The Islands - Outer Hebrides

The Isles of Lewis and Harris,  
and the others, when I get there...

For other Scottish Islands, see:


Isle of Lewis

Although Lewis and Harris are traditionally referred to separately, they're actually parts of the same island. Because of the terrain in the middle of the island, in the past it wasn't practical to go from north to south overland, so the two halves of the island were organizationally separate as if they were separated by water rather than mountains. 


Stornoway is the capital of the Isle of Lewis

Cromwell Street

Francis Street

Lews Castle overlooks Stornoway. 
The castle was built in 1847 by Sir James Matheson, who bought the Isle of Lewis three years earlier. It has served as a home, school and hospital. The Island Museum is next door. 

The HMY Iolaire sunk on New Years Day in 1919, with the loss of at least 201 of the 283 men aboard. Most were Royal Navy sailors from the Isle of Lewis, returning home after service in World War I. This new memorial was built in Stornoway in 2018, with a cairn of stones collected from the home towns of the lost sailors. 

The Iolaire Memorial, erected in 1958, overlooks the marker on the Beasts of Holm, the rocks on which the Iolaire foundered. Although the wreck was relatively close to shore, most of the men never learned to swim and they were dressed in heavy clothing and boots in the cold weather, which weighed them down. 

Phentland Road leads west from Stornoway. It's typical of the single-track (but two-way) roads across the moorland of the interior of Lewis. 

Rubha Airinis Lightouse outside of Stornoway

West Coast - Uig

View up the coast from Gallan Head

Gallan Head was used by the Ministry of Defense as a radar and radio surveillance installation, known as RAF Aird Uig. The early-warning radar installation was established in the 1950's and closed a decade later. The site remained in use by the RAF as a low-frequency communications site until early in the 2000's, when it was abandoned. Originally, this gate would have mounted a "keep out" sign, but in 2016 the Head was transferred to community ownership, and it's now open for all to hike...

Some of the old MoD buildings remain scattered around Gallan Head. This building housed the R10 Early Warning Radar installation and Operations HQ for the site. 

Concrete anchor points for guy wires ring the base of what was once a 618 foot radio mast. 

View westward from the point of Gallan Head -next stop, America.

Remains of an old round stone structure sit just back from the point. I was told it was a sheep shelter, dating from the pre-MoD days when Gallan Head was covered in crofts.

"The Lookout" - it's not entirely clear when this was built or what it was used for. Several sources say it was, as the name implies, a lookout point for coastal defense against U-boats or German raiders in WWI or WWII.

Looking northward past the Lookout.
The construction appears modern - concrete-mortared stone, with two rooms inside - but oddly for a lookout, there are no windows. 

Sheep graze on the marshland below Aird Uig

This winch once hauled boats up on the cobblestone beach below Aird Uig. The bay is Camas na h-Airde (Aird Bay). 

View over Camas na h-Airde from Aird Uig

Sheep on the cobblestone beach. The surf sweeps in, then as it withdraws the cobblestones make a fascinating rattling noise. 

Surf on the beach at Camas na h-Airde

The crofting village of Aird Uig, looking back from Gallan Head. 
I stayed at the excellent SEAcroft B&B in Aird Uig - friendly people and some of the best food I've ever eaten!

Uig Sands (Traigh Uige)

House on Uig Sands

The white sands and grey sky of Uig Sand (Traigh Uige). The Lewis Chessmen were found close by here. 

Bhaltos (Valtos) Peninsula

Rainbow over Berie Beach (a/k/a Reef Beach, or Traigh na Beirgh in Gaelic) on the Bhaltos Peninsula, just north of Aird Uig

The B8011 through Gleann Bhaltos (Glen Valtos)

View from Bhaltos

Sailboats between Traigh na Beirigh and the small island of Pabaigh Mor (Big Pabbay). 

Reef (Riof) Harbour

Looking westward over Traigh na Beirigh

West Coast, South of Uig

The single-track road leading southward from Uig passes a number of beautiful sand beaches before dead-ending at Mealasta, above. 

The west coast single-track road from Uig to Mealasta.

At the entrance to the hamlet of Mealasta, there are a series of directional stones set into a rock shelf, giving distances to important landmarks. 

View from the directional stones at Mealasta

There aren't many of these iconic red telephone boxes left - this one is outside a ruined croft house at Mangarstadh

Mangarstadh Beach (Traigh Mhangarstaidh)

Abhainn Dearg Distillery
The name is pronounced "Avine Derog", and means "red river". Ahainn Dearg was established in 2008, and released its first ten-year-old single malt in September 2018. I took a very pleasant tour of the distillery, met its owner and only employee, and petted the dogs and cat, not to mention sampling the three-year old malt.   

First, barley is soaked, spread out and allowed to sprout ("malted"). The malted barley is dried over a peat fire in this device, which stops the sprouting and imparts a peaty, smoky flavour. 

The malted barley is ground and mixed with warm water in these mash tuns, which extracts the sugars and forms "wort". The remains of the barley are filtered out, and sold for use as animal feed. Yeast is added to the wort in a wooden vessel, and the yeast convert the sugars to alcohol. This creates beer, basically, called "wash".  

The wash is heated in the first of theses copper stills. The alcohol evaporates before the water, and is cooled back into liquid alcohol in the neck of the still. Scotch whisky is double-distilled, hence the two barrels - first, the wash is distilled in a wash still, to produce "low wine". Then, the "low wine" is distilled in the spirit still. The more volatile compounds which distill off first in the spirit still, and the final liquids, where more oily compounds are vaporized last in the spirit still, are both collected to be mixed with new wash and distilled again in the next batch. 

Only the pure centre cut, or heart of the run, which is about 68% alcohol by volume is collected in the spirit receiver.

The alcohol content is carefully monitored in this spirit safe. If the alcohol level is too low or too high, the liquid goes back into the wash to be distilled again. Only the middle part is collected to be aged into whisky.

The spirits are put into barrels to age for at least three years. Abhainn Dearg uses barrels which were previously used to store Bourbon whiskey for their single-malt. 

West Coast - North of Bhaltos

The standing stones at Callanish (Callanais)

Doune Carloway (Dun Charlabhaigh) is one of the best-preserved brochs in Scotland.  

The inside of the double-walled tower - doorways to upper levels can be seen in the walls. 

Stairway between the two concentric walls of the tower gave access to upper levels. 

View from the second level of the broch. 

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Harris Tweed cloth can only be sold under that name if it is woven in manually-operated looms on the Isles of Lewis and Harris. This weaver demonstrates the process on a loom in one of the blackhouses at Gearrannan. 

This fairly modern blackhouse had all of the modern conveniences from when it was last used in the 1920's. 

North Coast

The Blackhouse Museum at Arnol. 
Blackhouses were the traditional dwellings in the Outer Hebrides. They had a double stone wall with dirt between the walls for insulation. The thatched roof was set so that rain ran off the roof onto the dirt between the two sets of walls, which increased the insulating properties and made the walls more windproof. Peat is stacked outside the blackhouse, to be burned for heat and cooking. 

Each blackhouse had a central hearth for the peat. There was no chimney. Smoke from the peat escaped through the thatched roof, providing waterproofing and keeping down vermin. The only windows were skylights buried in the thatch. As might be expected, the interior of the blackhouse was very smoky from the peat fire which was kept burning at all times. 

Traditional blackhouses were divided in two, one half for people and the other half as a byre for animals. 

Blackhouses were replaced in the 1920's and later by whtewashed "White Houses" - the name "blackhouse" did not refer to the soot on the walls, as might have been expected, but was actually just named as a contrast to the newer Whitehouses. 

A Norse Kiln and Watermill at Shawbost

The Norse Mill used a horizontal water wheel in a channel underneath the mill through which a stream was led. 

Norse Kiln

Port Ness (Port Nis) is on the Butt of Lewis, the northernmost point of the island. 

Gannets diving for fish off Port Ness

Isle of Harris

The Isle of Harris is the southernmost portion of the combined island of Lewis and Harris.

Luskentyre Beach

Heavy traffic on the Golden Road - so called because of the cost of building it across the rugged, rocky terrain of eastern Harris

St. Clement's Church in Rodel at the southernmost point of Harris dates back to the late 15th or early 16th century.

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Photos Copyright 2018 Mike Brown