Barra to South Uist/ Benbecula to Harris / Lewis


From 1661, Lewis became part of Ross-shire and was administered from distant Dingwall, an arrangement that was to last until the creation of the Western Isles Council in 1975.

The headquarters are in Stornoway, the only significant town in Lewis and the main port and airport.


Great BerneraLewis is home to around two-thirds of the population of the Western Isles and a large percentage of Lewis and Harris adults work in Stornoway. The landscape is mainly flat with mountains and lovely beaches to the south west and a large number of ancient sites.

No fishingSunday observance is strong here and most transport links do not operate. Most shops, petrol stations, cafes, pubs, and visitor attractions are also closed on Sundays – Avoid weekends if at all possible!

Lewis scenerySouth East Lewis is known as Lochs and South Lochs. This remote area inspired Arthur Ransome for the setting of his book 'Great Northern'. There are several roads to explore but we didn’t venture there due to time constraints.

Land Raiders MonumentWe passed the Land Raiders Monument - a cairn recently erected to commemorate the Pairc deer raid in 1887 when crofters tried to kill some of the laird's deer to draw attention to the injustices and hardships they faced. The road eventually became more urban as we approached the main town of Stornaway.



Stornoway is by far the largest settlement in the Western Isles. It has been vastly improved since our last visit to quite an attractive town. The harbour partially surrounds the town and is busy with freight, ferry and leisure traffic and is home to a significant fishing fleet. I liked our cosy hotel in the centre of town and we had a pleasant time walking around the castle grounds, museum and harbour.

Inner harbourOur hotelTown HallHarbour office

Herring girl statueThe name comes from the Norse for "Steering Bay", an indication of the very early origins of the town. In the 19th century there was a large herring fleet crammed into the harbour and a grand Edwardian town hall. As many as 6000 fishermen operated from the port during its peak, supported by large numbers of ‘herring girls’ who gutted and packed the fish.

In the 1850s there were steamer services to Glasgow and Oban, plus less frequent links to Stromness and Liverpool. Car ferries replaced steamers in 1973, starting the service that now links Stornoway with Ullapool. During World War ll the RAF built Stornoway Airport, that now provides links to Glasgow, Inverness and Benbecula.

Lewes CastleLewes Castle was built around 1100 and later captured by a Viking called Leod, who founded the MacLeod Clan of Lewis. In 1597, James VI leased Lewis to a group of businessmen called the "Fife Adventurers" and authorised them to root out the ‘barbarous inhabitants’. The MacLeods beat them off, so James granted Lewis to the MacKenzies of Kintail. The Castle was destroyed by Cromwell's forces in 1653 and the last remains were used in the 1800s as foundations for a pier.

Castle groundsIn 1844 Lewis was sold by the MacKenzies to Sir James Matheson for £190,000 - money from his opium trade in the Far East. The modern castle is a mock Tudor folly and was built by Sir James who also planted the parkland in thousands of tons of soil that was shipped over from the mainland.

Woodland CentreThis beautiful park is now open to the public and the Woodland Centre houses exhibitions and has a very nice restaurant.

In 1918, Lord Leverhulme bought the estate and tried to transform Stornoway into a great fishing port but he met with indifference and departed, gifting the building to the people. It was used as a naval hospital in the war and later housed a technical college. It would be nice to see it opened to the public.

Ferry terminalIsle of LewisThere is a brand new ferry terminal now and a superb ferry – CalMac’s ‘Isle of Lewis’.

Eye Peninsula

Iolaire monument To the east of Stornoway the UI or Eye Peninsula is accessed via a narrow neck of land just beyond Stornoway Airport. A side road leads to a memorial cairn overlooking rocks called the ‘Beasts of Holm’.

On 1 January 1919 the ship Iolaire was wrecked while entering Stornaway harbour and 205 Lewismen returning from the war were drowned within sight of home.

The Braighe beachThe Braighe has beaches on both sides of the narrow ithsmus.

Farm Raiders' MonumentBeside the church is a modern cairn, it is the Aiginis Farm Raiders' Monument. The riot was in support of land rights in 1888.

We stopped at the derelict 14th century St Columba's Church near Aignish where 19 MacLeod chieftains are buried. The church is believed to have been built on the site of a cell occupied by Saint Cartan in the 7th century.

St Columba's ChurchAt the far end of the peninsula we arrived at Port nan Giuran with its dominating pier, while a small road winds on to the lighthouse at Tiumpan Head where basking sharks and whales can sometimes be seen. These buildings are now used as kennels and can be heard from some distance!
Port nan GiuranTiumpan Head


Farm Raiders MonumentWe retraced the road through Stornaway and north-east towards Tolsta Head where it peters out. We drove past some nice beaches, the Coll Pottery and the Griais Mill. On the way we stopped to look at the Grais and Farm Raiders Monument.

Beach at Tolsta HeadAt the end of the road, there is a car park near a lovely beach and beautiful cliff scenery. I am impressed by the quality of the public toilets at these out of the way places.

Bridge to NowhereA short walk from the end of the road lead us to the 'Bridge to Nowhere'. This is really bizarre and was part of Lord Leverhulme's plan for a road to connect Tolsa with Ness. A great idea and a shame it was never finished.

Road to NessThere is a waymarked path all the way across the moorland to Ness that is about 10 miles long. It passes Caisteal a' Mhorair - a medieval dun on a rock stack , a waterfall and Dun Othail – a fort.

South West Lewis

Our hotelWe drove to South West Lewis for our very interesting stay beside Uig Sands. The road passes through the pretty Glen Valtos which is narrow and steep sided.

Tràigh UuigeThe road descends towards Timsgarry and one of Scotland's most magnificent beaches - Tràigh Uuige.

There are superb southern views to the mountains beyond and on both occasions we have been there it has been totally deserted. Deserted Uig sands

Uig Beach is perhaps best know as the site where the Lewis Chessmen were found, and now there is a large sculpture beside the beach parking area. These chessmen were unearthed around 1831, from a stone chamber behind the beach. 93 pieces exist, some in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh but most in the British Museum.

Lewis ChessmanThey date from the Viking occupation and were carved from walrus ivory and whales' teeth and shaped as seated kings and queens, mitred bishops, knights on horses, castles and pawns in the shape of obelisks.

Beyond Uig Beach a minor single track road runs down the west coast of Lewis almost as far as the boundary with Harris. North of Timsgarry, near Gallan Head, RAF Aird Uig was established as a Cold War radar base and reactivated by NATO in 2003 with new radar masts.

Glen ValtosTo the north of Glen Valtos is the Valtos peninsula. Here there are some lovely beaches and rocky headlands with views to a number of Loch Roag's islands.

Tràigh na Beirigh is a mile of white shell sand facing north east into the loch with a camping and caravanning area. The area's main harbour at Miabhaig is home to fishing, leisure and excursion craft.

Great Bernera

Bridge to Bernera In the 1950s the residents of this island were so keen to bridge the short gap between them and Lewis that they threatened to build their own causeway by dynamiting the cliffs on either side. In 1953, a crowd of 4000 people walked across the new bridge to Bernera.

Overlooking the bridge there is a group of 4 standing stones, known as Cleitir. Cleitir

Bernera is the largest of the islands in Loch Roag, all of which are owned by Count Robin de la Lanne Mirelees, who is highly-regarded on Great Bernera as a benevolent laird. In 1972 a processing plant was built at Kirkibost Pier and fishermen on the island specialise in catching lobsters. The church and school are at Breacleit as well as the Bernera museum, which explores the island's fishing heritage.

Bernera mapOn the road to Bostadh, there is a cairn erected in 1992 to commemorate the Bernera riot of 1874, when crofters stood up for their rights. This lead to the passing of the Crofters Act which gave security of tenure to crofters throughout Scotland.

BostadhOn Bostadh Beach, evidence was found of Norse settlement. More importantly, beneath it, five Pictish jelly baby or figure of eight houses were found. These houses are believed to date back to 500AD and the names come from the shape of the house, which are two circles linked by an internal doorway.

The houses were back-filled with sand to preserve them and there is a reconstruction at the south end of the bay.


Callanais l The area around Calanais is home to over 20 monuments erected between 3000 and 4000 years ago. On a small hill called 'Cnoc an Tursa' - 'Hill of Sorrow', overlooking East Loch Roag, the 53 stones stand in a Celtic cross pattern. The Callanish Stones were quarried locally of Lewisian gneiss and are as impressive and important as Stonehenge.

Callanais lExtending north from the main circle is an avenue formed by a double row of stones, while single rows of stones extend east, west and south from the main circle. They appear to have astronomical significance and they align with other standing stones and circles in the area.

The site had probably lost its significance by about 800BC, when climate change meant peat had been accumulating for over 500 years and some of the stones were probably already covered. The peat was cleared from the site in 1857, by which time it was approaching 6 feet in depth.

Callanais lCallanais lCallanais lCallanais lCallanais l

Visitor CentreA little to the south east is Calanais lll, a collection of 20 stones forming a double ring with an outside diameter of 16m and to its west is Calanais II, an 18m diameter circle comprising 10 stones, of which five are still standing.

Our visit was enhanced by the Visitor Centre that had opened during the 1990s since our last visit. Unfortunately the sun didn’t shine for my pictures on either occasion.

Dun Carloway

Doune Broch CentreThere is a new Doune Broch Centre here that is built largely underground and contains an exhibition giving a sense of what life in the broch might have been like.

Iron Age brochThe 2000 year old Iron Age broch, or fortified tower, stands on a crag by the hamlet of Dun Charlabhaigh. The double dry-stone walls are still 30ft high in some places and the central courtyard is 25ft across. The broch is extremely well preserved and it is not known how long it remained in use.

Dun Carloway would have served as a defensible residence for an extended family and served as a statement of power and status in the local area.

EntranceWe entered by a small tunnel to see a number of chambers at ground floor level, an area which would probably have been used to house farm animals. The human residents would have lived above with wooden flooring supported on a ridge around the inside walls. Stairs are fitted within the thickness of the walls, and there would probably have been several floors of accommodation beneath a conical roof.

Gearrannan Black House Village

Blackhouse villageFacing the Atlantic lies the blackhouse village of Gearrannan, a fascinating place to see how life once was on Lewis. For over three hundred years people eked out a living here and the blackhouses date back only to the end of the 1800s.

BlackhouseIn 1974 the last occupants of this village were moved to new accommodation nearby and the village was declared an Outstanding Conservation Area. The Garenin Trust has been painstakingly restoring the once derelict blackhouses and croft land to recreate an authentic settlement.

Gearrannan inhabitants had to earn a living and in the 1920s, teams of women left for Stornoway to process fish. They then followed the herring to the east coast of Scotland then down to eastern England, only returning home at the end of the season.

Living areaOil lamps were only replaced by electricity in 1952. Piped water only arrived in the 60s, but still had to be fetched from outside taps, which ended the tradition of communal washing in the loch, with water heated over open fires on the shore.

Weaving areaToday, the first house is the visitor centre with an exhibition, shop and cafe. One house has been restored so that visitors can experience how it would have been to live there in 1955. There is a living room and bedroom at one end of the house and a room to weave Harris Tweed at the other. Several of the other houses can now be rented as holiday accommodation and one is a youth hostel.


Folk MuseumThe Folk Museum began as a school project in the 1970s and is housed in a church. It was never dismantled and displays various artefacts from Lewis’ past, including farming tools, kitchen implements, irons, a loom, a crofter's bedroom and many photos.

Shawbost MillA good path leads for a short distance to Shawbost Mill - two thatched stone buildings. Lewis was once home to 200 or so of these horizontal wheel mills and this one was active until the 1930s. Shawbost Mill was first restored in the late 1960s, but the current restoration was done in 1995.

The first building is the kiln and there is a raised stone platform with a circular stone pit. This presumably contained the fire that heated and dried the grain that was spread out around the floor.

The workings in the mill are set in a chamber below floor level and water from the nearby burn was channelled to the top of a mill race just behind the mill itself. A steep chute then directed it down onto a horizontal set of paddles, in a chamber beneath the mill. When this turned, two millstones ground the grain and the flour was collected.


Whalebone ArchBeside the road and close to a house is a small signed entrance to a spot where you can see the Whalebone Arch. This is formed from the jawbone of an 85-foot long blue whale that came ashore in 1920. Amazingly, the harpoon still attached!

South Bragar DunNearby, the South Bragar Dun is situated in a loch 80 metres east of the road. There is a small causeway if you want to get to it.


White houseThe Blackhouse Museum at Arnol is the best example of this traditional form of building.

It is run by Historic Scotland and is a fascinating complex, comprising the blackhouse itself - No. 42 Arnol - and an equally interesting "white house" - the cottage opposite. This is furnished as it was in the 1950s and represents the world into which blackhouse residents moved.

Ruined blackhousesNext to the white house are the walls of several more blackhouses. There is a visitor centre in another converted cottage that provides background information and has a cutaway model of the blackhouse.

No.42 ArnolNo. 42 had no windows or chimney, and the smoke from the peat fire in the centre of the floor stained everything black. There are straw mattresses in the box beds, a kettle hanging on a hook above the fire and a wooden dresser. All are displayed as they were in the 1960s when the house was last lived in – not as modernised as those at Gearrannan.

Blackhouse interiorThis blackhouse was built as recently as 1875 and in 1960 there were still nine of them in use in Arnol. A blackhouse was a long narrow building with double stone walls, filled with earth for insulation and roofed with turf and a layer of thatched heather. The floor of the living area was usually flagged. Tthe family lived with their animals at the other end of the house, with earth flooring and a drain for waste. Part of the blackhouse would also be used as a barn for storage and the processing of grain.

The North West

Clach an TruseilNear the village of Baile an Truseil, we drove along a tiny road to see the tallest standing stone in Scotland. This is Clach an Truseil which is 5.7 metres high.

SculptureJust up the road, near Siadar, are the ruins of a 12th century chapel known as Teampull Pheadair, the Steinacleit stone circle and an island dun in Loch an Duin. Heading up to Habost, you will find the Ness Heritage Centre.

We passed a modern sculpture at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

St Moluag's ChurchWhen we reached Europie, we stopped to visit the beautifully restored St Moluag's Church. St Moluag, who was a companion of St Columba, built a chapel here in the 500s but the present building is estimated to be anything from the 1100s to the 1500s.

Church interiorAt the time of the Reformation it was said to have been dedicated to St Maelrubha, a healer and it became a centre for pilgrimage.

By the mid 1800s the church was a ruin but restoration began in 1910 using stone and slate from Orkney. There is no electricity or water, so lighting is by oil lamp and candle.

The Butt of Lewis

Northern tip of Lewis Butt of Lewis LighthouseThis is as far north as you can go in the Western Isles! This northern tip of Lewis achieves a mention in the Guinness Book of Records for being the windiest place in the UK with cliffs of 60 to 80 feet high. The cliffs are spectacular, with many seabirds and we saw seals basking around the rocks as well.

West from here and there's nothing between you and North America and look north all the way to the Arctic.

Butt of Lewis LighthouseThe impressive Butt of Lewis lighthouse is a 121 foot tower made of exposed brick that was designed by David Stevenson and first lit in 1862. Materials for its construction had to be landed by ship as the road access was so poor at the time. Work was delayed when a ship was wrecked on the rocks while trying to gain the shelter of Port Stoth.

The communications wires strung from the lighthouse are used as a relay for the Flannan Isles lighthouse to the west. It has itself been automated since 1998.

Port of Nis

Port of NisThis pretty little village has a harbour and a beach, the Harbour View Gallery and the Taigh Dhonnchaidh arts and music centre. It has the highest proportion of Gaelic speakers in Scotland and was settled by the Norse.

Perhaps because of their Norse origins, residents of Nis have long had a reputation for being fearless seamen, and many worked on hydro schemes in the Highlands in the 1950s and 1960s, while more recently many have been employed on the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal in Shetland.

Each Autumn men from Nis still make their traditional journey to the small island of Sula Sgeir, 40 miles north of the Butt of Lewis, where they capture young gannets which are a local delicacy.

Journey home

After a lovely visit to the isles, we travelled back to Stornaway to catch the ferry to Ullapool. We had a brilliant trip as we met several people from our hotel in Uig, and were able to spend well over an hour on the ship’s bridge. We are gathering a large collection of pictures of CalMac's ferries now!

My favourite ship Leaving StornawayHello again!!On the bridge

Arriving UllapoolWe sailed through the Summer Isles and arrived in Ullapool after 3 hours on board. As we arrived, we passed the campsite where we had stayed in 2004 when we travelled around the north coast.

We broke the long drive home by staying near Inverness and then Edinburgh, as I wanted to visit Rosslyn Chapel - along with several hundred other Da Vinci Code fans!