Port of Ness, United Kingdom
A circular trip round the Isle of Lewis today, taking in many of the sights, especially in the north and west. Surprise number one; Stornoway is actually much more substantial than I expected, with at least a couple of supermarkets and a fairly busy high street. Surprise number two; despite everyone saying the roads will be wee and narrow and slow, they actually turn out to be normal A-roads with fast 60mph sections and slower village sections, just like anywhere on the mainland. Surprise number three; no midges. Not a one.
From breakfast we took the road north as far as we could go. Firstly the right fork to Port of Ness, a lovely little harbour that, if situated just about anywhere more accessible in the British Isles, would be swarming with ice cream vans and parents with their kids. As it was there was just us and a postman on his tea break. From there we backtracked a couple of miles and then took the left fork to the Butt of Lewis, (cease sniggering at the back), the most northerly point on the islands and so a signboard told us, a Guinness World Record holder for the most windy place in the UK. We can attest to its credibility as it was blowing a gale out there, even though the skies were totally cloudless. We were also joined by a couple of other groups of tourists, so we didn’t have the island to ourselves after all.
A cup of tea was starting to beckon, so it was a fast blat down the west coast (yep, A-road) to the Callanish Stone Circles and visitor centre. A welcome cafe here provided sustenance with a view to die for, whilst we waited for a coach party (all off, all on in 25 mins) to see stuff and go. We then hiked up to the largest stone circle which we shared with just a handful of other people. Quite awe-inspiring and a lot larger than I thought it was going to be. Really quite impressive and well worth the visit.
It was a bit of a backtrack of a few miles then to Carloway Broch, a well-preserved (one of the best) iron-age fortified farmhouse we’d passed on the way in. There were limited facilities here, which is why we’d gone by the first time. No-one *really* knows how Broch’s worked, what they were like inside, or why they were built. The best guess is fortified farmhouse-cum-baronial hall, but they must have been impressive structures in their prime. Once again the views were spectacular.
Further up the road was the black house museum, dedicated to the more recent (living memory even) form of dwelling on the island. However, the black houses themselves were under repair, it was four quid each to go in, and we were heritage out by this point, so we elected to give detailed inspection a miss and complete the loop back to Stornoway for a cup of tea.
Tea duly quaffed, we headed out past the airport on to a peninsular road with more epic views, again ending in a harbour by the sea. A slight diversion was made to the monument remembering the HMY Iolaire. This was a nasty story recently mentioned by Neil Oliver in the TV series “Coast”. The Iolair was returning to Stornoway in bad weather at the end of the First World War filled with Hebridean troops, when it ran aground on to the notorious rocks, the so-called Beasts of Holm. Over 180 soldiers who had survived the Great War were drowned, less than a mile from the harbour and home. One of the saddest tragedies of the war, and one of the reasons there are so many cenotaphs and war memorials dotted around the island.
But on that happy note, that’s it for today. Tomorrow we try our luck south with the island of Harris. Bring it on!