Isle of Lewis.
What can you see with only one day on the Isle of Lewis?
As it turns out, quite a bit!
The Isle of Lewis is at the northernmost end of a chain of islands known as the Outer Hebrides.
The Outer Hebrides are located on the Western side of Scotland.
When my mother and I traveled to Scotland in May, our itinerary was jam-packed. Seeing the Callanish (Calanais) standing stones was at the top of our “must-see” list. We both felt quite drawn to them. In order to accomplish this, we planned a one-day trip over to the Outer Hebrides.
Obviously, this isn’t near enough time to see all that there is to offer, but we knew that if we kept our focus to the Isle of Lewis, we’d be able to squeeze in quite a few sights.
Getting to the Isle of Lewis.
The Highlands portion of our travels was based out of Inverness, which we had flown into from London.
Our original plan was to use public forms of transportation over the duration of our trip since neither of us had any experience driving on the opposite side of the road. This meant that driving a car to catch the ferry in Ullapool wasn’t an original option.
Flight to Stornoway.
While not the most economical solution, we were determined to visit the Isle of Lewis and decided to take a flight with LoganAir roundtrip from Inverness to Stornoway. We booked a 7:00 a.m. flight with a return time of 5:00 p.m. There is still one later return flight, but our thought process was that if on some off chance that we missed our flight, there might still be an option to make it back to Inverness.
Car Hire (Rental).
Under the original plan, we were going to rely on the bus system on the Isle of Lewis to see as many sights as possible. Ultimately, we wanted the flexibility to move around at our own pace and my mom said she’d drive and I could navigate. We ended up booking a car through CarHire Hebrides. Given that I anticipated it would be stressful enough, we opted for an automatic (even though we are both capable of driving a manual).
While we could have brought more luggage since we had a car, we traveled under the original scenario of a bag with our camera gear and essentials. We knew that our timeline would likely be tight and many parts of the Isle are secluded so we brought plenty of snacks in case we ended up taking a late lunch (which we actually never took).
So on with the tour…
We caught the 5:25 a.m. bus from the Inverness Bus Station to the Inverness Airport. You might think we were the only ones waiting there that early in the morning, but there was actually a gentleman and his son there as well. They had arrived in town the night before…from… guess where? Stornoway! They lived there and were heading to the airport to catch a flight down to London.
The flight to Stornoway is only 45 minutes so we would have an early start to our day. After picking up the rental car, we were on our way!
There is also a ferry option through Calmac Ferries that will take you from Ullapool to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. If you are on a road trip and already have a car, this would be a great option.
I’ve included a google map of our route. Our original itinerary was somewhat flexible, but these were our ultimate stopping points. We knew that we would start with the Callanish standing stones because it was likely that by arriving that early in the morning, the tour buses wouldn’t have yet arrived.
Callanish (Calanais) Standing Stones.
The first stop was the Callanish standing stones.
The standing stones were built around 3,000 B.C. and predate Stonehenge by about 2,000 years. You can walk up to and around all of the stones.
If you read about the stones, there are actually multiple locations.
We visited Callanish I, II, and III.
Our next stop was Dun Carloway.
Dun Carloway is a broch, which, according to the signage at the location, is among Scotland’s most impressive prehistoric buildings.
They are stone roundhouses that date from about 2,300 to 1,900 years ago and are found mainly in north and west Scotland. They were primarily dwelling places for the principal family in the area.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village.
This is a restored blackhouse village located along the Atlantic, which gives a view into the lives of the crofters and fishermen who would have lived there.
Our visit here was actually due to a miscommunication between my mother and me. She thought that I really wanted to see it and I thought that she really wanted to see it and so we went.
I will be doing a post on this stop in the future as well, but my key tip here is to get there early. The parking area was full and congested. We eventually got a spot when someone pulled out. My preferential sites are usually focused on nature and the outdoors and this stop used up quite a bit of our time.
It’s fascinating, just time-consuming.
Had our time not been limited, I would have taken the coastal walk, which can be accessed from the Blackhouse Village, to our next destination.
I perused many a blog and website sharing the splendors of the hidden and not so hidden beaches found on the Outer Hebrides.
It was likely that we would only have time to visit one or two (it turned out to be one) so I settled on Dalbeg Beach.
The views here were just as stunning as I expected.
I shared a closer look at the pebble bed (located on the left side of this photo) leading to the sea in this post.
After Dalbeg Beach, we began our drive toward the northernmost end of the Isle of Lewis.
We had a few sites that were on our “if we have time and if we see them and can find a place to park” list.
The one that we were able to manage was the Whalebone Arch.
The tale behind the Whalebone Arch is that in 1920, the corpse of an 80 ft long blue whale drifted into Bragar Bay. It had a harpoon in its head. The villagers had to deal with the whale as it decomposed. The postmaster decided that the jawbone would make a nice addition to his gate. He also had the harpoon, which detonated as it was being cleaned and painted. Luckily, no one was hurt. The jawbone was raised, where it still stands today, 25 feet tall and weighing 4 tons, the harpoon located at its peak.
Port of Ness.
After that quick stop, we made our way to the Port of Ness.
The photos that I had seen of this harbor made we want to add it to the stops.
And the views did not disappoint.
According to the tourism website, this harbor sees local seamen off on their traditional annual journey to the island of Sula Sgeir where locals are licensed to catch gannet for food following in their ancestors’ traditional footsteps.
I loved the blues of the water at Port of Ness and will be sharing more photographs from there, but you can see another of the photos that I shared from that stop in this post.
Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.
Finally, we arrived at the Butt of Lewis.
The Butt of Lewis is mentioned as the windiest place in the UK. I can attest to the fact that is was extremely windy. The lighthouse stands 121 ft high and is constructed of red brick and unpainted. We walked along the cliffs (not close to the edge!!), some of which rise to 80 feet.
Returning to Stornoway.
After the Butt of Lewis, it was time to return to Stornoway. We did run into a little rain on the drive back. This is why you always take the time to learn where the switches are when you rent a car. Which we had. Whew!
Looking back at the map that I shared, you can see that the return trip did not make us come back exactly from whence we came. Taking A857 from near Barvas to head toward Stornoway cuts down the return time.
Camerons Chip Shop.
As I mentioned, we did not eat lunch during the day. I’m not sure what restaurants we may have passed because we only turned off the main roads occasionally and a lunch stop would have had to be pre-planned to know where we might go.
I knew that I wanted to get fish and chips at Camerons Chip Shop in Stornoway because they had excellent reviews on Tripadvisor.
Driving into Stornoway was a little terrifying due to my opposite side of the road mixed with traffic fears. We got parked, paid the meter, found the local public bathrooms and then made our way back over to Camerons. We thought that we’d eat there, but as we reassessed our time and the fact that we need to get gas on the return to the airport, we decided that we should get it to go. They gave us a sample taste of Irn-Bru “Scotland’s other national drink”, but given that I almost never drink soda, it was too sweet for me.
Back to the Airport.
We got gas, made it back to the airport and returned the car. We thought that we’d go through security and eat on the other side. Then it occurred to us that our drinks we over the size limit. And could you take unsealed food through security? And what about my vinegar on the fish? Liquid? There wasn’t anyone to ask in security without actually being in line for security.
The airport at Stornoway is very small. I overheard a gentleman say to someone that he didn’t expect to smell fish at the airport. Well, the reality was that I didn’t either. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience to be starving, stuffing as much food in as you could before you had to rush to security, and not getting to enjoy this meal you’d purchased with the full intention of savoring the fact that you were eating fish in a town that is… on… the… Ocean.
Hello! Can we say fresh fish?!
We definitely packed a lot into what was essentially 7-ish hours.
However, if I were to return, I’d want to spend more than one day. Accommodations have to be booked well in advance. I can’t recall if there were even rooms available when we were planning this trip.
Also, there is a difference between taking photographs while you travel and taking a photography trip. Lighting was not in my favor at many of the stops. With more time, I could have aligned some photography with the golden and blue hours.
There were other places that I would have liked to have stopped. Other standing stones to have seen. Other beaches to have admired. I would have wanted to visit the Isle of Harris as well and to have been able to take my time strolling through each stop. To have meandered along some of the trails and smelled the ocean air.
All in all, it was an amazing day and one that I’ll not forget.
Let your light shine!