With the summer tourist season in full swing, the coastal routes of Harris are full of small convoys of cars and camper vans as visitors explore the island on four wheels.
The rollercoaster of winding roads, many single-tracked, can make for fun driving, with beautiful views and hidden hamlets around almost every corner.
We’re so used to these tarmacadam trails that it’s easy to forget that it’s only in the last 100 years that islanders have travelled long distances by land.
The natural highways and byways were to be found off-shore, with sailing being the preferred mode of transport and the easiest way to get from A to B was by sea.
Given this history, our founder Burr Bakewell often says that the island is often best viewed from the surrounding waters and is better understood from the bow of a boat.
So, last month the Storytelling team took advantage of a rare break in the weather and workload to climb aboard the 10-meter, twin-hulled ‘Harmony’ skippered by our friend Angus Campbell.
We strapped on our life jackets, cast off from the Harris Marina, and immediately enjoyed a beautiful view of the distillery, which soon disappeared into the distance as we left East Loch Tarbert.
Passing under Scalpay Bridge, we soon began to see houses old and new hidden from the road but seen from the sea, most built where hill streams finally empty into ocean waters.
After pausing to watch a pod of people-shy porpoises, this community connection between land and sea became even more evident as the boat approached the abandoned village of Molinginish.
This small collection of houses at the mouth of Loch Seaforth was last inhabited in the 1960s but was only ever accessible by boat or a longer, less practical journey on foot.
We then spied Rhenigidale, a nearby village only connected by road in the 1990s, an engineering effort that has allowed the community to continue to survive today.
Angus turned the ‘Harmony’ northwards, and roving gangs of razorbills flew fast and low over the waves as brightly billed puffins bobbed about in our boat wake.
Hot coffee and ginger cake hit the spot as we headed towards the Bays on the east coast of Harris, full of tiny islands and islets, each covered with sunbathing seals and cormorant seabirds drying their wings.
Just years from Plocropol, we hauled some lobster pots, but the catch was just a few small Velvet Crabs, so the creels were rebaited with fresh mackerel, and the crabs returned to the deep.
After three hours afloat, it was finally time to head home, pouring a wee dram to bring a bit of inner warmth as the distillery slowly hove into view once more.
We all agreed that the trip had completely changed our perception of the island in a short time, the familiar views and vistas were gone, and more unusual ones took their place.
This new form of inspiration will only serve to support our storytelling and if you’re ever looking for a fresh perspective on the Isle of Harris, try looking at it from the sea…
A BIG THANK YOU TO ANGUS CAMPBELL FROM ISLE OF HARRIS SEA TOURS FOR SKIPPERING OUR TRIP.
BOOK YOUR ADVENTURE WITH HIM AT: