“Harris” is part of the most northerly of the chain of Islands, which skirt the Atlantic coast of Scotland and are known as the Western Isles, or the Outer Hebrides. Harris is the most mountainous and widely seen as having the most spectacular scenery of the Western Isles. It is one of the UK’s wildest and most beautiful landscapes with a mixture of imposing granite mountains, stark heather moorland and white sand beaches on its western coast, which run mile after mile from Luskentyre in the North to Scarista in the South. Above the beach, is the Machair – a marine meadow habitat almost unique to the Hebrides that is a haven for wildflowers and butterflies in the summer months. The area is a haven for birdlife particularly common are redshank, lapwing and ringed plover. It is also a haven for golfers, with a 9-hole links course you will never forget. The sunsets are spectacular and the Northern Lights are a fairly common occurrence in the winter months (though you are unlikely to see them in the summer) – Fir Chlis, is the Gaelic name for Northern Lights – its literal translation is “Dancing Gentlemen”. A holiday on Harris is about making the most of the outdoors in whichever way you like – walking along its beaches, kayaking in its rivers, climbing its mountains, fishing in its lochs.
The history of the islands is distinct from much of the rest of Scotland (the Vikings didn’t leave until 1266 and the accent and many of the place names have Norse influences), and this combined with their remote location gives them a different feel, which endures to this day. The Gaelic language is still spoken throughout the islands, and the Sabbath remains a day of rest in line with the island’s Presbyterian traditions. The pace of life on the islands is slower, and is more closely linked to the land. As one visitor put it, “it has more sheep than cars” and so is the ideal spot for some rest and reflection.
Harris is famous the world over for its Tweed, available in a myriad of patterns which capture the island’s landscape. To carry the name “Harris Tweed” and the orb trade-mark, the cloth needs to be woven in the home of an Islander from yarn spun on the Islands.
The islands are also famous for both the Calanais Standing Stones, which after Stonehenge form one of the most important stone circles in the UK; the Lewis Chessmen, found in Uig, residing in the British Museum and appearing in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; and as the inspiration for the film Whisky Galore. 40 miles out in the Atlantic, lies the World Heritage site of St Kilda, whose inhabitants shared a unique way of life until 1930 when they left for Harris. It is now a bird sanctuary and forms a memorable day trip.
The “capital” of Harris is Tarbert (An Tairbeart) – a village of 500-1000 people with a selection of shops, fuel and where the ferry from Skye docks. Leverburgh (An t-Ob), its other retail metropolis, is where the ferry from Berneray docks. The main centre for the Western Isles is the town of Stornoway, “over the border” in Lewis, an hour and 40 miles further north from Tarbert along the main road. It’s a town of around 5,000 people with two supermarkets an arts centre, 18 hole golf course and all the facilities you’d expect from a small town.