I flew to Steòrnabhagh (Stornoway) for my March visit to Leòdhas (Lewis) and Na Hearadh (Harris). It was with Loganair from Edinburgh. The cost was £169 return, which included a 20kg checked in bag (all their fares do). They use small planes with very limited cabin baggage space, so it’s a sensible policy. I booked 2-3 months ahead.
That price doesn’t include seat selection. I was allocated 3A on both flights. Row 3 is level with the propellors, and so there are no windows. If you want a good view during the flight, think about paying extra to be sure of the right seat.
Stornoway Airport is small, but perfectly formed. It has what you need – car rental, a cafe/bar etc – but none of the hassle of larger airports. No check-in queues. No security queues. Super quick baggage delivery. The car park (and rental cars) are 20m away.
I rented my car from Carhire Hebrides. They seem to be the only company with a desk in the airport terminal. The cost was £108 for 2 days, which includes £20 for the “optional” CDW insurance to bring the excess down to £200.
That price was for a category B car – a Vauxhall Corsa. It had just 3,000 miles on the clock, so it was almost brand new, and pretty good for the kind of driving I was doing. I covered 196 miles over the 2 days and the petrol cost me £27. Fuel is more expensive than on the mainland.
As I had to return the car full of fuel, the rental company kindly flagged up the only filling station open on Sunday (10am to 4pm).
It is a wonderful place to drive. The roads are so quiet. You do have to slow down when you see sheep by the roadside – they can be unpredictable.
I spent my 2 nights in the Stornoway B&B.
It was excellent, and great value at £50 per night (double room for single occupancy) – which includes a massive breakfast. I hardly needed any lunch. It is in the town centre and very handy for restaurants. I think that was a low season price, so no doubt it costs more in spring and summer.
I had dinner in a Bangladeshi restaurant on my first night – it was fine but nothing to get excited about. On the Saturday night I ate at An Lanntair, which overlooks the harbour. The food (a lamb burger with salad and chips) was excellent. So was the view.
I had coffee and a scone in the visitor centre at Calanais – both were excellent and it’s a great location to just sit and relax.
Coffee and cake was my treat in the coffee shop at the Museum nan Eilean – also really good and a lovely place.
Yes… Sunday. Tradition and religious observance mean that almost everything is closed. Bavarians will feel right at home. Flights on a Sunday are a relatively new thing, and still strongly opposed by many. The airport was the only obvious place I could find to have lunch or even a coffee.
It is all part of the way of life, but you should be aware of it when planning a trip. Beaches and so on are fine, but anything involving a visitor centre will most likely be shut.
On the Sunday morning the lady who was serving breakfast in my B&B invited me to help myself to whatever fruit and yoghurt I wanted to take away for my lunch. That was very considerate and sums up the locals pretty well.
You will notice that Gaelic is much more prominent than on the mainland. Most street signs are in Gaelic first with the English version in smaller letters underneath, or they may be in Gaelic only.
On the the hand passenger announcements at the airport are in English only. You will hear Gaelic spoken, but Gaelic speakers will always speak English first to someone who isn’t local.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2018