I’ve wanted to visit the Scottish Islands for a long time but never got round to actually organising a trip other than an abortive visit to Arran which had to be cancelled due to an impending storm. But now I’ve got more time on my hands I decided I really ought to sort something out. One of the problems was deciding where to start – which islands should I visit, where should I go and what should I do when I got there and where should I stay? To resolve these questions I took inspiration from John, the husband of Anabel the Glasgow Gallivanter, who had joined an organised cycling trip along the length of the Outer Hebrides. So I looked at the available options and booked a week’s walking holiday on Skye, Harris and Lewis with Hidden Hebrides, who specialise in small group trips. They organised everything (except my journey too and from Inverness where the group gathered to be transported to Skye) – transport, accommodation, meals and routes – which really took the stress out of the holiday and meant I could really relax and enjoy myself. The only thing they couldn’t organise, of course, was the weather and as this was the Hebrides we had a mixture of brilliant sunshine, wind and rain! There’s a lot to write up about this trip so this post will provide a quick overview.
I’ve never done a group holiday before so was a little worried about whether I’d be the odd one out and whether I’d get on with the other people in the group, but there were no problems. There were only 7 of us (the maximum on Hidden Hebrides holidays is 8) and we all had something in common – a love of walking. There were 2 Scottish couples who were close friends but this didn’t create any difficulties. The other two members of our party, were like me, solo travellers – one Dutch and one Brit who had, until recently, lived in Manchester. Everyone mixed and gelled very well.
I travelled up to Inverness by train – An Avanti Pendolino to Edinburgh where I transferred to the Scotrail train to Inverness. It was a full day journey and the second leg took longer than the first, but that was compensated by the excellent views out of the window as we made our way relatively slowly with regular stops via Perth and then through the Cairngorms.
A slight delay meant I arrived in Inverness just after 5 pm. I checked in my hotel – the Premier Inn beside the river Ness – and, as it was a beautiful evening – took a walk along the river to the Ness Islands before my evening meal.
The next day wasn’t so nice. It was a grey start with rain promised and the latter started as I made my way to the station to join our guide and the rest of the group.
After the introductions we loaded our gear into the mini-bus and set off on the road to Skye. The rain got heavier and heavier during the journey which took us along the banks of Loch Ness (no monster seen – the weather was far too miserable so it must have stayed down in the depths of the loch!) and then on to the Kyle of Lochash where we crossed over the bridge onto the island. On the way, we stopped off at Eilean Donan to take in the view of the castle which has featured in films and TV programmes including the well known Highlander film while we ate our sandwiches. It’s very picturesque, even on a miserable day
After returning to the mini bus it was only a short drive before we were on the Isle of Skye where the weather continued to deteriorate until we were being battered by horizontal rain and strong winds.
We drove around for a while but the rain and low cloud meant there was little we could see of the the high mountains and the conditions were not conducive for enjoying a walk. Nevertheless, we managed to get out of the van for a walk on the Coral beach when the rain eased up. It wasn’t half windy though!
It was good to get out and stretch our legs and enjoy some fresh (and it was fresh) air and the scenery was pretty good, despite the conditions.
Returning to the van we drove over to our accommodation for the first 3 nights of our break. The group was split between two B and Bs and I had a room in the really excellent Ronan House, a real 5 star stay.
After we’d had time to settle in our Guide, John, returned to pick us up and with the rest of the group we drove over to Portree, the main town on the island, where we had a superb meal at the Cuchullin Restaurant on the main square.
After a good night’s sleep and an excellent breakfast, the early mist started to clear, promising a fine day – a complete change compared to when we arrived.
John, our Guide, who decided on the walking route depending on conditions, drove north from Portree, past the Old Man of Storr up to the Quairaing at the northern end of the Trotternish ridge. The circular walk is very popular which isn’t surprising due to the spectacular, rugged and dramatic scenery and the views, on a beautiful day, over to the Scottish mainland and the Western Isles.
After a drive round the northern coast we took a short walk to stretch our legs up the pretty, so called “Fairy Glen” near Uig.
In the evening we had another tasty meal in Dunvegan.
We were promised another good day on the Monday but it started out rather grey and chilly. We drove over to Broadford, where we picked up supplies, and then on to the Strathaird Peninsula. Our walk took us past historic Clearance villages, along a sea loch with views over to the islands of Eig and Rum, and then, just after the cloud cleared and the weather turned bright and sunny, as we turned a corner, we finally got a view of the magnificent Cuillin range of mountains.
We were back in Portree for our evening meal
before returning to the B and B. We had an early start the next day as we had to catch the ferry from Uig over to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.
The next three days would be spent on Harris and Lewis. Although nominally two “islands” they are actually part of the same land mass, which constitutes the 3rd largest island in the British Isles. Harris constitutes the mountainous southern part of the island with the larger Lewis being flatter (although not exactly flat!) and dominated by peat bogs.
The ferry took just short of 2 hours to reach Tarbet where we disembarked and made straight to the Harris Tweed and Harris Gin outlets which other members of the group were keen to visit to “support the local economy”. After they’d spent their money (!) we set out to visit the renowned beaches of the western coast.
After a drive along the dramatic twisting and turning “Golden Road” on the eastern side of the island – so called because of the cost involved in its construction – and a meal in Tarbert, we drove down the spine road over to Stornoway, the main town on the island, on Lewis where we settled in to our accommodation for the next three nights. Not as fancy as Ronan House, my room was well appointed and comfortable.
The next day we drove through the rain over the peat bogs to the west of the Island and the remote settlement of Uig (same name as the port on Skye) with it’s magnificent beach where the renowned Lewis Chessmen were discovered.
We parked up near the small Abhainn Dearg Distillery and then set out in the rain for a walk along the dramatic cliffs nearby. Fortunately the rain eased off early in our walk.
Returning to our starting point we left our packs in the van. We then set off for a walk across the beach while John drove over to meet us at the other end .
The weather forecast for the next day wasn’t at all promising so no long walks were planned. During the morning, one of the highlights of the tour, was a visit to Marbhig, a crofting village in the South Lochs region of Lewis. Our guide, although British and from the flat lands of Peterborough, had married a local woman and lived on a croft in the village. As we took a walk around the village he explained about the crofting system, the way of working the land, how peat was cut for fuel, the history of the Clearances and the Pairc area crofts. A real inside view.
During the afternoon we drove over to the other side of the island to visit the Neolithic Callanish Standing Stones
We had another half day in Stornoway before catching our ferry back to te mainland. We spent it exploring the grounds of Lews Castle, a Victorian Neo-Gothic Stately Home built for James Matheson who owned the island, which overlooks the town
and then visiting the excellent little museum where there were a small number of Lewis Chessmen displayed, which are on a long term loan from the British Museum.
After a visit to the shops in town to “support the local economy” we made our way to join the minibus ready for the ferry journey over to Ullapool on the mainland.
Then we drove back to Inverness for the end of the holiday. The 4 Scots were dropped off at the station to catch their train to Edinburgh while the rest of us were taken to our respective accommodation. We were all staying close to each other so decided to meet up for a final meal.
As there were engineering works on the railway I’d booked a flight back to Manchester from Inverness. This had the advantage of allowing me to return home for the Challenge Cup semi final when we were playing our old “enemy” Saint Helens. I shared a taxi with Liz, who was booked on the same flight. Despite a message to say the flight was going to be delayed we actually left on time and arrived ahead of schedule in Manchester! I said goodbye to Liz and waited for J to pick me up and drive me home. I arrived in good time for the match which, after a nail biting second half, we won!
I’d really enjoyed the holiday. The weather had been mixed, but this was the Hebrides. (I’ve heard that it rains on Harris and Lewis 2 days out of 3!).
I hadn’t done as much walking as I’d hoped, partly due to the weather but also the preferences of the whole group had to be considered. But I had a good time, had seen some magnificent scenery, visited some historic monuments, learned about the history of the islands . I’d enjoyed having some company, making a change from my usual solo walks and trips. I’d definitely consider booking another guided small group walking holiday, probably with Hidden Hebrides (I’d certainly recommend them to anyone considering a walking trip on the Scottish Islands). I quite fancy the Shetlands next!
Well, this has been quite a long summary. Despite that, I’ve a lot more I want to write up to record my memories. So more posts to follow!