The Western Isles contains innumerable sites of historical and archaeological importance and local museums, staffed by local people, which reflect the islands history, culture and way of life. Added to these are modern visitor attractions, arts centres and galleries while another of our major attractions is the unspoilt environment of which the islanders are justifiably proud and keen to preserve.
In Stornoway, the main town in the Western Isles, An Lanntair Arts Centre stages regular programmes of exhibitions, concerts and events which feature local, national and international performers while the Lewis Loom Centre offers a personal guided tour of the history of the world-famous Harris Tweed cloth.
The architecture of some churches and other town buildings is also highly impressive while the sports facilities on offer in the town include fishing, water sports, golf, swimming and bowling as well as the magnificent all-weather sports pitch and running track close to the Nicolson-Lewis Sports Centre.
Outwith Stornoway, St Moluag’s church in Ness and St Columba’s church at Aignish, Point are well worth a visit while the Cairns at Aignish, Gress and Balallan serve as memorials to the Highland Land Raiders.
For relaxation, try North Tolsta where the Traigh Mhor is one of the finest in the Western Isles. On your return from Tolsta you may wish to visit Coll Pottery in Back, where you can watch the process from start to finish and purchase the finished article.
Along the Northwest coast of Lewis there are several galleries and potteries which merit attention. These include Morven Gallery (Barvas), Harbour View (Ness), Borgh Pottery (Borve) and Oiseval Gallery in Brue. Local history, museums and societies such as those in Shawbost and Ness also offer a fascinating insight into the people, customs and way of life.
This route will also take you to the Arnol Blackhouse and Visitor Centre, the Harris Tweed Mill at Shawbost where Harris Tweed can be purchased, Gearranan Blackhouse Village, the Dun Carloway Visitor Centre at the Carloway Broch, and the Calanais Visitor Centre.
Turn off to Bernera and Uig to visit an area which is rich in flora and fauna and which also contains some wonderful beaches and scenery, which must be seen. The beautiful Bosta beach in Bernera is the site of a recently excavated Iron Age village, with a reconstructed Iron Age house one of a number of new visitor attractions in the Western Isles, while the area also offers local history museums and exhibitions.
Impressive new, multi-purpose facilities such as those at Uig Community Centre await visitors with tea and fresh home baking always on the menu. This area is also the site where the famous walrus ivory Lewis Chessmen were first discovered buried in the sand in 1831.
The Lochs area of Lewis boasts the Ravenspoint Centre in Kershader on the shores of Loch Erisort and which provides a range of accommodation, catering and retail outlets offering handmade Scottish knitwear and island crafts as well as a spectacular unspoilt natural environment. For those looking to relax and linger for a while, Lochs is the ideal spot while looking out for marine mammals and wildlife including dolphins, seals and porpoises as well as otters and herons.
The northern end of Harris (Na Hearadh) offers rocky, mountainous terrain, which is ideal for walking, and which contrasts well with th
e stunning white, sandy beaches of the West Coast for example those at Seilebost and Horgabost.
The island of Scalpay is now linked to the Harris mainland with a bridge while further south the island of Berneray, famous for its Royal connections is also easily accessible across the causeway opened in 1999 by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
The new “Seallam” Visitor Centre at Northton, Harris is an essential visit for those seeking family histories or genealogical information and also publishes a range of geographical and historical publications.
In the same village the MacGillivray Centre, provides the opportunity for visitors to discover more about the flora and fauna and wildlife of the area while St Clement’s Church at Rodel, a short distance away is generally regarded as being one of the finest religious buildings in the Highlands & Islands.
The Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre in Lochmaddy, North Uist is the focal point for the arts in North Uist and an extremely popular facility which provides regular exhibitions of local arts and crafts while Barpa Langass a 5000 year-old chambered cairn can be seen on the main A867 south of Lochmaddy.
The RSPB Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre in Balranald, North Uist, will enable visitors to see large numbers of waders and sea birds as well as other rare species on occasion. Also in North Uist, Teampull na Trionaid, is a site of major ecclesiastical importance while the records of Nunton Church, Benbecula suggest a building from between 1344 and 1363. The new visitor centre in Benbecula, Nunton Steadings provides information on history, crofting and the environment.
The large expanse of Loch Bee in South Uist usually boasts swans, ducks and other wildfowl while Loch Druidibeg Nature Reserve is an important site for breeding Graylag Geese and also for the elusive corncrake. The chapels at Howmore and Ormacleit House and Castle are regarded as important sites of historical significance while the ruins of Flora MacDonald’s birthplace can be seen in Milton, South Uist.
Kildonan Museum in South Uist provides a range of facilities which include a museum, cafe and crafts outlet while the work of local wildlife and landscape artists can be seen in the Studio Gallery at Askernish.
At the southern tip of the Western Isles, the beautiful island of Barra is renowned throughout the world for its association with “Whisky Galore”, the story of the SS Politician which sank just off its shores while Bonnie Prince Charlie’s first landing was on the isle of Eriskay.
Today Barra boasts the cockle-strand beach which provide the islands airport with its runway while Kisimul Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan MacNeil and Cille Bharra (The Church of St Barr) represent the island’s history and heritage of days gone by.
Barra Heritage Centre and Museum (Dualchas) and the Craigston Museum, housed in a thatched cottage are well worth spending some time at before relaxing perhaps on Tangusdale Beach or on one of the lovely beaches of Vatersay.
This is only a taste of the Western Isles or as we say in Gaelic “Blasad de’n Iar” – where the combination of a friendly welcoming people, a unique culture and way of life firmly rooted in the Gaelic language and a natural unspoiled environment provide a holiday experience to remember. “Ceud Mile Failte”.