Scotland 2016 – Day 12

My problem is that once I start thinking about home while I’m on vacation (or on “holiday”, to borrow the British terminology), that is all I think about. So while it was a good day for exploring in Scotland, and I saw some beautiful scenery, my thoughts were in New England. Nonetheless, I spent my last day in the Outer Hebrides exploring the Isle of Lewis. Lewis seems to be more densely populated and less “off the beaten path” than the other islands I visited. There are far fewer single-track roads and the villages are more frequent and have more homes. Here are a few highlights from the day…

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Tolsta Beach/Garry Beach: I spent the morning at these two beautiful beaches. Tolsta Beach is a long, white sand beach about 15 miles north of Stornoway. When I was there, the beach was completely deserted and I enjoyed a nice quiet walk. Garry Beach is past Tolsta, at the far north end of the road and has incredible (and accessible) sea stacks at one end. Since it was low tide, you could walk right out to and around the stacks. There was only one other family out walking on the beach while I was there.

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Tolsta Beach

Butt of Lewis: The Butt of Lewis is the northernmost point in the Hebrides. There is a lighthouse there and some rocks just offshore, then it is open ocean all the way to Canada. It was in the low 50s and the wind was whipping (it is said to be the windiest spot in the U.K.) and despite being bundled in my usual t-shirt, sweatshirt, and raincoat, I was still cold! Afterward, I stopped at The Buttery for a scone and Diet Coke (sadly, they were out of hot chocolate).

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Sandy beach near the Butt of Lewis

Blackhouses: I visited two separate blackhouses today. Blackhouses were homes built with stone walls and thatched roofs. They had no chimney, so the smoke escaped naturally through the thatched roof. The first one I stopped at was Arnol Blackhouse, a preserved blackhouse from the 1880s. The woman in the visitor center loaned me a copy of the guidebook so I knew what I was seeing. In the blackhouses, livestock lived inside with the family. There was also a more modern “whitehouse” across the street and a ruined blackhouse to see. Next up was Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, which is actually a collection of 9 blackhouses, only two of which are open to visitors. These were more restored. There was a gentleman weaving Harris Tweed in the blackhouse here as well!

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Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Ceilidh: I ended the night in a local bar enjoying a traditional ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”). There were 6 locals playing fiddles, harp, accordion, and keyboard. I sat at a table with a couple originally from England who have retired to Lewis, and we spent almost 3 hours chatting between songs about everything from politics (both U.S. and U.K.), religion, music, and travel. It was a very memorable night. It’s still funny to see it light out so late; it was past sunset but still light out as I was driving back to the hotel at 11PM!

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Scottish Ceilidh

Random fact: I filled my car with the most expensive gas ever this morning… £1.20/litre (I accidentally put in super unleaded; regular was £1.16/litre) which is about $7.05/gallon!

I have the alarm set for 5AM because I have to be checked in for the ferry to Ullapool at 6:15. I was going to go north from Ullapool and loop back to Inverness, but I am ready for vacation to be over, so I’m going to head straight for Inverness and check out the town instead.