South Harris & Sleat

Getting back to the Hebrides is always a joy. This was a short, two-centre Hebridean sampler—one Outer, one Inner.

Uig harbour
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The teeming metropolis of Uig © The Boon Companion, 2016

We drove up and stayed in Portree, Skye, overnight, before heading to the ferry port at Uig for a crossing to Tarbert, in Harris. There are lots of Tarberts in Scotland, and they all have some association with a narrow isthmus. The modern Gaelic an tairbeart derives from older words meaning something like “across-carry”. These were places where the old Scots seafarers could drag their boats across from one body of water to another.

South Harris is a chewed-up piece of ancient land, dotted with lochans and bogs, and with a definite east-west divide. The east side has a contorted rocky coastline, whereas the Atlantic coast is a succession of pale cockle-shell beaches fringed by azure shallows that would do credit to the Caribbean. So there’s a magical moment as you drive westwards across the moors from Tarbert on a sunny day, when a little notch of improbable beach appears between the grey hills in the distance.

First glimpse of Luskentyre Sands
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First glimpse of Luskentyre Sands © The Boon Companion, 2016
Luskentyre Sands, South Harris
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Luskentyre Sands © The Boon Companion, 2016

The weather was typically mixed—on occasion everything from sleet to sunshine would pass through on an hourly cycle. Fortunately, you can spend an entire rainy day just visiting the galleries of various local artists. With the result, we came home with a painting (which is not done justice by the wee image below).

"Luskentyre Grass" by Andrew John Craig
“Luskentyre Grass” by Andrew John Craig

So if you’re ever in South Harris, drop in on the splendidly named settlement of Geocrab, and visit the Skoon Art Cafe. You can eat tasty food, listen to traditional music, and look at the landscape paintings by Andrew John Craig. Craig distils down the landscape and constantly shifting light of Harris into gorgeous, almost abstract bands of horizontal colour.

Scarista Beach
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Scarista Beach, on a day like “Luskentyre Grass” © The Boon Companion, 2016

In fair weather, it’s good strolling country—not just those long, almost unpopulated beaches, but also marked trails winding across the moorland and among the ancient rocks of the east coast.

Then back to Skye. Our route was a little circuitous, because the Saturday ferry from Tarbert to Uig was full by the time we came to make our booking. So it was south to Leverburgh to cross the Sound of Harris to North Uist, and then back to Uig on the ferry from Lochmaddy. The Leverburgh ferry shifts its sailing times to avoid low spring tides, and you can see why once you’re out among the islands in the Sound—more than once I could look over the side of the ship and see the rocks and sand of the sea-bed. The shallow water and multiple islands make it a good crossing for wildlife-viewing, too—at one point I could see the heads of six seals bobbing out of the water to take a look at us. Gannets and cormorants dived next to the ship, and a Great Northern Diver in full breeding plumage calmly watched us go by while I became briefly hysterical with delight.

It had been a damp morning, but the day brightened up for the evening drive south from Uig to Sleat, and we were nearly late for dinner at our hotel because we kept stopping to admire the Skye scenery on the way.

Sgurr nan Gillean
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Sgurr nan Gillean © The Boon Companion 2016

Sleat’s a slightly unfashionable corner of Skye, lacking the mad, Lord-of-the-Rings scenery of the Cuillin or Trotternish. But it has gorgeous views of its own—across the Sound of Sleat into the wilds of Knoydart on the mainland, or (from the tip of the peninsula) out to the islands of Rum and Eigg. Good strolling country again, with the added bonus of a selection of good hotels and restaurants strung out along its length.

Rum from the Point of Sleat
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Rum fron the Point of Sleat © The Oikofuge, 2016

On our last day, the promise of good visibility sent us scuttling over to Elgol, which has a harbour in one of the most beautiful settings in the world, with a long view up Loch Scavaig into the inner curve of the Cuillin Ridge.

The Cuillin from Elgol
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The Cuillin from Elgol © The Boon Companion, 2016

I do believe I could spend a whole day just looking at that view.

4 thoughts on “South Harris & Sleat”

  1. Wonderful trip. My only visit to that area was Youth Hostelling age 20, in the dreichest weather imaginable. Compliments to the photographer.

    1. I’ve passed on the compliments, which are much appreciated.
      Where did you get to on your hostelling trip?

  2. Memory of hostelling trip 1963 in west Scotland, walking with friend, Helen Eaton. (lost track of her since and couldn’t find her through Google. She became a Biochemist and worked in clinical hosp settings )
    Took a bus from Glasgow towards Fort William, armed with OS maps. Got off in the middle of nowhere and bushwhacked overland using compass to the YH in Ft William. Wonderful time that evening . Singing with the 40 other hostellers till lights out. Pushed on to Arisaig, Mallaig and Loch Morar. Gorgeous photos of the sands of Morar, and views of Eigg and Rhum. From there on it was grey, overcast, misty, and/ or pouring rain, but still I remember it as a great trip. Ferry to Skye and stayed at 3 hostels there. Uig weather was so dreich I “d never experienced anything like it, but was assured this was a normal Scottish experience. I can’t recall where we were on a Sunday but we reckoned we would try to get ourselves invited out to someone’s home for a proper cooked meal, With this aim we went to church ! Unfortunately it was a Wee Free church and we were unable3 to get engaged in conversation with anyone . With the last word of the benediction, everyone stood up, turned to the door and walked out. So much for the hot meal. More apples and stale rolls. Can’t remember how we got back to Fort William for the bus back to Glasgow. I got haematomas under both big toenails on this trip

    1. Ah, we have a painting in our living room of the sands at Morar, looking out towards Eigg and Rum. Glorious view.
      (By the way, the spelling Rhum, which was current when you were there, was used for only a century, and it has since reverted to Rum. George Bullough, who owned the island for a while and built the castle there, didn’t like the association with strong drink, and so stuck in a faux-Gaelic “h”. The island eventually passed from his family to the then Nature Conservancy Council, who got around to restoring the original spelling officially in 1991.)

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