Saturday, 30 May 2015

A Wander in the Western Isles - to Stornoway and Lewis


     woke up feeling refreshed at Benleva Hotel in Drumnadrichit, had a lovely breakfast and went to buy some bottles of Loch Ness Brewery beers for WF at the brewery shop. Soon we were heading for Dingwall - where WF had definitely imagined the George Hotel existed never mind sold real ales, and up to Fearn abbey, another premonstratensian outpost in the North East of Scotland.

We then headed back west, having not really needed to stop for lunch, and had a wander up to the magnificent Rogie falls, before the scenery flattened out and the landscape became more barren. The towns became villages, and the villages became hamlets. Before 15.00, having found that Garve was not a town but a small gathering of buildings at a road junction, we headed up to a high plateau in fantastic rugged scenery, and suddenly stopped at the Aultguish Inn.

Aultguish is not so much a place as an Inn. There were 3 or 4 doors to choose from and we went to the end which is a cafe. There was no bar visible, so I went to the counter and asked if they sold beer, specifically real ale. "Oh yes, we do, there is 1 handpump in the pub. It doesn't open until 3" was the response. Result! We could sup the beer in the cafe. The real ale was An Teallach Ale, which describes itself as a rich and malty 80 /- style with a single hop - it was delicious. I had two pints and Tash one, and the price was an indicator of what was to come - it was £3.90 a pint! By the time we left the pub had opened, and t looked warm and comfy and sold cracking real ale - they have another An Teallach beer named after a local mountain, if the ale is not on. There is a link here to their website.

Alas, after this, we did not have time, after also visiting Corrieshallock gorge, for a pint in Ullapool, so had to drive glumly past the inviting real ale oasis of the Ferry Boat Inn to join the queue for the frankly enormous ferry to Stornoway. However, on board they did sell bottles of Oban Bay Brewery beer, so I had a Skelpt Lug and a Skinny Blonde with our evening meal.  Their website describes the Skelpt as an 80/- again, but with more hops. Not as noticably astringent as Mallinsons or North Riding but still a pleasant drink, and not bad value at 500ml for £3.55. Skelpt lug, incidentally, is a Cumbrian phrase meaning clipped ear. Strange to see it on a Northern Scottish bottled beer.

In Stornoway only one place sells real ale, and that is the Carlton Lounge. The gent at the B and B advised us not to bother but we were late setting out so went instead to the Western Isles only National Inventory pub, the Criterion. This long thin pub sells no real ales but has a beautifully ornate bar back and simple fittings and was full of friendly locals, and the guy from the B and B later on. We had a pint and a half of Tennents Special and sat down to watch the TV and chat. A perfect end to a wonderful day of travel.

Breakfast was once again sensational - Isle of Lewis black pudding is a treat! To be honest all the accommodation was good. Our plan for the day was to travel to the North of the island, but went first past the airport to see the lighthouse at Tiumpan Head, the windiest place I think I've ever been. We then headed back towards Stornoway before heading up the coast to the road to the bridge to nowhere. Apparently, when Lord Lever bought Lewis and decided to set up farms and build roads all over it he wanted to link Ness on the North Coast with a coastal road. Opposition to the plan and the taking of land was rife - Lewis has several memorials to those involved in the land grab struggle - but when he got to build a bridge over a burn near Port Geiraha, he ran out of funds. The road bed, unsurfaced, is now a presumably very windy but beautiful heritage trail up the coast to join the B8015 at Port Nis.

Another feature of the North of Lewis is pubs. Or rather, not pubs. There are none! There is the Cross Inn and restaurant at Cros, and that was closed. There are a few cafes, and that is it. Luckily, we found Morven, an art gallery with a coffee shop, so had some cake and coffee for our dinner before setting off again to see the Truiseil stone (with handily placed picnic tables nearby) and eventually up to the lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis.

We also visited the Blackhouses, and Callanish 1 and 2 stone circles, which was a real highlight for me and Tash, before heading off to North Bernera. There is one road in and the same road back, and road is quite a generous term. Luckily WF is an experienced driver so took the job in his stride, and at the end of the road, the bay, cemetery and Iron age house at North Bernera were amazing. Almost other worldly. A beautiful spot which warranted driving along a footpath for 45 minutes entirely.

We ate at the world's most expensive Tandoori in Stornoway - which shuts at 21.30 so had to rush - and then as it was late headed for the Lewis Inn. We were told that it was run by a Yorkshire man who  liked his ales. I think this info may be out of date! Only Mcewans on keg, but we did each have a bottle of Tyskie for under £4.00. Alas, we never got back to the Criterion that night, and never at all to the Carlton. Will have to go again....

North Uist, Harris, Eriskay and others to follow later.


Wee Beefy

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