As much as I have loved travelling to far-flung places, I’m lucky to have so much wonderful scenery on my doorstep. Living in the West of Scotland means being just a short journey from the beauty of the Highlands and Islands.
Much of the West Coast and the far North West of Scotland has scenery to rival anywhere. It lacks the jaggy, snow-capped peaks of higher mountain ranges but the views from the munros and the serenity of the glens is unsurpassed at times. Be it in the rare, scorching sunshine or on a grey misty day, there’s an atmosphere about this part of the world that is hard to beat.
The Scottish islands take this seclusion and peacefulness to another level. While Skye is getting busier with tourists, a journey slightly further out to the Western Isles is very different. On a family holiday to North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist when I was a kid, and I remember the bleakness felt on walks through what seemed like miles of heather and peat bogs (usually to find a loch for fishing), and recall it feeling like it was genuinely the middle of nowhere – in perfect isolation. Back then, the story was that you couldn’t even hang washing out on a Sunday in the islands. They lived, let’s say, a more traditional way of life as the norm and it was very different from the central belt of the mainland.
In November 2018, we decided to jump on a plane and take the short flight from Glasgow to Stornoway. The early-morning Logan Air flight was quiet, easily managed by one cabin crew member, and it was still fairly dark when we landed. I love arriving at little airports like the one in Stornoway. It’s similar to the times I’ve visited the likes of Kiruna, Ilulissat, Qaanaaq – there’s a simplicity and efficiency at the smaller airports which makes everything seem so straightforward. The crowds from the incoming flights disperse in no time and it’s back to being so quiet.
We had a house around 20 minutes west of Stornoway for a few days. It was incredibly peaceful, had a great log fire to keep the place warm and had fantastic views across a couple of lochs, catching the sunrise and sunset perfectly. Even if we had a few dark days of miserable weather, this would have been a cosy place to stay and unwind. But, fortunately, we ended up enjoying a bit of summer in November. In fact, on one day, Lewis was the warmest place in the UK, peaking at a positively searing 15C.
The islands are easy to get around but it needs a car. Many of the roads are the narrow, one-lane tracks but it’s far from driving along dirt trails or farm roads. In the few days we had, it was ample time for a couple of road trips to see the southern parts of Harris, the western parts of Lewis, and a short drive north.
When I say we were fortunate with the weather, it really couldn’t have been any better, and even more welcome given the time of year and the shorter days. Setting off early to head south one morning, we past some perfectly still lochs with morning mist still hanging over them, quite atmospheric, before an awesome sunrise kicked off as we continued down the road. South of Tarbert, there’s a long loop road around the southern part of the island around which we saw some awesome scenery under the blue sky.
The beaches around this area are spectacular. Scotland has some of the best beaches you’ll ever see – beautiful blue sea, golden sand, lovely backdrops. They would often have to be enjoyed in conjunction with the grim Scottish weather, but when the sun is out they are amazing places. Around here, you might even spot the beach cows…
Another day out took us west, taking the turn off before Callanish and continuing along the road to Mangersta. Again, the drive and the views along the way were just awesome and the weather was spot on. We stopped off at Mangersta for a while and negotiated a walk across a particularly boggy field to the sea cliffs. I love watching big waves coming in – I could sit there and watch them for hours – and it’s even better when there’s some rugged coastline for them to endlessly crash against. This was a great spot.
Just as the sea cliffs were coming into view, two of the biggest swells I’ve ever seen were heading towards the coastline in the distance. The cliffs at this point are huge, and the swells were so big they almost engulfed the coastline – absolutely immense. The others following for the next hour or so didn’t quite live up to those two, unfortunately, but it was a great place to sit in the sun for a while.
Our days on the islands were simple: up for sunrise, out for scenery during the day, and in with the fire roaring in the evenings. Perfect. Maybe it was the time of year, maybe it’s not an area which attracts many visitors, but either way this visit to Lewis and Harris was wonderfully quiet and peaceful. It’s a stunning part of Scotland.
Whenever I’m asked about suggestions for a short trip to Scotland, I mention a fairly easy few days from Edinburgh, north through Perthshire and the Cairngorms to Inverness, down past Lochs Ness and Lochy to Fort William and down to Glasgow. With an extra couple of days, include a trip to Skye. That’s a whistle-stop tour of the two big cities, parts of the Highlands, the tourist draw of Loch Ness and its legends, plus Ben Nevis, Glencoe and Loch Lomond.
But there are so many other parts of Scotland that are well worth visiting. The far north of the mainland is so picturesque, and weeks exploring the back of beyond in the Highlands (get the walking boots on!) wouldn’t be enough. With enough time available, the islands are a must-see, and Lewis and Harris is up there with the best the country has to offer.