Hebridean Way: Day 12 – Lewis (Stornoway – castle grounds and Museum Nan Eilean)

Distance cycled 0 miles / 0 km
Cumulative distance cycled 319.2 miles / 513.9 km
Islands visited (daily total) Lewis
Total islands visited 10+1 of 10
Average speed n/a mph / n/a kmph
Weather conditions Heavy showers

Stornoway is the capital of Lewis and by far the largest town in the Outer Hebrides but by mainland standards it’s small with a population of just 5,000. Nevertheless, full size supermarkets, other shops and a choice of cafes, restaurants and pubs made it feel like a bustling metropolis to us after the last two weeks!

The weather was windy and drizzly when we woke with more rain forecast for later so we decided to go for a wander with the aim of ducking into the museum and/or a cafe if it got too bad. First stop was the war memorial at the top of the hill. It’s an impressive structure, built by subscription after WWI and added to after WWII, with views over the town and beyond.

Stornoway war memorial

From there we headed down the hill and into the castle grounds. Lews Castle is a 19th century stately home which now houses an expensive hotel as well as a museum and archive. The extensive grounds function as a huge public park and were basically deserted on a wet Thursday morning in September. We wandered some of the mountain bike trails through the dripping trees and could have been miles from anywhere. Eventually the path brought us down to the seafront which we followed to the Woodlands Cafe. By now it was starting to rain quite heavily so we sheltered under the eaves of the cafe until a table was available and after our meal made a dash to the museum which is located in an extension behind the castle.

Lews Castle Grounds on a damp September day

Lews Castle Grounds on a damp September day

Museum Nan Eilean (Museum of the Islands) as its name suggests tells the story of life on the islands. Over 50% of islanders speak gaelic as their first language and the museum recognises this with bilingual exhibits. It begins with videos of islanders speaking about their lives and continues with exhibits of different aspects from nature to religion to fishing and the arts. It’s compact but very well done and we thoroughly enjoyed learning more about some of the things we’d seen during our holiday.

Lews Castle and exhibits from Museum Nan Eilean

Clockwise from top: Lews Castle; a wedding dress made from very fine Harris Tweed; exhibit of music and religion in Museum Nan Eilean; we were excited to see some examples of the actual Uig chessmen

Stornoway and part of the harbour from the castle grounds

Stornoway and part of the harbour from the castle grounds

From the castle we walked down into the town. Our final stop was a beautiful and moving piece of art in Stornoway harbour commemorating the Iolaire disaster. HMY Iolaire was a Royal Navy yacht returning men to the islands after WWI. Tragically it foundered on rocks within sight of the shore and families waiting to welcome home their loved ones instead watched as 201 of the 280 on board drowned. The memorial consists of 280 wooden posts in the sand making the exact shape of the yacht, with 79 painted white to signify the survivors. It disappears and reappears with the tide, and is lit at night which unfortunately we didn’t see.

Iolaire memorial

Iolaire memorial

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