Hebridean Hop 4: Lews Castle

Tuesday 31st July 2018

Lews Castle, Stornoway

Lews Castle was built by Sir James Matheson, a Far East trader who bought the whole island of Lewis in 1844. In 1917 the island was bought by Lord Leverhulme, the soap industrialist, who set about trying to replace the culture of crofting (small-scale farming) with a fishing empire. The crofters weren’t impressed and his plans came to naught – the island was put up for sale again in 1923, and the community was at least able to buy Stornoway and the castle. Since then, the castle has had many uses – from 2016 it has housed a museum on the ground floor and holiday accommodation above.

The forecast was for rain later, but the morning was sunny so we set off for a walk around the grounds – the wooded peninsula showing behind Stornoway Harbour in the first image below – before hitting the museum.

By the time we arrived back at the castle it was raining – and definitely time for lunch. We’d had morning coffee in the small café in the grounds, but it was now packed so we headed back towards town to Kopi Java which was recommended in our guidebook. Run by a local couple (she comes from Lewis, he comes from Indonesia) it provides excellent food and illustrates how much Stornoway has changed since our last visit 29 years before. Then, we remember queuing at a counter for “coffee” which was poured from a large metal tea-pot with the enquiry “Sugar?” Had we not said no quickly, sugar would have been poured in for us. Gourmet it was not!

Back in the castle, we were extremely impressed with the museum. Centre stage were six Lewis Chessmen, part of a 12th century set which was found nearby but now belongs to the British Museum which has kindly (?) loaned some of the pieces back. In the morning, we’d passed some large wooden models in the grounds and had a bit of fun with them. Spot the difference!

The castle also has an excellent café, and after more fortification we looked at the public areas on the rest of the ground floor. I don’t know what the apartments above are like, but I suspect they will be very grand. Next visit maybe …

This was our last day in Stornoway – the following morning, we set of for Harris, an island that we didn’t need a ferry to access, or even a causeway. How could this be?

Hebridean Hop 2: Ullapool to Stornoway

Sunday 29th July 2018

Ullapool

I woke up at 4am to the sound of torrential rain and howling gales. No ferry would run in this and, sure enough, by 7am the CalMac app was filled with doom. The 8am ferry would not leave Stornoway in Lewis until at least 10, so the 11:30 return leg on which we were booked would be severely delayed.

Strangely, it turned into a beautiful morning in Ullapool, albeit with a stiff breeze as the horizontal bunting in the picture above attests. However, no such luck in Stornoway where the ferry’s departure got later and later. We spent our time revisiting the Ceilidh Place for coffee, shopping for waterproof trousers – essential items which we realised we’d left at home – and generally enjoying the pretty views.

Eventually, the ferry left Stornoway at 12 noon and, it seemed, everyone in Ullapool turned out to greet its arrival at 14:30. By 15:30 we were onboard and on our way, arriving in Lewis at 6pm, a mere four hours late.

Lewis is a Sabbatarian island and in the past it would not have been possible to arrive on a Sunday because no ferries ran. This has now changed, but most restaurants still close on Sundays, including the one in our hotel. I’d taken the precaution of advance-booking somewhere that was open, about twenty minutes walk away. First, we watched our ferry depart for Ullapool again, then we wandered off to dinner admiring various pieces of sculpture and street art on the way there and back.

And so to bed, hopefully to sleep better than I had the night before.