Hebridean Hop 5: Stornoway to Scarista

Wednesday 1st August 2018

After three nights in Stornoway we were moving on to the Island of Harris, but as we weren’t due at our accommodation, Scarista House, till 5pm we had most of the day to explore a bit more of Lewis. We detoured from the main road to the South Lochs, a sparsely populated area now but once a network of small communities.

We stopped in Kershadar (Cearsiadair), home to the Ravenspoint Visitor Centre, a wonderful place in a beautiful lochside location with a community shop, self-service café, and small museum in one building, and a hostel next door. Highlight of the museum was this travelling pulpit which was wheeled around the countryside while churches were being built in the 1870s so that the population would never miss a Sunday sermon. Perish the thought!

From here, we drove to the small village of Orinsay (Orasaigh) from where we could walk to one of the abandoned settlements. It was a rough, boggy climb with a sense of complete isolation.

This particular village, Steimreway (Stiomrabhaig), was actually abandoned twice, firstly in the 1850s as part of the Highland Clearances. After the First World War, pressure on land prompted requests to resettle it and permission was granted by the landowners in 1921. However, no roads were ever built and access was only on foot or by boat. Eventually families drifted away, and by the end of the 1940s Stiomrabhaig was deserted again. I can’t imaging living in those conditions, however beautiful the setting.

Back on the main road, we headed for Harris. What makes an island? You’d think it would be surrounded by sea, but the islands of Lewis and Harris inhabit the same landmass and crossing the border is hardly noticeable. However, the terrain quickly changes – North Harris is much more mountainous. In the past this would have been a substantial natural barrier to travel, possibly explaining why it was regarded as a different island.

Scarista House, our destination, is on the west coast of South Harris. Excluding the detour, it seemed a quick journey. 29 years ago we travelled the same route when the entire road was single track with passing places. Now, in many sections but not all, we had the luxury of a lane going in each direction, another big change which we noticed throughout the islands.

We were still very glad to arrive. Although I would not choose a chintzy bedroom myself, there was something very welcoming about this one with its big, fluffy duvets. The food was excellent too (proper dishes for vegetarians which weren’t pasta or risotto), and as a bonus the house had a resident cat, who was quite sweet when she bothered to wake up. (She wasn’t allowed in the room I’ve pictured her in. Did she care? You decide.)

We have never stayed in Harris before – in 1989 we just got the ferry from here to North Uist – so everything about the next few days was new to us. But first we needed a good night’s kip in those comfy beds …


  1. I agree with all of the above. I have enjoyed the series thus far. It is part of the world I have never been to and the photographs are quite new to me. If I get back to Scotland before I get too old, decrepit and bad tempered, there are a number of things I must do – after I spend time wandering around Glasgow.


  2. I’m really enjoying this series about a part of the world I haven’t been to (yet) and the beautiful scenery. I’ll be sorry when it comes to an end – as I’m sure you were.


  3. I always wondered why they were classed as different- Lewis- Harris, that makes sense. Think they make gin there now as well. We never did any sightseeing there just hills, hills, hills- the problem with visiting in a group of list tickers with a single focus.


  4. Hi, Anabel – I especially love reading about your trips to places that you have revisited after a significant gap. When planning my travels, I am always torn if I should return to a place that I loved visiting in the past, or if I should go to a place where I have never been before. You seem to strike a great balance with this dilemma.
    BTW – I LOVE the attitude of the house cat!


  5. I could forgive the chintzy wallpaper and curtains if the beds weren’t so old fashioned – I hope they were as comfy as you expected them to be. The cat looks cute – and who cares if she wasn’t supposed to be there 🙂