Generally Speaking

The Outer Hebrides – 5 – Harris

Harris is roughly the southern half of the northernmost, and by far the largest, island in the Outer Hebridean chain. Quite why the upper and lower halves of this island have different names – Lewis and Harris respectively – is far from clear (nobody suggests England and Scotland are different islands). But anyway, the part of Harris you arrive on from the South is connected to the rest of Harris by a narrow isthmus, and it is there that the small town of Tarbert, and the Harris Hotel we stayed at, are situated.

Another delightful contrast: this is an almost old-fashioned hotel, with high ceilings, gracious and comfortable public spaces, white linen on the tables, well-maintained gardens in front, and so on.

Tarbert itself is a slightly run-down sort of place. It is yet another ferry terminal, and road works to improve the marshalling area, next to the impressive distillery with its hundreds of casks (presumably empty) lined up outside, rather dominated the walk from the hotel to the centre, such as it was.

Having set out boldly without coats to explore the place we only avoided being caught in a heavy rain squall by walking back as rapidly as we could.

Sunday 14th – The Golden Road

Before exploring Northern Harris we decided to go back and take the ‘Golden Road’ which winds along the eastern coast of South Harris and which some more knowledgeable travellers had chosen as their route up from the ferry the day before. It was a stunning drive:

Driving along the ‘Golden Road’

From there we re-joined the main road and headed for a charging station, marked on the app as being in a small commercial area high above Seilebost beach.

This charger turned out to be the same type of smaller model, requiring the car’s on-board connecting cable, which I had failed to make work in Castlebay. And once again I found myself landed in endlessly circling instructions on its little screen, just as a perversely-timed rain flurry took the rest of the fun out of the occasion.

After which experience, even though the battery was still half full, topping it up became a priority. So when we got back to Tarbert the first thing we did was put the car on a charger – successfully. But another perfectly-timed downpour soaked me as I did connected up so that we were thoroughly wet when we darted into the hotel opposite in search of coffee. The staff inside declined any payment for the cakes we chose with our coffee, so we must have looked in a pretty sorry state as we hung our things on the radiator to dry.

Our Eilean Glas lighthouse walk on Skalpay island

The forecast for the rest of the day was fine so we decided to visit the Eileen Glas lighthouse, strongly recommended by one of the couples we had got to know through several meetings as we moved up the islands. But we misunderstood their description and assumed they had approached it via one of the walks we found on the Walkhighlands website.

So basically we underestimated what we were taking on, to the extent that I persuaded Lesley we wouldn’t need the coffee, water and snacks that we usually carried on our walks. But after walking for an hour and a half and nearly three miles of rough, steeply up and down peat hags, there was no sign of the lighthouse and I was wondering whether it would be more sensible to turn back.

…which would have been a big mistake – Fortunately Lesley was made of tougher stuff and we made one more ascent to a cairn from which we could at last see, not only the lighthouse, but the track our advisers had actually used which would afford us an easier, if still lengthy, way back to the car.

At last – the lighthouse and the track. (Skye on the horizon)

The couple who have owned and managed the lighthouse for forty years, staff the café there every day of the summer, living in isolation and having to carry everything half a mile from the road. Definitely something to enjoy while it lasts.

Red dots show we missed out the bit along the coast!

The walk back to the car along another winding and hilly road was tiring and we were very glad not to miss the way back to the car. Nearly seven miles in those conditions is quite enough for us now, but we were so very glad to have done it.

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