FROM llamas to landscapes that have inspired Disney’s new blockbuster Brave, the Outer Hebridean isle has a wealth of attractions that are putting it on the map.
I can’t say I've ever literally stopped traffic before. But a man has just screeched to a halt on the far side of the road and is staring goggle-eyed in my direction.
“Er, excuse me, but is that a llama?” he yells at the man just ahead of me, clearly wondering if the effects of the night before are still taking their toll.
I'd really rather not stop traffic if it's because someone has mistaken me for a four-legged woolly mammal from South America. But it's not me he's referring to, it's my companion, Nico. And as a real-life llama, he doesn't seem to mind too much.
I am taking him for a walk through Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, which makes me wonder whether I had a bit too much to drink last night too. But this really is happening. Llama walking is arguably the oddest activity available to visitors to the island. Normally owner Peter Marshall guides walks along beautiful Hebridean beaches, but recently he has also begun offering tourists a chance to amble around Stornoway streets with a llama in tow.
Several more cars stop and people take Nico's picture, while some get out to pet him. Although he looks a little nervous, Nico deals pretty well with all the attention, and he doesn't spit once. “They only spit if they are really upset," Marshall says.
I look a bit nervous too as I've never been keen on llamas. Happily, though we don't exactly bond, Nico and I get on well enough, and I also manage not to spit as we walk down to the harbour together. Marshall tells me people often find it therapeutic to spend time walking with such an exotic creature and while I can’t say I found it relaxing, it's definitely a novel experience.
Most people imagine wild, remote landscapes frequently battered by equally wild weather, but Lewis has much more to offer, as Nico demonstrates.
Exotic animals aren’t such a leap either, as the island plays a starring role in this summer’s Disney-Pixar fairy-tale animation blockbuster, Brave. Already attracting 40,000 visitors a year, the standing stones at Callanish, near Stornoway, are expected to give tourism a boost with fresh waves of film fans flocking to visit the 5,000-year-old site. Already trailers for the film have been seen by more than ten million people on YouTube,
Woolly mammals and megalithic sites aside, there is also music, with around 16,000 people about to descend on the island for the annual Hebridean Celtic Festival which runs from 11 to 14 July. Headline acts at Lews Castle this year include the Waterboys, Proclaimers, Larkin and Poe and Kassidy, who lead an energetic mix of traditional Scottish tunes and hip hop, indie and reggae- influenced fusion music.
With the likes of Roddy Woomble and fans in town, the makers of Harris Tweed will be hoping for a run on ‘the big cloth’, as tweed is known locally. It has long drawn countless tourists to Harris and Lewis, where most of the fabric is now produced, to watch weavers at work. The Harris Tweed story of the past 100 years has been categorised by boom and bust, with notable highs including the now legendary phone call one weaver received from sports giant Nike for a range of Harris Tweed trainers. Although the trainers came and went, the fabric is still popular in the world of high fashion, with designers including Vivienne Westwood incorporating it into ranges paraded down the world’s catwalks, as well as being the cloth of choice for a new generation of talented young home-grown designers.
If that inspires you to try a taste of a high-end lifestyle with a Hebridean flavour, head for Whitefalls Spa Lodges at Breasclete. Named after a nearby waterfall, this luxurious five-star self-catering accommodation has its own decadent spa, sauna and walk-in rainshower in a vast bathroom.
Flicking through colours on the double spa's soothing chromatherapy system – a personal light show said to promote wellbeing, with green supposed to be calming while red delivers energy – I get a preview of the famous Hebridean light fading through the blinds as night falls over the empty moorland outside.
Each lodge has its own fitness suite, though I am far too relaxed to try it, and if you're after more pampering, you can book yourself a massage here too.
A car stereo ingeniously adapted to provide a sound system from the sauna works a treat, while everything else is as top of the range as the spa. As you surrender yourself to relaxation, the rolling landscape of Lewis is laid out before you, thanks to panoramic windows kept spotless by self- cleaning technology. Privacy isn’t a problem, though there are electronic blinds, because despite the tiny road leading right to the door, I hardly see a soul.
There’s a giant TV with DVD player, a very well kitted-out kitchen and, if you don't fancy cooking, the ever hospitable and helpful owners Anna and Donald also run a nearby guesthouse where you can book dinner.
Designed as a romantic getaway for couples, particularly honeymooners, the two lodges do have wi-fi, so if you're desperate to check your wedding pictures before you get home, you can. It's easy to see why Whitefalls was a finalist in both 2010’s Scottish Thistle Awards, for innovation, and the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards, for best visitor experience. Stay here and you'll probably wonder why it didn't win.
• Flights to Stornoway from mainland Scottish airports start from around £90 return on flight comparison websites.
• A week at the five-star Whitefalls Spa Lodges, Breasclete, Isle of Lewis (01851 621771, www.whitefalls.co.uk) starts at £1,650 per lodge (April to October). Shorter breaks are available in low season.
• Llama walks with Lewis Island Llama Trekking, The Cottage, Skigersta, Ness, Isle of Lewis (01851 810176, www.lewisislandllamatrekking.blogspot.com) costs £30 an hour.
• The Hebridean Celtic Festival (www.hebceltfest.com) takes place from 11 to 14 July 2012.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west