Visiting Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis

Written by John Luckwell | 15th of December 2022
Visiting Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.

The following article is an account of a trip from Mosstodloch in Moray, Scotland, to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, at the start of October 2022.  John Luckwell has been a great contributor to this website since its inception two years ago, with many fantastic photographs taken on his drone. I'm honoured he has written this article about his trip to Stornoway with his wife Margaret, thank you John - over to you!

My wife Margaret and I have holidayed on Lewis three times, each time being completely different. That is probably true of most places in the World, but in Scotland especially so, as the season, time of day and weather all make a distinct mark on the experience. There is a saying which goes, ‘if you don’t like the weather in Scotland, wait 30 minutes, and it will be different!

The ferry from Ullapool

Today was an early start! It was still dark for most of the road trip to Ullapool to catch the ferry to Stornoway, so there were not many photo opportunities en route! We left the house at 06.30 as we had to be in Ullapool for 09.00 and drove via Inverness on the A96, Tore on the A9 and Contin and Garve on the A835, which is around 100 miles in total. The ferry, Loch Seaforth of Caledonian MacBrayne (usually shortened to CalMac), left on time at 10.45, and we had a lovely calm sailing across The Minch (no blue men to be seen!), arriving in Stornoway at 13.45 in a heavy rain shower!

Luckily, it brightened up soon after and having made the few hundred yards to our lovely flat, we started setting up our belongings in our temporary home. Our host, Margaret Ann, popped in later to ensure all was well, which it certainly was!

The flat belongs to Margaret Ann Macleod, who, with her husband and daughter, is a ‘native’ of Lewis. It is luxurious with two double bedrooms, a shower/bathroom and an enormous well-appointed kitchen/lounge, with excellent views over the harbour. This photo shows my wife Margaret setting up the kitchen in her element!

The main town on the Isle of Lewis has a brand new sports complex.
Flat kitchen/lounge.
 
Our 2nd-floor flat, overlooking Stornoway Harbour.
Our 2nd-floor flat, overlooking Stornoway Harbour.

Stornoway

Stornoway is the largest town in the Outer Hebrides, with a population of about 7000 people - it is the third largest island settlement in Scotland, after Kirkwall in Orkney and Lerwick in Shetland.

Being the largest settlement, it is also home to the Western Isles Council (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar), established in 1975 after the administrative centre was moved from Dingwall.

Located on the island's east coast, Stornoway has a long history of fishing and links to the Vikings due to the naturally sheltered harbour.

Stornoway is known for:

  • Shops selling Harris Tweed

  • Stornoway Harbour

  • Museums

  • Lews Castle grounds

  • Stornoway black pudding

Drone flight at Stornoway Harbour

Sundays are quiet days on Lewis (due to the observance of the Sabbath), and I took the opportunity to fly the drone around the harbour, the calm weather being ideal. It is such a beautiful town, and there is much to see if history interests you. As an ‘aside’, Stornoway is home to the well-known band Peat and Diesel, who play humorous songs about island life, becoming famous via social media.

Manor Park. Stornoway Harbour from the air.
Stornoway Harbour.

Later on Sunday, we walked around the beautiful grounds of Lews Castle. Lord Leverhulme donated the building to the people of Stornoway in 1923. He had bought the Lews Estate and Castle in 1918 from the Matheson family. It is now operated as a museum by the local council, and there is a cafe and a restored ballroom. There are also luxury holiday apartments within the castle.

Brian Briggs. Lews Castle grounds.
Lews Castle grounds.
 
Castle Lews. Scottish town.
Lews Castle.
 
Visit Scotland for harbour views.
A view of the harbour from Lews Castle grounds.

Iolaire memorial

We walked around the harbour area and saw the thought-provoking tribute to the Iolaire, which sank outside the harbour on 1 January 1919 with the loss of at least 201 of the 280 Royal Navy veterans returning home from WW1.

Royal Hotel. Iolaire memorial.
Iolaire Memorial. Photo by Margaret Luckwell.
 
Iolaire monument, Stornoway.
The town-centre memorial to those lost on the Iolaire.

The Lady Matheson Monument

Sir James Matheson built The Lews Castle in 1863, and Lady Matheson erected the Lady Matheson Monument in memory of her husband. Margaret took the photo from across the harbour (she has a good zoom lens!) The monument sits on the grounds, to the SW of the castle.

Cromwell Street. The Lady Matheson Monument.
The Lady Matheson Monument.

An Lanntair

This is An Lanntair (The Lantern), an unusual-looking building housing the cinema and arts centre across from the ferry terminal. We didn’t attend any events this visit but have done so on previous holidays.

An Lanntair (The Lantern) in Stornoway.
An Lanntair (The Lantern).

The Herring Girls

Stornoway had a thriving fishing industry, and many women became famous for being ‘Herring Girls’, travelling with the fish shoals as they moved around Britain, from as far north as Lerwick in Shetland and as far south as Hull in NE England. It was very cold, hard work and they made ‘bandages’ from strips of cloth for their hands to give some protection from the salt water. The social nature of the work helped, and Ceilidhs would often be arranged each Saturday, even if they were away from home in an English port. The height of the industry was around WW1, but by WW2, it was decreasing as other countries developed their own fishing.

Herring Girls monument
Herring Girls monument.
 
Herring Girls statue.
Another of the beautiful statues.

Peat lady

This statue was erected in the town in December 2021 to acknowledge the work of the womenfolk, both domestic and outside, in the cottage and on the land. Peat-cutting has long been an important part of life on the islands, and this shows a woman carrying a creel of peat.

Peat Lady monument, Stornoway.
Peat Lady.

Callanish Standing Stones

This day saw us brave the strong winds, and we visited the Callanish Stones on the west side of Lewis. There is a visitor centre near the car park, with a cafe and toilets. 

I don’t have the space to relate the history of the site in detail, but much information is readily available online. The main point to remember is that the stone circle was erected approximately 5,000 years ago, predating Stonehenge.

Calanias Visitor Centre
Calanias Visitor Centre.
 
Standing stones signage at Calanias Visitor Centre
Standing stones signage.
 
Callanish Standing Stones
Callanish Standing Stones.
 
Aerial view of Callanish Standing Stones.
Despite the wind, I still managed to fly the drone, giving some perspective to the site.

Aline Community Walk

Tuesday was the day for a walk, and a long walk it was! We drove around 20 miles south from Stornoway to the Community Woodland car park. From there, we walked to Loch Shiphoirt (Loch Seaforth) and back, which, although just 2 miles, was on some difficult surfaces. We then walked along the many lengths of boardwalk around Loch Na h-Aibhne Ruaidhe (Red River Lake).

I flew the drone again to see the boardwalks better.

 This view shows the boardwalks around the loch and on the west side of the A859

Aline Community Walk car park.
Aline Community Walk car park.
 
Boardwalk at Aline Community Walk.
The walking route at Aline Community Walk.
 
Aerial view of Aline Community Walk.
This view shows the boardwalks around the loch and on the west side of the A859.

War Memorial

We had planned a return visit to Bogha Glas to walk up the glen where we saw both golden and white-tail eagles several years ago. However, the weather said otherwise, and we had to abandon those plans and head back towards Stornoway. However, on the way, the weather cleared, and we stopped again at the Aline Community Walks car park and I flew the drone again, with a view looking north towards Stornoway and another looking east over the loch.

Aerial view of Aline Community Walk.
Another aerial view from Aline Community Walk.
 
Aerial view of Loch na h-Aibhne Ruaidhe.
Loch na h-Aibhne Ruaidhe.

We continued north and decided to visit the War Memorial in Stornoway. It was still dry now but VERY windy, and it took us all our strength to remain standing!

Isle of Lewis 1st World War Memorial
War Memorial.

It was VERY windy, and yes, that is Margaret’s hair blowing into view!

Isle of Lewis 1st World War Memorial alternate view.
Isle of Lewis 1st World War Memorial.

Harris Tweed Mill

Today was a visit to Harris Tweed mill, Shawbost, with Margaret Ann Macleod, Director (and owner of our lovely flat in Stornoway!).

Many thanks to Margaret Ann for showing us around the Mill and seeing first-hand the processes of manufacturing this iconic material, much loved worldwide.

Shawbost Harris Tweed mill
Shawbost Harris Tweed mill. Photo credit to Malcolm Crate.

After we visited the Shawbost Mill, we took a selfie by the whalebone arch, just two miles east of the Mill.

Whalebone arch near Stornoway.
Whalebone arch.

We rounded off the day in fine style at the County Hotel in Stornoway, having a lovely Indian meal cooked by their Indian chef. The next photo shows the Luckwells scrubbed up for their date night!

A night out in Stornoway.
About to go out in Stornoway!

Harris Tweed weaving process

Margaret Ann had arranged with one of the independent ‘outworker’ weavers for us to pay a visit to see Harris Tweed being made. Rebecca lives in Northton, Harris, at the island's southern end. She works her weaving machine in a shed she built herself in her garden, and it is leg-powered! She is a lovely lady and made us very welcome.

Rebecca, a Harris Tweed weaver
Rebecca, a Harris Tweed weaver.

Stornoway Videos

Here are two videos taken on my drone from Stornoway/Lewis.  Please visit my youtube channel for more drone videos from around Scotland.

 

Heading home

Sadly, it was time to pack up and head home. The whole trip was amazing, and our very grateful thanks go to Margaret Ann for her hospitality and for setting up our Harris Tweed ‘tours’.

Another Margaret deserves thanks; that is my wife, who manages to combine several duties on a trip such as this. Her ‘hats’ include organiser, cook/chef, waitress, food-shopper and, during this week, photographer. A few of the photos are mine, but most are from Margaret’s camera.

What else can be seen in Stornoway?

  • Lews Castle / Stornoway Castle

  • Museum Nan Eilean Stornoway

  • Comunn Eachdraidh Nis

  • An Lanntair Gallery

  • Tiumpan Head Lighthouse

  • St Columba's Chapel

  • Stornoway Sculpture Trail

  • Isle of Lewis Cheese Company

  • Bonnie Prince Charlie Monument

Is it possible to fly to Stornoway?

Yes, there are regular flights to the airport in Stornoway from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Benbecula via Loganair. The airport is only a short distance from the town centre.

How long was the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway?

It takes about three hours to get from Ullapool to Stornoway with Calmac Ferries.

Do they speak English in Stornoway?

Both English and Scottish Gaelic are spoken in Stornoway.

Conclusion

I am certain we’ll return for a 5th time on Lewis, and I hope our account of this trip will inspire you to visit this great island and its special community spirit. Even if it only encourages you to delve deeper into the history of the Outer Hebrides, I’ll have achieved something good.

P.S. the return ferry trip across The Minch to Ullapool was again calm, and we were treated to dozens of Common Dolphins next to the ship. That was the icing on the cake!

Slainte.

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