Britain at its best: Wrap yourself up in the glories of the Isle of Lewis and Harris – the ‘tweediest place on the planet’
- The Daily Mail’s Harry Mount visited Lewis and Harris, Scotland’s biggest island
- During the trip he meet one of the 150 Harris Tweed weavers on the island
- He also visited the Callanish Stones, Scotland’s greatest set of standing stones
My hotel room in Stornoway, capital of the island of Lewis and Harris, was the tweediest place on the planet.
The chairs were upholstered in cream Harris Tweed. My blanket was in a heather-purple shade of Harris Tweed. I added to the effect by buying a sponge bag — in tartan Harris Tweed.
I bought my sponge bag (for £18) from one of the 150 Harris Tweed weavers on the island, Iain Martin. Do visit his croft in Airidh a’ Bhruaich, a half-hour drive from Stornoway.
Quiet interlude: A couple enjoy the view at Geodha Mhartainn on the Isle of Harris
Martin, 52, has been working on the family croft since he was five, following in the footsteps of his father, grandparents and great-grandparents.
With his gentle, lilting, Outer Hebrides accent, Iain is an unequalled guide to Harris Tweed. Right in front of me, he wove a bright pink herringbone tweed on his 1926 Hattersley Domestic loom. How soft it felt — like butter straight from the creamery.
Iain has his own sheep and demonstrates the whole tweed-making process, from lamb to shop. He can show you everything from lambing to peat-cutting to sheep-shearing and sheepdog-handling.
Harris Tweed was created in 1846 by landowner, Lady Dunmore, who promoted the cloth to her pals, including one Queen Victoria.
After a decline in the Eighties, it now sells four times more than it did 15 years ago. Iain has customers as far afield as Texas.
In the picture-postcard town of Stornoway you can buy new men’s and women’s Harris Tweed jackets from two neighbouring shops — Harris Tweed Hebrides and Tweedtastic — which overlook the harbour.
For vintage jackets, starting from only £49, head round the corner to Lewis Revival.
Cameron’s Chip Shop down the street uses excellent local fish. For a sit-down dinner, the Harris & Lewis Smokehouse has some of the best smoked salmon in the world.
Just across the harbour is Lews Castle, a thwacking great Gothic pile, completed in 1851 for Sir James Matheson, the tycoon who owned the island.
You can stay there, or have a free look around the mammoth rooms with their views across the water. The cafe is good for lunch, next door to the museum, all spick and span thanks to a lottery grant.
Six of the famed Lewis chessmen — the cartoonish, 12th century, Nordic chess pieces found in a Lewis sandbank in 1831 — are on show here. The history of Lewis and Harris, Scotland’s biggest island, goes back a lot further. (Don’t be confused by the two names: it is one single island.)
A half-hour drive west of Stornoway are the Callanish Stones, Scotland’s greatest set of standing stones, erected around 2,750 BC. They’re laid out in a cross pattern on a hillock overlooking Loch Roag, with the island of Great Bernera as a backdrop.
The Daily Mail’s Harry Mound spotted Highland cattle during a visit to the Callanish Stones
Just as with Stonehenge, no one knows exactly what they were built for — which only adds to their intense, mysterious, spiritual feeling. Unlike Stonehenge, they aren’t besieged by tourists.
I had them to myself the whole time I was there. What’s more, there are other sets of standing stones on neighbouring spots overlooking the sea.
I stood watching two crofters herd a flock of sheep — chubby, tweed-producing factories. A sight unchanged for hundreds, or thousands, of years. There are also Highland cattle.
For more recent history, take a short drive to the village of Tong. Donald Trump’s mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was born in a croft house there in 1912, where she lived until she was 18, before emigrating.
There is no mention of Mrs Trump. One passer-by said to me: ‘I do know where she lives but I’m not going to tell you.’
A young man was happy to direct me to the house: a nice, double-fronted home with dormer windows and a big garden bordered by fir trees.
As he described it, it’s a ‘blueish house’ — easily distinguished from the White House.
EasyJet (easyjet.com) flies from London to Glasgow from £44 return. Loganair (loganair.co.uk) flies Glasgow to Stornoway from £171 return. Harry Mount stayed in the Caladh Inn, Stornoway. Doubles from £99, caladhinn.co.uk
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