A little gem cast adrift in the North Atlantic

Walk of the Month: Lewis, most northerly of the Outer Hebrides, has some of the best coastal views in Britain. Mark Rowe had an eyeful

There was much going on as I struck out from the village of Carlabhagh for the north-west coast of Lewis.

A flock of crows glided towards the inland moors, a starling alighted on a sheep's back in search of a mid-morning insect snack, and flocks of hedge sparrows shimmied to keep their distance as I walked past. A disproportionately stolid church stood on the skyline, the thin strip of houses that make up Carlabhagh seeming to tremble in its shadow.

The island of Lewis is the northernmost, largest and the lowest-lying of the Outer Hebrides. It is characterised by peat moorland and crenulated with freshwater lochs where, should you sit for a while, starlings, black-headed gulls and arctic terns will fly low, occasionally allowing their flight feathers to leave momentary rings on the water.

Gaelic is widely spoken and, along with Sunday observance (even leisure centres are closed) can make Lewis seem more of a living island than its counterparts Skye and Mull. There are few second-home owners, and tourism remains a marginal source of income, some way behind tweed weaving, crofting and fish farming.

Soon enough, I reached Na Gearrannan, a collection of restored blackhouses, sturdy stone dwellings topped with thatch and turf where occupants would share floor space with cattle. Although they date back several centuries, blackhouses are a gateway to an immediate past: the last ones were occupied right up to 1974, electricity came in 1952 and, until the 1960s when mains tap water arrived, clothes were washed in nearby lochs.

A boggy plod led north to the modest summit of Aird Mhor. The day was clear and I doubt there can be a finer coastal view anywhere in the British Isles. A mountainous wall to the south marked the border with Harris, while to the south-east the hills of Uig (pronounced "oog") sprung abruptly from the Atlantic, almost encircling Loch Roag, through which salmon start their upstream run this month. Out to sea stood the Flannan Islands, scene of the bizarre, unresolved disappearance of three lighthouse keepers in 1900. After a violent December storm, coastguards arrived to find the table set for dinner, an upturned chair but no trace of the keepers.

The path weaved between exposed boulders of Lewisian gneiss, at three billion years old, some of the earliest known rocks on the planet. The best examples are a few miles further south at Callanish, where they were cut into Neolithic standing stones, patterned with contorted, banded gneiss, 5,000 years ago. Turning away from an in-cutting cliff, I skipped and squelched over Fivig Burn towards two more headlands straddling a deep sheep-grazed valley. Scout around and you may find traces of three whisky stills uncovered by archaeologists. Close to the last of these headlands, Aird Ghobhann is a superb developing sea stack, known as stac a chaisteil. It is a perfect auditorium for a handful of screeching kittiwakes, and if you have your binoculars you might pick out a cairn and the remains of an Iron Age fort on the hill.

Reaching a grassy bluff, I zig-zagged down turf terraces to the beach and a lonely cemetery at Dhail Mor. Leaving the beach, I encountered the first midges of the season. At this time of year, it's a trade-off – hang around and you'll find out they can drill through denim, but you'll be rewarded with superb landscapes. The Machair, the low sandy coastal plain, comes alive in summer, yellow with buttercups and iris, silverweed and eyebright.

If anywhere can justify the midge bites then it's the lonely loch at the end of this walk behind Dail Beag beach. At this time of year, this loch, fringed with seaweed and fertilised by the limerock sand blown from the beach, comes alive with white lilies.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Mark Rowe travelled to Lewis by train and ferry. Cross Country Trains (crosscountrytrains.co.uk), offers services to Edinburgh, from where East Coast (08457 225225; east coast.co.uk) runs a route to Inverness. Bus services run regularly to the ferry terminal at Ullapool, or you can hire a car through Arnold Clark in Inverness (01463 236200). Ferries to Stornoway take two hours 45 minutes and are operated by Caledonian MacBrayne (0800 066 5000; calmac.co.uk). Lewis is well served by public transport (cne-siar.gov.uk), but buses do not run on Sundays.

Mark Rowe stayed at Callanish Farmhouse (01851 621422; callanishvisitor centre.co.uk), a converted two-bedroom farmhouse managed by a local community trust and located by the Callanish stone circle. Weekly lets from £350 to £550.

Further information

Visit Scotland (visitscotland/walking).

The Route

If driving, park by the lower Stornoway road that cuts underneath the bridge at Calabhagh by the A858 (grid ref 206426). Otherwise, ask the bus driver to drop you off at the turning for Na Gearrannan. Walk for 1.5 miles along the paved road to the blackhouses. Bear right by the information point at the bottom of the lane. Yellow waymarkers trace most of this walk but they wander around and are sometimes quite spaced out through the boggier moorland. The path leads up to Aird Mhor, drops slightly, rises and then bears right and drops down to Fivig Burn.

It then bears left and rises again up to Aird Mheadhonach. The path dips and climbs to the last promontory Aird Ghobhann but keeps below the summit. It then drops away and zig-zags steeply down to a stile over a fence to the beach at Dhail Mor and continues the other side of the cemetery between a fence and a stone wall. Walk below the hill of Creag an Taghain, cross a stile, continue ahead and bear right, down along the fence line to a stile and cross to reach the paved road to Dhail Beag. The beach is to your left, while 200 yards uphill is the main west side road.

OS Map: Explorer 460 North Lewis

Distance: 5.5miles (9km)

Time: Three to four hours

Suggested Topics
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...