Hebridean Holiday

Having always wanted to visit the Outer Hebrides, I was delighted finally to organise a trip around these islands. We started the adventure by crossing to Skye. The weather was wild but by the time we reached Dunvegan Castle, the sun had come out to shine. This seat of the Chief of the Clan MacLeod dates from the 14th century and dramatically perches on the edge of Loch Dunvegan. Woodland, walled, water and round gardens were well worth a visit. A very late lunch at the beautifully located Stein Inn followed.

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The next stop was a visit to The Skye Shilasdair Shop on the Waternish Peninsula. The naturally dyed yarns were stunning and irresistible! Being unable to restrain myself, I purchased two skeins of beautiful Tansy Gold dyed Aran wool, and four skeins of sock yarn dyed using indigo and marigolds. A photo below shows Badger admiring my purchases.

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As we were catching the early ferry the next day, we stayed overnight on Skye. We decided to treat ourselves to a night in Flora MacDonald’s cottage on the Trotternish Peninsula. Flora helped Charles Edward Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, escape to France after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The beautiful cottage sits beneath the dramatic landscape of the Quiraing, a striking basalt escarpment.

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The next morning, we drove to Uig to catch the early ferry to Tarbet on the Isle of Harris. The downpour of rain of monsoon proportions made an interesting start to the day. As usual, the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry, MV Hebrides, was on time and offered an indoor seating area for Badger. Coincidentlly, the Skye Pipe Band were on the same ferry and treated the passengers and crew to an impromptu outdoor recital: a wonderful serenade across the Little Minch!

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Arriving early on Harris, and to take advantage of the sun making a second appearance, we decided to head up to Lewis and visit the Callanish Standing Stones, 15 miles west of Stornoway. The stones are believed to date from between 3800 and 5000 years ago. Overlooking Loch Roag, the stones of banded metamorphic gneiss are arranged around a central tall monolith.  It is a very special place with its own unique atmosphere.

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The next stop was a visit to a local Harris tweed weaver. Travelling to nearby Carloway, we visited the amazing Mr Norman Mackenzie. It was wonderful to be able to chat to him about the weaving process, discuss the similarities with non-electronic machine knitting and then purchase some of his beautiful fabric. Harris tweed is only produced by hand, using home-based weavers on Harris and Lewis. They purchase their wool from one of the three local mills, and weave it into fabric either 75cm or 150cm wide, choosing their own colours and designs on traditional looms. Metal “punchcards” determine the pattern.

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Finally, after a long day we headed to the Isle of Harris and to our cottage at Scarista. The scenery and sunset enroute were outrageously stunning, as hopefully shown in the photos below.

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The next day, being Sunday meant that most of the island was closed. This allowed for a walk around a very quiet Leverburgh harbour. The local RNLI lifeboat station set up in 2012 to cover the Sound of Harris had been exceptionally busy recently, due to this being one of the worst summers in more than ten years. Gorgeous cakes and coffee in The Temple Cafe at Northon followed.

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Walks on the beaches of Scarasta and Luskentyre took priority on the following days, between showers and full-blown Atlantic gales. Badger was definitely in his element here!  During one break in the storm, we took a trip over to the Isle of Scalpay to walk out to the Eilean Glas lighthouse over the old peat road, followed by a late lunch in the beautifully located Hebrides Art cafe.

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On the last day of the holiday, we took a tour around Harris visiting the lovely Skoon Art Cafe in Geocrab for lunch. Whilst the west coast features beautiful white sandy beaches and bracken covered hills, the east coast is a stark barren landscape. The small church of St Clements stands at the southern tip of Harris. Built in the 16th century, by Chief MacLeod of Dunvegan, it featured many amazing carved tombs and a tall tower that you can climb to view the surrounding scenery.

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So to summarise the week, the holiday met and exceeded all our expectations: dramatic scenery; (un)believable weather; wonderful, friendly people; lovely cafes with delicious cakes; and superb woolly opportunities!

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