An early breakfast on the Tuesday of my holiday in the Hebrides, before we were picked up for the drive to Uig to catch the ferry over to Tarbut on the Isle of Harris. We’d had two good days walking in (mostly) fine weather on Skye but now the skies had turned grey with rain in the air. It stayed changeable for the rest of the break.
Harris isn’t a true island as it’s part of the same land mass as Lewis. Harris occupies the more mountainous part of the island. In the past, travel between the two “islands” would have been difficult – even today there is only one road that connects them – and so there were effectively two communities isolated from each other.
The ferry took about 2 hours to sail across the grey seas of the Minch. We disambarked and then parked up. There had been a request by some of the party to call in at the Harris distillery and the Harris Tweed shop, both of which are by the ferry terminal, “to support the local economy” as Liz, one of our party, put it!
The Harris Distillery, which likes to call itself “The Social Distillery”, was founded in 2015 by a US-born musicologist, Anderson Bakewell. Intending to provide local employment it started off with a staff of 10 people and today employ almost 40 permanent staff. The aim is to create a Harris malt whisky, something that hasn’t been made legally on Harris before. The single malt will be bottled as The Hearach – the Gaelic name for an inhabitant of Harris – but as it needs time to mature in the cask it is not expected to be on sale for a few more years. In the meantime the distillery has produced Harris gin, for which they use nine botanicals, including local sugar kelp, that, we are told, ‘capture the elemental nature’ of the island. In it’s distinctive bottle it’s become quite a trendy tipple. I wasn’t buying as I was flying back to Manchester, but I had an idea for a birthday present…..
Shopping done it was back in the mini bus and then drove along the west coast of South Harris which is particularly noted for its beaches. We weren’t there to sunbathe – which is just as well given the grey skies and cool temperature – but to do some walking. The roads was narrow and mainly a single carriageway with passing places, but traffic was very light. We drove past the large beaches at Luskentyre and Seilebost and pulled into a layby just after Horgabost where we “disembarked” and crossed over the machair on to the sandy beach of Traigh Iar.
At the end of the beach we climbed a low hill up to the large prehistoric standing stone, known as the Macleod Stone. Erected about 4,500 years ago it stands 3 metres in a prominent location on the headland.
From the beach and the headland there were good views over the sea to the island of Taransay, Britain’s largest unoccupied island, about a mile off the coast, which was the location of BBC’s documentary series ‘Castaway 2000‘ .
We took a slightly longer route back to the minibus, with views over to Horgabost beach,
passing through a field of cows and their calves. One of the cows took a close interest in our party and get closer than comfort to some of the group.
We got back in the minibus and drove further down the coast road to the small settlement of Taobh Tuath (known as Northton in English) where we stopped at a “honesty shop” where we purchased some pasties and pastries for our dinner. We then set off on another walk over the machair towards the headland, crossing a couple more smaller, stunning sandy beaches
Our objective was a ruined late medieval chapel of Rubh’ an Teampaill.
There used to be a village here which the chapel would have “served”,. Another example of a Clearance settlement. The population were evicted in 18th Century.
Right next to the chapel there’s the remains of a Broch, an Iron Age round tower,
the stones of which were probably used in the construction of the medieval building.
Returning to the minibus we set off back to Tarbut where we had a table booked at the local hotel. To get there we took a diversion driving down the “Golden Road” that winds and twists between the rocks, lochans and rugged coastline on the eastern side of South Harris. It allegedly got its name because of the high construction cost. Before it was built there was no proper road on this part of the island and travel was difficult leaving the small settlements isolated from the rest of Harris. Many of the people evicted during the Clearance of the more fertile land on the west coast ended up here having to try a scrape a living on the barren rocky land.
Returning to the main road we stopped at a small gallery of the Hebridean Design Company near Tarbut, owned by Doug, a friend of our guide, where we were able to reinvigorate ourselves with a coffee. The gallery specialises in artistic glassware and rather original designs embroidered onto Harris Tweed. More “supporting the local economy” was in order!
Back in Tarbut we enjoyed a meal at the Hotel Hebrides Restaurant before returning to the minibus and driving along the spine road, across the mountains, onto Lewis and onwards to it’s capital Stornoway where we were staying for the second half of our trip.