Travel: Family adventures on the Isle of Lewis

The standing stones at Callanish, Isle of Lewis. Picture: Swen Stroop
The standing stones at Callanish, Isle of Lewis. Picture: Swen Stroop
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With a quirky sporting lodge as a base, Donald Walker and family explore the Isle of Lewis

The words “holiday cottage” conjure up images that most of us find appealing. To be fair, most mentions of “holiday” elicit a positive reaction, but throw in the allure of comfort in the countryside and the effect can be irresistible. Who among us doesn’t fancy a getaway to a rural retreat?

The interior of Macaulay Lodge

The interior of Macaulay Lodge

It’s now a cliché, but apparently “staycation” has been given a big boost in recent years by the economic climate and the increased security threat abroad. That’s the anecdotal evidence. And in the marketplace, the phenomenon is real, as a glance at dedicated websites will confirm. A cottage industry, if you like.

It was on such a site – handily named holidaycottages.co.uk – that we found Macaulay Lodge, three miles south of Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. Our choice of but & ben wasn’t quite the “fully upgraded” former croft house with hot tub and locally hand-crafted soaps which has become the field leader, but instead, a sporting lodge. The harled walls of this seemingly glorified bungalow gave no hint of the character within. Inside it has dark wood panelling throughout, along with fitted teak sideboards and a warren of guest rooms with beds made by ships’ carpenters using materials from the Watts shipping line. There is also a saddle room and what appears to have been a larder for whatever game had been bagged.

Meanwhile, what looked from the exterior to be converted attic rooms turned out to be full-scale living quarters, including a double bedroom and large games room with table tennis, air hockey, and additional TV. The overall finish of the property could do with being refreshed, but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in quirkiness.

Macaulay Lodge is adjacent to a farm, where chickens rule the roost as opposed to pheasants and grouse, but the sporting aspect refers not to game or wildfowl but to fishing, with the River Creed within walking distance. Up to ten anglers could be accommodated here between bouts of staking out the salmon, but the property is more likely to attract a large family or a group of friends looking to explore the island. Some would find it too big for a family, because it was easy to lose track of where the kids were in the lodge, although I would argue that this was an unexpected bonus. The opportunity to “lose” them in a controlled situation is one I’d be tempted to pay a premium for, in future.

The adjoining farm was a huge hit with the kids. Part farm, part college, it’s run by the lodge owners who were warm with their welcome and introduced the holidaying children to all the attractions and gave them permission to check for eggs every day. For city kids hooked on gadgets, this was a priceless experience, although their feathered friends might have begged to differ, as they heard the rumble of three small pairs of wellies approach the chicken coop for the fifth time in a day. On the child-friendly front, it was only a pity the lodge did not have a gated driveway, with the busy A859 Stornoway to Tarbert only yards away.

Other than that safety concern, the location of the lodge is ideal for exploring the main tourist attractions on Lewis and Harris, such as the standing stones at Callanish, the blackhouses at Gearannan and Arnol, the broch at Carloway, the Harris Tweed mills and outlets, the new distillery at Tarbert, the new museum at refurbished Lews Castle with resident chessmen, and the seen-to-be-believed sandy beaches dotted around the island. Or of course, the lodge provides an ideal base from which to fish the lochs, rivers or sea.

And if you are the hunting, shooting and fishing type, you might be glad to know that dogs are welcome at the lodge – an important consideration at holidaycottages.co.uk, which offers 900 dog-friendly properties. There is also a large front porch, ideal for removing and drying wet clothing and storing sporting equipment, which came in handy when the heavens opened during a bike trip round the vast grounds at nearby Lews Castle.

Unless you are looking for Disneyland and wall-to-wall sunshine, Lewis and Harris offer endless fun for children and families who are keen to explore the great outdoors, and our holiday cottage helped to make it all possible for us. The island has plenty of self-catering accommodation on offer, but there can’t be many places with the character of Macaulay Lodge.

Fact box

Macaulay Lodge near Stornoway, Isle of Lewis is available to rent via www.holidaycottages.co.uk and prices start at £735 for seven nights up to £1,215 in high season. It sleeps eight in five bedrooms, with two more single beds in the games room.