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An Introduction to the Isle of Harris

Apr 10, 2008
Many people will be aware of the type of cloth known as Harris Tweed which is so called because it is hand made on the Isle of Harris. However, even though tourism generates an important income for islanders, the Isle of Harris, in the Western Isles/Outer Hebrides of Scotland, is not generally wide known as a vacation destination. However the island has much to offer the visitor.

The main town, and ferry port, on the Isle of Harris is Tarbert. Tarbert is not really a town but rather a small village found at the narrow isthmus which is the border between North and South Harris. Set in a sheltered green valley the houses appear on steep terraces. The older buildings are found on the narrow main street which is rather picturesque but sadly rather congested at times. Below the main street is a relatively new road built to ease congestion and provide more space for ferry traffic.

North Harris is known for it's dramatic mountains and winding single track roads. As you drive along the road do not be alarmed as you drive through the main entrance of Amhuinnsuide Castle and past the castle's front door, as you are still on the public highway and have not made a wrong turn onto a private road (which I thought when I first visited the area).

About 15 minutes drive from Tarbert is the small island called the Isle of Scalpay which is joined to the Isle of Harris by a narrow single track bridge. Scalpay once had a population of well over 800 and was an incredibly busy fishing community. Today the population is less than 300 but there is still a small but active fishing fleet. The north harbour is where you will find the pier but one of the best places to visit involves a trek across open moorland. Eilean Glas lighthouse was the first built in Scotland erected in 1788. Now automated the buildings and surrounding grounds are both beautiful and interesting.

Moving along to South Harris you will notice a change of scenery. Although the east side of the island is very rocky the west side of South Harris is lush and green. the rolling hills are far softer and there are large areas of machair (highly fertile grassland), which has plenty of wildflowers and is most beautiful. It is along the west coast that you will find the most beautiful beaches on the Isle of Harris and, most probably, Scotland and even the United Kingdom.

Moving southwards you will notice many of the beaches to your right and, without noticing, you will be so astounded by the spectacular sights that you will, most probably, slow down dramatically. Please be prepared for this reaction as it may alarm anyone who is driving behind you. Even though many locals witness this often in the summer months it does not get any easier dealing with the anger this dangerous reaction causes.

The next village you arrive at is Leverburgh where you can travel over to Berneray and the Uists via a CalMac ferry. Leverburgh also has two useful shops, one stocking groceries and fuel and the other a local post office selling locally produced good and gifts.

The last point of your southerly journey around the Isle of Harris brings you to the village of Rodel. Once the main town of the Isle of Harris Rodel is only a very small village but it features the incredible medieval church of St Clements. This is a must see tourist attraction which you can collect the keys to at the nearby hotel. Outside is wonderful but it is inside that you can see the beautifully decorated tombs and head stones.
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Thinking of visiting Harris? Take a look at Isle of Harris guesthouse and Hebrides guesthouse
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