I was sitting by the wing of the small plane from Inverness to Stornoway. A slightly nervous flyer, I was buoyed by my excitement at finally visiting the Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles. As we flew over the Isle of Lewis I was struck by how little the signs of human habitation dented the green rocks, even as we approached Stornoway itself. The plane was initially unable to land and so circled the island, at which my point my anxiety levels began to rise, but the air hostess remained smilingly reassuring. Finally we were landing and yet all I could see beneath us was sea and beach, so close is the runway to the shoreline. Had we been flying from Glasgow to Barra, the southernmost of the islands, we would actually have been landing on the beach. For those who prefer a less dramatic arrival, it’s also possible to get to the islands from the mainland by ferry.
In the airport, a friendly man at the information desk informed us that there wasn’t another bus into town for about an hour but showed us where we could find taxis. The ride cost roughly £8 and we were dropped at the bus station. On enquiring where we could get lunch we were directed to the Ann Lantair Arts Centre. As we made our way upstairs to the cafe we passed an exhibition room where a chess tournament seemed to be taking place. The Isle of Lewis is famous for the Lewis Chessmen, chess pieces dating from AD 1150-1200 which were found in the area around Uig but are thought to be Scandinavian in origin.
I was traveling with my partner and we had decided to base ourselves in the hamlet of Drinishader, near Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. Neither of us having a car, we were reliant on public transport to get there. I had printed out the various bus timetables before we left home, and having those to hand proved invaluable as the buses do run on schedule but are few and far between, with none running on Sundays. It takes about an hour to get from Stornoway to Tarbert by bus, and cost just over £7 for both of us. Before we left Stornoway we stopped at a local supermarket to get supplies, which is well worth doing if you’re staying in self-catering accommodation, as outside the bigger towns you can go for quite a while without coming across a shop. Having left home before 6:30am, on reaching Tarbert mid-afternoon we opted for a £10 taxi to our hostel in Drinishader, rather than waiting two hours for the next connecting bus service.
We were staying at the No.5 hostel in Drinishader. The hostel is currently comprised of two buildings, a newer house with bigger rooms and the old croft house. Other guests when we arrived included hill-walkers and cyclists. The hostel offers equipment hire for a number of activities including mountain biking, kayaking and canoeing. There is a small store and post office next door, and after closing time the friendly shop-keeper will re-open on request until 9pm.