A great trip to Harris

Towards An Cliseam

Towards An Cliseam

Well, as most of you will know, we’ve just returned from a two week stay on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.  Last May when we stayed up on the north coast of Sutherland, we managed to get a good Internet connection by driving up to a high point just outside the village of Betty Hill.  We had hoped that this year we’d be able to find a similar spot on Harris and I could keep up with the regular Face Book updates and at least one blog.  The fact that this is the first time I’ve written anything since 26 April, will tell you that our hopes were in vain.  We did make an effort and on the first day of our holiday we drove around checking out all the high points on the local roads ….but nothing.  We even drove up to Stornoway to buy a different Internet dongle ….but this was only slightly better.  We did get brief spells where there was a signal …but not long enough to actually use!  So then ….a brief update is probably now called for.

Rough ground - the hills of Harris

Rough ground – the hills of Harris

Neither of us had ever been to Harris before but I’d long hoped to do the trip as I’d read great reports of the hill-walking there.  We’d booked a small cottage in the village of Tarbert and as it turned out it was just two minutes from the ferry terminal, so we could see sea from one of the upstairs windows and the low hills rose up steeply behind the village.  Just to the west of the village the sea once again encroaches and a ten minute drive on the main road opens up spectacular views of the rugged Harris hills.  They really are quite dramatic despite being relatively low.  That said they are very rugged and there is a huge amount of rock everywhere.  The highest point on Harris and the whole of the Outer Hebrides is An Cliseam, a steep sided hill rising to 799 m.  Before getting to the island, I’d hoped that we might get to the top of this hill but with the weather doing its best ….much rain, wind and even snow on one day ….we didn’t even get around to attempting it!   That said, we did have four relatively fine days and managed several good walks with spectacular views.  You really don’t have to get very high on these islands to get huge views and even the numerous small hills of around 300 – 400 m give some rough and exhilarating walking.

Looking south from one of the low hills on Harris

Looking south from one of the low hills on Harris

The coastline is spectacular and on the west side of the island there are some incredible beaches of pale sand.  We did a drive down the west coast on the first Wednesday of the holiday.  The forecast had been poor but it turned out to be an almost clear blue sky making these incredible beaches look like something from the Caribbean …..only the strong and very cold wind told you different!  The following day it started raining at about nine o’clock in the morning and continued for thirteen and a half hours, turning to sleet in Tarbert around lunchtime.  By late afternoon we watched as the local snow plough returned to the village, (with snow caked on the front of it) having been called in action to help clear the main road over the hills to Stornoway.  When we went out the following day we found the snow down to below 100 m and the hills looked spectacular.  What a difference 48 hours makes ….one day walking on a beach in bright sunshine ….two days later walking in several centimetres of slippery snow.  This really is one of the reasons I love having a holiday in NW Scotland in May ….you never quite know what you’re going to get …a bit of winter or a bit of summer.

On one of the numerous granite slabs - photo by Nita

On one of the numerous granite slabs – photo by Nita

I had planned to get some work done this holiday but as usual the drawing stuff stayed in the bag.  I have though come away with some good ideas for new work and in fact I’ve already started one new large drawing.  As we approached the Isle of Harris on the ferry it was gloomy and wet with a slightly choppy sea.  We’d sat in the café by a window looking west and with the rain on and the spray hitting the window ….the view looked very much like one of my paintings or drawings.  This first piece of work since I returned is based on my memories of this slowly changing view.  It’s not finished yet but I’ll get some photos of it posted soon.

Suffice to say, we had a great time and it is a place well worth visiting ….we’ll certainly be going back again another year …it’s a real gem and thoroughly recommended.

Towards the main group of hills on Harris - Photo by Nita

Towards the main group of hills on Harris – Photo by Nita

Waves breaking on a Harris beach - Photo by Nita

Waves breaking on a Harris beach – Photo by Nita

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