Byline: Jade Wright
ACLUSTER of remote islands falling off the edge of Europe, separated from the top of Scotland by 40 miles of stormy seas - where better to get away from it all than the Outer Hebrides? Since I read Samuel Johnson''s A Journey To The Western Islands Of Scotland I had dreamt of an idyllic getaway to dramatic sunsets, sandy beaches, rugged landscapes and friendly villages packed with ancient pubs.
Lewis and Harris together form the largest of the Outer Hebridean Islands - Lewis taking up the northernmost two-thirds, Harris the southern third.
They are, to put it mildly, paradise.
And part of the appeal of their unspoilt landscape lies in just how long it takes to get there.
Desperate to avoid a yeti-sized carbon footprint, my best friend David and I packed up the car, rounded up the dogs and booked into a pet friendly eco cottage on Lewis for the ultimate luxury Hebridean retreat.
You can, of course, fly to Lewis - changing at Glasgow and landing at Stornoway. But that seemed to defeat our green aims, and we couldn''t take the dogs that way, so we got the ferry from Skye.
Admittedly, this did involve driving up through Scotland, but the three day journey took us through stunning scenery that was a holiday in itself.
Making our way up the M6, we broke our journey, stopping off first in Glasgow at the beautiful and superbly dog-friendly Kelvingrove Hotel. The staff couldn''t do enough for us - and won lifelong friends by giving the dogs their own breakfast of sausages on toast.
A day''s drive past Loch Lomond, through Glencoe and Fort William, past Ben Nevis and over the bridge to Skye, where we made our next stop - in the quaint fishing town of Portree. A working harbour flanked by pretty pastel coloured cottages, it''s like Tobermory''s little sister.
And then, the next morning, on to the ferry. Caledonian MacBrayne sails to 24 destinations on Scotland''s West Coast, and thanks to the Scottish Parliament fares are currently subsidised. We took our car for pounds 22.40 each way, plus pounds 4.90 for us. The dogs were free, and we could take them onto the pet-friendly deck.
And then, at last, we had reached our haven - the Long Island, as they call it, a 130-mile long chain of islands stretching along the western coast.
We sailed in to Tarbert on Harris, loaded up the car with fabulous Harris tweed, and a short drive later reached our cottage on Lewis. On the way we passed Taransay, the island used by the BBC for their island community Castaway. And it''s easy to see why. Lewis and Harris feel wonderfully remote.
Stepping out of the car, we drank in lungfuls of crisp, clean air and marvelled at our eco-cottage.
Green certainly doesn''t mean basic at Hebridean Luxury Holidays - the lodges have been awarded the maximum five star grading by VisitScotland.
Ours, Metagama, was a luxurious two-bedroom timber lodge, all environmentally sourced. It has solar panels, and owner Graham McLellan has plans to install a wind turbine, making it the first five-star fully self sufficient holiday cottage in Scotland. Open-plan, with a high cathedral ceiling, it has a sauna, Jacuzzi bath and free high speed internet access. There's also a mezzanine loft space above the living area with a huge window, ideal for whiling away an hour with a good book or gazing at the myriad of stars.
Being this far north, the daylight lingers long into the evening in the summer months, making way for the brightest star-filled skies I've ever seen. …