uklighthousetour

One crazy lady and a bizarre obsession = an ongoing tour of the best lighthouses the UK has to offer

Western Isles – part 3

on 27/08/2014

Another day of lighthouses and tourist activities lay ahead of us on the Western Isles and, once again, the sun was out. We were intrigued to find out more about and visit the beach on which the Lewis Chessmen had been found centuries ago. On our way there we passed a merry band of scarecrows (or figures) at the side of the road that we had previously seen on our first day. We stopped to see them and I partook in some pretend drumming alongside the piper and accordion player.

A long stroll out to the sea at Uig beach

A long stroll out to the sea at Uig beach

We travelled on to Uig, spotting a couple of large sculpted chess men replicas on the way there, and arrived at the biggest beach I’ve ever seen. Although it’s not the widest beach, with the tide out it was quite a walk to reach the sea and we were cautious not to spend too long near the water’s edge in case the tide started coming in quickly as we’d have had a long way to run back to shore! We followed this walk up with a stop off at the museum and café in Uig. There was a little more information about the chessmen at the museum, but also some really interesting exhibit pieces showing what life was like for those living on Lewis in the past.

As always, Bob was looking for an opportunity to do some hill-bagging while we were there. His previous trips to the Western Isles had mostly comprised of travelling on to somewhere else or hillwalking so he was enjoying being a bit of a tourist for once. However, we couldn’t go to Lewis without bagging one of its hills. Reaching the top of the hill turned out to be a lot easier than though in the end as a road led us almost up to the top, so all we had to do was climb one set of steps before we reached the peak where there was some fantastic views of the surrounding area on Lewis and other islands nearby.

The lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis

The lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis

Knowing that the Callanish standing stones were a popular attraction on Lewis we decided to pay them a brief visit and return later that day when the tourists were gone. The weather had gone downhill slightly during the day, so we had a quick look around at the stones before heading for our very exciting next stop – the Butt of Lewis. We’d both seen some fantastic pictures and videos of the lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis with massive waves crashing up above the high cliffs there, but there was nothing of that on the day we visited. There is a real sense when you get there that you are at the end of the road and there’s not a lot between the cliffs there and Iceland, although we were surprised to see how close we were to Cape Wrath and, therefore, home! It was great to see another different style of lighthouse, which itself (in my opinion) doesn’t look dissimilar to a chess piece. It’s natural brickwork with no white paint in sight (on the tower anyway) made it stand out from the rest. We enjoyed wandering around the impressive coastline there for a while and seeing the huge cliffs, which seem to dwarf the lighthouse in places. I was surprised at how many people there were walking around, although it did look like there was at least one group of adventurers around and I imagine it might be one of those places where you would choose to start or end some sort of endurance challenge. On our return from the Butt of Lewis we stopped at the Eoropie Tearoom for a drink and I was delighted to see, just along the road that someone had some small handmade stone structures outside of their house, one of which was a lighthouse with an operational light – I’m very easily influenced by these things!

Callanish standing stones

Callanish standing stones

On our way back towards the Callanish standing stones we stopped off at a single standing stone a short distance off of the main road. We also decided, allowing the tourists to have fully disappeared from the standing stones, to stop for dinner at the Doune Braes Hotel where we had some amazing food. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Lewis. We then had free reign at the impressive Callanish standing stones when we arrived. It is a fantastic site with the cross-shaped layout of the stones and the circle in the centre. If only we were able to travel back in time to see its development!

Before we called it a night and headed back to the campsite in Siabost, we popped in to see Dun Carloway, an old broch tower (an Iron Age dry stone structure). Although it’s old, we were still able to climb some of the original steps and it was another example of a site that has clearly been well-maintained without it looking too well-maintained. The Western Isles are very good at that!

The Norse mill

The Norse mill

Friday was our final day in the Western Isles,  but fortunately we had enough time to do some more exploring and, of course, bag some more lighthouses. However, we began our day with a visit to the nearby Norse Mill and Kiln – again here are more examples of two buildings that are very well preserved, but haven’t been turned into multi-million pound attractions. They’re actually very well-hidden and the laminated sheets of information about them are tucked away. Some really great handiwork must have gone into them originally, even if the roofs have needed a lot of work over the years to maintain their thatched look. Gearrannan Blackhouse Village was the final of our tourist stops for the trip where we found out more about cutting peat, weaving and the lives of those who used to live in the village. A really interesting place to visit and nice to see that they have kept some of the houses in the condition they were in back in the day, although some have been renovated as accommodation for visitors.

Tiumpan Head lighthouse

Tiumpan Head lighthouse

We had two more lighthouses to fit in before catching the ferry. The first was Tiumpan Head, which sits at the north east end of the Eye Peninsula to east of Stornoway. Visibility while we were there wasn’t particularly good and we didn’t hang around for long as the lighthouse cottages are now home to kennels and I knew Bob wasn’t comfortable with the continual barking of the dogs there. I see why it may be a good location for kennels full of barking dogs, but the noise did detract a little from the experience of seeing the lighthouse. As is the case with many others, Tiumpan Head lighthouse looks very similar to many of the others, which actually isn’t so common in the Western Isles as there appears to be no set “look” for the lighthouses there.

Arnish Point lighthouse

Arnish Point lighthouse

Our final stop before heading back was Arnish Point lighthouse. We’d seen it on the approach to Stornoway  as we arrived on the ferry, so it was just a matter of finding it from the main road. After a little driving around and “trial by error”, we finally found a bit of a dirt track that seemed to lead in the right direction. Aside from a couple there walking their dog there was no one else around. Being on the other side of an industrial estate probably doesn’t make it such a frequented spot and it was clear on the approach to the lighthouse that the area hasn’t been used much in recent years. The lighthouse itself though has been well-kept (as many operational lighthouses are) and is a fairly squat little tower. It may not be far from the harbour, but it’s a very quiet little location, even if you do get the feeling that being there isn’t recommended.

The ferry journey back to Ullapool allowed us another glimpse of Arnish Point as well as Cailleach Head and Rubha Cadail lighthouses, as we’d seen on the outward journey. We’d arranged to stay at a B&B in Lochinver that night and I was incredibly glad of a real bed after camping for the week. The following day Bob was joining his fellow volunteers from the Assynt Mountain Rescue Team for the Sutherland Trail in 24 hours challenge fundraiser. They successfully completed the trial with Bob setting off on the first of his legs (his second was during the night) while I headed home. I then met the team the following morning just after the final group had reached the end in just under the 24 hour time limit. A great achievement!

So, that was our week on the Western Isles with a few trips further afield. We had been so lucky with the weather and seen some amazing places. We shall definitely be heading back there again in the future 🙂


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