Outer Hebrides, Scotland (review published 2009)

The sun was beating down on the wide stretch of pristine, white sands.
The still, turquoise waters looked so inviting that I just couldn’t resist the urge to strip off and take the plunge.
Then reality struck. This may have been a kind of paradise – but it certainly wasn’t a tropical one.
This wasn’t Jamaica or Antigua. It was Traigh na Beirigh beach in the Outer Hebrides – and the water was bloomin’ freezing.
Traigh na Beirigh was one of many seemingly undiscovered beaches that my wife Jayne and I visited on the Hebridean isles of Lewis and Harris during four days of unbroken sunshine in May.
We couldn’t believe how blessed we had been with the weather but, apparently, long (daylight can extend to 11pm at the height of summer), warm days are not uncommon.
Winters can be mild, too, thanks to a warm sea current known as the North Atlantic Drift, which originates in the Caribbean.
Anticipating rain, rain and more rain, we had booked five nights at a luxurious holiday home in a quiet street on the edge of Stornoway, the capital of Lewis.
Our timber-clad lodge, Metagama, was named after the ocean liner on which hundreds of islanders emigrated to North America in search of a more prosperous existence 100 years ago.
The lodge had a living flame fire, a large TV with full Sky package, a DVD library, a PlayStation and books that we were encouraged to take home if we didn’t finish reading them in time.
Best of all, there was a whirlpool bath for two and a sauna where guests can close their eyes and pretend they are on that Jamaican beach, if it is pouring down outside.
The five-star property, one of several from Hebridean Luxury Holidays, had two double bedrooms and a mezzanine loft space off a minstrel gallery suitable as a play area for children.
Built in an environmentally-sensitive manner, it was contemporary in style, with an open-plan kitchen, lounge and dining room, yet homely with Harris Tweed furnishings and sofas.
Outside was decking with table and chairs and a barbecue to help holiday-makers take full advantage of those extra-long summer days.
If guests are able to drag themselves away from the lodge in the evenings, Stornoway has a choice of restaurants, including Chinese, Indian and Scottish (fish and chips!).
Indeed, the town surprises many first-time visitors with its range of facilities featuring shops you would find in most high streets, including a Tesco and a Co-op.
On a hill overlooking Stornoway is an 85ft-high war memorial in the guise of a Scottish baronial tower, its stature reflecting the scale of the tragedy that struck islanders on New Year’s Day, 1919.
The Admiralty yacht HMS Iolaire, which was bringing sailors home at the end of the First World War, struck a notorious reef as it approached Stornoway harbour and sank. Although the stern of the boat was at one point just 20ft from land, the men were weighed down in the water by their heavy uniforms and boots, 205 losing their lives. With such a cruel twist of fate, it may come as a surprise to learn that the Outer Hebrides is one of the most religious places in Britain.
The islands fall silent on Sundays. The swimming baths, many playgrounds and most shops remain shut while car washing and the hanging out of laundry is frowned upon.
Although Sunday flights to Stornoway started six years ago, islanders were able to resist plans for a mainland ferry crossing on the Sabbath until July this year.
Just days after the start of the service, Stornoway was hit by a freak tornado which upturned cars and boats, leading some locals to claim it was a sign of God’s displeasure.
I disagree. Surely, if it was the Almighty’s doing, the twister would have whipped up a ferry, Wizard of Oz-style, then dropped it back on the mainland!
But no matter how many ferries bring holiday-makers to Lewis and Harris, those beautiful beaches will never ever get crowded.
Travel file (updated August 2018)

Loganair  flies to Stornoway from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Cal Mac operate daily crossings from Ullapool to Stornoway (two hours 30 mins) and Uig in Skye to Tarbert in Harris (one hour 40 mins)

Hebridean Luxury Holidays (www.hebrideanluxuryholidays.co.uk  07917 035 295) will greet you at your lodge. Lodge prices start at £799 for seven nights but short breaks  of four nights are also available out of season. All bed linen and towels are included, as is the cost of gas and electricity. Dogs are welcome (except in “Metagama” which is kept pet free for the benefit of any allergenic guests). For more information on the Outer Hebrides download the App “Visit THE Hebrides”

 /Metagama,Hebridean Luxury Holidays
Lewis factfile
  • Lewis is the largest and most northerly of the six ‘isles’ which make up the Outer Hebrides.
  • Confusingly, Lewis and Harris to the south are one land mass, although the landscapes are very different with the former being mostly peat moorland dotted with freshwater lochs and the latter being quite mountainous.
  • The Outer Hebrides are separated from mainland Scotland by The Minch, a channel frequented by dolphins and whales (one swam right past our ferry!)
  • The friendly locals allegedly breathe the cleanest air in Europe. Most speak Gaelic as well as English.
  • Lewis is probably most famous for the Calanais Standing Stones, which predates Stonehenge and Egypt’s pyramids. The ring and lines of 50 stones, up to 13ft tall, are on a prominent ridge making them visible for miles around.
  • Visitors can delve into more recent Hebridean history at the 300-year-old Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. The traditional, thatched crofting houses were restored after the last remaining residents of Gearrannan were moved out in 1974. Other blackhouses are dotted around the islands .
Calanais Standing Stones
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

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