BREATHE EASY IN HARRIS

The Outer Hebrides ranks as one of the happiest places to live in the UK, which might have something to do with blissful blue waters, acres of white sand and breathe-easy big skies. Kathryn Armstrong finds a home in Harris...
Outer Hebrides

Admittedly the weather was our friend when we experienced the remote isle of Harris. Easter brought snow to the North East while we basked beneath soft sunshine rays on a wee piece of paradise. And returned evangelical. Truly. The location is other worldly yet gentle; remote but embracing. If you love to escape, to adventure, to discover culture or eat well, Harris delivers. Here’s how…

Beaches & big skies >>

South Harris is home to some of the best beaches in the world which really do make you gasp. Luskentyre, Seilebost, Northton and Scarista offer up miles of the softest white sand – and blue water that spans the paint colour chart – from gentle turquoise to the deepest indigo.

You can wander for miles – and then some. There are craggy rocks to clamber, rock pools to ponder, dunes to discover and views that make you go a bit teary with their awesome (in the real sense) natural wonder.

At every turn you discover a new vista – and a definite edge of the world, perspective-gathering feeling. No wonder artists love this place.

Crafts & culture >>

Harris, as we all know, is home to Harris Tweed. It has an authentic artisan heritage and there’s a new generation (hello waistcoat-wearing hipsters) coming to love the fabric’s story and the history of the cloth; yarn spun in Harris homes and dyed in shades that you realise are totally in synch with their surroundings – blues from the water, earthy tones from rocks and land and heathery pinks or striking gorse yellow inspired by local fauna.

In the town of Tarbet you can mooch among the looms and buy fabric from the roll – there are dozens of colours and designs to choose from. See demonstrations of weaving and an exhibition of the craft. There’s a shop selling Harris Tweed items and The Visit Scotland shop in Tarbert has good collection of crafts from makers across the island to buy.

Harris is an obvious magnet for artists, and small galleries pepper the island – especially the craggy and other-worldly east coast which is a huge contrast to those vast beaches elsewhere.

Stop off at Skoon Art Café in the marvellous sounding hamlet of Geocrab to see original oil paintings by resident artist John Craig. The gallery is a cosy scone-and-soup hangout, too.

Holmasaig Gallery really looks the business – a clifftop gallery with canvases on the wall but also lined up by easels. Definitely a working studio. A converted church is home to Mission House Studio – an incredible space in itself just to linger, listen to music and view the work of photographer Beka Globe and ceramicist Nickolai Globe.

Feeding & feasts >>

What’s very apparent on Harris is that good produce matters when it comes to food. The land and seashore provide an abundance of fish, meat and vegetables – and people with the intent to show off to their best. You won’t find fast food, in fact the opposite – islanders embracing the ‘slow food’ movement.

Never is this more apparent than in the small and very beautiful hamlet of Northton which overlooks dunes, sands and lagoons. It is home to Croft 36. A must-visit spot. A serve-yourself shack with fabulous home-made treats. There’s an honesty box for payment and a little heated cabinet which has warm pasties and pies to sustain you for a big walk.

You will also find pre-prepared dishes such as fish pie, Mochair wild rabbit stew and dumplings, crab quiche and fish curry to sort you out post-walk.

Northton is also the place to find The Temple Café, a squat stone building with stunning views and tasty wood-fired pizza, great salads, soups and cakes.

The Hebridean waters supply the freshest hand-dived scallops you’re ever likely to eat. We had a plateful at The Anchorage, in the village of Leverburgh, which was our home in Harris. This restaurant, unassuming from outside, like many, served up great seafood – the best ever seafood linguine – as well as fish and chips.

If you’re in the mood for fine-dining, then Scarista House makes a good destination. It’s a small hotel with much-awarded, well respected food – and views overlooking Scarista beach. Communal pre-dinner drinks, then a set menu, served at one sitting. Expect exceptional produce such as prawns and fillet of Aberdeen Angus, as well as local cheeses and homemade treats like wheaten bread and dreamy butter.

Before we even got to Harris we encountered The Seafood Shack at Ullapool, right by the ferry terminal. You smell it before you see it.

A bit of a Riley’s Fish Shack kind of place – perfect shellfish ‘to go’ – a mound of freshly caught langoustine served up and eaten by the harbourside – and those hand-dived scallops making an appearance. Cullen skink and garlicky crab claws also delicious.

And of course the gin thing. The Isle of Harris Distillery is newly-opened in Tarbert. Run by a young family team, the impressive building hosts distillery tours and tastings – and has a good café (parsnip and honey soup – yum). The USP of Harris gin, as well as a gorgeous swirly bottle design that represents the sands of Luskentyre beach, is the addition of sugar kelp which is hand-harvested by a local diver from the underwater forests of the Outer Hebrides.

Adventures & animals >>

Depending on when you travel to Harris, there’s much to see in terms of wildlife. Take rib boat trips to explore the shores to seek out seals, basking sharks, puffins and bottlenose dolphins – maybe even orcas.

You’re never far from a herd of Highland cattle and, of course, this is ideal birdwatching territory where you can spy gannets guillemots, shags and kittiwakes.

Head for North Harris Eagles Observatory and see if you can spot golden and white tailed eagles.

In terms of activities, this is super paddleboarding and kayaking territory, with gentle inlets and a spectacular coastline. Plenty of surfing options and a spectacular golf course at Scarista.

The mountains of Harris attract keen hillwalkers to tackle the heights of the Clisham and Uisgnaval Mor.

Stay & sleep >>

We stayed in Leverburgh, which is an hour’s drive from Stornoway, in Ardview, pictured above and far left, a newly-renovated house which sleeps ten people.

The house is owned and was renovated by North Yorkshire businessman, Alun Pearson, who is passionate about the isle and the local community, spending as much time as possible there.

With three ensuite bedrooms including an impressive mastersuite with drench shower room on the ground floor, it’s an ideal place for an all-age family stay or a gathering of friends.

Sonos sound system, large communal kitchen and boot/kit space mean it’s a convivial space in a good village setting.

The house is perfect for explorers – be they on foot or on water. It’s close to good beaches – Northton in particular.

It’s also an easy waterside walk to the aforementioned Anchorage restaurant.

ardviewhouse.co.uk | visitouterhebrides.co.uk | calmac.co.uk


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