (Blackhouse village) that used to be occupied by share-croppers and peat cutters until as recently as 1970. The government moved them into more permanent (acceptable) accommodations around then but it does give you a good idea of how life was lived back in those days. From what I was able to see the islands seem to have been inhabited for the past 3500 years or more, by one group of people or another (Vikings, Celts, etc. etc.).
The topography is mostly rock and peat bog with some great moors thrown in besides. The shoreline is characterized by huge cliffs separating some of the nicest North Atlantic beaches I’ve seen in a long time; very reminiscent of the shore of Newfoundland and the Maritime provinces.
The main town of Stornoway is not small but is certainly not large. It leaves you with a sense that it is quite cozy, warm and friendly. It has only one ferry dock but does have a plethora of pubs (at least one on every block). A couple of major downtown streets and a smallish castle overlooking the whole works finishes off this picturesque little seaport.
The photos provided will give you a good idea of what is there. If you’re looking for a quiet time away and to be among friends, then I heartily recommend going for a week or two, in the summer months of course (June or July). Other times of the year, it gets pretty stormy, cold and damp.
Enjoy the trip.