5 Reasons to visit Harris in the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design
As a Scottish travel writer and blogger I've written a lot this year about the great places to visit for the landmark Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design. This extravaganza celebrates all that is great about Scotland's long history of design and creation, and has been curated to allow everyone to enjoy the fruits of this pioneering spirit today. Researching my articles there is one island that really pushed to the fore - Harris in the Outer Hebrides. I've just been back to unearth the five reasons why Harris is the island you should visit in the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.
1. Home of Harris Tweed
The Isle of Harris is, of course, the epicentre of this world famous design icon. The famous fabric is used in making everything from swish suits to memorable souvenirs, and also often stars on the catwalks of London, Milan and Paris. It is no marketing gimmick - all genuine Harris Tweed must have been woven in the Outer Hebrides.
Overseeing quality and standards is the job of the Harris Tweed Authority , whose orb symbol adorns any length of fabric or product made using Harris Tweed. There are numerous wee galleries and even independent weavers to visit. I love the wee croft business of Donald John Mackay, the MBE winning independent weaver behind the Luskentyre Harris Tweed Company. In the centre of the island capital of Tarbert (handily near the ferry terminal) is Harris Tweed Shop , which stocks a wide range of eye-catching creations.
2. Scotland's Newest Distillery
The Isle of Harris Distillery is one of the first things you see when you roll off the ferry at Tarbert. Rather than just plonking a utilitarian factory in this scenic spot real effort has been made by Glaswegian architect John Coleman to use proper design to weave the distillery into both the local natural and built environment. Visitors are welcomed into this self-styled 'social distillery' by a peat hearth and a slab of local stone, made from some of the oldest rocks on the planet.
The rest of the visitor experience looks as impressive and is as understated with no slick audio-visual trickery, just real thought and good design throughout. I love the 'corrugated iron' walls, which are actually made from Harris Tweed! The distillery canteen looks similarly stylish and is the place in Tarbert for home baking or hearty soup. Or try one of the delicious kelp infused local gins that the distillery has conjured up to help tide over thirsty drinkers awaiting the first Harris malts.
3. Glorious Art Galleries
Harris is an inspiring place and it is no surprise that so many artists flock here. Wee art galleries are sprinkled through the island.
My picks include Hebrides Art , which overlooks the spectacular beach of Luskentyre. They sell paintings by the creative couple behind it, as well as artists from other Outer Hebridean islands and great home baking in their café. Mission House Studio specialise in fine art and ceramics, while I also really rate the Skoon Art Cafe , who serve great food alongside quality paintings.
Run by an engaging community minded Englishman this brilliant self-catering oasis is rooted in fine design. It offers proper architecture that fits into the spectacular local scenery with a wash of wood and glass. Tastefully chosen Harris Tweed finds its way into everything from wall drapes to sofas. Key local collaborators include Donald John and Maureen Mackay of the Luskentyre Harris Tweed Company and John Maher - well known as a musician and an engineer - who is based locally. It is no surprise that the Sound of Harris is currently up for an Outer Hebrides Design Award.
It is no accident that Harris is a hotbed of innovation, architecture and design. Its remote location and wild landscapes have required man to improvise and create to get by over the centuries. But what most impresses me and what has struck so many creative types over the years is just how jaw-droppingly inspiring this island is. No wonder Lonely Planet recently named Harris as Europe's top island and TripAdvisor went one better, hailing it one of the world's best islands to visit.
Harris is unutterably dramatic at every turn, whether it is the glorious white sand beaches of the west, the rugged mountains of the north, the remote hamlets of the western 'Golden Road' or the rocky southern littoral. Then there are the epic sunrises and sunsets and the wealth of local wildlife, which includes everything from seals and otters, through to gannets and puffins, then on to dolphins and even whales.
If you are seeking inspiration during this Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, I suggest you hop on a ferry bound for Harris. What are you waiting for?
For CalMac blogs on some of my other favourite islands see:
Bio: Robin McKelvie has been travelling on Scottish ferries ever since he was a wee boy and writing about them and the places they serve since he became a travel writer in 1997. Robin has travelled to over 100 countries, but still rates Scotland 'as easily my favourite destination in the world'. These days, as well as penning travel articles for newspapers and magazines across five continents, Robin also writes guidebooks, does a lot of social media and also talks travel for the BBC. He also blogs about Scotland for multiple websites .