A Road Trip to the Hebrides with the Travelling Bear
Day One: Last Spring (2012), after a few weeks of hinting at Vee that it was time for an adventure, she finally packed up the Mini and we set off from Kent on what was to become our greatest road trip yet. A sunny April day (probably the last for England but not for us in Scotland!), we were headed for the Hebrides with our first stop being the dog-friendly Lake District. Having weighed up the options between flying, train or car, Vee took the decision to drive me as I wasn’t happy about going in the hold of a plane (no refreshment service down there) and the overnight sleeper train seemed a bore. I like to travel by day – when I can see out of the window.
Arriving in Ings near Windermere, at our kip for the night the dog-friendly Watermill Inn, we went straight out to stretch our legs and there were fantastic walks right from the pub doorstep. Minding the sheep – for some reason I am not allowed to chase them – I got to race off the journey, splash through streams, dig up the odd molehill and take in big sniffs of all the good smells of the countryside. In the evening, I relaxed by the fire, getting lots of attention and crisps. Vee drank her vino and read travel books preparing for what was to come.
Day Two: After a long drive (yawn) in very mixed weather, we arrived in Oban. After checking in to our hotel, The Oban Caledonian, I was keen to explore. There were really lovely views of Mull and the small isles from the harbour and lots of places to stop for drinks and snacks. We found the ruined Dunollie Castle and the fields behind – Scotland has an open countryside, right to roam policy so you can go anywhere as long as you abide by its rules – and I had a good run and a bit of a fox hunt.
Day three: We set sail to Barra on a beautiful, calm day. It is a five hour crossing on a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Oban, to Barra, past Mull and the small isles then out to open sea. I was allowed out of the car to sit with Vee on deck. I could have gone inside to a designated pet area but I wasn’t keen as out on deck people were eating sarnies and sharing them with me. I took the boat journey in my stride of course – looking out for dolphins; sunbathing; and accepting lots of admiring glances, pats and the odd biscuit that passed by.
On arriving on Barra, we could see the Castlebay Hotel from the ferry. Highlights of Barra had to be the beautiful white sands and crystal blue waters of Cockle Strand where the planes land at low tide along with the apple core beaches of Vatersay where you could actually think that you are in the South Pacific especially as the weather was so unbelievably fabulous during our visit. I just loved zooming around the machair, which is Gaelic for the heather-y land next to the beach, tearing through the dunes – stopping to chase the odd bunny – and then jetting off across the sands after an arctic turn or three which ended up with me racing through the shallow waters: happy, happy, happy!
Day Five: From Barra, we set sail on a much smaller Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to the Uists and Benbecula. We drove straight through South Uist as it isn’t really the most appealing landscape and there is not a lot there. We headed for the RSPB Balranald nature reserve on North Uist. From the visitor centre, there is an excellent walk across the machair to sandy white beaches teeming with migrating birds, otters and seals out off the headland. Later we found our hotel, The Langass Lodge, set on the edge of Locheport and overlooking Ben Eval – an incredibly stunning location. The former shooting lodge is set in its own (sheep free) estate which has an excellent marked circular walk that takes in the Ben Langass stone circle, the Barpa Langass burial chamber – with incredible views across the landscape and great opportunities for otter spotting and trying to catch vole. I proved to be a fabulous tracker – but Vee said a complete fidget when it came to sitting still and waiting for the otters to appear. Well, you can’t have everything! In the evening, I was allowed in the bar to sit by the fire but much preferred to look out of the patio windows in our room, policing for pheasants!
Day Seven: We set sail once again, this time to Harris.
We checked in to the Rodel Hotel and then took a stroll around its beautiful little harbour and grounds. This was my favourite place to stay on our road trip as it was teeming with bunnies and I very much enjoyed chasing them around the gorse bushes – I’m pretty sure that this is what is meant by Heaven on Earth! Harris is simply stunning, with magnificent scenery and spectacular beaches like the famous Luskentyre and Huisinis. I can honestly say that every beach that we set foot and paw on, we had to ourselves.
Buzzards, golden eagles, seals, dolphins and basking sharks are regularly sighted and there are a number of galleries and Harris Tweed outlets should the mood take. We decided to trek through the Harris hills to an eagle observatory to spot some Golden Eagles, which we did! But I had to keep look out for quite some time. Luckily, Vee had a flask of tea and some hob nobs.
From Harris, it’s possible to drive to Lewis and explore there, taking in the standing stones at Callanish which you can walk around and touch (and pee on), quite unlike Stonehenge!
There’s also Uig Sands which I will always remember as I was at my very happiest racing around the huge beach, through the sand dunes, climbing rocks, splashing through the crystal sea water and then doing it all over again!
Day Ten: Our final island was Skye. Staying in Flora McDonald’s cottage at the Flodigarry Country House Hotel, we had off the doorstep walks down to Staffin Bay, just right to work up our appetites before breakfast!
We really packed it in as we had three days on Skye and I was determined that Vee would see as much as possible. We walked up to the Old Man of Storr on quite possibly the windiest day imaginable (I actually thought that I might fly off at any moment), ventured across the Quiraing, tackled the Cuillins by walking Glen Brittle with its stunning views of the island of Rum and explored the three peninsulas – Trotternish, Waternish and Duirinish – taking in Coral Beach, Ness Point and a rather delicious lunch in Stein. On that note, there are lots of lovely pubs and restaurants on Skye, many prestigious and most of which welcomed me and even let Vee in, and the mouth watering seafood was just fabulous.
And that was it. We drove home via Inverary on Loch Fyne and the Lake District again. All in, we’d journeyed 2,300 miles on The Travelling Bear’s Great Road Trip and returned home with amazing memories and stories. The Hebrides really is full of beauty and brimming with possibilities, a great place to adventure and oodles of fido fun! I was zonked by the end but found the best place to sleep it off…..
- Watermill Inn, School Lane, Ings, Staveley, Kendal, Cumbria, LA8 9PY Tel: 01539 821309; www.lakelandpub.co.uk
- Dogs stay for £4 a night, £1 of which is donated to the Dogs Trust
- The Oban Caledonian, Station Square, Oban, Argyll, PA34 5RT Tel: ; www.akkeronhotels.com
- Castlebay Hotel, Castlebay, Isle of Barra, HS9 5XD Tel: 01871 810223; www.castle-bayhotel.co.uk
- Langass Lodge, Locheport, Isle of North Uist, Outer Hebrides Tel: 01876 580285; www.langasslodge.co.uk
- Rodel Hotel, Rodel, Isle of Harris, Western Isles, Scotland Tel: 01859 520210; www.rodelhotel.co.uk
- Flodigarry Country House Hotel, Flodigarry, Isle of Skye, IV51 9HZ Tel: 01470 552203; www.flodigarry.co.uk