Island hopping - family fun with a shot of culture.
We've had some great family breaks on Skye, Arran, and Lewis. And such is our family's love affair with the islands that this year we really wanted to make the most of it and see as much as possible in our late August weeks. We also wanted to spread the love to more family members - so the grandparents came too. As Shetlanders they didn't think there would be anything different about the Hebrides. They've now changed their minds, and they too are in love with these islands. We used the CalMac Hopscotch Ticket which made the whole trip affordable and hassle-free.
Day 1- Friday
Rushing away from the office in Edinburgh at around 12 noon, we headed off to Mallaig to catch the 4pm ferry. We'd recommend anyone travelling to the ferry should try one of our 'scone or soup stops' at the Pottery Bunkhouse Café near Laggan Bridge along the way - we can thoroughly recommend the home-made soup, bread and tea bread.
Mallaig is a lovely ferry port with some nice places to grab a cuppa and enjoy the boats in the harbour before you head off.
The views from the ferry are spectacular and we particularly enjoyed being able to relax in comfort with our wee dog in the lounge and enjoy the reasonably priced tea, coffee and empire biscuits en route!
On arrival in Armadale we headed to Staffin to book in at the Glenview Restaurant with Rooms - the first real foodie stop we'd planned.
We weren't disappointed - lovely comfortable rooms, with the same quirky furnishings and accessories you find throughout the Glenview, including a teacup chandelier. The food from Kirsty and Simon is superb - we loved our watercress soup full of scallops and seafood, followed by roast hake, which simply melted in your mouth. Home-made breads and great wine finished most of us off, but some had room for the spectacular butterscotch toffee pudding.
Day 2 - Saturday
Breakfast the next day was full of home-made goodies, including a great menu of local kipper, black pudding and potato scone. It was a spectacular dish and a fabulous Scottish breakfast.
We then took the winding single-track road with breathtaking scenery out to sea, to Uig for the early ferry to Tarbert. Another beautiful sail saw us arrive in Tarbert where they are building a new community distillery, which will add interest for tourists in the future.
For us though we headed straight off down to Leverburgh, where our fabulous cottage was being made ready for our arrival.
You will by now start to see a theme emerging, as yes there was another scone stop en route at the superbHebrides Art Gallery on the road south. They not only offer fabulous scones and cakes, but you can sit and look out at the beach scene, or muse through the great collection of local art in the gallery rooms. The owners are super-friendly and even take time to work with the kids to make watercolour cards as part of the visit.
Days 2 - 6
The recurring theme of scones, cakes, and art was to continue during the next few days.
Our trip combinations included:
Combo 1 - Huisinis beach/Hebscape Gallery Cafe
A beautiful drive to Huisinis through castle grounds, to a beautiful beach along the way for a picnic, dog walk and of course a gallery and cake visit to the fantastic Hebscape Gallery at Ardhasaig.
It's run by Darren and Paul and offers the most fabulous lemon drizzle on your plate and amazing local scenes on the walls.
Combo 2 - Willie Fulton Gallery and Harris Tweed and Knitwear at Drinishader
The winding road and steep drive is oh-so-worth-it to arrive at the enchanted garden of Willie Fulton's Ardbuidhe Cottage Gallery just off the fabulously beautiful Golden Road.
It's little wonder that Moira and Willie Fulton's work is so beautiful, with the stunning views of the Minch, through the skerries to Skye from his garden bench and studio windows.
We then went to the lovely little exhibition of Harris Tweed and Knitwear where there are interactive elements for kids, and a great and relaxing exhibition of Harris Tweed from yesteryear to haute couture. Some of you will be delighted to know there's also a wee bit of retail therapy at the end.
Combo 3 - Skoon Art Café and The Mission House Gallery at Finsbay
Another wonderful drive on the Golden Road, head for Geocrab where you'll be rewarded with great local platters of cheeses and hot smoked salmon, and wonderful homemade soup. We had the beetroot, red pepper and apple, with home-made breads and possibly the best triple chocolate brownie we've ever had.
The art is by Andrew John Craig who is the owner and resident artist of the Skoon Art Café whose work provides a beautiful backdrop for lunch.
The view from up here is spectacular.
On the way back to our cottage, we stopped at the brilliant Mission House Gallery of renowned photographer Beka Globe, and her ceramic artist husband Nikolai Globe.
You're welcome to browse and not buy, even though the temptation is great. People seem genuinely pleased to see you stop by and enjoy the work they create. There is a fabulous black and white book of powerful photography from Beka Globe, which makes for an amazing coffee table book and memento of your holiday.
Combo 4 - Croft 36, Seallam Centre and Northton Beach
After an enjoyable visit to the exhibition at the genealogy centre - Seallam at Northton which tells you all about the history of the islands and the migration of its residents, you can wander along past the Croft36 - drop-in food heaven shed as we called it. This little roadside shed is host to baskets of food wonders - home-made meat and vegetarian pies, frangipane tarts, scones, scallops, lobster, crab and salads. Simply leave the money in the honesty box. We particularly loved the home-baked breads, and from Croft36 we enjoyed their home delivery of local fish curry with home-made chapatti so much that we ordered it twice during our week. The owners couldn't be more helpful.
So having picked up a great picnic we walked over the Machair to the beautiful beaches and ruined chapel at Norton before climbing the hill to enjoy the most amazing views of Scarista beach. It's a great walk and on the way back you can enjoy the wonderful, yes you guessed it, strawberry scones at the Temple Café.
Beach Combos - Luskentyre and Hebrides Art Café, Scarista and Temple Café
No visit to Harris is complete without as many beach trips as you can fit into a week. The beaches are as beautiful as any Caribbean beach, wide expanses of fine white sand flanked by heather strewn hills and the beautiful machair. You can access Scarista from the roadside and park at the side of the road, a short walk over the field to the expanses of sand. Luskentyre is a beautiful beachside drive, with a car park and loos at the end. The beach goes on forever and you can walk for hours on the white sands with beautiful views over turquoise waters to Taransay.
Day 7 - Leverburgh to Berneray
Sadly departing our wonderful Shalom Cottage at Leverburgh we headed on the little ferry at 8.25am to Berneray. It's a lovely wee ferry with a little canteen area and the views along the sound of Harris to Berneray are wonderful.
North Uist was beautiful to drive through and we stopped at a great Hercules Bear forest walk at Langlass Forest where there are clues for the kids to pick up along the way. Don't miss the super-helpful tourist information people at Berneray who make great recommendations for your trips through the Uists. The ferry from Lochboisdale to Oban is 5 hours and we enjoyed glorious sunshine all the way from the top deck taking in spectacular views along the way. Our wee dog had by now developed a real excited love of the ferries and so have the children. We had our tea on board and the food was great so we were ready for the drive back to Edinburgh, after arriving in Oban at around 7.15 pm.
We were sad to say goodbye to the islands for another few months, I only wish we'd discovered them earlier. Which one will be our haven next year?!