Posts Tagged ‘Bernerey’

It was the cancellation of the Faenol festival in North Wales that prompted this somewhat impulsive visit to this collection of 200 islands off the west coast of Scotland. I’d short-listed them for the post-Edinburgh chill-out last year, but Mull won that contest. The guidebooks put you off, but they couldn’t be more wrong – they’re gorgeous.

I was surprised to find them 50% more populous than either Shetland or Orkney and I think it’s the only part of Scotland where Gaelic is still the first language of the majority (and comes before English in all signage). It seems to be a very religious place where Sunday’s still Sunday – the church car parks are overflowing and the supermarkets and filling stations closed.  I’m not sure it’s depopulating as fast as other Scottish islands (if at all).

I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of motoring here. I hate driving in England, but when there’s little or no traffic it’s such a joy pootering along soaking up the scenery on single-track roads – but you have to keep your wits about you for, in addition to the prospect of an oncoming vehicle, you have to contend with narrow windy roads, precarious drops and lots of sheep.  I’ve also been lucky with the weather, as I don’t think I’d be saying the same if I’d had rain and fog to contend with. I must have done some 500-600 miles on eight of the ten inhabited islands (Lewis and Harris are actually one island, which made me smile as much as Shetland and Orkney referring to their biggest island as ‘the mainland’) from the northernmost point in Lewis (with the unfortunate name The Butt of Lewis – but appropriate given it’s the windiest place in Britain!) to the island of Eriskey 150 miles and six islands south and I’ve loved every minute.

There is a huge variety of landscapes and seascapes that seem to change every time you go round the next bend in the road. From Lewis’ largely flat peat lands, the steep mountains of North Harris rise only to be replaced by the rocky lunar landscape of South Harris. If you take the one-hour ferry trip southwest to Bernerey you get hills followed by the pastures of North Uist, waterlogged rocky & sandy Benbecula (so low you’re convinced rain or the sea will one day submerge it completely), hillier South Uist and the gentle mountains of Eriskey – these five islands are linked by bridges / causeways to form a 60-mile long chain.

Everywhere you look there are inland lochs, often very small, and when the tide changes the seascape changes as white sand beaches hide or reveal themselves and the sea changes from stillness to crashing into rocks and cliffs. There are some extraordinary unspoilt beaches; more pre-historic standing stones and stone circles than you’ve ever seen before and sheep, cute Hebridean cows, heather and peat being cut almost everywhere you look. The only blots on the landscape are the houses – a characterless collection of grey pebble-dashed boxes that are the same everywhere. There are only a handful of the lovely stone-walled thatch or turf roofed ‘blackhouses’ which were once the home of the crofters.

My highlights have been the ‘golden road’ (as named by the dry humoured locals because of its exorbitant cost) through the rocky bays of the east coast of south Harris along which there were seals basking and diving and a gorgeous 16th century church perched on the cliff top overlooking the Atlantic; the vast white sands of Uig (where the chessmen were found) and the B887 along the south coast of North Harris which actually runs through the iron gates and grounds of a private castle right past the front door and out through the monumental gateway!

When you look at these photos, you’ll be booking your trip here – gorgeous!

You are invited to view Gareth’s photo album: Outer Hebrides
Outer Hebrides
Aug 30, 2010
by Gareth
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