Magical Isles – Lewis &Harris

Ok, it’s been a while and this is a bit late…. I’ll explain later. Vanlife doesn’t always go to plan. I’ll finish up the Scottish trip over the next few days, then catch you all up on some van stuff and our ongoing winter exploits….. in Eastern Europe!

After a few days in the Isle of Skye, the call to head to the Outer Hebrides become too hard to ignore. Plus with the impending state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II meaning the Nation would come to a standstill, we decided to go. As a little luxury, we booked a shepherds hut with hot showers and a tv to watch the proceedings of this once in a lifetime event.

The ferry crossing was easy, sailing from Uig with Calmac Ferries, who helpfully allowed us to change our sailing dates to have more time on the Isles. Plus as an added bonus, the little shop next to the office sold gins from the Orkneys and Barra at surprisingly reasonable cost.

Taking a dog was simple, needing to be prebooked and have a ticket – only certain numbers of dogs are permitted as they have to stay with you in the pet area of the ship – comfortable and quiet, with wipe clean floors! Dogs cannot stay in the vehicle during the crossing.

We arrived after dark, passing the Harris Gin distillery – a favourite in the LittleRedBus, so used Park4Nite to find a place to stay. We weren’t disappointed, because even though it was a lay-by, the morning views were stunning and there was no overnight traffic.

We drove up to Stornaway, the capital of Lewis and the biggest town on the Isles and a former RAF base (nerd alert!). We spent a few days here in our shepherds hut, exploring the town and visiting Tescos etc. Stornaway isn’t a pretty town, but it does have some interesting things to see, particularly the towering memorial to those people who lost their lives in the First & Second World Wars, with each islands losses memorialised in a circle of stones with their names engraved. Each stone, a different Isle or War. The memorial itself was designed so that from its top you can see all the Isles who lost people to the conflict. Very sobering to see how many died from each family, three generations at times.

From this point on, we started a route anti-clockwise, using the apps Park4Nite and Searchforsites as a guide to park for free whenever possible and to use community services wherever they were. The history of these Isles is incredible, from the traditional Blackhouses (some restored, but many more ruins) and the Sheilings (shepherds dwellings), the Norse (Viking) Kiln and Mill to the towering Brochs, it’s all here. We even saw Golden Eagles!

The communities embrace vanlife and have made provisions to make it easy. Parking spaces are abundant around the islands, and services for water and waste are found at Tarbert and Port of Ness (which is a sports centre run site). Most places rely on trust with suggested donations to use the facilities and the hope that you will respect them and leave them clean. Also showers are available for a small charge in both places. There are even roadside honesty shops with cakes, bread, jam etc; you just leave the money in the cash box!

Then there are the beaches….. just look at the pictures. Our favourite was Luskentyre beach which has miles of white sands and official parking bays for up to 3 vans, scattered at intervals along the bay. It suggested you pay £5 per night via an app if you wish to and all the money goes back into the maintenance of the bays. There’s even a lovely warden checking you’re happy (you will be!) and if you need anything!

Ok, that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon to complete the tale and return us to the mainland via Westeros!

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