White Sands and Clear Blue Sea. The heat of the sun beating down on me. I swear I could have been in the Caribbean, but I wasn’t I was still in Scotland on the Isle of Harris. This was the next part of our Scottish Adventure. The beaches of Harris are world renowned they have always featured in articles and features about Scotland or the UK’s beauty. Luskentyre Beach is always featuring in top ten beaches in the world lists. After visiting I now see why!
We got the ferry to Tarbert from Uig in Skye. The ferry only takes 1hour 45 – enough time to watch the Wimbledon Final in the lounge. Perfect timing Federer! After getting to Tarbet we drove the 15 or 20 minutes down the sweeping landscapes to Horgabost Beach and Campsite which is where we were staying. The first thing that struck me about Harris is the landscape; the land is filled with Lewisian Gneiss – this is an incredibly rare stone that is said to be the oldest in the world. It makes Harris look a little bit like the surface of the moon.
Horgabost is a charity run campsite, it is situated right on the beach and was the perfect place to stay. There were clean toilets, showers, and a kitchen. The campsite relied on an honesty box which went straight back into redeveloping the site. It was worth the £9 per night for the views alone! We spent half a day on Horgabost beach; it was beautiful and relaxing and it was busy with locals and tourists alike!
Isle of Harris Distillery
We took a trip into Tarbert to visit the recently opened Isle of Harris Distillery. This is a community organisation, set up to provide stable employment to the people of Harris making both Gin and Whisky. In order to work here, you must already live on Harris. I am glad we booked on a tour because when we got to the distillery there was a sign saying that all the tours for the week were fully booked! The building is a beautifully designed space and is a perfect example of a modern distillery. The tour begins in a tasting room where the tour guide talked us through the tastes of their whisky. The whisky has not yet matured yet into a whisky and so we were able to taste the pure spirit that is created before the whisky went into the casks and then a whisky experts idea of what the whisky may taste like when it is ready. The second part of the tour took us up to another room where we were able to hear about the Isle of Harris Gin and its botanicals. Aside from the usual botanicals, Isle of Harris has the more unusual Sea Kelp in it, which is foraged from around the distillery. The bottle is such a beautiful design and has won various design awards. The bottle is a blue ombre glass with almost corrugated dimples around it to reflect both the sea and the Harris Tweed. It is not a smooth silhouette either to give the impression it has been washed ashore.
The next part of the tour was where we were given the opportunity to taste Jelly Beans of the main flavours of the whisky. This was the best touch! I loved it. Who doesn’t love Jelly Beans! We then got to see the actual distillation rooms and then the tour ended by seeing the warehouse that stores the whisky barrels, including one filled by Prince Charles. There is also a bottling plant so everything is done on site. The brand is growing and you can see it’s gaining in its popularity. I brought home a bottle which I am yet to open as it’s too pretty!
Tarbert is quite small, there are a few hotels and tea rooms for eating or grabbing a coffee in. I’ll talk about these later. I do recommend a trip to Buth Bheag Candles – these are locally made candles that all smell divine. I got the Horgabost, Seilibost and Huishnush tins. Along this street there are also a lot of nice wee shops that are worth a visit. In the town near the ferry port, there is also the Harris Tweed shop and warehouse. Which is, of course, a visit, although if you can it is worth shopping on the island to get the best prices for whatever you want. Remember this shop is the first shop tourists see when they leave the ferry.
We took a drive up to Stornoway, which is the main town on Lewis. Harris and Lewis are joined, they technically are one island but have two distinct personalities. Stornoway is a lot bigger than Tarbert. If you are in need of supplies this is where to go. There are a few supermarkets and plenty of shops. There is another Harris Tweed shop here – which although looks a lot fancier than the one in Harris, it’s actually cheaper! I got a few lengths of material in here, which I am yet undecided as to what to do with. Watch this space. We were in Stornoway the week before HebCelt Fest – which is an annual Celtic music festival. There was a great buzz about the town and I would perhaps come back to it.
We drove around Lewis, and to the Blackhouses. These were old thatched crofts that were inhabited up until the 1970s. Now they are preserved as a museum and hostel. We were there after hours so couldn’t go around the museum but we did peek into the windows and get some pictures. I’m not sure I would have fancied a thatched roof. After this we headed around to Callanish Stones – this is a group of standing stones. They are really impressive. Again, we were there after the museum had closed but they were impressive to walk around and see. The only issue seemed to be trying to get pictures without other people in it. Anyone who has a Bank of Scotland debit card will know that Callanish stones are the image on the debit card. I tried to line up my card with the stones to get a perspective picture, but then this American tourist was trying to work out what I was doing and I ended up in a conversation with him and forgetting to take a good picture. Also, I probably wouldn’t upload it as it has my bank details on it… Anyway pretty cool to put a place to a picture.
We ate out twice on the Island. The first night was in the Hebrides Hotel in Tarbet, this is right at the Harbour. This was on our first night on the island, when there was a slight confusion with the campsite and it was stressful so we decided to just eat out. There is a fancier restaurant in the hotel and there is the bar which serves more laid back (cheaper) meals. I opted for the Fish and Chips and shared this with my mum who had the Steak sandwich. Both were really good and fresh. The prices were quite reasonable and there was a nice atmosphere in the bar.
The second place we ate out was on our last day, we went to the Harris Hotel. This is on the way out of town. We sat outside as it was such a glorious day. The one thing I liked about the Harris Hotel was all the gins were the same price. So you could sample the locally produced Harris Gin for the same price as a more common gin. I opted for a soup and sandwich combo. If you’ve ever been out for a meal with me (I am assuming few of you have) but you can imagine it. I cannot say no to a soup and sandwich combo and it’s a bit of a petty irritant of mine if a restaurant sells Soup and Sandwiches and fails to create a combo deal. I digress. The soup was Cream of Onion and Cider, with dried mushrooms on top. I still dream about this soup. We have recently worked out that my memory is triggered by taste, I may not remember where I was, or who I was with but I will always remember what I ate. I thoroughly recommend the Harris Hotel if you visit Tarbet.
The thing is I could go on all day about how much I loved Harris. But it is true what they say and a picture does say a thousand words. Look at the stunning pictures! Put Harris on your Wanderlust list. It’s breathtaking.