If buttermilk-coloured sand, turquoise seas and serenity are what you seek, look no further than the Isle of Lewis. From the capital, Stornoway, travellers can detour to beaches with more seals than sunbathers, as well as clan castles and mystical stone circles.
A story in the stones
On a short break to Stornoway from Glasgow Airport, you can step back into Scottish legend. Founded by Vikings (hence the Nordic-sounding name), Stornoway was the family seat of the MacLeod clan, before King James VI gifted the island to the MacKenzies of Kintail, who held court at Lews Castle. Ancient history is on display to the west of Stornoway, where the Callanish Stones have endured the elements since 2900 BC. Across the bay, the Dun Carloway broch (drystone fort) is a relative newcomer, with just 1,900 years on the rugged Lewis shoreline.
For most of the year, Stornoway is a sleepy escape. Not so in July, when the Hebridean Celtic Festival brings thousands of revellers together for Gaelic storytelling, folk songs and fiddles. At other times of the year, experience the Gaelic language in full flow in the city’s churches every Sunday. Note that Presbyterian values are taken seriously – on Sundays, shops close and public transport comes to a standstill. Make the most of the quiet roads and rent a bicycle to explore the hills and lochs of the Lewis highlands.
Gateway to the great outdoors
Little more than a kilometre across, Stornoway is the gateway to a highland wilderness that begins within walking distance of the city centre. The interior of the Isle of Lewis is a moonscape of rocky outcrops and silent lochs, providing a haven for wild deer and rare birds. A rented car or bicycle opens up some of Scotland’s most dramatic coastal scenery, particularly around the lonely lighthouse that guards the Butt of Lewis. The island even has a growing reputation for surfing, thanks to Atlantic swells that crash against the north and west coasts.