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 …

Arran – the walks

Machrie Moor

Moss Farm Road Cairn

The trail to Machrie Moor Stone Circles is an out-and-back walk of 4km. Before we got to the main event, we passed Moss Farm (above), the burial cairn of a powerful person who lived about 4,000 years ago, and Fingal’s Cauldron Seat (below), named after the legendary warrior Fhionn / Fingal.

Fingal’s Cauldron Seat

We stepped through a gate just beyond this onto open moorland and the sight of five separate stone circles – the tallest standing stone is over 5m high.

Kilpatrick Preaching Cave

A coastal walk took us to the well-hidden Kilpatrick Preaching Cave. After the Highland Clearances in the 19th century, when the Earl of Arran evicted many of his tenants to make room for more sheep, local people showed their disapproval in the only way they could by rejecting the Earl’s choice of minister. The Preaching Cave provided a suitable meeting place for the congregation. A sad story, but a beautiful setting.

String Road Viewpoint

Returning to Brodick on our last afternoon in Arran, we crossed the island via the String Road (B880) from which a short trail led to a beautiful viewpoint. Ayrshire was just visible on the horizon.

And behind us were beautiful mountain panoramas.

The next morning, we took the ferry back to the mainland while hoping to return to Arran soon.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks – today she’s taking us to Bolton Abbey, and her cyber-companions are walking all over the world.

Inveraray and Auchindrain

Loch Fyne at Inverary
Loch Fyne at Inverary

Inveraray is an 18th century planned town which housed the Duke of Argyll’s estate workers. On a cold, July “summer” day, we had a quick stroll around before lunch, but it wasn’t our ultimate destination. By Loch Fyne is the war memorial and the puffer Vital Spark, which brings back memories of the TV programme Para Handy based on Neil Munro’s stories.

The main street is extremely elegant. These are views from different sides of the central building. If you enlarge the pictures, you can see the bell here:

And the clock on the other side. The George Hotel on the left is where we had lunch – and very good it was too.

Our destination was Auchindrain (pronounced Aach-anDRYan) a few miles along the road. Now an outdoor museum, this is a survival of the old farming townships that mostly disappeared after the Highland Clearances. Unusually, this one was still occupied until 1967 so many of the original buildings are intact. You could view them outside –

– and inside. I would not like to have lived here!

At one point, we found ourselves followed by a cat who was quite persistent in tracking us down and demanding strokes. Then, she suddenly disappeared. Looking back, we spotted that she had attached herself to another group. Feline fickleness! There was one occupied house on site (much newer than the others) and when we passed behind it we noticed a cat-flap in the back door, so the mystery of where she came from was solved.

From the museum carpark, a six-mile circular trail led off down one side of the River Leacainn to the village of Furnace on Loch Fyne and back up the other side. We hadn’t known this existed, but decided to go for it. Here are some highlights.

The High Bridge and Miller’s Falls.

More bridges and nice views.

The village of Furnace which, unsurprisingly, has an old iron furnace dating from 1755.

Uphill from there is Bridge Terrace, built at the beginning of the 20th century to house workers in the nearby quarry, and towards the end of the walk is the Wolf Stone. Some say that the last wolf in Argyll – or maybe even Scotland – was shot here as it stood baying at the moon.

We’d packed a lot into the day and still had an hour and a half’s drive home, but this is one of the beauties of the Scottish summer. We might complain about the weather, but it does stay light very late and allows you to walk well into the evening.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.

West of Tongue

Loch Eriboll
Loch Eriboll

Durness is the most north-westerly village on the British mainland. It’s not far from Tongue as the crow flies – much further for humans who have to follow the coastal road. But who can complain when driving round the beautiful sea loch above? Further along Loch Eriboll, we stopped at the gates of ceramicist Lotte Glob’s studio – though we didn’t have time to go in, it looked intriguing.

At the time, I had no idea I had seen Lotte’s work before until, a couple of weeks ago, I was strolling round Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens and spotted this in the Kibble Palace:

Just outside Durness is the Ceannabeinne Township Trail. After being disappointed to find the Highland Clearance villages east of Tongue in a sorry state of neglect, it was good to find this one well-maintained with comprehensive information boards – and a jaw dropping setting. The villagers here resisted their removal by rioting, but that didn’t change the end result and the land was given over to sheep.

Durness is also home to Smoo Cave, formed by a combination of the sea and a small burn. After visiting the waterfall inside the cave, you can walk up to the point where you can see the hole in the ground through which it enters.

The Village Hall has an interesting garden – though it has seen better days. It was constructed in 2002 in conjunction with the television programme Beechgrove Garden and includes the only permanent memorial to John Lennon in Scotland, which is why we stopped to look. Durness was apparently an area that greatly inspired Lennon – one of his aunts lived there and he spent his childhood holidays between the ages of 9 and 13 in the village. The memorial is the first picture in the gallery below – three standing stones inscribed with lyrics from the song In My Life (There are places I remember) which is said to be about Durness.

As you can see from the skies in some of the pictures, the day was quite overcast. However, there was a spell of sunshine in the afternoon when we walked out to Faraid Head – that deserves a post to itself. Coming soon!

East of Tongue

After our Orkney adventure, we made the short ferry crossing from Stromness to Scrabster on the north coast of mainland Scotland. We were heading west to Tongue for a few nights, but stopped off on the way for a walk out to Strathy Point.

This was all familiar territory too. Last time we stayed in Tongue we walked out to Castle Varrich, but this time we merely admired it from afar as we arrived.

Our accommodation was impressive – the Tongue Hotel is a former sporting lodge, built in the late 1800s for the Duke of Sutherland, with many original features.

After a good night’s sleep, we awoke to what can only be described as a dreich day, so we decided to follow the Strathnaver Trail by car. This 24-mile loop east of Tongue, on mostly single track roads, passes historical sites from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages as well as from the more recent (1800s) Highland Clearances. There’d be plenty of scope for short walks if we got any dry spells in the weather.

We decided that, as the prehistoric sites were unlikely to compare well in standard with what we had just seen in Orkney, we’d concentrate on the 19th century remains. Unfortunately, the tourist board leaflet we had was prepared in 2003 and I’m not sure there had been much maintenance since, as some of the sites were hopelessly overgrown. However, we enjoyed it all the same.

There was a grand view to start with at Braetongue:


The first of the day’s clearance villages was Grummore. This settlement was emptied of its people in the early 19th century to clear ground for sheep farming. Some inhabitants were resettled on the coast and expected to take up sea fishing, even though they had no experience of this. Others moved away to Glasgow or further afield to England, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Maybe some were your ancestors?


Clearances happened all over the Highlands, but the Strathnaver ones have been particularly well documented through the writings of Donald Macleod who witnessed them. His monument is another sight on the tour.

The other clearance villages we visited were Rosal and Achanlochy. The first could allegedly be reached via a forest trail which had so many fallen trees that we had to turn back, though we did get there eventually via the forestry road. The second had so much bracken that you couldn’t see the ruins, but the setting was beautiful; not that this would be much compensation for the hardship of a crofting life and the sheer injustice of being evicted for sheep. The mass exodus of people has disturbing parallels in our own time. How much have we progressed?


Other sights included the rather sweet corrugated iron church at Syre….

….and Bettyhill with its splendid war memorial and the Farr Stone, an 8th century Christianised Pictish stone.

As you can see, by the end of the trail at Bettyhill the sky was a brilliant blue again and we had high hopes for good weather the next day as we ventured west of Tongue.

Gallus Glasgow U: Umbrellas

This post is not about the Glasgow weather – though it’s true that if you visit you should always remember to bring an umbrella. However, this post is about two much bigger umbrellas.

Heilanman's Umbrella
Heilanman’s Umbrella

The Hielanman’s Umbrella (Highlandman’s Umbrella) is the local nickname for the glass walled railway bridge which carries the platforms of Glasgow Central Station across Argyle Street. During the Highland Clearances in the 19th century, thousands of Highlanders came to Glasgow looking for work. As they were dispersed throughout the city, this is the place they came to keep in touch with each other.

Bridgeton Umbrella
Bridgeton Umbrella

The second umbrella is in Bridgeton in the East End. Erected in 1874, it also sheltered the unemployed and, unlike the Hielanman’s Umbrella, was actually designed to do so. I’m disappointed to find its real name is the dull “Bridgeton Cross Shelter”.

For the next couple of days, we’ll be looking at equestrian statues. Anyone else remember the song by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band? No? Well, it’s nothing to do with that anyway. I just thought I’d throw it in.