Nis Plus: Lewis and Harris

The day started with the attack of the otters (based on best guess and large scrape marks) which seemed to have a taste for bacon butties. They left the sausages and scotch pancakes, which luckily gave us something else to eat for breakfast. I always felt sorry for Tarka, but now I have some sympathies for Deadlock, the Otterhound.

The thing that ate the bacon

Nice morning, though the wind had dropped enough for the midges mentioned in the camp logbook to descend, though compared with Glencoe they were pretty mild and only slightly above the 1 level on the Midge Forecast. Anyway the MSR took out a few of them, with the sausages and poached eggs.

Then set off for a tour of Lewis and Harris. North Harris must be one of the most rugged places in Britian, which some of the oldest rocks in the world. The road towards Stornoway heads up over the pass with some newly laid tarmac (which is sure to attract the attention of Clarkson, May and Hammond at some point.

Over into Lewis, and the scenery changes to become flatter and more open and desolate, though the villages strung out along the road reminded me of the west Wales valleys to some extent. The headed out west towards Calanish and the coast, meeting a Stig-a-like biker throttling the life out of a Honda CG125.

The stone circles at Calanish are probably the biggest tourist draw on Lewis and are in a fabolous setting overlooking some small lochs.


A few people around, though Roger bumped into a guy from Sun (who spotted the Red Hat cap). Like others he was doing an island hopping tour and saw us a couple of days back in the Talisker distillery. We also continued to see (twice) the yellow VW camper we’d been following since Mallaig highlight the small number of tourists on the road up here in September. It was commented that if we were heading to Ness (or Nis in gaelic), the Sun guy would be going further to Nis plus….

Next stop was the Garennin black house village, with a number of restored buildings. There is a youth hostel there, one of 4 in the Hebrides run by the Gatliffe Trust . Its an excellent building with probably around 14 beds and a pretty good kitchen.

The bottom of the village overlooked a small bay, and sitting on the seat like Foggy, Compo and Clegg the subject somehow got onto James Bond films. That Matt was able to compare the car chase in Casino Royale (all 30 seconds of it before the Aston is totalled) with the Withdrawal Method is still somewhat baffling but kept us amused until we found our way to the excellent cafe there.

Black House Village

A nice lunch, though somewhat spoilt by the couple who insisted on playing Radio 4 very loudly from their camper van the previous night, but enhanced by the excellent scones and friendly staff. I’d thought I’d check with Calmac on the Leverhulme to Berneray ferry for tomorrow. Lucky I did, as not only was it compulsory reservation (didn’t say that in Mallaig), they’d also got the date wrong on the Castlebay -> Oban crossing. By a week.

Then in still really nice weather, off to Nis and the Butt of Lewis, which was a fair trek past the crofting communities of the west coast. You can tell their commitment to their religion and the Free Church of Scotland (the Wee Frees) just by the densisty of churches and the large size of the carparks. Much of the Hebrides (about from Catholic South Uist and Barra) is strict Sabbatarian; not a lot happens on Sundays.

The Butt of Lewis was more impressive than Ardnamurchan point, as the lighthouse was taller and the cliffs bigger. Matt decided not to follow Roger’s and my example and park the bikes right at the edge of cliff. Some great views back across the Minch and you see the whale back summit of Suliven over in Assynt. Place for a future trip.

Back across the peat bog that is the centre of Lewis towards Stornoway, which after a few days on the road in the Highlands and Islands is a little unsettling. Its a transported Glasgow commuter town and it seemed worlds away from Tarbet, only 40 miles away. Quick stop for petrol and off back south towards Harris.

Stopped for fish and chips at Ad’s Takeaway in Tarbet, which were excellent with that crunchy freshly cooked batter and great tasting cod. To be recommended. Then with the motel under refurbishment, we paid a visit to the inflatable pub in the car park. The girl behind the bar was very hopefully that the motel would be finished in the next 4 weeks, before the autumn gales took the pub and her with it out into the harbour. Plastic glasses only.

Tarbet, the inflatable pub

Watching the weather forecast on the BBC did prompt a decision, to head back to Horgebost and pack camp and head to the bunkhouse at Leverhulme. With an 08h30 start probably best to get going quickly and dry rather attempting to pack a wet tent. Being out and about and on the road makes you far more conscious of the weather than normal.

The Am Bothan bunkhouse was fairly full, but warm, well equipped and very dry. A chance to power up kit and pack up kit ready for the morrow. With the wind whistling around the building, its going to be an interesting day tomorrow.

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