Visit and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Isle of Harris, Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles), is in the Outer Hebrides. This — though always, and rightly, spoken of as an island — is firmly attached to the larger, more populous, and in many respects differing, island of Lewis. Apart from the extraordinary feat of achieving island status though attached to another island, this Outer Hebridean entity, varying between 30 and 40 miles out West from the mainland, does have certain qualities in common with its geographically attached twin, Lewis.
The immediate differences between Harris and Lewis are to be found in the wildness of the attractive scenery in Harris and the lack, in the Harris people, of a quality that we have called “latent wildness” lying beneath the courteous surface of the bold Lewisman. The Harris people are as courteous as those of Lewis, but their charm of manner is perhaps more apparent, the remote Norse blood in them being perhaps more remote.
The chief scenic appeal of Harris lies in its variety. It has — particularly in its northern end, adjacent to Lewis — far higher hills than those in its sister isle; the Clisham rises to 2,622 ft, and the forest of North Harris is indeed ruggedly grand. The West side of the island contains some beautiful sandy bays and pleasing prospects of satellite islands, such as Taransay and Scarp. Going down South by the western route along the Atlantic shore until you reach the enchanted ultimate point of Rodel, you are conscious all the while of an approaching softness of climate, very different from that of Lewis. At Rodel itself the growth of grass and flower seems by contrast to be luxuriant. Rodel has its back to the North, its eyes towards the South West; it is protected from the North by the great hills of Harris.
Leaving Rodel to come North again by the one other route (that is, along the eastern side), there is presented to you a striking contrast; but it would be a striking journey even without the additional piquancy of contrast. The land through which the eastern South Harris road passes has well been described as a moonscape, and indeed there is something lunar in its wild fantastic aspect.
Everywhere rock abounds. Grey rock, black rock, silvery-white rock thrusts itself through thin soil, not always in jagged edges, but more often in smooth, heaving shoulders. Rock reaches or tumbles down to the sea on your right and rises roffing above you on your left. The place looks not “half as old as time”, but twice.
Yet within the indentations that the sea has made upon this uncompromising mass, there are small villages whose inhabitants are primarily devoted to fishing. As a secondary support, they cultivate the oddly-named “lazy-beds”, that is, small thin catches of soil held between the rocks above them. These they enrich with manure and seaweed — their cultivation is far from lazy. Despite its fantastic appearance, through which the road winds and twists its way North, the landscape is not gloomy or overwhelming. Colour splashes here and there in the lazy-beds, in the white and painted small houses, and in the changing sea.
Nevertheless it is something of a relief to come to the end of South Harris at Tarbert, the narrow isthmus that connects South and North Harris. From now onwards there is but one road North to the Harris—Lewis border. It passes through typical West Highland mountain and sea scenery, with a fine view of Loch Seaforth, the most deeply reaching sea-arm in all the “Long Island”. Thus you go on to the small bridge across a burn that leads you into the flatter land of Lewis.
The bridge cannot be much more than 20 or 30 ft long, but you will notice the change in all around you immediately you have crossed it. Expert Gaelic speakers say there is a different “taste” to the Gaelic on the North as distinct from the South side of the bridge. The monoglot English speaker who cares to talk with the people on the Harris side of the bridge, and also with those on the Lewis side, may convince himself that there is a difference in their English.
The history of Harris follows the general pattern of the Outer Hebrides in the amalgam of Norse and Celt, with perhaps Celtic in fluence more strong than in Lewis. Harris was not subject to the depredations of the Fife Adventurers or of Cromwell, and, save acting as the scene of part of the wanderings of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1746, it has not impinged much on Scottish mainland history. The Macleods, as in Lewis, were the chiefs.
Apart from its striking, and as everywhere else in the Hebrides, individual scenic beauties, Harris has other attractions for the visitor. Bathing on the fine sandy beaches of the West side offers exhilaration tempered, as in Lewis, by the beneficence of the Gulf Stream, here washing its uninterrupted way against the Atlantic side of the island. There is excellent sea-trout and some good salmon fishing. One brown-trout loch at its North end (Loch Langavat) contains unusually large specimens.
Nearby islands: Isle of Benbecula, Isle of Lewis, Isle of North Uist, Scarp, Isle of Skye, Taransay, Mealasta Island
Nearby towns: Stornoway, Tarbert, Ullapool
Nearby villages: Barvas, Callanish, Carloway, Shawbost, Tolsta
Have you decided to visit or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a bed and breakfast (a B&B or b and b)
- a guesthouse
- a hotel (or motel)
- a self-catering establishment, or
- other accommodation