Holiday by the BBC: Isle of Harris
BBC Alba's Catriona MacLean reflects on Harris tweed, Stornoway black pudding and ceilidhs on some of the best beaches in the world.
What should I see?
You must see any of the island's fantastic beaches. They are all unspoilt, different in their own way, and quite often you can be lucky enough to have the whole beach to yourself. Some have made top ten world's best beaches lists - you can't get better than that.
Another must for anyone visiting the island is a trip to St Kilda. There are a number of boats that run day-trips from my hometown of Leverburgh.
St Kilda is a unique archipelago of islands which lies 50 miles to the west of Leverburgh, and it's also a world heritage site. The island was evacuated in 1930 and it's now looked after by the National Trust for Scotland, Scottish National Heritage and the MOD, who all have a presence there throughout the year.
You will see cliffs and sea stacks here that you won't find in any other part of the islands. There is also a museum on St Kilda which will tell you all about the lives of the St Kildans, who were such incredible, hardy people. You don't have to be into history or nature to appreciate the beauty of this place, honest!
What should I do?
Go and visit a Harris Tweed weaver. Harris Tweed is now world-famous, and it is the only cloth that is governed by its own act of Parliament. The act states that Harris Tweed must be 'handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides'. I'm certain that after your visit, you'll find it hard to resist buying a length of tweed, or any one of the wonderful accessories and garments made from this versatile cloth.
The Isle of Harris is renowned for its beautiful scenery; to take full advantage of this, I would recommend climbing one of the many hills on the island. The most popular climb is the highest hill in Harris, in the north, An Clisham. At 799m, it is the highest point in Harris, and at the summit you will see panoramic views of both Harris and our neighbouring island Lewis. Although Lewis and Harris are joined up physically, they are known as two separate islands.
Where should I stay?
I'd recommend anywhere on the west side of Harris as the best place to stay. I enjoy being on the west side in the winter as much as the summer - the seas can be spectacular at the best of times, and the sunsets are incredible. The east side is equally nice, but a totally different environment. The west side is full of long, golden sandy beaches and the east side is full of rocks, rocks and more rocks. It's worth taking a drive round both sides of the island to see the contrast in landscapes, and you'll get a sea view from both sides, too.
What local delicacies should I eat or drink?
Like many coastal places, Harris offers a wealth of shellfish. My own favourites are crab, lobster, langoustines and scallops - to name but a few. If you go to any of the local piers at the end of the day then you might be lucky enough to see some of the local fishermen landing their catch.
You should also try the now world-famous Stornoway Black Pudding. I won't tell you what it's made of, in case I put you off, but once you try it, you'll be asking yourself why you ever ate any other kind of black pudding. It's also recently been granted protected status by the European Commission; this means that it can only be produced in the parish of Stornoway (in the Isle of Lewis - which is just a short journey up the road). I would also recommend any of the small cafes in Harris - there are a few art cafes and all baking is homemade, on the premises, and of course a good Harris welcome is standard procedure.
What would be the best night out?
There are several bars in the north and south of Harris, and usually, throughout the summer, most have some sort of musical entertainment laid on at weekends. They make for a great night out, and these places can get quite busy, especially during the tourist season. For me, though, the ideal night out is a ceilidh on the beach, and a good BBQ. There are a few essential ingredients for this - good friends, good food and a good breeze, to keep those pesky Harris midges at bay.
If the weather is right then it can be light until 1-2am, and in the height of summer it hardly gets dark at all. There is nothing better than sitting round a campfire, watching the sun set on the west side of Harris, with your best friends around you.
What's the best local secret?
I'm a sea-loving girl and have been going out in boats before I could walk, and so for me, the best local secret is our coastline. It's little surprise since my grandfather, dad and boyfriend are all fishermen.
If you get the chance to take a boat trip while in Harris, then take it, whether it's to St Kilda, or just locally. The view you'll get from the sea is totally different from what you'll see on land; the place is full of caves, inlets, and bays. You'll also see an abundance of wildlife, above and below the water, and you might get to try your hand at some fishing, too. If you can't take a boat trip, take a walk along the coastline. So many of my Saturdays and holidays are spent working with my dad (pic attached) and I see something new every time - give it a try.