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Travel & Holidays in later life


The Victorian castle at Lewis, seen from the fishing harbourHebridean Hopscotch car holidays are based on ready-packaged circuits of the Western Isles with half-board hotels and ferry connections included. But REg Butler chose the equivalent by a coach tour called "Lord of the Isles". 

Dave - our WA Shearings driver - had done the circuit for ten seasons straight, so he knew every inch of the road. Even better, he was very good on birds and was quick to spot them from his driving seat and to alert the group. 

Here a buzzard, there a corncrake, or stop for grey-legged geese, he knew them all. 

The islands are rich in wildlife, wide open spaces, rocks and water, water everywhere. Only humans are in short supply. 

Travel Facts


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Ask your travel agent for W A Shearings brochures, or phone  0844 824 6351. Shearings Holidays, Miry Lane, Wigan WN3 4AG. 

If you're self-driving, the Calmac ferry timetable details are available online. Web: 

More information: VisitScotland Ocean Point One
94 Ocean Drive

Tel: 0131 472 2222


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Lewis is the most densely populated island and the furthest north, with 14,000 people mostly bunched around Stornaway, the capital. 

We started with a 2-hour 45-minute trip by Caledonian Macbrayne ferry from Ullapool to Stornaway. Smallish fishing boats decorate the harbour, overlooked by a mid-19th century castle. 

The area is great for shellfish. Beyond Stornaway there are brown trout in the lochs, and mussel farms. Like the other Western Isles, Lewis has numerous groups of standing stones mostly dating from around the time of Stonehenge. There are stone circles and single monoliths, always with mystery about how, when and why they were erected. 

In the Standing Stone circle at CallanishThe top-ranking group is Callanish Standing Stones, erected probably about 3,000 BC. Modern archaeologists have now sorted out the mysteries, and display panels describe the site's 5,000-year history, century by century.

Much closer to modern times are the remains of crofter 
houses that were cleared when the landlords found that sheep paid off better than renting the land in 5-acre lots to smallholders. 

Crofters only grew enough potatoes, grain and vegetables for subsistence, but sheep produced the prize wool demanded for Harris Tweed. 

On the Lewis west coast is the Arnol Black House Museum, which shows how crofter houses were built. Cavity stone walls were filled with rubble, and thatched, with a connecting barn and indoor hen coop. This was still occupied by a family in the 1960's.

It was all very cosy with a peat fire in the living-room. There was nowhere for the smoke to escape as there were no windows or chimney. Hence the 'Black House' description.

A sightseeing highlight is the 19th-century Black House Village of Gearrannan which was finally abandoned when the last residents moved to Council houses near by. 

In the Black House village of GearrannanAs the only surviving group of Black Houses in the Islands, the hamlet was listed in 1976. Restoration began in 1991, and the work completed in 2001. 

Five of the houses have been furnished with modern facilities for self-catering with electricity and running water. A larger building is a youth hostel. 

The village also demonstrates how Harris Tweed was woven in traditional style, using leg muscles as the motive power. The original colours were derived from dyes made from local plants, lichens and mosses. 

The Western Isles include a wide range of landscapes, from the highest sea cliffs in Britain to peat bogs and 6000 freshwater and sea lochs, shaped like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. 

It is magnificent scenery, especially when the sun shines. There are spotless beaches of white or cream-coloured sand - or, more likely, of powdered sea shells. 

North Uist is the largest of the three main islands that comprise the Uist group, of which Benbecula sits in the middle. The north is more fertile, with some crofting and very broad beaches. 

South Uist island has about 2000 inhabitants, Benbecula 1,700 and North Uist 1,400. You can travel an hour without meeting another vehicle. But there are many archaeological sites from neolithic to medieval. 

At the tip of South Uist is a causeway to the mini island of Eriskay, mainly populated by wild ponies. 

In 1941 a ship called SS Politician, bound for USA, was shipwrecked. Part of its cargo was 21,000 cases of whisky. Most of the cargo was salvaged, but the whisky somehow disappeared when the islanders got there first. 

It became the theme of a delightful novel called "Whisky Galore" by the local novelist Compton Mackenzie, who lived just across the Sound of Barra. 

Castlebay on Barra was used as the main location for the Ealing Studios film made in 1948. You can buy the video at the local Co-op and it makes a good memento of Barra Island. 

Nothing much has changed since the film was made. There's still only a single road around the island, with a ferry each end. The only difference from olden days is an airport. 

A British Airways flight arrives on the cockle sand beach at BarraOccasionally a British Airways flight arrives from Glasgow, or does a return trip to Benbecula. The Canadian-built Twin Otter lands on a huge beach of powdered sea shells which doubles as a source for the cockles on local menus. 

There is no designated runway. The plane just lands anywhere on the beach according to wind direction. Schedules depend on the tides, and flight times vary according to a following or a head wind. 

It all has a charming period flavour of a life-style where nobody rushes. It's like a different time zone out there. Try it! 

Check out these other destinations in Scotland

EDINBURGH - Look ahead for the big dates

GLASGOW - See Glasgow in true style

SCOTLAND - Explore the wild Highlands

SCOTLAND-NORTH - coach tour from Dornoch 

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

The Hebridean Traveller by Denis Rixson - This is not a guide book, but an account of pre-tourism travellers' impressions from earliest times to around 1800. 

Scottish Isles: Skye and the Western Isles - gives information on the best walks and climbs, castles and blackhouses, the history and culture, the liveliest music and folk festivals and ceilidhs and the finest food and drink

Lewis and Harris (Pevensey Island Guides) by Francis Thompson - focuses on the two most northerly islands of the Hebrides, where the maximum interest is concentrated.

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