The Isle of Harris

Since I last wrote a blog on New York City (seven months ago), there has been a new addition to our household in the form of our blonde thunder Cavapoo, Oscar. Now that he is trained up and accepted in to cafe culture (despite currently going through a mild bout of puppy adolescence at home – his next vet trip will take care of that soon…), we can roam free again on day trips and mini holidays with our beloved canine pal. If we could take our feline friend as well we would, but she does not care much for the great outdoors. 

Our latest trip was a return to the glorious Isle of Harris, but this time on a more relaxed schedule and a pooch in tow to test how dog friendly the Island is. It turns out – very. 

As a child and teenager, Harris was the place I visited every Easter to see relatives, climb to the top of St Clements Church and watch Fawlty Towers on repeat while waiting for the rain to stop.

But it feels like there has been a shift.

Harris has become a trendy gin-distilling, dog friendly, coffee, art and culture hub. Camper vans, bikes and cars are constantly on the single track roads, the beaches are rarely deserted, and it feels like there is a far greater variety of things to see and do. We passed pop-up stalls at the end of driveways: one selling artisan mustard, another a seafood shack with an arts and crafts cabin sitting opposite. Hoards of visitors are being catered to in creative and quirky ways while the turquoise waters and rugged landscapes continue to sell themselves. 

Day one and two of our trip were stunning. The only difficulty we had was deciding which beach to visit first. Since we were staying in Rodel with my Granny, we went to Northton which was closest. Since this was Oscar’s first beach visit, it was also small and accessible.

Never having encountered sand before, he tentatively stepped onto it before his excitement took over and he sprinted down to the sea to dive in head first.

I was like a coiled spring, ready to dust off my old lifeguarding skills, but he soon emerged, a little shocked from the freezing temperature but not enough to stop him diving in for a second time. He loved it. And with views like this, who wouldn’t?

Since we were sharing Northton beach with a few families, we headed off in search of less civilisation and headed to Scarista. The sand was rougher but it was a much longer stretch to get a decent walk in.

On our walk back to the car, we encountered some territorial sea gulls and had to fight them off by waving our shoes in the air like maniacs (OK, fine, I was the only one doing this) as they swooped down to our heads.

However, as far as the Hebrides go, this is the most hostility you are likely to encounter. 

Post-beach adventures, we went for lunch at the Anchorage in Leverburgh, a restaurant that is both dog- and human-friendly. Oscar enjoyed some free biscuits and a bowl of water while we delved in to delicious platters of hummus, pita bread, olives, and salad, as well as excellent coffee. It was an ideal stop to cool off and refresh ourselves. 

On day three and four, as is to be expected, the rain came. But instead of seeking out the old Fawlty Towers VHS tapes, we hit the road. Our first stop was Temple Cafe in Northton. A small, dog friendly (of course) cafe full of quirks and delicious coffee and cake. The staff are incredibly friendly (side note: a new lesson in life is that everyone is friendly when you have a cute pup) and since we arrived early to avoid the lunchtime crowd, we had the place to ourselves. 

Next up was the famous Isle of Harris Distillery. It is incredible what this place has done for Harris and a visit is not to be missed. We have done the full tour before (highly recommended) but this time we stayed close to the open fire, bought an obligatory bottle of gin and sampled the cafe menu.

Leaving Ross and Oscar occupied with a gin and tonic, I ran over in anticipation to the new Essence of Harris shop: a candle lover’s paradise. There I stocked up on divinely scented treats to keep me going until my next visit. 

Suffice to say that Harris feels like it’s booming at the moment.  A retreat which is busy with tourists without being spoiled by over population. There are so many walks when the weather is good, and numerous places to go when the inevitable rain/howling gale returns. As far as holidays go, this trip was just what we needed. And as for Oscar, his first holiday with us was an adorable success. 

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