The Outer Hebrides: Harris and Lewis
On the Harris ferry
View from the ferry
Luskentyre Beach, Harris
Hilltop in East Harris
Callanish stones, Lewis
There are hundreds of islands off the west coast of Scotland, a drowned landscape of mountains and moorland. They provide some of the most remote and challenging walking and hiking possibilities in Scotland, as well as tranquil easy walks along the coastlines and through attractive townships. If you're looking for some more secluded places for walking, then head for the Hebrides!
There are four walking stories described separately (listed at the foot of this page), and this introduction gives a summary of some of the other hills providing good hiking opportunities.
The Inner Hebrides spread out more to the south, through Coll, Tiree, Mull and Isla. Skye is the largest of the western isles, and it provides a stepping stone to the Outer Hebrides which curve around to the north-west from Lewis and Harris to the Uists, Benbecula and Barra.
Distant from the mainland, the Outer Hebrides have suffered depopulation over the past two centuries, but retain communities that are friendly and hospitable with a distinctive culture. Gaelic is spoken by many people and is the official language along with English. This is reflected in the road signs, so you should be prepared for some different spellings unfamiliar to English speakers.
The machair - low rocks with long stretches of sand - is characteristic of the west coast of the Uists, Benbecula and Barra, and also Harris, and is good for relaxing walks to clear the head and gaze out to sea. The Uists also have isolated mountains on the eastern side, well worth exploring by experienced hikers with a good map and compass.
The isles of Lewis and Harris are in fact connected, although Loch Seaforth cuts deeply in from the east coast. North Harris is an area of high mountains, yet since none quite reaches the height of a munro it doesn't attract the crowds.
Clisham is the highest at 799m and is easily accessed from the main A859 road connecting the two towns of Tarbert (in Harris) with Stornoway (in Lewis). From here it's barely a half-day, five-mile hike with about 650m of climbing. However it's part of a group and by ascending from Bunavoneadar beside West Loch Tarbert and taking in the tops curving round to the west it can be turned into a more rewarding full-day's hike.
Other impressive mountains run west of Clisham and in fine weather this range of hills can be clearly seen from many parts of the islands. Uisgnaval Mor (729m), Oreval (662m) linked with Cleiseval (511m), and Tirga Mor (679m) offer scope for another three days of remote hillwalking, with other tops available if you have more time to spare.
The beaches down the western side of Harris are another outstanding feature of the island, and provide opportunities for easy walks and relaxation. Luskentyre Banks provides a particularly good viewpoint for the range of mountains listed above (see the Luskentyre Beach walk).
There are lower and more isolated hills further south in Harris, which give easier climbs although still requiring proper equipment and navigation skills. These include Roineabhal (460m) which rises above Rodel and Leverburgh and offers terrific views across the Sound of Harris to North Uist. It's a stiff half day's walk, getting back to Rodel in time for a pub lunch or supper! You can combine it with an easier coastal walk on the Carminish Islands.
The eastern side of Harris is an area of deep indentations from the sea, giving it the name of The Bays. The "land" itself seems to be made up mostly of lochans. Little townships are scattered along this coastline, connected by a narrow and tortuous road marked out from the rocks by white boundary lines. It's worth driving along - with care - and visiting one or two of the art centres which are situated here including Skoon Art Cafe at Grosebay, and Finsbay Gallery. There are old tracks running around some of the hills, connecting townships and providing good walking opportunities. The hills here are easy to climb, and quite fun! (See the East Harris Coast and Hills walk).
At the southern tip is the little harbour of Rodel with its historic church tower (which you can climb up inside on a wooden ladder) and hotel. A little further around is the small town of Leverburgh, with a ferry link to North Uist. It now has a "designer black house" offering self-catering accommodation. The road back to Tarbert on the west side is much easier, passing the series of clean sandy bays.
Lewis is something of a contrast to Harris, with vast areas of peat moors inland and larger townships around the coast. Stornoway itself is a busy little town with the large wooded parkland around Lews Castle providing a great place for easy walks. There are important archaeological sites on the island, particularly the famous standing stones at Callanish and the nearby Carloway Broch, over to the west. There are also two places along this road where black houses once traditional to the islands have been restored. Elsewhere throughout the islands there are hundreds of ruined black houses and their successors, white houses, dotting the landscape, now replaced by modern dwellings.
The Callanish Stones and Arnol Blackhouse story refers to some of the walking possibilities along that stretch of coast, and the publications referred to below describe many more walks in Lewis and elsewhere in the Outer Hebrides.
Other walking stories from the Outer Hebrides would be very welcome to add to this short collection of stories.
Walking publications are available for the Western Isles: the handy little Hallewell pocket guide has 34 walks of varying difficulty; Mary Welsh's Walking The Western Isles (Clan Walk Guides) describes 40 walks with only a small amount of duplication; and there's a leaflet guide to The Harris Walkway from Bill Lawson Publications. All are available at the Tourist Information Centre in Tarbert. On the Western Isles, however, you can pretty well put together your own route if you are confident at navigating and respect the interests of those who live and work on the islands.
(To order the stories by name, date, country or type click on the appropriate heading)
|Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris||Scotland||Countryside and easy hill walks||22/04/2008|
|Callanish stones and Arnol Blackhouse, Isle of Lewis||Scotland||Countryside and easy hill walks||22/04/2008|
|Carminish Islands, Leverburgh, Harris||Scotland||Countryside and easy hill walks||20/04/2008|
|East Harris coast and hills||Scotland||Countryside and easy hill walks||13/04/2008|