A Lewis walk & a Harris surprise

Welcome to my 100th blog post!

We went over to the Western Isles earlier this month for a week-long holiday, staying in a great four-bedroom house on Harris. I’d been to the Western Isles a few years ago and visited the easier to get to lighthouses, such as Butt of Lewis, Tiumpan Head, Arnish Point and Eilean Glas. So this time the plan was to reach another that involved a bit more of a stretch of the legs, Aird Lamishader.

aird lamishader
Aird Lamishader lighthouse

I knew before we set off for the walk from Borghastan/Borrowston that the lighthouse was one of the “flat pack” style. To get there we had to navigate our way down some nice steep slopes (we seemed to miss the sensible path down). Once we made it to the fields below we encountered some particularly friendly/scary sheep that, instead of running away as I would normally expect them to do, started to follow us. I was later informed that it was likely to be because they, and their lambs, were still bring fed by the farmer at that point, so they expected us to feed them. Once we’d passed over the fields we started the wander up a hill that Bob wanted to climb and said would be a more direct route to the lighthouse. So, up we went and spent some time checking out the view before we went down the other side. By this point it was feeling like quite a trek, but at least we could see the lighthouse.

butt of lewis
Butt of Lewis lighthouse on a sunny, but chilly, day

After crossing more fields and going up another (considerably smaller) hill we arrived at the lighthouse. As with most “flat pack” lighthouses, there’s not a lot to say about them, but they are often located in places with rather good views and this one was no exception. We were even fortunate enough to catch sight of the Flannan Isles out to sea. Fortunately we walked around the hill on the way back, but in the process met even more over-friendly sheep. I managed to calm down though when we spotted a man heading the same way as us. He was a local former Gaelic teacher who has been growing carrots in the area. He was a friendly man and took us the sensible route back to the car.

The following day we revisited the Butt of Lewis lighthouse briefly. I say briefly because it was a bit wild that day!

 

flannan isles shore station
The old Flannan Isles shore station in Breasclete

On the way back to our accommodation that day we drove through Breasclete on the west coast of Lewis in search of the old Flannan Isles lighthouse shore station. We spotted the big house from the main road, and as we got closer, noticed the old Northern Lighthouse Board emblem above the front door. I believe there are plans to create a memorial in Breascleit at some point in memory of the three lighthouse keepers that went missing from the Flannan Isles lighthouse in December 1900.

During our trip we stopped by Hebrides Arts, a beautifully located art gallery and cafe with some amazing work from local artists. While we were there we spotted a painting of a lighthouse with the title ‘Leverburgh lighthouse’, which surprised us as we weren’t aware of any lighthouses at Leverburgh, just beacons. The story associated with the picture was that the top section had blown off during a storm, leaving just the tower.

leverburgh
What remains of Leverburgh lighthouse

That evening we headed to Leverburgh pier and sure enough, just as the lady at Hebrides Arts mentioned, the tower was visible just across the water to the right. As we headed back up the road, we parked up at the side of the road and walked along to it across some, boggy in places, moorland. The tower turned out to be bigger than I’d imagined and Bob made a note of its coordinates as we hadn’t found it on any maps. Later in the week we spoke to Seumas Morrison, who runs Sea Harris and regularly goes out from Leverburgh pier. His take on it’s history was that the top section on the lighthouse was actually removed and not blown away.

Leverburgh lighthouse Sept 06
Bob’s picture of Leverburgh lighthouse in 2006

Bob had a look back at some of his pictures from the area and found one from 2006 showing the lighthouse intact. A picture he had from 2012 shows the tower alone. There is very little information about this lighthouse online. I was pleased to find out about it though and to visit it during our holiday.

We were due to take a trip out to the Monach islands and possibly Hasgeir, which would have involved two new lighthouses for me, but sea conditions weren’t in our favour on this occasion, so they will be for another time. We did manage to make it to Taransay and Scarp though, and although there were no lighthouses they are still fantastic places to visit if you are lucky enough to be able to get to them.

I have only one lighthouse left to visit on Lewis and Harris now, Rubh’ Uisinis, which involves a lot more planning. I’m not sure I fancy the 10 mile+ walk out to it over bog land (and then there’s the return journey), so will need to think a bit more creatively about that one!

Finally, once we arrived back in Ullapool and began our journey home we took a minor detour as we noticed the van in front of us belonged to the Northern Lighthouse Board. We’d never seen one before so had to get a quick picture 🙂

Western Isles – part 3

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 cafĂ© 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 🙂