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Calanais, Isle of Lewis and Harris (Credit: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam)
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Getting Creative on Lewis and Harris


If you are in need of creative inspiration, look no further than Lewis and Harris (Scottish Gaelic: Leòdhas agus Na Hearadh). Lewis and Harris is an island where a cacophony of both subtle and vibrant colours live in perfect harmony. On your visit, be surrounded by an impossible variety of blues as far as meets the eye on the island’s shoreline. Cast your eyes up to meet golden sands and the glorious greens of the machair and marram grass. Explore further and encounter the delightful lilacs of heather atop the earthy browns of the island’s mountains. The bustle of modern communities and the stone remnants of the past are not too far in the distance. Truly, Lewis and Harris provide endless avenues for artistic inspiration. 

In this self-guided, multi-day itinerary get to know Lewis and Harris through the stories of the island’s artists and craft-makers, as well as through those of authors and stitchers from the Highlands and Islands and beyond, who have all been inspired by the natural and cultural heritage of the ‘Heather Isle’. 

This itinerary contains audio from a series of interviews conducted in 2022 by Smartify as part of the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands project. Listen and discover the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands through the eyes of the people who live, work and visit here.

On your journey, be responsible and respectful of local communities and wildlife and follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Gill Thompson
Image provided by Smartify


Begin your journey in Bhatasgeir, Back (Scottish Gaelic: Am Bac). Just a 15-minute drive from Stornoway, the low-lying green plains of Bhatasgeir slope gently to meet Brevig (Scottish Gaelic: Breibhig) harbour to the south. Many craft-makers have chosen to make the district of Back their home, including artist and retired headteacher Gill Thompson:

…community is essential on the island...we feel part of what's going on and if we can contribute in a positive way that's great.


Less than 10 miles from Bhatasgeir, travel northwards to the village of Tolsta and the breathtakingly beautiful Tràigh Ghearadha (Garry Beach). A favourite of many, the golden sands of Tràigh Ghearadha meet the turquoise, cerulean, teal and azure hues of the glistening sea. At the southern bay, great stacks of Lewisian Gneiss scale upwards towards an endless sky. The serene nature of the beach combined with its brilliant colours and scenery provide plentiful natural inspiration for artists, musicians and craft-makers alike.

...every time you go it's's just a magical place...all the beaches along here are beautiful and they all have their own identity.

Tràigh Ghearadha, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
Image provided by Visit Outer Hebrides

The Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, Outer Hebrides
Image provided by VisitScotland/Kenny Lam


From Tràigh Ghearadha, travel to the most northerly point of the island - the Butt of Lewis (Scottish Gaelic: Rubha Robhanais). The dramatic cliffs and headland here are frequently battered by North Atlantic storms and is often claimed to be one of the windiest places in the UK. Yet, despite these harsh conditions, the machair which blankets the headland is still home to an array of tiny but mighty wildflowers. On your visit keep an eye out for the eye-catching, orchid-like Eyebright flowers, best seen on the Butt of Lewis from June to Late September. 

The juxtaposition of the dramatic cliffs and weather at the Butt of Lewis with the delicate machair wildflowers may be enough to inspire your own creative endeavours, like in this story from author Marg Greenwood:

...Birdsfoot trefoil finds my fingers;

I stroke its yellow petals,

linger with pinky lousewort.

Tendrils of dark blue tufted vetch

curl their way into my hair.

My skin drinks the machair essence

until the ego melts and merges,

and there's no longer I, but We.

Please take care on your visit – be careful on your way around the Butt of Lewis and keep a safe distance from the cliff face.


At the heart of Lewis’ archaeologically significant West Coast is our next stop - the Calanais Standing Stones (Scottish Gaelic: Tha Tursachan Chalanais). At over 5,000 years old, the Calanais Standing Stones predate the likes of England's Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Egypt. Each one of the 49 tapered stones is captivating in its own right and on a fair day the surface of the stones glisten in the sunshine in harmony with the waters of Loch Ceann Hulabhaig which dance beneath. 

Millennia apart, we still share an enduring, human fascination for nature and the elements with Calanais continuing to inspire music, art, film and television to this day - featuring as central inspirations in the Tapestry of the Highlands and Islands and pieces like the Spirit of the Hebrides. As the designer of the latter, Cathy Bain, puts it best:

All these inspirational elements both ancient, historical, and new are a celebration of the Spirit of the Hebrides, its icons, its history, and its people.

The Calanais Standing Stones at sunset
Image provided by VisitScotland/Kenny Lam
Iron sign for the Hebridean way with sea background Hebridean Way at the Butt of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
Image provided by VisitScotland/Kenny Lam


Travel from Calanais on the West Coast to the vibrant East Coast harbour town of Stornoway (Scottish Gaelic: Steòrnabhagh). Perhaps an unexpected avenue of artistic inspiration can come from the very air of the island. While it is a common myth that sea air will cause your car to rust, it is true that vehicles, buildings or vessels with exposed metalwork at the mercy of the salty sea air will decay at a faster rate. As an island, these conditions are common on Lewis and Harris which can create an interesting atmosphere when travelling around Lewis and Harris.

Join Fiona and Charly Hamlyn as they reflect on the moving nature of rusting histories spanning many centuries on the Isle of Lewis.'ve got hundreds of peoples' lives in front of you on every view.


From Stornoway journey 10 miles south, to the village of Crosbost in North Lochs. With stunning views of the ‘Barkin Isles’ (Scottish Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan Bairclin), Crosbost is a traditional crofting and fishing village which is also home to two incredible artists. In this edition of 'In Focus', join potter Charly Hamlyn as she shares the broad strokes of the creative process behind the creation of her ceramics and finding inspiration on the Isle of Lewis.

...some of these blues and the sort of, more turquioise-y when you go somewhere like Luskentyre but then the greens and the browns - yes, utterly. That's utterly what inspires me...I really would like to find ways of taking that feeling further.

Charly Hamyln and Fiona
Image provided by Smartify
Miriam Hamilton
Image provided by Smartify


Just a hop, skip and a jump in Crosbost is the creative hub, (or rather shed!), for Two Sisters Tweeds and Western Isles Designs - independent artists and registered weavers of Harris Tweed. In this edition of 'In Focus', join Miriam Hamilton, of The Weaving Shed, as she takes us behind the scenes and explains just what makes the world-renowned Harris Tweed - a cultural icon of Highlands and Islands.

Everything is inspired by something in the landscape. Mostly, I use the sea colours - I love the sea colours - but I've also done ones which are inspired by the landscape as a everything is inspired by something.


Have you ever heard of the word ‘crabhsganach’? According to Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks (2015), crabhsganach is a Gaelic phrase which roughly translates to being ‘awkward on one’s feet’, usually as a result of them being sore. Recounting her time spent exploring Scalpay (Scottish Gaelic: Sgalpaigh na Hearadh), story author Marg Greenwood summarises her experience with the phrase:

I have never been so crabhsganach on a walk before.

Whether you can personally relate to this word or not, there is a certain universal fascination and respect for the natural world in the Gaelic language that can be inspiring in its own right. When you are on your journey across Lewis and Harris, try learning Gaelic words or local expressions that may move you to create your own Harris-inspired piece.

A large grey stone cairn is stacked on top of a mountain, looking out towards the sea on a cloudy day. Beinn Sgorabhaig, Scalpay, Outer Hebrides
Image provided by Marg Greenwood
Luskentyre Sands, Outer Hebrides
Image provided by VisitScotland/Kenny Lam


Finish your journey at the stunning Luskentyre Beach (Scottish Gaelic: Tràigh Luskentyre/Losgaintir). Luskentyre is one of the most well-known beaches on Harris, with its pristine sands and clear, rippling green-blue waters a firm favourite of locals and visitors alike. With a unique habitat made possible by its swathes of machair and marram grass, Luskentyre is also able to support a vast array of flora and wildlife. The magic of Luskentyre is unmistakable, and a perfect way to end your search for artistic inspiration on Lewis and Harris. As experienced by photographer James Gordon: just need to be there to experience's just magic, I can't even put it into words.

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