Harris, together with its conjoined twin Lewis, forms the largest island in the Outer Hebrides or Western Isles of Scotland. As both names for the archipelago suggest, this is a remote place, over 60 miles from the mainland. It can be reached by plane from Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverness or by two ferry routes, both of which require some serious travel before you are even on board. The first option is to sail from Ullapool on the north west mainland to Stornoway on Lewis. The crossing takes nearly three hours, in good weather, and Ullapool itself is a four hour drive from Edinburgh. The second option, and the one we chose, is to make your way to Uig, on the Isle of Skye, for the shorter crossing (roughly two hours) to Tarbert, Harris.
Harris is smaller and more mountainous than its immediate neighbour, and less populous. Tarbert, the main settlement, is home to roughly 500 people and whether out walking, or driving on the winding, often single track roads, hours can pass before you see another person. It is a wild and spectacularly beautiful place of big skies, white sand and uninterrupted breath-taking views.
We arrived shortly before dusk, chasing the light as we drove south from the ferry terminal to our chosen campsite of Horgabost and were treated to the soft mellowing of colours across the bay and a glorious sunset. The facilities at Horgabost are minimal but the beach-side location more than compensates; in early April we had the place completely to ourselves. Nothing tastes better than BBQ under the stars and, that far away from artificial lights, there were too many to even begin to count.
April is a good time to visit any of Western Scotland; the crowds will be smaller, the weather in the last few years has been fair, not necessarily warm but often dry and clear, and most important of all, the infamous midges will not yet have stirred. Midges are small, mosquito like insects, who swarm in vast clouds in the Scottish summer, biting mercilessly and seem to have become immune to most varieties of bug spray. They are not harmful but are unpleasant and best to be avoided if possible.
Outdoor activities dominate on Harris, though there are a number of small art galleries, gift shops and cafes selling local crafts including the world renowned Harris Tweed, a protected product of the island. Some of the weavers offer demonstrations to visitors and the warehouse shop in Tarbert is certainly worth a visit whether you’re staying in the town, passing by on the way to your campsite or whiling away time before your ferry departs. Crossing the border to Lewis is also recommended; keep a look out for my next post for some sights not to be missed.
For the previous post in my Scottish secrets series, starring the Mull of Galloway lighthouse, click here