With more days in Lewis as there are roads on the island, a six day stay took us to most parts, discovering a unique island of beauty, mystery and wonder. Passing places, in their thousands, dominate the roads, outnumbering most things on the island – humans, habitable buildings, gulls, gannets and guillemots – but not the lords of Lewis, sheep, for whom traffic stops and life depends.
Pubs are as rare as deer sightings with one of each being spotted outside of Stornoway. Cattle and sheep, soul mates amongst lochs and clifftops, roam seemingly free, using beaches like bathers with hooves swapping sodden grass for golden sand. Living creatures are frequently mistaken amongst the scenery; white and grey rocks, wave crests and buoys flatter to deceive, as hopeful sightings of wildlife prove futile.
Everywhere, mechanical, industrial and nautical debris along with random discarded oddities are seemingly strewn with abandon amongst houses and hills. Dead cars adorn roadsides and fields, dead houses are left to ruin, insides exposed, whilst dead boats lay worn and forlorn, resting in peace on the banks of inland lochs. Such sightings offer charm and intrigue amongst a stunning backdrop of natural wonder.
Rolling hills lead to glorious land lochs. And repeat. Sea lochs are overlooked by their inland brothers, creating an undulating and multi-layered vision of blues and greens, with a vivid covering of purple heather. Looking southwards the view is enhanced by a mountainous Harris backdrop with roads imitating weak veins running through the hills, thin and barely visible. Coastal roads spy stunning coastal cliffs where gannets feed amongst waves, swooping with impeccable skill and grace.
Architecture, set amongst such magnificence, regularly sores the eyes. Habitable dwellings, often stood alongside gable ends, derelict domiciles, corrugated constructions and caravans, are visually uninspiring, seemingly built with only longevity of life in mind, wary of the fate fallen upon those around them. Pebbledash dominates, layered thick and grey upon straight lines and boxes, sitting pretty above the surrounding splendour whilst looking anything but. Function over form.
The island appears refreshingly reluctant to accommodate tourism. Perfectly placed villages are largely free of trade and commerce, offering vistas in place of vendibles. Scottish Gaelic sits above English on bilingual road signs, a permanent reminder of history and tradition whilst Lewis bus stops stand exposed and lonely. Meanwhile the island’s hidden treasures are found through persistence – but the best things should always be the hardest to find. And so it is in Lewis.
The beaches of the west coast and Butt of Lewis are its jewels. White and golden sands, kissed by clear green seas and embraced by imposing rocks and cliffs, are sights of radiating beauty, even when clouded by August mist and drizzle. Wonderfully secluded and refreshingly unused, their magnificence has few rivals. The sands at Uig are never-ending, but the nearby horseshoe coves of Valtos, Reef and Mangersta offer far more for the senses, with the lords of Lewis watching your every step. Beaches are rarely as breathtaking as these.
Go and discover Lewis for peace, quiet and bewilderment. Head west for stunning beaches, for its unmissable Butt head north, for its mountains head south, whilst leaving Stornoway on the east as quickly as you find it.