Eilean Fraoich is the perfect base for all the quiet – or rugged! – enjoyments you might seek on a country holiday. Over the years we’ve hosted trampers, surfers, untold anglers, birdwatchers, people who love touring ancient monuments, geologists desperate to explore unique Hebridean rock and even friends whose one interest was our fascinating Hebridean moths.
For those keen on the sights of ancient Lewis, Eilean Fraoich is right in the middle of the ‘West Side Historical Tour.’ That starts at Callanish and its assorted circles of standing stones to the south – in fact, there are many megaliths, from the spectacular to the obscure, in this corner of Lewis. There’s a pleasant visitor centre and tea-room by the main Callanish complex.
In the township of Garenin, at the back of Carloway, a street of traditional blackhouses – quit by their last residents in the mid1970s – has now been prettily restored; there’s a shop, visitor centre and intimate little restaurant.
At the edge of South Shawbost, by Loch Raoinebhat, is the restored ‘Norse Mill’ and kiln, clearly signposted and with car-park and footpath; the latter, unfortunately, is not suitable for wheelchairs. The determined can also explore the western bank of the loch for the Shawbost Stone Circle; only one or two of the stones, are still erect.
At North Bragar, you can stop and admire a spectacular gateway – the ‘Jaw-Bone Arch’, from the mandibles of the biggest blue whale ever landed. It washed ashore here, harpooned and dead, in 1920. The preserved, thatched black house at Arnol – some say more authentic and evocative than the Garenin complex; inhabited till 1964 and long in the care of Historic Scotland – is well worth seeing, though there is a charge for admission.
At Balantrushal, north of Barvas, the mighty Clach an Truiseal stone is worth seeing – it’s the biggest single standing-stone in Scotland and now thought to be the only survivor of a whole circle of them. A little up the road, in Shader, more standing stones and the remains of a Viking steading can be seen at Steinacleit.
The most spectacular includes the otter, now protected and in its habits largely nocturnal; they’re most frequently sighted on or near Shawbost beach. More heard than seen, from May to August, is the shy corncrake, once common all over Britain but these days confined to the Hebrides and a couple of lonely West Highland mainland pockets. They winter in North Africa but fly in every spring to breed, male calling unto female with a distinctive, insistent ‘erk-erk’ – rather like the winding of a very rusty alarm-clock.
Unmolested, and all going well, he will help raise two broods of corncrake chicks each summer. And, from its nadir twenty years ago – when only 480 calling-males were counted in all Britain – its numbers have steadily recovered, not least after RSPB initiatives to encourage corncrake-friendly crofting, and Shawbost is one of their favourite haunts.
Golden eagles breed in the Shawbost hills, so keep an eye peeled for those mighty birds. You’ll also see lapwings on the local moor, hear the incessant praise of the skylark, and – of a balmy summer evening – enjoy the distinctive, aerodynamic whirr of the snipe. Black-throated divers and other rarities frequently breed on Loch a Bhaile, and every so often a spectacular visitor brings ‘twitchers’ to Shawbost in their droves – most recently in May 2004, when a cinnamon teal was noted at Loch Tuamister.
We recommend Peter Cunningham’s Birds of the Outer Hebrides if you’re really interested in our feathered friends; and Loch Ordais, by the South Bragar shore near the local burial-ground and a noted beauty-spot, is especially interesting for the ornithologist.
The moors behind Shawbost, and especially the local hills – from the easy amble up Beinn a Cloiche (once, long ago, our ‘hill of the gallows’!) to the slightly more testing A’ Bheinn Mhor – make wonderful exploration. Behind the latter, for instance, you’ll find the bee-hive ruins of many old summer sheilings. But the Lewis moor is lonely, pathless, abounding in bog and to be treated with great respect – the sudden descent of mist being the chief danger. Sturdy shoes, appropriate clothing, compass and mobile phone are a must, and be sure and tell someone where you are going.
Shawbost beach is a delightful and very safe one for the young family, with good paddling and pleasant spots for a picnic. The beach at Dalbeg is also very nice, though small. That at Dalmore boasts the most spectacular surf on Lewis, but beneath those great breakers is a treacherous undertow and it is not advised for the casual swimmer.
Recent years have seen something of a surfing explosion on Lewis, with several beaches on the West Side, including Dalmore, now frequented by devotees. Of course, at this latitude, a wet-suit is essential. The SurfLewis website is well worth a visit.
With an abundance of free brown trout fishing, Lewis is justly famed as an angler’s paradise, and all the lochs in and around Shawbost hold some fish, with Loch Raoinebhat being perhaps the most rewarding. Though it can become very weedy in summer, Loch a Bhaile besides offers the chance of salmon and sea-trout… and, being a little brackish, the occasional flounder! The former village reservoir, Loch Rahacleit, is full of little trout and great fun for children or beginners.
Ask locally for tips or purchase a copy of Norman Maceod’s Trout Fishing on Lewis when you’re in town. In his introduction, Mr Macleod writes,
‘There are in fact very few lochs on the island which do not hold brown trout. Some are overstocked and contain small trout of only a few ounces; others have fish up to several pounds. In between are the lochs with trout of 8 oz to 1 lb… This is a tremendous amount of fishing water in an island approximately forty miles in length and twenty-six miles wide.
‘The vast majority of brown trout lochs on the island are free to local and visiting anglers alike, but some estate owners reserve waters for themselves and their guests. Before setting out for a day’s fishing enquiries should be made locally.
‘The season opens on 15th March and closes on 6th October. It is very seldom that one can get trout in good condition before the middle of April. The best months for fly fishing are from the end of April until the end of June and again during the first fortnight in September. July and August are just not so good with fly, and bait or spinner may prove more productive.
‘Though Sunday fishing for brown trout is legal in Scotland, it would most certainly be looked upon with disfavor in Lewis and no local angler fishes on that day. It is expected that the visiting angler will respect local custom.
‘It is hoped that all anglers will respect the rights of the owners of the various local estates, that no litter will be left behind by the lochside and that no discarded nylon will be left whether by the waterside or on the moor. Entanglement in lengths of nylon presents a hazard both to birds and to young lambs.’
For more glamorous sport – salmon or sea-trout – it’s worth seeking a permit from the Carloway Angling Association, to fish the village river; or making private inquiry at the Garynahine estate up the road. Affordable pursuit of the silver tourists can also be had on the Cockle Ebb (Fideach Angling Association) or the stately River Creed and its lochs (Stornoway Angling Association.)
Sea-fishing can be enjoyed from many shoreline spots, or someone may take you out in a boat – make inquiries locally or check out the Stornoway Sea Angling Club’s organized trips.