Western Isles – part 1

Ravens Rock Gorge
Ravens Rock Gorge

This is possibly my most delayed post to date, but very much a worthwhile one covering a trip we took out to the Western Isles back in June.

We were due to set off from Ullapool by ferry to Stornoway on the Sunday and had a nice, leisurely journey over the to west coast. We stopped off for a walk at Ravens Gorge Walk near Rosehall, which was a really picturesque and quiet stroll. We then had a short time at Knockan Crag in the North West Highlands Geopark, which I’d seen before, but never stopped at. We made it to Stornoway with plenty of time for an ice cream before our ferry.

The new structure at Cailleach Head
The new structure at Cailleach Head

Our lighthouse bagging kicked off during this trip with views of the Rubha Cadail lighthouse at Rhue just to the north west of Ullapool. We also saw the structure at Cailleach Head, north west of Scoraig. We’d been informed about this lighthouse before by a friend of Bob’s who had explained that there had been a local campaign in the area when the old lighthouse was removed and replaced with one of the Northern Lighthouse Board’s ‘flat pack’ (as I call them) structures. The old lighthouse has since been rebuilt in Scoraig and is open for visitors. So that’s somewhere for us to go in the future! As we continued our journey to Stornoway there were plenty of scenic views of the countless islands on the way. There’s truly nowhere like the west coast of Scotland in the rest of the UK.

As we approached Stornoway we spotted Arnish Point lighthouse to the south of the harbour – more on this one later! Upon arrival we headed across Lewis to Cnip where we were setting up camp for the night. There was a beautiful beach next to the campsite and we enjoyed an evening stroll before bed.

sula sgeir
The beacon on Sula Sgeir

We had a long day lined up for Monday. Bob had arranged, in advance, for us to join a group on the Sea Harris boat from nearby Miovaig. The trip took us on a 3 and a half hour journey to Sula Sgeir. On the trip we saw Aird Laimisiadair on the west coast of Lewis from a distance as well as the Butt of Lewis lighthouse (more on that one to come too) on the very north tip of Lewis. Sula Sgeir has colonies of gannets and fulmar – as well as some puffins – at that time of year. We also got to see the beacon on the island, an interesting building unlike any I’ve seen before. It’s not a big island, but the quantity of birds flying around it or on the land itself would suggest otherwise!

North Rona lighthouse
North Rona lighthouse

From Sula Sgeir we then headed east to North Rona, which I was very much looking forward to as it has its own lighthouse and we – as well as the other boat on our trip – were the only ones due to be on the island. It took around 45 minutes to reach the island where we all climbed into RIBs to land on the rocks. From the rocks it was a fairly easy stroll up to the island high point (the reason everyone else was there) and the lighthouse. The sun had come out and we all happily wandered around in the sunshine, enjoying the remoteness of the island and sharing it with nothing but some sheep and birds (including some diving bonxies)! While Bob was there to reach the high point he was also more than happy to bag the lighthouse with me and fortunately these two objectives sit right next to each other. We were given a perfect length of time on the island and then enjoyed relaxing back on the boat, watching the seals in the water and eating ginger cake, while the RIBs returned everyone to the boats. We were then treated to a tour around the outside of the island before beginning the journey back. We returned back at Lewis late, but were in time to pick up a Chinese takeaway in Stornoway before heading to Harris (the smaller, southern section of the island) to set up camp in Horgabost ready for another adventure the following day.

The Pharos and Stornoway Coastguard helicopter
The Pharos and Stornoway Coastguard helicopter

Tuesday’s adventure yet again involved Sea Harris as we joined then for a scheduled trip out to St Kilda, which lies 41 miles (66km) west of the Outer Hebrides. For many this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but for Bob it was a fairly normal thing to do – being his fourth trip out there! We set off from Leverburgh that morning for a three-hour boat trip to the main island of Hirta. In comparison to the day before it felt relatively short! On our journey there we passed the North Lighthouse Board’s maintenance vessel, Pharos (which we had previously seen at Bell Rock), and witnessed the Stornoway Coastguard helicopter airlifting a member of staff from the ship. We also caught a glimpse of the lighthouse on Siolaigh island, part of the Monach Isles.

High street on Hirta
High street on Hirta

Just before we’d reached Hirta we had some stunning views of some of the other islands that make up St Kilda, such as Boreray with it’s head in the clouds. Hirta itself was also fantastic and Bob was keen to show me the view from ‘The Gap’ across to Boreray and the two sea stacks – the highest in the UK – next to it. Before this we listened to a short introduction to the island from the National Trust for Scotland team out there. The island seemed really busy in comparison to those we’d seen the day before! After enjoying the views across to Boreray for a while we headed back down to the old village, which was evacuated by its residents in 1930 after they made the massive collective decision to leave the island. Now the only permanent residents are the soay sheep who roam freely around the old blackhouses and not-so-old stone houses. We saw the graveyard, the old church and school room as well as the museum. We sat near the old gun, which has never been fired before and enjoyed the sunshine before heading back to the boat. There are no lighthouses on any of the islands of St Kilda, but there are a couple of leading lights at village bay on Hirta.

St Kilda
St Kilda

Before heading back to Harris, we were given a tour around the islands, seeing the highest sea cliffs in the UK, the islands of Soay and Boreray, as well as Stac Lee and Stac Armin. Bob recounted his previous visits when he’d climbed to the high point on Soay, Dun and Boreray, and his plans for one day reaching the top of both of the stacks.

On the return journey Seumas, owner of Sea Harris, kindly phoned ahead and booked us a table at The Anchorage near the harbour at Leverburgh. We had a lovely meal there and a quick stop off at St Clements Church before arriving back at the campsite.

2 thoughts on “Western Isles – part 1

  1. Have to say, I do like that Sula Sgeir lighthouse / beacon, though I’m not particularly mad fond of gannets. A very unusual design, more like a bathing hut, really! North Rona looks great – hard to believe it’s only very new. I believe June is practically the only time to visit and even then it’s often not possible, so you were obviously blessed with the weather!

    1. We certainly were Peter. It was a little overcast when we left Lewis, but had cleared up nicely by the time we got to the islands. I would definitely recommend a trip to North Rona, it’s such a beautiful place – although I imagine it gets quite ‘interesting’ when the weather’s not so good!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.