Shades of Blue on the Isle of Harris

As the sun breaks through the cloud and hits the Atlantic Ocean, the water lights up in iridescent shades from pale green through to deep, deep blue, with a broad expanse of turquoise in between. The pale shell sand which extends far out from the shore, the clarity of the shallow sea and the reflections of a blue sky combine to create these remarkable colours.

It’s an impressive enough sight at the many beaches strung along the west coast of the Outer Hebrides. But nowhere is more spectacular than the Isle of Harris and particularly the junction of Seilebost and Luskentyre (below).

We parked up by Luskentyre and walked and walked along the shimmering sand, taking photo after photo, entranced by the light, the colours, the specks of other people in the distance, the blending of sea and sky. It’s hard to do justice to such a panorama whether on a camera phone or even a state of the art SLR. I used my little beach shoes in the best attempt to give some indication of scale.

The next day we meandered for miles along a single track road all the way to the wonderfully-named Hushinish beach. The wind certainly whistles but whether that translates into an onomatopoeic name, I’m not so sure. It’s wilder here, and even blustery preparations for a marquee-wedding could not detract from the elemental nature of this outpost. No parking on the beach, though!

We headed off across the machair, the coarse grass, sometimes strewn with wildflowers, usually pockmarked with sheep, for views over to the island of Scarp, made famous by the failed attempts to use mini rockets for mail delivery. In the distance we spied another glorious beach, whorls of sand flowing into the ocean blue.

Somewhere out to the west lay St Kilda. Although the sun shone brightly from a clear sky, the ferocity of the wind left no doubt as to why our intended boat trip there had been unable to take place. That will have to wait for the next visit.

The magical colours and ethereal landscape of Harris leave their mark, from the swirls of the Harris Gin bottle through to inspiration for the eponymous tweed and creativity in many guises. We left with a weighty souvenir by ceramicist Nikolai Globe. Every time I glance into it, I recall those myriad shades of blue and green and understand how easily they draw you back time and again.

Words & Images by Heather @ McKinlay Kidd

McKinlay Kidd offer a variety of holidays throughout the Outer Hebrides, including self-drive, fly-drive and public transport options. For more information – or for a tailor-made holiday proposal – please visit our website.

Harris and Lewis – from south to north

In glorious early spring sunshine, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to drive the length of Harris and Lewis. An early morning, silk-smooth crossing from Lochmaddy on one of CalMac’s finest (where the on-board map shows just how circuitous a route the ferry is forced to take to avoid what seems like hundreds of islets and skerries in the Sound of Harris) got me to Leverburgh before breakfast, where the local sheep did their best to enforce their own brand of traffic-calming.

What traffic? As is often the case here, I had the road to myself for long stretches as it climbed and wound its way towards Tarbert, home of the newish Harris Distillery. This impressive facility is well worth a visit and is unusual in that the tasting is done before the tour. Make sure you have a designated driver! There’s also a fine café, where you can enjoy a bite in the company of the distillery staff.

Heading out of Tarbert, the road quickly steepens and climbs towards the almost imperceptible ‘border’ between Harris and Lewis (made up of one landmass, not two separate islands). I say ‘almost’ as the true border is represented by Loch Shiphoirt, fabulous views of which are presented from the highest point of the A859.

On Harris and Lewis you’re never too far away from a loch; some vast, others not much bigger than the average paddling-pool. The calm weather and sunshine today emphasises their beauty and integration within the landscape, as hillsides, clouds and blue skies reflect on the lochs’ ink-black surfaces, creating a disconcerting effect as the lines between water, land and sky become blurred and difficult to pick out.

The contrast between Harris and Lewis is stark; Harris seemingly more dramatic with its mountains, Lewis on the barren side with its sometimes lunar-like landscape.

Incidentally, the roads here are beautifully surfaced – and put the quality of the mainland’s routes to shame -dry and deserted, a real keen-driver’s delight. Roads I’d driven earlier in the year through snow and frost now had a prairie feel about them in places; golden scrub reflecting the sun’s rays as the black ribbon of Tarmac bucked and pitched across it.

Reaching Stornoway, I heard much chatter about the previous evening’s show of the Northern Lights and resolved to see them for myself. With sunset due at about 7.30pm, I made my way up to the island’s northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis. I was optimistic, too, as the sky began to take on a scarlet glow to the West.

The Butt of Lewis Lighthouse is a dramatic and intimidating presence, especially as I found myself alone at its base, just the whirr of the light, the crash of the Atlantic and the screech of countless seabirds for company. Peering over the edge, getting as close as I dare, the violence of the ocean is all too near, the screeching birds seeming to scoff at my apprehension. The sky continued to redden, sunset lasting for what seemed like an age, but the aurora had obviously decided to have the night off. This was really no disappointment, as seeing the Butt and the lighthouse in such amazing conditions was a real treat in itself.

By Chris @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo: Lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis)

Lewis and Harris Food Trail

Last week I ventured to the isles of Harris and Lewis for the first time. I had a fab time exploring all the sites. I also bought my first piece of Harris Tweed and even managed to sunbathe on Luskentyre Beach! I have to say that the best part of my trip was discovering all the quirky eateries on both islands – from croft shops to street food and much more. Here are my top places to check out!

1. Croft 36 – Based in the middle of Northton village, just three miles from the Leverburgh ferry on Harris, this cute croft shop sells local seafood, fresh fish, home baking and organic bread. A great place to stock up before heading to Luskentyre Beach for the day. The shop is self-service with an honesty box. Go early to avoid missing out!

2. Digby Chick – A firm favourite of McKinlay Kidd, I was eager to try this Stornoway restaurant out for myself. The décor itself is inspired by the islands with dramatic seascapes adorning the walls. As for the food – lemon and garlic monkfish and fresh fillet of hake were amongst the highlights – not forgetting raspberry cranachan shortbread to finish!

3. 40 North Foods – Your “go-to” place for delicious cured and home smoked meats as well as fresh pastries, breads and cakes made fresh every day. Situated at North Bragar on the Isle of Lewis, this is a great stop off on route to the Butt of Lewis – the most northerly point of the island!

4. Gourmet Street Food – Blink and you’ll miss it! This quirky food trailer takes up residence in Perceval Square in the town centre of Stornoway every Thu, Fri and Sat for a few hours. Favourite bites include their roll and scallop with chorizo and lemon dressing. They also serve scrumptious home bakes and ‘bean to cup’ coffee. Be warned – you may have to queue, but it is well worth the wait!

5. The Butty Bus – Situated at Leverburgh Harbour, this is a great stop off for a quick snack if heading down to North Uist. Delicious homemade soups as well as fish and chips are served in this unlikely looking establishment. With seating available for just 5 people, it’s pretty cosy. I’d suggest sitting outside (weather dependent!) and admiring the sea views.

Have you been inspired to see the Outer Hebrides differently?

By Zoë @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken at Croft 36 on Harris)