Great Places to Stay
- Rodel Hotel, Isle of Harris
Location"The Hotel at Rodel is at the end of everything. In front of it lies a fishing pier with a nice grass promenade. The view seawards is blocked by an island. Everything is very quiet."
Louis McNiece, 1938.
The Isle of Harris is not really an island, but almost severed from its northern neighbour the Isle of Lewis by two long, high-sided seas lochs. Harris is also totally different from Lewis in geographical terrain, history and culture. North Harris is dominated by its mountains, huge chunks of barren grey rock divided by a series of deep valleys and remote empty lochs. The town of Tarbert is at the centre of this rural community, with its busy ferry terminal bringing visitors over from Skye. The landscape of South Harris changes again, where the west coast features spectacular white sand dunes, wide beaches and rich grassland, while the undulating east coast is reminiscent of the moon - dramatic flat, grey stone terrain interspersed with pretty curving bays, sea lochs, fishing villages and old croft settlements. At the far south-eastern corner of South Harris is the village of Rodel (Roghadeal) with its ancient stone harbour within a natural sheltered bay. Many visitors make their way down the Golden Road from Tarbert, along the winding switchback east coast road to Rodel. It's a fine place to stay and explore the stunning coastline of South Harris.
There has been a hotel beside the harbour for several generations. In 1925 it was described as a shooting lodge when it was up for sale. The owners today are Dena and Donnie MacDonald - who is the grandson of Jock MacCallum who had previously run the place as a fishing hotel when steamers brought day-trippers in for tea. After complete renovation five years ago, Rodel Hotel opened again in August 2001, with a modern bar, bistro restaurant, traditional public bar with four en suite bedrooms and self-catering cottage.
There's a choice of twin, double and a four-poster bedded room all with private bathroom, some with great sea views. You can expect warm and comfortable bedrooms, with beautiful Harris tweed curtains and bedspreads. Facilities are basic but perfectly adequate for a short stay - telephone, radio, hospitality tray, quality Arran toiletries, thick white towels, hot water, armchair and table - but no television. A resident's lounge downstairs has a television and VCR - but you don't visit the Western Isles to watch TV! Next door are two self-catering flats, with attic bedrooms, kitchen/lounge (with sofa bed and TV) and bathroom.
Wining and Dining
The attractive polished pine restaurant is bright and sunny with large picture window overlooking the harbour. The walls are lined with superb sea -inspired paintings by local artists Willie and Moira Fulton depicting the history and culture of the community. Donnie MacDonald himself is the head chef. The menu too is inspired by the sea and you can expect to feast on the freshest mussels, prawns, crab and sea trout all caught locally. Highly recommended is the Seafood Chowder - more like a rich fish stew - with fat chunks of all kinds of fish, and mussels swimming in a thick tomato based soup. The menu might offer Pabbay venison, island lamb, and depending on the season, rabbit and geese. It's a contemporary bistro menu with international dishes such as risotto, pasta, salads, side orders of fries, garlic bread and lunchtime gourmet sandwiches. Wash this down with a local Hebridean beer or glass of wine. Kids' menu and all speciality diets catered for if requested in advance.
The public bar has no doubt been the gathering place for the local villagers for generations and they still pack the place out - at least on the Saturday night we were there. Next to the restaurant is the lounge bar with comfortable horseshoe shaped booths. Donnie prides himself on the range of fine Highland and Island malts especially from Skye, Islay and Jura.
What To So and See
On a hill high above the village of Rodel is the charming 12th century St. Clements Church - well worth a visit. Run by Historic Scotland, it is no longer an active church but preserved for its amazing tall tower and ancient carved tombs. Wander around the graveyard to get a real sense of this historic fishing community. Motoring, walking or cycling around Harris is a great way to explore this beautiful, unspoilt countryside. Take the Golden road up the east coast to find numerous cottage industries - local artists, crafts, and Harris tweed weavers. Drive over to the west coast to visit Seallam! the genealogy centre which will assist you trace your family tree if your ancestors once lived in Harris. It also has changing exhibitions about the local history, flora and fauna. Further around the coastline you must stop for a walk on Scarista Beach - pure white and stretching for miles with just a few sheep for company. From Leverburgh a few miles from Rodel, you can take the Cal Mac ferry to North Uist.
As the poet Louis McNiece noted in the 1930s, Rodel is at the end of everything. It still is like reaching the end of the earth. It's a perfect place to relax and recharge the batteries. Sit by the pier and look out at the island and wide-open sea beyond and breathe in the fresh sea air. Rodel Hotel is a modern country inn serving fine food. So stop awhile here to explore this wild corner of the Western Isles - rich in history and heritage.
For more information or to make a reservation see the Web site or Rodel Hotel, Rodel, Isle of Harris Western Isles, HS5 3TW Tel. 01859 520210 Fax 01859 520219 www.rodelhotel.co.uk
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