Summer holidays are officially here! So I wanted to interrupt my series of posts on Southern China and Tibet to tell you about one of my favourite destinations – the Isle of Harris.
First, a bit of background. We visited the Isle of Harris for the first time last year and stayed for 3 nights. We loved it so much, we returned there last May, for 7 nights. I did wonder if there will be enough to keep us busy for 7 days, but I needn’t have worried. So, this is my 1-week itinerary for the Isle of Harris, based on our own stay, but with a few tweaks:
Day 1: Get There
Unless you are taking a very early morning ferry to Harris, it is best to reserve the first day for getting to Harris. The best ferry is from Uig on the Isle of Skye to Tarbert or Leverburgh on Harris. You can also go from Ullapool at the very top of Scotland to Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, but from Stornoway it is a 1 to 1.5 hrs drive South, depending on where you are staying on Harris. Ferry tickets can be booked with Calmac Ferries.
The Ferry can often be late, so I’d recommend not making any plans for your first day. If you have time, spend it marvelling at the amazing landscape that will greet you once you get here. Stock up with food and provisions, if you haven’t done so at Skye already. (Read my tips for first time visitor to the Isle of Harris).
Day 2: Beaches of Harris
Harris has the best beaches I have seen anywhere on my travels. Clean, large and empty, with white sands and blue water. Only thing to remind that you are not in the tropics? Freezing cold water!
So, spend day 2 hitting a beach (or 3) on Harris. You can go to Luskentyre, Bovre, Silebost, Huisinis or my personal favourite, Northon-Scarista.
Tip: If possible, go the beach at low tide. You will be able to enjoy miles and miles of white sand and paddle in the shallows.
Day 3: Day Trip to the Isle of Lewis
I know this is an itinerary for the Isle of Harris, but there are a few things on Lewis that are worth seeing as you are nearby. You can do a day trip to the West coast on the Isle of Lewis, covering the Callanish stones, Gearrannan black houses and Uig Beach.
The Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis is Scotland’s very own Stonehenge. The stones have been dated back to 3000 BC. There are many theories as to their origins, but the most widely believed theory is that this is an ancient burial site. The site also has a visitor centre, with a cafe, shop and a small exhibition. Entry to the stones is free and you can go at anytime. There is a small charge for the exhibition.
The Gearrannan black houses are near the Callanish stones. The design of a black house originates back several thousand years, as does the construction method. The Gearrannan blackhouse village is a sort of living museum, where you can see some of the original black houses, and see also see how peat is cut and how the famous Harris-Tweed is made. Some of the black houses have been converted to holiday accommodation, so you can even stay there. Incase you are wondering why they are called “black houses” this is because they are darker in appearance compared to the newly built houses in the area, that tended to be white washed.
Then to round off your day, head to Uig Beach. Uig beach lies on the south western side of the Isle of Lewis and is one of the largest beaches around.
Uig beach was where a Viking chess set was discovered, set in a small stone chamber at the edge of the beach. Inside were 93 chess pieces made of Morse Ivory, from the husks of Walrus teeth. The chess pieces are now in museums, but there is a larger than life statue on the beach to commemorate the find.
Day 4: Explore Harris on Foot
Spend a bit of time walking today. There are plenty of walks on the Isle of Harris, ranging from very easy to very difficult. You can choose a walk that takes you past beaches, or mountains or both. This website has a list of great walks on Harris.
I’d also recommend the walk from Leverburgh to Finsbay, past Loch Langabhat. The 6-mile walk is on the road, but quite gentle. We did this walk, and were treated to some great scenery. We also met a few locals who were cutting and drying peat, which would be their fuel supply for the rest of the year.
End the walk in Finsbay and watch the seals.
Tip: Take sensible precautions on your walk. The Isle of Harris has many mobile phone black spots, so it is best not to rely on your phone too much. Save the walking route to your phone to use off line, or print it. Let someone know where you are going, and the route.
If walking isn’t your cup of tea, Isle of Harris is great for cycling too. Roads are so quiet you can hear cars miles off. This website had a list of cycle routes. You can hire bikes from BikeHebrides.
Day 5: Visit Isle of Harris Distillery
On day 5, give your feet a rest and head to the only distillery on the Isle of Harris. The distillery is in Tarbert, right next to the pier. Established in 2015, The Isle of Harris distillery will produce its first whiskey sometime in 2020s. Until then, it is producing gin. You can take tours of the distillery, but these need to be booked in advance.
You can also visit the nearby North Harris Eagle Observatory.
If you want to go further, you can visit the North tip of the Isle of Lewis, the Port of Ness, and couple this with a visit to Stornoway, and Lews Castle and Museum.
Day 6: Visit to St. Kilda
The islands of St Kilda are situated 41 miles due west of Lewis and Harris. They are the Western-most of the British isles, and boast the highest sea cliffs in the UK as well as being the single most important seabird breeding station in North West Europe. Consequently, St. Kilda is the UK’s only UNESCO double World Heritage Site; due to the islands’ cultural and natural significance.
I will do a more detailed post later on about our trip to St Kilda. For now, it will suffice to say that it was a once in a lifetime trip.
If 6 hours on a speed-boat isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of other boat trips you can take. Look at this link for options.
Tip: If you want to do a boat trip, book in advance, ideally before you arrive on Harris. In the busy season, the trips are fully booked weeks in advance. Also many of the trips on the island operate on a two day window; so if the first day is cancelled due to weather (or anything else) you are automatically given priority for day 2. So best to keep two days free if you want to go on one of these trips.
Day 7: Rest up or shop for souvenirs
On the last day, I suggest resting up, hitting a beach for the last time, or you can shop for souvenirs.
There’s plenty of places to get an authentic Isle of Harris souvenir; Harris Distillery, Harris Tweed Shop, which is right next to the Distillery. The Visitor centre in Tarbert also has a good collection of souvenirs, including works by local artists. The community shop in Leverburgh also sells a number of local hand made products.
Isle of Harris is also home to a number art galleries. Often, the gallery is also the home of the artist, so you can get to meet them as well. We visited a few, and really loved the experience:
- Mission House Studios: Art gallery by husband and wife pair, Beka and Nikolai Globe. Specialising in black and white photographs of Harris, and ceramic artwork.
- Finsbay Gallery: Exhibiting a number of artists on the Isle of Harris. Sells watercolours, oils, sculpture, jewellery, photography
- Holmasaig Gallery: Many watercolour works by Margarita Williams, inspired by the unique landscape, sea, and wild flowers of Harris, Lewis and St Kilda.
If you are thinking of heading to the Isle of Harris (and you really should), I hope this itinerary helps.
Have you been to the Isle of Harris? Will you consider going? Leave a comment below, and let me know.
With my next post, I will be going back to Tibet.