459: Stornoway & Central Lewis

OS Explorer map 460, Central Lewis & Stornoway: Eye Peninsula & Callanish – I own this map, and have visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 27th March 2018.

So, my last post had my parents and I on a trip to Stornoway, but having made a little detour in south-east Lewis, looking for but failing to find lunch. [1] We drove on north to Stornoway, making an uninspiring stop to throw away rubbish at the waste disposal centre.

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Stornoway’s waste disposal place. Even if not the most beautiful of sights, it is in rather prettier surroundings than most such facilities I’ve been to!

We then entered town proper, parked in the town centre car park, and went for lunch at the HS1 Café – named after the Stornoway postcode, not the high-speed train link. [2] It was very pleasant; I had a somewhat unusual dish of slow-cooked beef sitting on top of, erm, macaroni cheese and chips in gravy. The Dearest Progenitors had been before and spoken well of it, but it was my first time, and I’d certainly go back – although I’d probably choose a different dish this time.

From there, we walked down the high street and went in a few of the shops. Mother Dearest bought a very cute little highland cow keyring in the jeweller’s.

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The cow keyring, and its twin bought a few days later.

Now, Mother Dearest loved that keyring, and sent a picture home to my cousin Guacamole. However, she then wanted one too, meaning that we then had to search the islands high and low for one as we travelled over the following days, finally finding one in Portree on Skye.

We looked in a few more shops, buying a blanket in one and some fruit syrup in the posh grocer’s from which I hope to try making jelly when I come up to the Harris cottage with my Cambridge friends in July. I really do like Stornoway. I have heard others say it’s ugly, but while it isn’t breathtakingly pretty I think it’s shapely enough. The town centre has some very nice little shops, and it generally provides all the services that you could want in a town.

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Looking across at Lews Castle.

From the high street, one can look across the water to Lews Castle, which despite having been to Stornoway a good six or seven times I’ve somehow still never managed to visit. It was until not so long ago a school, but recently turned into a museum. I had intended for us to visit this time, but it was getting late and we were tired so, in the end, we gave it a miss once again. Perhaps next time!

Getting back in the car, we drove a little way to the big Stornoway Co-op to do grocery shopping. That Co-op is huge, the biggest one I’ve ever been to, with a café, and a clothes section and all sorts of exciting foodstuffs, including the smoked scallops that I always look for when I go there. Somehow I’ve never managed to take a photo of it, meaning that I had screenshot Google Street View for you, dear readers.

Stornoway’s larger Co-op (from Google Street View).

From there, we got back into our car, and headed off back down the A859 to Harris and our cottage!

Previous Visits

I’ve been to this map area plenty of times before, since we come up to Stornoway probably most times that we go to the Harris cottage. Since we mostly just come to do shopping, I won’t tell you about most occasions in detail!

I first came to this map area in 2013, which was also the first time I came to the Western Isles at all. One of my cousins – I have a great many cousins, and this one is very distant on the family tree, but we know them well enough – was visiting from Malaysia, and he, the Dearest Progenitors and I went on a week-long, rather rushed, driving trip around Scotland. We stayed a night in the Lake District on the way up, and then one near Fort William, which is where this trip has featured on this blog before. From there, we drove to Ullapool and got a late ferry to Stornoway.

We were staying in a bed and breakfast out towards the airport, and, arriving there, found a slight problem. The B&B we had booked had only one room free due to a misunderstanding, so I and my cousin would stay there, while a room had been arranged for my parents in another B&B next door. As it turned out, the other one was rather a lot nicer than the one we had booked!

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For some reason I decided to take a rather messy photo of our B&B room. [3]
We had further adventures that night because we had arrived fairly late but not yet eaten, and by the time we had sorted out the B&B troubles, it was 9pm and most of Stornoway’s restaurants were closed. We thus went to the only place we could find still open, a Thai restaurant I believe. It wasn’t too bad. I recall also that the B&B owner really loved the hire car that we turned up in; he seemed more interested in that than in us!

The next day, we first went for a little walk somewhere on the peninsula of Point.

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Mother Dearest in one of the three equally unimpressive photographs I took on that walk.

Looking at Point’s Wikipedia page, I now note (although I think I knew this before but had forgotten it) that the village of Aignish has a very well-preserved medieval church, (and so pre-Reformation). I must go there this summer when I come up with my Cambridge friends; Cheremy especially will appreciate it.

From there, we went into Stornoway town for a while and did some shopping – I recall that we bought a couple of mugs that I like which we still use at home – and then got in the car and drove across Lewis to Callanish to see the stone circle there.

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Callanish stone circle. Well, one of them.

I love Callanish; it’s wonderful. (Technically there are three stone circles at Callanish, but the one pictures is the most famous and the most impressive.) When people think of stone circles, they normally think Stonehenge, but I have a very serious dislike of Stonehenge. Yes, it’s really big, but that’s about the end of its list of advantages. It’s right next to a busy road, you have to pay £16 or something to get into it, [4] it’s hugely busy at all times of the year, and you aren’t even allowed to go right up to the stones. By contrast Callanish is quiet, free to access, and unlike Stonehenge – in the middle of modern cultivated farmland – it is in a landscape that feels thoroughly wild and ancient, even if it perhaps doesn’t look quite as it did those milennia ago.

At some point Callanish was used as a burial site, and naturally I had to get in the old grave:

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Me lying in the Callanish burial site.

I’ve been back to Callanish more times since then, since whenever bringing someone to the islands it’s a wonderful place to visit. Here I am there with my school friends Cabbage and Joystick, when I brought them to Harris and Lewis last summer, mentioned previously in, for example, my North Harris post.

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Me, Cabbage and Joystick at Callanish.

Back in 2013, after Callanish, my parents, cousin and I went to Bosta on Great Bernera, where there’s a reconstructed Iron Age house, at which point we left this map, so await a future posting for details of that! (From there we drove all the way through Lewis and Harris to Leverburgh to catch the ferry to Berneray; we stayed the next night on North Uist.)

In this map (although it’s actually in the area of overlap with map 460) is also Carloway, home of Dun Carloway, a very impressive broch. We didn’t go there on the 2013 trip, but I’ve been twice since, including with Cabbage and Joystick.

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Dun Carloway broch, featuring Joystick and Cabbage looking impressive.

Brochs are Iron Age structures that one finds spread throughout Scotland, but especially in the North and West. They were cylindrical in shape, with two concentric dry stone walls between which is a spiral staircase to the higher levels. The example at Carloway is pretty well-preserved, although not the absolute best; you can still see most of the structure and can climb between the walls easily enough. (I went to another two brochs a few days after the main part of this post; look out for my Glenelg post, er, four posts away!) Like many old structures, they tend to have be eroded by later people reusing the stone for their building projects.


[1] Apologies for the long delay; it’s been eleven days since I last posted. In that time I moved back to Cambridge after coming back home from Scotland, attempting to do work on my master’s degree dissertation, but then got a little bit ill and decided to bring forward my intended few more days at home to immediately so I could do the being ill at home. I then returned to Cambridge on Monday, and have been only marginally productive since. The reason I haven’t blogged is that I usually try to work during the day and do any blog writing on free evenings, however when the work that I am doing is itself writing I work better in the evenings, and so my usual blogging time has been occupied. It is for this reason that I am now writing this before dinner, and will try to do work after dinner!

[2] Father Dearest kept mixing things up and calling it HS2. Unfortunately if expectedly, the islands don’t have trains – but there was once such a proposal, which would have been wonderfully exciting, if it weren’t for the fact that, had it been built, I suppose it would probably have been closed in the sixties anyway.

[3] Visible in the bottom-right of this photo is the bag that I took on this trip. It is a blue fabric bag, with two wheels and an extendable handle, which has served me extremely well. It was bought twelve years ago in 2006, when eleven-year-old me went on a trip with school to Tuscany, featuring many joys, not least the 22-hour coach journey in each direction…

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Look, it’s eleven-year-old me! (On that Italy trip.)

Since then I’ve used it extensively on all sorts of trips all over the place. I still use it; in fact I used it just a few days ago when I went home for the weekend from Cambridge, however it does now have a large hole along one of the seams, meaning that I am going to have to look to replace it one of these days.

I’ll leave you with another photograph of me with that bag, from Decembeer 2016, when I had used it to transport props and photography equipment to the drama studio in the English Faculty building here in Cambridge. They were needed for that year’s Yule Play – the annual silly sketch show that students in the Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic department put on to entertain each other, which tends to feature very niche medieval humour. Hence the weaponry.

Me transporting weapons. Photo by The Many-Named.

In case that picture hasn’t amused you enough, here I am singing in that year’s Yule Play as Alfred the Great, exhorting my warriors to fight better if we’re going to beat back that Danish invasion…

[4] Although I should be thankful for this, because all of the money that English Heritage makes fleecing Stonehenge tour groups can go into maintaining all of its wonderful other sites, many of which receive far too few visitors ever to be financially viable alone.

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