The Outer Hebrides has developed into one of the fastest growing holiday destinations in Scotland.
How could it not be with the breathtakingly beautiful beaches such as Luskentyre in West Harris and Tolsta in Lewis, the impressive mountain range in North Harris. With historically significant sites covering the island, the views and the wildlife demanding to be captured. It’s no wonder that the island has been such a hit with visitors in the summer months.
But, how about experiencing the island in its truest most beautiful season? Winter.
For a true Hebridean adventure visiting the Western Isles in winter presents a remarkably different experience.
You will need:
- A good wind and waterproof jacket.
- Plenty warm under layers.
- A large hot flask.
- Ability to make hearty and delicious packed lunches.
- A rough itinerary of wet and dry weather activities.
- And lastly a sense of adventure and a lust for FREEDOM!
A place to call home
There are plenty of great hotels and self-catering cottages offering year-round accommodation. However, if you are one of the lucky few to own yourself a home on wheels The West Harris Trust at Talla na Mara has year-round facilities for motorhomes and caravans. Facilities include electric hook-up, shower and chemical disposal.
Located perfectly in between both ferry ports of Leverburgh and Tarbert, with views out to St Kilda (if you are very lucky) it is a great spot to base your adventures!
Arise in your cosy yet most likely wind battered motorhome or caravan, sort yourself a hot drink (or a wee dram) and a bowl of porridge to set you up for the day ahead!
This is the moment your packed lunch skills come in handy, prepare yourself whatever you have picked up at the Community shop in Leverburgh ‘An Clachan’, and fill up a flask of soup or coffee!
With the beaches on your doorstep, it would be rude not to spend your time exploring the many world-renowned beaches of West Harris, from your base at Talla na Mara set off to Luskentyre, the most famous beach of them all! Brace yourself for the classic Hebridean weather of strong winds that come in from the Atlantic taking shelter in the maze of dunes if it gets too much! If you thought the weather was variable in the summer, then you will not believe how quickly the weather changes in the winter. One of the keys to making the most of your trip is always be ready to run outside and enjoy the fleeting moments of sunshine, however, make sure you have a good book on standby to retreat to when the cold wind hits!
Working your way back along to your base at Talla na Mara you will pass by two more stunning beaches Seilebost (pictured below – playing games in 50mph winds is possible!) and Niseabost.
Take a break!
Inside Talla na Mara there is a light-filled gallery with a new exhibition every month and four art and design studios where you can see the artists plying their trade. Don’t be scared to say hello these guys could chat for hours about their love and knowledge of the island. The studios are made up of, Hebridean Design Company, Isle of Harris Fine Art, Joceline Hildrey illustration and Porteous Architecture.
There is a restaurant located here ‘The Machair Kitchen’ however they have been closed over winter this year, so you are best to bring a packed lunch, coffee in a hot flask and have yourself an early lunch.
Rain – (really really Western Isles wet)
Immerse yourself in the history and natural environments of the Hebrides, at the Seallam visitor centre in Northton. Browse through various exhibitions or get lost in a topic in the research area. There is plenty to keep you occupied here for days, and it’s open Monday – Wednesday during the winter!!
Windy but Bright
If you can take on the gale force winds, the rewards can be huge! There is little known about key historic sites in Harris such as Dun Bhurigh, perhaps you’ll make a new discovery! Just a short walk from the road you will find the remains of an Iron Age Broch. Let your imagination wonder as you picture yourself here with Viking invasions always at the back of your mind!
If you are still hungry for more history, St Clements church in Rodel is a late fifteenth-century church built for the chiefs of the Macleods of Harris.
At Northtons road end there is a small car park before a small gate opens out into a winding trail. Follow the trail passing yet more beautiful beaches and this will take you up to the top of Ceapabhal, summit elevation 368m. This short but steep ascent rewards with stunning views along the beaches of Harris as well as out over a myriad of islands in the Sound.
You will pass by a ruined chapel built upon the remains of an ancient Dun.
By now whatever weather you had during the day will descend into darkness, you will be left for company with nothing but the stars and the moon above, weather dependant (obviously!)
Head to Scalpay, and the North Harbour Bistro, the owner and master chef George has an incredible menu packed with locally caught seafood! If you are on a stricter budget you’ll still find delicious food with great service from the van ‘Island Bites’ in Tarbert. The Isle of Harris Distillery (the makers of that amazing Gin we are all raving about) has a cosy wee cafe with the best home baking!
Reward yourself with a luxury room in the 4-star Hotel Hebrides, or the more traditional Harris Hotel.
Or head back to Talla na Mara to start your adventure all over again!