Discover the Outer Hebrides | Lewis and Harris
The bustling town of Ullapool is the gateway to the northerly Isle of Lewis and it's worth arriving for your ferry in good time to take a walk around before you sail. That's if it's not raining but if it's showery then no better place to take shelter than the West Coast Deli. It is family run by mother and daughter team, Shan and Katriona, along with Richard in the kitchen, preparing wholesome salads and freshly made dishes and a tempting selection of baking. If you are preparing a picnic, the cheese selection is excellent, freshly caught seafood is also available and soon they will be stocking locally made gelato. The black pudding version of the sausage roll is a must as it's made with the now world renowned Stornoway black pudding.
Stornoway Black Pudding Rolls, West Coast Deli
The ferry journey across the Minch gives you enough time to enjoy a venison burger topped with melting cheese and served with salad and chipped potatoes. If you are the lucky passenger, you can relax with a glass of wine, a chilled beer or the malt of the moment depending on what takes your fancy and you'll arrive at Stornoway ready to explore the island.
'Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink' springs to mind when you land on Lewis. Natalie Crayton of Hebridean Sea Salt, was struck by this when she decided to tap into this resource.
'I founded Hebridean Sea Salt when I realised there wasn't already a Scottish sea salt producer. The waters around the Hebrides are crystal clear and the Isle of Lewis has one of the most unspoilt coastlines in the world. With its Grade A certification I knew this water would make the finest sea salt possible.' From shore to shelf is her mantra and the salt is available infused with gentle flavours like seaweed, perfect for sprinkling over seafood dishes.
Unspoilt coastline, Isle of Lewis
For many living in the Outer Hebrides being a jack of all trades comes in handy. Dave and Jane Eastwood run a bed and breakfast, run a small forge while also producing cheese. Dave has built a small dairy to turn the milk from his goats into artisan cheeses, both soft and aged. Originally he just made it for friends but they encouraged him to take it more seriously. He explained 'I learnt how to make cheese with Cathy Biss and she helped me to understand how delicate the process is. Everything must be meticulously clean and you must be sensitive to time. After a while you just get it, you can feel the subtle changes.'
The soft crowdie and The Little Cheese are delicious on an oatcake or Stag's Seaweed crackers, the White Raven is aged for four to six months has a denser texture but retains a sweet and subtle flavour. Luckily you'll soon be able to try it, along with the Isle of Lewis cheeses, at the 'canteen' in Isle of Harris distillery which will be open in the coming months.
The Isle of Lewis has its very own food hero in Charles Macleod butchers, producers of the world famous Stornoway Black pudding. The business has been passed down the family line and is now the responsibility of sisters Ria and Shona and their cousin Rhona Macleod, known affectionately as the barley's! Twenty years ago, food writer, Sue Lawrence ignited the flame under this humble pudding elevating it to restaurant status. Ria looked slightly bemused 'It just sort of happened, suddenly it really took off as a specialist ingredient. My favourite way to eat it is still as part of a traditional Scottish breakfast though. Shona likes it served with scallops and her granny's pancakes. We all love it!'
The shop is one of the few places to stock up along with their award winning haggis, and white pudding which makes a wonderful stuffing when mixed with fresh herbs.
Stornoway Black Pudding
As you travel south towards Harris, through the dramatic stony moonscape, it's clear to see how the elemental weather defines this island, surrounded by deep cold waters. This provides the perfect environment for salmon. The Scottish Salmon Company has farms all the way up the West Coast of Scotland. Pride, passion and providence is their mantra which is evident in every part of the cycle of life. Duncan Macleod, of the Geocrab Hatchery, is responsible for a lots of little fish. He receives the precious cargo of fertilised eggs and will nurture them until they are eventually released into the sea where they develop their distinctive silver scales and orange flesh.
Salmon ready for the Sea, Geocrab Hatchery
The small island of Scalpay is now linked to neighbouring Harris by a bridge making it considerably easier to visit the North Harbour Bistro. It's well worth it to meet George Lavery, a chef with a background in Indian cuisine. A blackboard boasts of local bounty: scallops and mussels but with subtle spicy influences. Locals and visitors can choose from monkfish Malabari or Indian marinated skate wings in the bustling atmosphere. Chef George is another one of those multi taskers. 'Oh, I do everything here: cook, clean, bake and serve. Everything is fresh so I can never leave. You have to love what you do. And I do!'
George Lavery, North Harbour Bistro
As a visitor to these islands you won't go hungry. Neither will your soul. The breathtaking seascapes at Luskentyre, Rodel and Scarista provide inspiration for many local artists. Croft 36 is the ideal pit stop as your drive around the island, perhaps looking for a spot to set up your easel. The tiny shed offers a selection of freshly baked muffin and tarts, vegetarian pasties and dressed crab. It's unmanned so operates on an honesty box system. The Skoon Art Cafe combines both artwork and delicious food and makes for a perfect lunch spot. The cosy croft is warm and welcoming, and if the sun is shining the tables outside offer more of those stunning scenes.
Croft 36 Honesty Box
Cheese Platter, Skoon Art Cafe