UKC

Lewis and Harris Destination Guide

© Martin McKenna

Cast off the north west of Scotland, the Isle of Lewis and Harris is home to some of the best adventure trad climbing to be found in the country. There is often confusion stemming from the name but this is indeed one island.

Dave MacLeod and Natalie Berry on the stunning Prozac Link E4 5c, Screaming Geo  © Hot Aches Productions
Dave MacLeod and Natalie Berry on the stunning Prozac Link E4 5c, Screaming Geo
© Hot Aches Productions

Lewis makes up the northern half of the island, consisting of generally flat rugged moorland whereas Harris, the south part of the island, is in contrast very hilly. Both share a landscape that has been shaped by exposure to the North Atlantic weather systems that sweep across the island. The barren outlook, abundance of exposed weathered rock and lack of trees is striking. Impossible to miss are the stunning gold and white sand beaches that are dotted around the island, more akin to the Caribbean than Scotland!

Uig Sands Campsite Beach  © Martin McKenna
Uig Sands Campsite Beach
© Martin McKenna

What's the climbing like?

The rock, Lewisian gneiss, is for the most part solid; however due to the remote location some routes don't get the traffic they would see on the mainland which results in inevitable loose sections.

photo
Brain Pollock on Star of the Sea
© Martin McKenna

The climbing is best described as adventure trad climbing. Many of the routes on sea cliffs require abseil approaches to small ledges with the sea rather unnervingly lashing below your feet. It's worth taking a 60 metre static rope to access some of the longer routes on the likes of Screaming Geo. Be sure to take a rope protector as the rock is very rough and should you need to re-ascend via the abseil line you will be very thankful for having it!

Dave Macleod scoping out a new line - an E7 at Aird Fenish  © Chris Prescott Adventure Photography
Dave Macleod scoping out a new line - an E7 at Aird Fenish
© Chris Prescott Adventure Photography

There are also a selection of mountain crags that rank up there among the best of their class in the UK. Compare this to Dubh Loch which contains over 300 routes spread over a kilometre, these crags have surprisingly few routes spread over a large area - providing many great new routing opportunities!

Brian Pollock and Neil Adams on Children of the Sea  © Martin McKenna
Brian Pollock and Neil Adams on Children of the Sea
© Martin McKenna

Recommended Crags and Routes

Dalbeg

Some of the best single pitch routes on the island. Parking is available at the idyllic Dalbeg beach and it's only a 5/10 minute walk to the crag.

Aird Mhor Bhragair

Some great single pitch walls here for climbers operating in the lower to middle grades. The rock is near perfect and heavily featured.

Uig Sea Cliffs Central - Mhangarstaidh - Screaming Geo

An impressive sea cliff on the west coast of Lewis offering adventurous multi-pitch outings and some excellent single pitch routes. The rock is generally good quality but the odd loose block can be found. The crag also features its very own bothy perched on the cliff edge. It's free to stay the night but make sure you let the people at the end of the road know you plan on staying.

Martin McKenna on Limpet Crack at Dalbeg  © Brian Pollock
Martin McKenna on Limpet Crack at Dalbeg
© Brian Pollock

Usidean Hawthorn questing up pitch 1 of The Prozac Link  © Guy Steven
Usidean Hawthorn questing up pitch 1 of The Prozac Link
© Guy Steven

Screaming Geo  © Martin McKenna
Screaming Geo
© Martin McKenna

Sròn Uladail (Strone Ulladale)

"The Stron" - The premier mountain crag on the island and one of the best in the UK if you are operating in the high extremes. This massive overhanging cliff rises 200 metres and in places, overhangs by over 50 metres. Penetrating its main face are a number of routes starting at E5 all the way to E9. A number of worthwhile middle grade routes skirt the edges of the crag.

Tamnasbhal

This mountain crag sees very little visits due to its remote location - 3 hours approach on foot. Yet with a scale similar to the Dubh Loch, if this crag was situated in a more accessable loation, you can bet it would be up there with the other great mountain crags of Scotland.

Creag Dubh Dididale from the approach  © Neil Adams
Creag Dubh Dididale from the approach
© Neil Adams

It's hard to compile a route list like this when there are so many 3 and 4 star routes in such a concentrated area but here are a few through the grades:

Number 3 Severe 4a, Aird Mhor Bhragair

Flannan Slab VS 4c, Magic Geo

Left Edge HVS 5a, Aird Mhor Bhragair

Star of the Sea E1 5b, Aurora Geo

Grant's Bad Hair Day E1 5b, Screaming Geo

Children of the SeaE2 5b, Aird Mhor Bhragair

Divided Fears E2 5c, Aird Uig Area

Limpet Crack E3 5c, Dalbeg

Neptune E3 5c, Dalbeg

The Painted Wall E4 6a, Painted Geo

The Prozac Link E4 5c, Screaming Geo

Tweetie Pie Slalom E5 6a, Dalbeg

Stone E5 6a, Sron Ulladale

The Scoop E7 6b, Sron Ulladale

Natalie Berry on Star of the Sea E1  © Chris Prescott Adventure Photography
Natalie Berry on Star of the Sea E1
© Chris Prescott Adventure Photography

Neil Adams on Newton's Law  © Martin McKenna
Neil Adams on Newton's Law
© Martin McKenna

Logistics

When to Go

The rather impossible question when we are talking about the Scottish climate! April through to September are the best months to visit. One advantage of going early in the season is you won't have to contend with the Scottish midge. When it did rain, the wind often dried the rock within the hour even in some very heavy rain showers.

How to Get There

Calmac operate a ferry service from Uig (Skye) to Tarbert and Ullapool to Stornoway. It's best to have these booked in advance as these can often be fully booked over the weekend. Once you arrive on the island it's around 1 hour from Tarbert and Stornoway to Uig Sands campsite by car.

Accommodation Advertise here

No Premier Listings found in this area

Uig Sands campsite is a great location for accessing all the premier crags on the island. The campsite is located on the west coast of Lewis with the closest crags being a 5 minute drive. The campsite is kitted out with a shower block with male and female toilets and utility room for doing your dishes or charging your phone. It's an absolute bargain at only £2 a night and you can pitch up right beside the amazing beach in a sheltered bay.

For something a bit more comfortable there are also some bunkhouses and B&B's.

Food and Supplies

It's best to come fully prepared when heading up the islands. For food you can stock up in Stornoway at the supermarket. If you are travelling from Skye to Tarbert your options are limited and it's best to have everything before getting on the boat. There is a small shop around 2 miles from Uig Sands campsite that sells the basics.

There are no gear shops on the island. If you are sailing from Ullapool there is a small gear shop beside the harbour if there is anything you realise you have forgotten.

Outdoor Shops Advertise here

No Premier Listings found in this area

Guidebooks

Scottish Rock: Volume 2 by Gary Latter is a good selective guide to the island. The SMC Skye and the Hebrides guidebook also covers this area however is out of print and will not contain many brilliant new routes.

Climbing Walls Advertise here

No Premier Listings found in this area

Other Activities

The 4500 year old Callanais Standing Stones and Dun Carloway Broch are well worth a visit. They are also conveniently just off the main road back to the campsite if you have been climbing in the north of the island.

If you're looking for a rest day the drive around the Southern Harris coastal road is something not to be missed. Passing by the Luskentyre and Scarista beaches, it eventually joins the single track road that winds its way around the eastern coastline. This is a very pleasant way to spend a rest day or even when conditions are not ideal.

Photo Gallery:

Callanish Standing Stones  © Martin McKenna
Callanish Standing Stones
© Martin McKenna

Dun Carloway Broch silhouetted by the setting sun  © Martin McKenna
Dun Carloway Broch silhouetted by the setting sun
© Martin McKenna

Dave MacLeod on Puffing Crack E4 6a Aird Uig Area  © Chris Prescott Adventure Photography
Dave MacLeod on Puffing Crack E4 6a Aird Uig Area
© Chris Prescott Adventure Photography



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31 Aug, 2015
The Carloway Standing Stones (photo near the end) look very like the stones at Callanish :-) Other than that, a nice article & a reminder that its a long time since my last visit
31 Aug, 2015
Good article Martin. Definitely worth another visit at some point!
31 Aug, 2015
Well spotted! :-)
31 Aug, 2015
Good article! A note about the midges - I've spent probably a total of 10 weeks (summer), spread across years on the Outer Hebrides and almost never have encountered them. Think its the wind...
31 Aug, 2015
In my experience, the Lewisian midges were in a class of their own. Seemingly surviving on will power alone from the top to the base of almost all the sea cliffs. We encountered them on stances a couple of metres above sea level and on calm days not even the blazing sun could keep them at bay. I would recommend midge nets for all belay stances and possibly a portable fan for windless days. Then again, when it was windy you knew all about it and they weren't an issue.
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