We had an extremely eventful and fascinating time during our recent week long stay on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland recently. The weather amazed with great light during the day and late afternoon. There was the usual perfect mixture of strong winds, heavy showers and bright interludes. Our first two days however were almost cloudless making for a surprising re-think regarding photograph making.
Our experience of the place was mind blowing. A veritable photographers paradise if ever there was one. Wild, harsh, extreme, enchanting, historic, remote, moorland, rocky coastline, caribbean beaches, mountainous, peat-bogs galore, lunar-like and absolutely beautiful in every sense of the word. Then, by a total stroke of amazing fortune, one almost cloudless evening, the Northern Lights put on the best show over the UK for over 20 years!
It would have been rude not to try to take full advantage and we hot-footed it over to the Callanish Stones in the dead of night to try to make some images whilst light painting the stones with a flash and torch. This is not an easy task when your hands are as cold as a seals flipper! However, at 1:30am (after a hard day in the field) we managed to grab some half decent images to add to our growing portfolio of Hebridean photographs.
We were concerned we hadn’t managed to obtain enough information from our pre-trip research regarding the best places to go and visit. We shouldn’t have worried at all. Our hired 4X4 managed to get us all over the island and there is so much to photograph that you could spend 10 years on Lewis and Harris alone and still not exhaust the amazing opportunities there. Did I mention the diversity? The main issue I had was trying to get my head into the different scenarios required for each location. Landscape one minute, ruined Croft the next, Duned Beach the next and rugged harsh coastline the next. It simply didn’t stop! We had full day after full day and the lack of pubs and evening entertainment was in the end, welcome as we wouldn’t have been to enjoy it anyway. We crashed out barely managing to be bothered to cook for ourselves each night.
Stornoway itself is perhaps the only thing that is disappointing about the whole islands. It’s friendly and welcoming enough but quite drab and frankly, a bit ugly. If you don’t believe me read what the ‘Rough Guide’ travel guide has to say about it!
If you ever are hoping to visit the Western Isles, do it. Whatever your passion. If its photography then I can think of few other places in the world offering such scope in such a relatively small area. Walking might be challenging as there are peat bogs everywhere making any short walk a testing hike and wet footed affair!
Travelling there is quite straightforward in this era. We caught flights to Glasgow and then onto Stornoway. The return leg seeing us with a stop-over at Edinburgh. The main difficulty was getting our camera gear in the cabin as the lockers are woefully small. No way to be able to fit the ‘recommended’ sized baggage overhead. We didn’t really manage to get them under the seats in front either although a couple of friendly smiles at the extremely hospitable cabin crew meant we didn’t have to “chuck ’em in the hold”!
Travelling by Ferry is apparently quite straightforward too although the seas might be a bit rough. Flying was interesting in itself as the winds are a constant challenge. But hey, these pilots are used to it aren’t they?
We self catered in a gorgeous house on the East Coast of Lewis near the Callanish Stones and there are quite a few holiday Cottages available most of the year. Hotels and restaurants are a different matter and not so prevalent. Sundays see a mass inflow to the local Churches and absolutely no trading (save for one fuel station in Stornoway) so make sure you’re fully stocked up!
I think we were lucky with the weather, we did read other visitor comments about “no break in the rain” and “wild” climate etc but it is so windy that it must push weather systems through pretty quickly. Keep your eyes open however as it is easy to get caught out. A couple of times we had wandered a distance from the car in beautiful conditions to suddenly find ourselves in the teeth of a brief ‘shower’ (read “deluge”!) which makes keeping gear safe and clean a challenge.
Would I return? In a heartbeat. Stunning scenery, friendly islanders and free of thousands of people like me spoiling a quite breathtaking set of islands. Book up and pack your bags, you will not regret it (but only two at a time eh?)!