Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A couple of new videos from the Outer Hebrides

My getting up to date with the blog entries about the Hebrides, Summer 2014, has coincided with the launch of a couple of related films.

First off, my little film about the trip itself, set to the music of the brilliant Maeve Mackinnon:

Next up, a brilliant film from Airstream as part of its 'Live Riveted' Lifestyle Campaign. It stars - ahem - yours truly, and all the footage (apart from me sat in the doorway of the trailer) is mine from my trip to the Outer Hebrides in summer 2013:

I guess my intonation could have been sharper, but the monologue was lifted as highlights from a half-hour interview. Had I knew what I was going to say, I may have sounded a little more full of life!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Camping and Caravanning on the Isle of Harris (and a bit of Barra. And North Uist)

January 2015

Further to the last blog entry, here's a more information-biased entry for those looking at bringing their caravan or motor caravan to the Outer Hebrides.

This entry is a partial update to my 2012 Guide to Caravanning in the Outer Hebrides. I say 'partial' as once you get South of Benbecula there are new sites around that I have yet to properly mention.

Right now, I want to talk about the Isle of Harris. Without doubt, this is my favourite island in the Outer Hebrides. To the North you have the dramatic North Harris Hills, to the West you have gorgeous white sandy beaches, and to the East you have an almost lunar rocky landscape. On top of that, there are three fantastic places to eat and spend an afternoon with a good book and enjoy a friendly chat:

Skoon Art Cafe 

Temple Cafe

and a new addition to my favourites list:

Hebscape Gallery Tea Room

Despite Harris being the nicest island, your options for camping and caravanning are limited. There is no such thing as the perfect site here, each site has its good points and bad points, and that's the point of this article.

First off, a bit of background:

The landscape is, as previously mentioned, beautiful. However, that also makes it very difficult to find any naturally flat area to park a caravan or motorhome. Levelling out pitches is a very, VERY costly process. This cost is passed on to the camper. As such, while people expect camping on the islands to be cheaper than on the mainland, the opposite applies. I find it far more expensive on Harris than on the mainland.

Here are the sites, starting near Tarbert (the main ferry port) and heading clockwise around the lower part of the island:


It's been five years since I've been here but I don't think much has changed. It's a small, CL-style site with basic facilities and four EHUs. The big downsides are the boggy ground, and the very tight entrance as you turn off the road. I only just about managed it with a 7ft6 wide single axle.


Lots to like here. Friendly hosts, great view, sheltered from the worst of the Westerly winds, and a 'Blackhouse' which is the focus of the campsite in the evening; a place to use the kitchen, meet other campers, and relax. Good facilities.
Downsides? None if you're a tent camper. A couple if you're in a leisure vehicle. The hardstanding area for caravans and motor caravans is the size of a postage stamp. Single axle caravans only, and you'll need a motor mover or need to be able to manhandle your van. Large units (eg tag axle motorhomes) need not apply. There's only the space for 3 vans, no awnings, and any cars will have to be left on the road. No chemical loo disposal (you need to go to Leverburgh to empty the loo) and it's £20 per night for two people in a van.


A warm welcome from Tony and Sharon, hardstanding, stunning views, chemical loo disposal point, and electric hook-ups.

That's the good stuff. The not-so-good stuff:
£25 per night inc EHU - this is for a site with no shower or toilet facility. Wow.
There are five pitches, not three as on the website. No tents allowed.
Access involves a long drive along the single-track 'Golden Road' down the East Coast of the island - not for the faint-hearted.
The road to the pitches is up a very, VERY sharp incline. 4x4s essential. Motor caravans need plenty of oomph and a robust clutch.


This is the wildest, largest, cheapest (but that isn't saying much) and most relaxed campsite in Harris. You can't book, you just turn up.

Well-drained grass pitches, but only a few tent pitches (and a couple of motor caravan pitches 'up top') have a sea view. However, location is what this site is all about - right on the beautiful sandy beach with the stunning backdrop of the North Harris Hills and the island of Taransay rising out of the sea.

Facilities are adequate, based in old shipping containers. Showers are £1 (but you'd only use them if you don't have on board facilities) and there are loos and a washing up area. WCs are wheelchair accessible.

Downsides? It's a flat fee of £14/night for a caravan/motorhome. That's not great if, like me, you're on your own. There are no EHUs, and nowhere to empty the loo (back to Leverburgh...). The site is littered with seasonal caravans, and as there is no on-site staff presence, there is nobody to keep unruly campers in check late at night. I hasten to add that I have NEVER been disturbed by anti-social behaviour here. Facing North West, the site can get battered by the wind forcing tent campers to scuttle over to Lickisto.


There is a great scheme that has been introduced by the West Harris Trust. You're welcome to Wild Camp in certain spots, but are expected to make a super-reasonable contribution of £5 per night for the privilege. This is a great idea.

The downsides are: The areas are just off the road (i.e. laybys) so there isn't much room, and everything (fresh water, waste water, rubbish) needs to be carried in and carried out. OK for a night stop, not a realistic alternative to a camp site for longer stays.

So there you have the current (2014/15) camping situation on the island of Harris.

I conclude this entry with two alternatives if the actual campsite, or value for money, are of high importance to you.

The BEST CAMPSITE in the Outer Hebrides in my humble opinion is Moorcroft Campsite, in the South West corner of North Uist. Great views, super facilities, friendly owners, easy access, reasonable pricing... THIS is the campsite to come to if you have a large (twin axle) or a wide (8ft) caravan as the road from Lochmaddy ferry terminal is almost completely two-way. You can leave the 'van here and explore seven causeway-linked islands unencumbered. Kilbride campsite down in South Uist is also a nice, clean, neatly-presented site, but is less central.

The BEST VALUE campsite in the Outer Hebrides is Scurrival (Scuribhal) campsite at Eoligarry at the North East tip of Barra. The friendly owner Angus-John charges by the person, not by the unit. Therefore in 2014 I ended up paying £5 per night which included brilliant facilities - big en-suite shower rooms and a kitchen with two washing up sinks. No laundry facilities though (2014).

Fantastic views, and EHUs at £4/n if you want them. I stayed six nights, and was charged the same as I was for one night at Flodabay Farm. But, to be fair, no expensive quarrying and levelling has been necessary at Scurrival.

So there you have it... I hope that's been of some use to you. You have the info... now all you need to do is decide when you're coming!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Hebrides 2014

May/June 2014

Here we go... event of the year, my trip to paradise and the islands I find so totally and utterly irresistable. Since discovering the Outer Hebrides in 2009, I've completely lost the desire to go anywhere else. When I do go other places, my reaction is normally: 'Well, it's nice, but it's not the Outer Hebrides...'

 I'd not been to Ullapool since that first trip five years ago. It's a gorgeous little town that warrants a longer stay yet, just like the North End of Skye, I never hang around because I know what riches lie just across The Minch (the sea between the mainland and the islands).

I thought I'd be smart and fill up with diesel in Ullapool HOW MUCH???!!!!

I later found out that fuel is much cheaper in Stornoway. Nothing to do with cost of the raw material or transportation then, all to do with local competition. In other words, you get ripped off in places where there is little competition. Like Ullapool.

The last time I travelled on Caledonian MacBrayne's ferry 'Isle of Lewis', it was still a couple of years BC (Before Canine). I LOVE Caledonian MacBrayne for many reasons, one of which is that you don't need to leave your dog in the car or in a kennel, you can take it upstairs with you where there is special pet lounge.

I have to say, the Pet Lounge on the mv Isle of Lewis is my least favourite so far, as there are no windows. Let's hope the new ferry that takes up the route in 2015, mv Loch Seaforth, will be nicer. I'll certainly be giving that a go. The mv Hebrides (from Uig in Skye) and the mv Clansman and the mv Lord of the Isles (from Oban) have much nice dog lounges. The mv Finlaggan is OK (to Islay) but on there you can't escape annoying televisions blaring out.

Arrival in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, was at a temporary berth while the main pier was being altered for the arrival of the mv Loch Seaforth on the run. As such, there was a mighty angle in the loading ramp, but the deck crew were outstanding. I was told to take my time and had 'deckies' checking from four angles as I inched the Airstream off the ramp and onto the pier. Chocks were put into place where necessary, and we were off without grounding or any problems whatsoever.  Have I mentioned I love Caledonian MacBrayne?

Our destination was 90 minutes away towards the South of the Isle of Harris, but all the main services are here in Stornoway. Dougal had been limping off and on since hurting his paw in Brora so our first call was to the vet. Luckily I remembered that there is a large car park near the vet by the BBC Alba studios so I could park the entire rig for an hour without anybody minding. Otherwise, if you need to leave your rig for the day in Stornoway, there is paid Large Vehicle Parking Area behind Engebret's Garage. Everyone knows Engebret's and it's easy to find online.

With no fault found to Dougal's paw (probably a sympathy ploy to get more treats, that dog isn't daft) we headed South to Harris. To keep this entry short enough to be readable, I'll describe the camping on the island in a later blog entry.

My friends G&C joined me in Harris with their Vanmaster Caravan. We had a fantastic week. Plenty of walking, eating, drinking, and photo opportunities.


C *loves* cooking and I happen to love eating, so for an entire week I was spared making my own dinner. He was amazed that the local Co-Op in Leverburgh in the South of Harris had almost everything he needed, no matter how exotic the dish. Like any responsible caravanner, his aim was to buy all his food locally to ease loading the caravan and support the local economy.

When eating out, we alternated between my two favourite cafes in the whole world, EVER. They are:

Skoon Art Cafe in Geocrab

Temple Cafe in Northton

These two establishments are instrumental in my choice to stay on Harris instead of another island.

It was incredibly sad to see G&C leave on the Friday after one week. I decided to head South to the Uists on the Sunday. Meanwhile, it was that Saturday I sat outside Temple Cafe and witnessed the arrogant idiots that angered me so and inspired me to bash out the blog entry 'How Dare You'. I was fuming.

Come the next day I hitched up the Airstream and parked up at Northton to enjoy a crafty kitesurf. Little did I know that this would never happen again... you'll have to wait for the 'Hebrides Winter 2014' entry to find out why!

After yet another beautiful lunch at Temple Cafe (accompanied by farewells, hugs, and maybe a tear or two on my part) I boarded the ferry over to Berneray.

There are no camp sites on Berneray, so CalMac has provided a free service point for Caravans and Motor Caravans. Have I mentioned I love Caledonian MacBrayne?

I snuck off down to the dunes to camp, and apart from doing my usual 'clean up' of the area (happily there was hardly any litter to clear this time) I really wished that there was an Honesty Box or something so that people who want to contribute back to the island in exchange for the free camping are able to do so. A brilliant scheme works in West Harris that allows this.

Next day, I went down to Moorcroft Campsite on North Uist for a couple of days. Moorcroft remains one of my favourite sites in the Outer Hebrides. I always get such a warm welcome from the owners Iain and Catriona, and they even indulge me and let me try out my pigeon Gàidhlig on them.

Once again I had a fantastic kitesurf in the shallow waters off the campsite:

I had planned to stay a little longer in the Uists but I ended up charging down to the island of Barra as I wanted to catch an old acquaintance, Christine, before she left the island. I met Christine on that first trip five years ago, and she spends every summer on Barra in her Coachman Caravan. She's been doing that for more years than she cares to remember, and is a font of all local knowledge.

A funny thing happened on my way to Barra. First of all, let's just say that quite a few folks in the islands, both resident and visitors, know of 'The Man with the Silver Caravan'. Second, people in the islands are lovely anyway, and many will wave when you're passing even if you've never met before.

As ever, I took my time when the road was single track, and if I ever saw anyone coming the other way or behind me, I'd be the first to pull over. After all, I'm obviously on holiday with an Airstream on the back. That other person is likely to be a resident who simply wants to get from A to B.

Today, though, it seemed that the waves from the drivers (and passengers) were more enthusiastic than ever. I was a little puzzled. Had I met some of these people? Then, as I allowed a car coming the other way to pass, the occupants stopped alongside and wound down their window:

'Great blog Andrew!' the driver shouted. I felt humbled. It appears that not only do folks actually read this, but it also looks like the entry I wrote with steam coming out my ears ('How Dare You') struck a chord with a LOT of other people too. Aw shucks.

I'd not returned to Barra (other than a day trip) since 2010. In 2010 wild camping was stopped on the island, yet the campsites were not really ready to accept caravans and motor caravans. It was a bit of a bumpy transition period, but now the transistion is complete and it's probably one of the best islands for caravans and motorhomes.

I intended to spend just a couple of days at Scurrival (Scuribhal) Campsite at Eoligarry in the North of the island, then tour around and try the other sites in order to report back. However, laziness and a contented sense of being settled kicked in, and ended up spending the entire week at Scurrival.

Now here's the thing that I'll be going into when I write about camping in the Outer Hebrides again: ONE WEEK at Scurrival cost me the same as ONE NIGHT on one of the campsites in Harris. Therefore the 'Airport Cafe' down the road got my business every day. Not only was the food good, there was free wifi and, of course, the daily theatre of being the only airport in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach.

After a fantastic week re-acquainting myself with the island of Barra, it was with heavy heart that I headed to Castlebay one last time to board the mv Clansman. Stupid, soppy, sentimental fool that I am, I spent most of the trip outside at the aft end, watching my beautiful, gorgeous islands slip slowly out of site with tears in my eyes. Mar sin leibh Na h-Innse Gall mo ghràibh. Tillidh mi air ais.