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Dec 16 2014

Sunday on the Isle of Harris

It was Friday and I was on the Isle of Benbecula.  All week, I had been conscious of the fact that I needed to find a place to stay from Saturday to Monday.  This particular weekend was all the more important because I was told that the further north I went in the Outer Hebrides, the less likely I would be to find anything open or operating on a Sunday.  Since I didn’t have my own transport to get around, I had to rely on the island’s public transport and I had to be very organised.

Where did I want to be for those two nights?  I wanted to be in a place that was tranquil, comfortable, and had good WiFi.  So, whatever the weather, I would be able to make the most of my time there since everything would be closed.  I needed to have a long, hard think about that to decide on my next move.  I had the Isle of Harris in mind because I had heard so much about it.  Then, while making dinner at the hostel on Friday evening, I got chatting to a couple who were in their late 60s/early 70s.  They were travelling around the islands in their 4×4, staying in hostels for the first time in their lives.  They were great and raved about the Isle of Harris and one particular place where they had stayed.  I like to get recommendations of places to stay from other travellers, so I asked a bit more about the hostel.  They sold it well.  It sounded amazing.  The only problem was, they weren’t sure how I would get there using public transport.  Since they waxed lyrical about the place, I decided to ring to see if there was a bed available for two nights.  As luck would have it, they did.  When I asked about getting there on public transport, I was told that I’d have to get off the bus and walk the remainder of the way.  As there was a bed available for those two nights, I booked it.

The following morning, as I was getting ready to leave, the place I had booked was playing on my mind.  I’d be in the middle of nowhere, with no means of transport, and unable to buy food and drink.  I phoned another hostel on the island and they had availability for the two nights.   I’d been told there would be a pub open on Sunday, so if it rained I could have lunch or just a drink there, and the hostel had WiFi.  There was availability for the two nights, so I booked it and rang the first hostel to explain the situation and to cancel my booking.  They were really understanding.

A bus and a ferry later and I had arrived on the Isle of Harris.  I walked to the hostel, which was only a short distance away.  There was no one around, but my name and bed number were written in chalk, so I knew where my bed was.  I dumped my stuff on the floor and looked to see if I could find anyone.  I couldn’t.  I tried and tried to log in to the WiFi, but I couldn’t.  In fact, I couldn’t get any reception.  That was a concern because I really wanted to get some work done and I needed internet access for that.

It was then that I started to question changing my plans and cancelling the hostel I had originally booked.  I didn’t have time to waste, so I decided to go food shopping.  I needed some supplies to see me through until Monday, just in case everything was closed.  I headed off to the Co-op, stopping at the Post Office to get some cash out from the only ATM in the town.   The woman there was friendly and started chatting, asking where I was staying.  When I told her about the hostel and the problems I was having connecting to the WiFi, she said I could work there.  That was very kind of her, but they weren’t open on Sundays.  I said that I could go to the pub and use the WiFi there, but she said it would be closed.  She told me that nothing would be open because it was the Sabbath.  It was a day of rest and I shouldn’t even be thinking of working at all that day.  I’d have been happy not to think about working at all that day, but when I’m on the road, I work whenever and wherever I can.  It isn’t a 9-5 Monday to Saturday job.   You have to make use of the time and facilities you have when you have them.

I continued on to the Co-op and got my shopping.  When I returned to the hostel, I tried the internet again and asked some of the people who had returned from a day out about it.  Some didn’t realise that the hostel had WiFi, one hadn’t been able to connect during his time there, and the others weren’t fussed.  In fact, they were happy not to have it.  One of them told me to ring the owner, which I did.  He seemed surprised and said I should be able to get access.  As far as he was concerned, there wasn’t an issue.  There was because I wasn’t able to get a connection on either of my devices.  If it was for only one night and I could move on the following day, I would have stayed.  The thing is, I’d be there for two nights.  Time was getting on.  It was Saturday and well into the afternoon.  I checked out the buses to Drinishader and there was a bus headed that way.  I phoned the hostel I had cancelled that morning and spoke to the owner, explaining the situation.  He was great and, because it was drizzling on and off, he said that he would pick me up from the main road if I texted him when I got there.  So, I re-booked it and explained the situation to the hostel owner in Leverburgh.

Luskentyre Beach

Then, I grabbed my stuff, walked back to the port, fighting the bracing wind, and got on the bus which was headed to Tarbert.  It was a great journey.  The driver and a local pointed out Luskentyre Beach and Taransay on the way.  They told me all about what it was like when Castaway 2000 was being filmed and about who owns what and how expensive the holiday rentals are.  After an interesting thirty minute journey, I got off at the Golden Road and bide them farewell.  I texted the owner of the hostel who kindly picked me up and drove me down this narrow road with the most incredible scenery.  My pack was heavy with all the food and drink I had just bought, so I was glad for the lift.

The view was incredible and the hostel was like a house.  I had definitely made the right decision.  I was shown to my room, a two-bed dorm I was sharing with a French woman who was also travelling on her own.  Thankfully, the WiFi worked at the hostel, so I was able to do some work.  It couldn’t have been more perfect.  To be honest, if it hadn’t been, there was precious little else I could do by that point.  I’m not in the habit of messing hostel owners about and felt terrible for doing so, but I felt very fortunate to be where I was and I was glad that I trusted my instincts.  It was like a home from home, like the one I had stayed in on the Isle of Benbecula.

The French girl was there for only one more night.  She had a rental car and had planned to go out for a drive that evening.  When she asked me if I wanted to go, I jumped at the chance.  I would get to see some areas I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.  The colours in the sky and the rugged, rural scenery were incredible.

Drinishader at sunset

The following day was Sunday.  I was expecting to just do some work, go for a short walk, and enjoy my time in this stunning setting.  It was the French girl’s final day and she was heading off in her car to see the seals one final time.  She had fallen in love with the peace and tranquility of this part of the island and I could understand why.

While I was doing some work in the lounge, I got chatting to a guy who I hadn’t seen the previous night.  He was an actor from Barcelona and had arrived late the previous evening.  From the sound of it, he had had a hard introduction to the Outer Hebrides.  Like me, he hadn’t been booking accommodation in advance.  That is very risky in the summer and I was fully aware of that.  This guy was just beginning to realise that.  He had originally intended to stay on the Isle of Skye, but everything in his price range was booked solid when he got there.  The only accommodation he could find was in this hostel.  That meant he had to get another ferry from the Isle of Skye to the Isle of Harris.  From Tarbert, he had to walk 5 miles in the rain and strong wind to Drinishader.  He tried to hitch a lift, but no one stopped.  He had arrived with no food supplies whatsoever.  From what I had heard that wasn’t a sensible thing to do, but he had no idea.  He said that he was going to walk into the nearest town, Tarbert, to get some food.  Would he find anything open though?  Perhaps a hotel with a restaurant.  I had no idea.

The guy was up for a bit of adventure, so he came along with us to see the seals and to enjoy the stunning landscape that surrounded us.  It was a very wet and extremely windy day.  We all got wet, but we managed to see some seals.
After that, we headed into Tarbert to see if everything was really closed.  The French girl needed some petrol, so she headed to the petrol station in Tarbert first.  It was closed.  As we drove around, it looked as if everything was closed.  That was until we saw a bar/restaurant which was open.  Result!  The French girl went in to ask about where she could get some petrol.  Apparently, the nearest place was about an hour away in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.  That would mean a two-hour return journey for petrol.  As she was low on petrol and didn’t have the time to get to the petrol station, we told her to stay put and get on the ferry, as planned, and we would walk back.  She was on a tight timescale and couldn’t stay another night.  She had to return the car and get to Edinburgh airport the following day for her flight back to Paris.

We wished her luck and headed off, trying to thumb a lift as we went with little success.  The rain was teaming down.  We continued on the main road, hoping that someone would feel sorry for us and give us a lift.  No one stopped.
Sunday on the Isle of Harris
When we turned off the main road, we continued to try thumbing a lift with the odd car that passed by.  Eventually, only a short way from the hostel, some people in a car stopped and drove us the remainder of the way.

That evening, feeling warm and dry once again, I shared my food and wine rations with the guy from Barcelona, hoping the French girl was okay.  The following day, I stayed in this magical place, the guy from Barcelona headed back to the mainland, and I found out that the French girl had arrived back in Paris safely, having slept in her car overnight.

The moral of the story is, if you are likely to be in the Outer Hebrides on a Sunday, think ahead and be prepared whether you are using public transport or travelling by car.


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Have you been in a situation where everything was closed and you hadn’t quite expected it?

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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  1. katie macDonald

    Loved your wee story…going to spend a couple of nights there in Sept with my sister in law from Canada…but not on the Sabbath!

  2. Teresa Keane

    Thanks, Katie! You’ll have a wonderful time because it’s such a beautiful island – Harris and Lewis combined.


  1. One Island: Two Names (Harris and Lewis) - Independent Travel Help

    […] 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. […]

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