All good things come to an end and so it was with my week in the Hebrides. Our boat left for Ullapool early afternoon so we spent the morning wandering round the ground of Lews Castle, visiting the very good small museum and “supporting the local economy”.
Lews castle overlooksStornoway from across the harbour, standing in its impressive grounds. It was built between 1844–51 as a country house for the drug baron Sir James Matheson, who had purchased the island a few years before. The Matheson family sold the estate, including the mansion tto Lord Leverhulme in 1918. William Hesketh Lever was a Bolton lad who, at one time, lived in the same street in Wigan where I used to live (not at the sme time, I would add!). But, that isn’t is main claim to fame! He founded the industrial giant, Lever Brothers, manufacturer of, what at the time was a revolutionary product, Sunlight soap. He was something of a philantropist and is well known for his Port Sunlight “model village” that he had built on the Wirral for workers at the company’s main production plant.
He had a grand plan for the Island, intending to industrialise and, as he saw it, modernise and bring the island into the 20th Century by reviving and modernising the fishing industry. However, the population, who were mainly crofters, didn’t wwant to become industrial “wage slaves” and resisted his plans. This, together with economic factors which led to a decline of the fishing industry, meant that he wasn’t able to realise his ambitious plans. The outcome was that, rather than sell it on to another landlord, Leverhulme gave the castle and his Lewis estates to the people of the Parish of Stornoway and in 1923 the Stornoway Trust was set up to manage the new public estate on behalf of the community.
Today Lews Castle and its grounds are open to the public. The Trust has also had a modern museum built which is attached to the main building, and the first floor has been converted into self catering appartments
The grounds are an outstanding example of a mid-to-late Victorian ornamental and estate landscape, with fine elevated views over Stornoway and beyond to the sea. Carriage drives and an extensive network of paths provide access through and around the grounds, creating numerous circuits and providing a variety of vantage points.
Rain was in the air, and I was keen to look around he modern museum so, after reviving ourselves with a coffee in the cafe, we took a look around the exhibitions which explored life on the Hebrides.
The star exhibit had to be the 6 Lewis chessmen, loaned to the museum by the British Museum
After looking round the museum and the ground floor of the house, with a couple of hours before the ferry was due to leave, it was time to have a look around the town centre shops. Stornoway is quite small and, although there were a number of shops catering to visitors, it isn’t particularly touristy. A few final purchases were made – I bought some cards by local artists, ideal for upcoming birthdays.
Then it was time to rejoin the minibus which was waiting in the queue for the ferry. We timed it well as the rain was coming in and not long after it started to absolutely chuck it down. We said our goodbyes to John, our guide, who was returning to his home in Marbhig, and we were joined by Mike, who was to drive us back to Inverness
It rained throughout the crossing so we stayed inside the boat, where we had a brew and a bite to eat and chatting until we reached Ullapool. It was then on to Inverness which took less than two hours. Four of our party were taking a train back to Edinburgh so they were dropped off at the station. That left three of us who were staying overnight in Inverness. Liz and Ria were staying in a B and B more or less round the corner from my lodgings in the Premier Inn, so we arranged to meet up for a last meal together.
Liz was on the same flight to Manchester as me so we arranged to take a taxi to the airport together and split the exorbitant fare. Initially we were told that the flight was delayed but it left on time and we actually arrived in Manchester early. We got through Terminal 3 without any trouble then said our goodbyes as we parted. I waited for me lift and arrived home in good time to catch the Challenge Cup semi final against our local rivals on the TV. It was a tight match but a good result! An ideal end to a great week.