Of all the Islands, Harris is probably the most spectacularly beautiful. Stunning white sand beaches on the west coast, beautiful rocky coves on the east and some impressive little mountains in the north. We walk the huge expanse of sands at Luskintyre – they manage to glow even when the weather closes in.
On the east coast, we watch seals and hope to see an otter.
Now we island-hop by taking the Sound of Harris ferry from Leverburgh to Berneray, which is connected to North Uist by a peninsula. We hope to see all kinds of sea life and we do see lots of birds doing their stuff. No porpoises or whales, though!
North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist are connected by causeways and we are heading for the south of South Uist, a drive of about 50 miles. We stop at Balranald RSPB reserve and again marvel at the beauty of the beach.
We pay homage to Flora MacDonald’s birth place and are watched by inquisitive locals.
Right down in the south of South Uist, overlooking the Sound of Barra, we explore beautiful Eriskay.
On our last day in South Uist, we explore Loch Eynort on the rocky east coast. The last time I was there was in 1975 when I led a camping expedition of teenage boys for two weeks of activities and isolation from the outside world. The campsite is very remote and we scramble over rocks and bogs for a long time to find it. Even when I know we are there, I find that heather and sphagnum moss has taken over most of the site, making it hard to recognise. We hope to spot an otter, but this time our luck is out. One big change to the north side of the loch is the planting of large numbers of trees by Archie MacDonald. This has created a new micro climate and increased the biodiversity of the area. It has also created a perfect environment for midges!
The road from Achnasheen to the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh is a stunner. Not fast – it’s single track with passing places in some stretches – but the scenery as you drive alongside the single-track railway line through glens and past lochs is pure Highland magic.
Driving over the Skye Bridge has none of the drama of a ferry crossing and it does mean that Skye is now easily accessible to huge numbers of vehicles, but it is quick and easy. In no time we are enjoying the delights of Sligachan in the pouring rain – great views of the Cuillins!
We stop in Portree and are shocked to find it overrun with tourists. A cruise ship is moored in the bay and a procession of tenders is ferrying the passengers – approximately 1,500 of them – from the ship to the shore. No doubt this delivers a welcome fillip to the local economy but it doesn’t make it a pleasant place to be for any length of time. We buy a bottle of single malt from the Whisky Emporium and escape to peaceful Skeabost where our hotel is. There we find St. Columba’s Isle with its field of gradually disappearing ancient graves. A beautiful and peaceful spot.
The next day we cross by Caledonian Macbrayne ferry from Uig to Tarbert. The sea is flat calm, as I have never know the Minch before, and we sit on deck in the sun. On disembarking, we head straight for the west coast of South Harris and its golden sand beaches. The air is mild and I risk wading in the unusually calm sea. As expected, it is cold! But the beach is awe-inspiringly lovely and after a few minutes we spot porpoises swimming a few yards out. Harris has captivated us again!