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Dec 23 2014

One Island: Two Names (Harris and Lewis)

You would be forgiven for thinking that the Isle of Harris and the Isle of Lewis are two separate islands when, in fact, they aren’t.  It is actually one island, with Harris in the south and Lewis in the north.  I’m not sure why they are often referred to as the Isle of Harris and the Isle of Lewis and I haven’t been able to find out.  The only thing I can think of is that it could have something to do with the fact that, until 1975, Harris and Lewis belonged to different counties.  Nontheless, it is one large island, the largest island in Scotland, and is part of the Outer Hebrides.

The landscape in the south and the north is noticeably different.  Harris is hilly whereas Lewis is much flatter in comparison.


Without a car, it’s difficult, although not impossible, to get around the Isle of Harris.  If you don’t have a car and stay in Tarbert, it’s much easier to get around the island by bus compared with staying elsewhere on Harris, as I did.


Tarbert, the main town, might be tiny, but it has great transport links to other parts of the island as well as to other islands.  You can take a ferry to the Isle of Skye from Tarbert, or to southern Outer Hebridean islands (via the port at Leverburgh) or take bus to the Isle of Scalpay or further north to parts of Lewis.


I stayed in a lovely hamlet called Drinishader, a few miles from Tarbert.  It’s a beautiful place to chill and, although it’s possible to get buses from there, it is quite limiting when you have to rely on the bus service, particularly on Sundays.

Harris is a great place to go walking but, unfortunately, the weather was against me.  A woman at the tourist information office in Tarbert told me of a great walk to Luskentyre.  However, in the next breath, she said it would be too boggy and not worth attempting.  Since I travel on my own and I was warned by a local, I heeded the warning.   The scenery is spectacular in Harris, so go for a long walk if weather permits, but make sure you are suitably prepared.  

Isle of Scalpay


When I heard about the Isle of Scalpay, I thought I was going to have to take a ferry across to the island.  You don’t.  It’s connected to the Isle of Harris with a bridge, which was built in 1997.  If you’re on foot, you can hop on a bus from the bus station in Tarbert.  It will drop you off at the community café/shop.   I had intended to walk around the island and did, in fact, begin.  Unfortunately, the weather and the sodden ground got the better of me.  I retreated, cold and wet, to the community café where I dried off and warmed up with a hot drink and then used the free WiFi until the next bus came along for my return to Tarbert.

Luskentyre Beach

Luskentyre Beach is well-known for its beauty.  It certainly doesn’t disappoint.  I only got a glimpse of it and the Isle of Taransay on my way to Drinishader on the first day.  It’s definitely worth stopping for a while if you have the time.


I headed north towards the Isle of Lewis by bus and stayed just outside Storonway, the biggest town on the whole of the island (Harris and Lewis).  It’s a great base from which to see the island, especially for those without a car.  From there, I visited a number of places.


I couldn’t leave Stornoway without a photo of Lewes Castle. #scotislith A photo posted by Teresa Keane (@indtravhelp) on

While you’re in Stornoway, take a wander around the harbour, pop up to Lews Castle which sits on high above the town, take a walk around its ground, and go for a long coastal walk.  From there, you can pop on a ferry to Ullapool on the mainland or head south once you’ve travelled around the island and seen all the places of interest.

Tolsta Head


Tolsta Head #scotislith #video A video posted by Teresa Keane (@indtravhelp) on

Tolsta Head was the first place I ventured to.  The day I arrived, I got a bus to the village.  Once you’re there, you can head out to the cliff for a fantastic view of the rugged coastline.

The Butt of Lewis

The following day, I went to the northernmost point on the island, the Butt of Lewis.  It’s incredibly windy there and was once recorded as the windiest place in the UK.  The colour of sea is complemented by the grass and multicoloured rocks.  

Callanish Stones


For lovers of archaeology and history, this island is really interesting.  There are so many things to see, which give insight and add intrigue.  For example, no one actually knows why these standing stones were built and there are three sites you can visit in Callanish alone which have standing stones.  

Dun Carloway


The best preserved broch in the Outer Hebrides is Dun Carloway.  It dates back to the first century AD.  A broch, in case you’re wondering, is an Iron Age stone hollow-walled structure, which is only found in Scotland  


Gearrannan is a great place to see reconstructed traditional houses (blackhouses).  

There’s a wonderful coastal walk, of which I only got to do a part.  I didn’t have the time and it was pretty cold and wet.   I managed to see the Callanish Stones, Dun Carloway, and the Gearrannan village in one day using the public buses.  If you want to do the same, you need to time it right and visit each place in a particular order.  The bus timetable may change, but I got the first bus of the morning to Dun Carloway, then a bus to Callanish, and finally a bus to the Gearrannan village.  It was a little ambitious and a little rushed at the start, but I got to all three locations in one day.  

Great Bernera


Great Bernera is linked to Lewis by a road bridge which was built in the 1950s.  The main settlement is in Breaclete where there is a community cafe which is open 12-4pm.  It has free WiFi and there is a small museum.  About a 20-minute walk away is a Norse mill, which is worth visiting.  

It was a bit boggy, but I managed to get to the Norse Mill on Great Bernera. #scotislith A photo posted by Teresa Keane (@indtravhelp) on

There is also a reconstructed Iron Age house on Bosta Beach, which will give you some idea of what life would have been like during that period.  Like many of the places on Harris and Lewis, this island is an area of outstanding natural beauty, so if the past doesn’t interest you, the beauty that surrounds you certainly will.

If you’re going by bus, go to Bosta Beach first and then get a bus back to Breaclete, so you can visit the Norse Mill before heading back to Stornoway.


Below is a map of all the places mentioned above.  This will give you a much clearer idea of where they are and a better sense of Harris and Lewis as well as a couple of the other islands I’ve mentioned above.

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Have your say

Do you know why the island is often referred to as two islands: the Isle of Harris and the Isle of Lewis?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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