Places to Visit in the Western Isles of ScotlandPosted: 2011-05-22
I just had the pleasure of spending two weeks in the Western Isles, based on South Uist. It was a glorious experience - as it usually is when I visit the Hebrides - and it got me thinking what my top suggestions would be for people intersted in visiting the isles. There are fewer 'attractions' in the Western Isles than many other places in Britain, but don't let that discourage you; in many ways the real attraction is the superb landscape, which at times seems bleak, and at other times almost unbearably exquisite.
I decided to divide my top picks into two categories; historic sites and scenic areas. In truth, all the isles qualify as a scenic area, but some are a little bit special! This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, merely places I have visited and enjoyed and can personally recommend.
Callanish Stone Circle - Isle of Lewis. This is a no-brainer; Callanish is one of the most marvellous historic sites in Britain. The complex of stone circles and rows is quite amazing, and the setting is enough to qualify the area as a scenic attraction, too! I had the pleasure of photographing the midsummer sunrise at Callanish a few years ago and it was an experience I shall never forget.
Dun Carloway - also on Lewis, Dun Carloway is one of the best preserved Iron Age forts in Scotland. The location is marvellous, and the remains of the dun are very impressive.
Rodel church - at the very south east tip of Harris, Rodel is probably the most important historic church in the Western Isles. The thing that really makes it worthwhile are the wonderful late medieval tombs, which are decorated with some quite wonderful carvings.
Pobull Fhinn and Barpa Langass - two for the price of one (don't let that hackneyed expression fool you, these are open sites, with no admission fee!). Just south of Lochmaddy, on the east coast of North Uist, are these two prehistoric sites. Barpa Langass (sometimes spelled 'langais') is a beautifully preserved chambered cairn on the slope of a hill. The inner passage has been restored so that you can crawl inside. A short walk over the hill brings you to Pobull Fhinn stone circle. The location is marvellous, looking out over Loch Langais.
Howmore Chapels - South Uist. One of the most important ecclesiastical remains in the Isles, Howmore is a complex of chapels and churches set in and around a circular burial ground. The presence of an early Chritian grave marker suggests that there has been a church here since about the 6th century.
Trinity Chapel (Teampull na Trionaid) - at Cairinis, near the southern end of North Uist stands this ruined church within a circular enclosure. The church may have been established by the daughter of Somerled, Lord of the Isles. A short stroll away is the 'Ditch of Blood', the site of the last battle fought in Britain with bows and arrows and swords as the main weapons.
Dun an Sticir - North Uist. A wonderfully situated dun on a smakl island in a loch. The dun is accessed by two causeways of flat stones. The first causeway leads to a larger island where it is thought the local chief held his council meetings. From there, another causeway leads to the dun, where a rectangular hall was inserted within the circulr dun in the medieval period. When I first came to Dun an Sticir I wasn't that impressed; of course the fact that it was dull and drizzling, and the water level was too high to cross the causeway had a lot to do with it. But a subsequent visit in sunshine, with the water level low, made me realise what a wonderful, and atomspheric place this is.
Kisimul Castle - Barra. The seat of the MacLeods of Barra stands on a rocky islet in the harbour of Castlebay. The location is wonderful, and the castle can be reached only by boat from the jetty. Its well worth a trip just for atmosphere!
Dun Chuidhir - near the north west corner of Barra, high above the cemetery at Cuidhir, is a rocky dun in a landscape of scattered boulders. The climb is a stiff one, though not long, and the view from the top is utterly superb.
Loch Druidibeg nature reserve, South Uist - this is my favourite scenic area in the Western Isles. If you come in the evening the view east across the loch to the hills of South Uist is simply unforgettable.
Ludag harbour - I'm sure there are plenty of scenic harbours in the Western Isles; this just happens to be one that I know! The circular harbour stands almost at the start of the causeway to Eriskay, and gives wonderful views to the hills on that island. Its a peaceful place, with fishing boats bobbing at anchor.
Eriskay - the entire island of Eriskay rates a place on this list! There's just something about the place; not to big, no great hills, just wonderful Hebridean scenery. There's a great walk along the north coast to the ruined village of Roisinis, and of course you'll get a chance to see the semi-wild Eriskay ponies.
Rueval, Isle of Benbecula - Rueval is the only hill on Benbecula. Maybe that's why a climb to the top affords such a fabulous view. It is said that on a clear day you can see 90 lochs from the top. I believe it! A lovely walk leads past (or over the top of) Rueval to the coast at Rossinish. As you walk along the road you are following in the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie, who waited here for a ship to take him 'over the sea to Skye'.
Golden Road, Harris - the east coast of Harris has to be seen to be believed. The scenery is otherworldly; an area of rocky inlets and tiny harbours, with jagged rocks strewn about like giant's playthings. The road that links the tiny settlements along the coast is known as the Golden Road, a testament to the high cost of building it. I'm glad they did!
Visit the Hebrides - the official Western Isles tourist board website