Across the slate gray, meringue-tipped waters of West Loch Tarbert, the island of Taransay glowed in the shimmering light of the setting sun. Today was a study in grays and blues, as we explored local seascapes, inland lochs (lakes), and the billions of years old rock that is the backbone of the Isle of Lewis and Harris. Our sanctuary on this largest of the Outer Hebrides islands off Scotland’s Northwest coast is Amhuinnsuidhe Castle.
Amhuinnsuidhe (“aven-suey”) was built in 1865 in the Scottish Baronial style, for Charles Murray, the 7th Earl of Dunmore. Throughout its history, the castle has been owned by a convoluted list of Earls, Viscounts, Ladies, Lords, and Sirs. Today, the castle is owned by Mr. Ian Scarr-Hall and operated as a luxury sporting lodge and business retreat, offering superb hunting, fishing, and hiking in a luxurious and remote setting. The castle’s usual season runs from mid-May through October.
Accommodations in the castle include a dozen individually designed, spacious rooms and suites. The décor is regal, with original period antiques, fine art and sculpture, elegant marble appointments in bathrooms, and, always, the to-die-for views. Beautifully appointed public rooms include the Drawing and Billiard Rooms, and the Grand Hall. The heart of Amhuinnsuidhe is the Dining Room, with grand windows, high ceilings, huge fireplace, tapestries and a room-dominating “banqueting-size table”, where guests take dinner, all seated at one time. As is often the case, one can catch glimpses of loch-leaping salmon while enjoying a delectable meal.
Local cuisine captures the essence of what this exclusive sporting lodge is about. Starters usually include Lewis sea trout and West Loch Tarbert scallops and crab cakes. Chef David Taylor regularly features entrees of Aberdeen Angus beef, Amhuinnsuidhe Estate venison, guinea fowl with organic Dukeshill ham stuffing, and Hebridean lamb. Desserts featuring Scottish farmhouse cheeses, shortbread and peach, lemon, pear and pineapple delicacies wrap guests in a warm, fuzzy finale to extraordinary meals. The single malt Scotch selection does not disappoint. Among the selections, Highland Park and Jura represent island-style malts, along with several expressions of The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, from Speyside. The castle’s eponymous label of single malt is also aged and bottled in the Speyside region.
Amhuinnsuidhe Castle is strategically located to maximize enjoyment of hiking the adjacent hills of the Forest of Harris, fishing in the ten fresh water lochs available to castle guests, and observing firsthand the abundant variety of wildlife on water, land, and above. From whales to butterflies, and dozens of species in-between, the area teems with a never-ending display of nature’s bounty.
Road tripping on the Isle of Lewis and Harris is a must. With the top down, my well-worn, decades old Harris Tweed jacket was a comfortable buffer against the nippy Hebridean weather. It was, quite literally, “at home” here on Harris. The bespoke tweed is still made by crofters all around this part of the island. The distinct clickety-clack of looms emanating from garages and small outbuildings became a familiar sound as I headed for a few of the areas’ most well-known highlights.
The Standing Stones at Callanish date to around 3000 BC, and, unlike Stonehenge, are void of busloads of tourists and protective barricades. 13 stones are arranged in a rough circle, with others forming “avenues” leading to the circle, and are thought to have been used as an early tool for astronomy.
Further up the A858 coast road in the village of Arnol, the Arnol Blackhouse Museum portrays the rugged lifestyle of early Scots in a restored, thatched roof cottage. The necessary and synergistic relationship for survival between man and farm animals under one roof is a fascinating study. Black houses were so named as the result of seasons of heating and cooking over an open peat fire in the center of the human living space.
Desolate and wind whipped beaches are frequently designated by the roadmap’s “scenic view” icon and pop up all along my single-track route. Many of these are acknowledged as some of the most beautiful in Europe. My favorites are near Finsbay and Luskentyre.
Ferry travel to the Isle of Lewis and Harris from the mainland is between Ullapool and Stornoway. There are other options if one is island-hopping in the Outer Hebrides. Air travel is to Stornoway.
Photos by Amhuinnsuidhe Castle Estate and Ray Pearson
For further information: http://www.amhuinnsuidhe.com
Rocky Backbone of Harris
The Dining Room
Standing Stones of Callanish
Yellow Sand Beach on Harris