Lewis: Walk of the month

On a stroll around the Hebridean island of Lewis, Mark Rowe encounters wild heather, steep hills and hidden cafés

Edinburgh is not the only place to stage a tattoo this summer. The island of Lewis, far away on the western edge of the UK, will hold one too – only the second there since the 1960s – with marching bands and Gaelic and folk music concerts.

The hope, says Tony Robson, one of its organisers, is that this will be a celebration of a culture that too rarely stands in the spotlight and that it will attract many descendants of those who left the island in desperate circumstances. "There are a lot of people in the US, Canada and Australia whose families originate in the Outer Hebrides," says Tony. "There are a tremendous amount of links to the 1800s, when people were either poor, or were shoved out by landlords and the Highland Clearances. People don't tend to forget; those events are still felt today."

Tony's words come back to me as I climb to the summit of Forsnabhal, deep in the Uig peninsula on the western edge of Lewis. The view is both magnificent and melancholic, and my eye is drawn to the scattered, smashed crofts and summer dwellings, known as sheilings.

Sculpture of a Lewis chess man Sculpture of a Lewis chess man (Alamy) The final section is steep, but I'm rewarded at the summit with a genuine "wow" moment and it's easy to ignore the telecommunications infrastructure. To the east is the rugged uninhabited island of Little Bernera, behind that the outline of the coast of Lewis; to the south there's the solid wall of mountains at the heart of Harris; to the west are the seemingly infinitely large Uig sands, where the Lewis chessmen were uncovered nearly 200 years ago. The 360-degree view is completed by the lonely Aird peninsula, poking northwards. From there, it's clear water to the polar ice cap. Yet, there's more. Clearly visible on a good day, are the islands of St Kilda, which loom up hauntingly, in a vaguely "Bali Ha'i" way.

Descending the hill, I aim for a track a mile distant. To get there involves a classic Hebridean yomp across open moorland, bouncing off sprigs of heather, skipping across the boggier bits and funnelling down a miniature glen. The track winds its long and lonely way past Loch Mor and a marooned islet colonised by common terns. The path almost circumnavigates the loch before flicking south to reveal a hidden, smaller loch. So far, I've followed the track for more than a mile and it has the feel of a wild, moorland walk set deep in the Highlands, far from the sea.

Then, the track twists around a hairpin bend and jolts me back to the coast, revealing glorious Clibhe Beach, far below, half a mile long and pummelled by rollers from the Atlantic. The track drops down towards the beach. Far up on the right-hand corner of this delightful picture is a dramatically perched cemetery. Like so many graveyards on the Outer Hebrides, it seems to all but punch out into thin air above the ocean.

The track joins the quiet road that runs around the Bhaltos peninsula and passes Loch Sgailleir, long and thin, its inky waters coloured by peat drained off the surrounding steep hills.

Many walks tend to wind down near the finish line, but there's a glorious crescendo in store. I take a steep goat's track uphill to rise high above Bhaltos Glen. Following the fenceline, I glance down at the thrilling, dizzying gorge, created by melting glaciers carrying a sandy outwash that carved deeply and steeply, through the rocks. It's a bit like walking through an empty Cheddar Gorge or Glen Coe. Across the glen, the southern plateau is just as dramatic, with a lonely loch glistening in the sunshine of this lost world. It's possible that in modern times fewer people have seen this exact view than have climbed Mount Everest.

The plateau drills west for the best part of two miles before gently dropping me down to a stony track and a gate back to Timsgearraidh. I finish the walk back at what proves to be a life-enhancing community café and museum. A generous helping of salmon and salad and a mouth-watering home-made ice cream put me back on my feet. I add it to my personal list of the world's superb, hidden cafés. The adjacent museum is up there, too, with a replica of a traditional blackhouse and accounts of just how tough it has always been to eke out a living in Uig. People may have been driven away, and not missed the hardships they left behind, but you can see why they – and outsiders – are drawn here.

Getting there

Caledonian MacBrayne (0800 066 5000; calmac.co.uk) ferries sail to Stornoway on Lewis from Ullapool, which has bus connections from Inverness; see bit.ly/InvUIla.

Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) flies to Stornoway from Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh, while Eastern Airways (0870 366 9100; easternairways.com) flies from Aberdeen except at weekends. Mark Rowe travelled with Cross Country Trains (0844 811 0124; crosscountrytrains.co.uk) to Edinburgh and on East Coast's Highland Chieftain service (08457 225 225; eastcoast.co.uk) to Inverness. Other services are operated by ScotRail.

Staying there

Mark Rowe stayed at Taigh a' Chreagain, 15 Valtos, Uig (01851 672209). Doubles start at £60, B&B.

Visiting there

The Lewis Tattoo (bit.ly.LewTattoo) takes place from 7.30pm on 8 August to 11pm on 9 August.

More information

visitscotland.com/homecoming

visitouterhebrides.co.uk

Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer - £30,000 OTE Uncapped

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines