Some may argue, but in my humble opinion, the beautiful Isle of Harris is the Hebridean epicentre for two hugely different yet important and nourishing things: Art, and cake. Agreed, on North Uist there is the brilliant Claddach Kirkibost Centre that produces some marvellous cakage, as does the Kildonan museum on South Uist. However, as far as art goes, I much prefer the Isle of Harris.
Art is of course purely subjective. Some art I appreciate, and other I think is a load of pretentious twaddle. No, I'm not a fan of Emin's work, although I do admire her tireless efforts in making art accessible to all, and her part in the regeneration of the resort of Margate in Kent. Nor was I enamoured by any of the installations I saw at Gateshead's Baltic Gallery last year.
Back to Harris.
Your caravanning options are covered here in the blog entry from 2011 and here in its update in 2012.
No prizes for guessing that my preferred medium is photography. Harris is home to one of my favourite photographers of all time, John Maher aka The Flying Monk. John is popularly known as the drummer in the band The Buzzcocks, but his reputation as a brilliant photographer is starting to overtake that.
One of John's techniques is to use super-long exposures at night, sometimes adding simple yet interesting effects with a hint of artificial lighting and coloured gels. John is also one of the very few photographers who gets HDR photography right, unlike the gaudy interpretations of the majority. His dominant theme is documenting abandoned buildings, shielings etc. Often these incorporate an interesting historical throwback, or the tatty caravan/bus/lorry jars rudely with the landscape, yet paradoxically is also part of that unique landscape. His work is well worth sniffing out, and if you're on Harris you can see the real thing at the Seallam! centre in Northton.
Another photographer whose work I admire greatly is Beka Globe. Her awesome collection, along with that of her ceramicist husband Nikolai, is on show at the Mission House Studio on the East Coast of the island. Completely different to the style of The Flying Monk, the whopping great majority of Beka's studies are of breathtaking Hebridean landscapes. Her images inspire me twofold. To start with, there is the stunning composition and technical accuracy that only a Fine Art Photographer can achieve. Additionally, what really jolts my appreciation is the fact that these stunning images are presented in black and white.
One of the reasons that I love the Hebrides so much is the abundance of amazing light and vivid colours. I had always thought of the islands and their beauty in full, glorious, vivid colour. Beka, however, is an artist clever enough to strip away the distraction of the colour in order to use the light to its best advantage by highlighting the textures, and creating greater emphasis on the composition. Her work, if you haven't already guessed, holds me spellbound.
Colour is something that artist Andrew Craig embraces in his gorgeous oil paintings of the Island of Harris. One of the hardest aspects of not living in a house is that it is not possible to buy beautiful paintings such as Andrew's and hang them for all to see and admire. The same goes for Beka's photos.
All is not lost. Together with his lovely wife Emma, Andrew runs the Skoon Art Cafe in Geocrab, a little way North of the Mission House Studio on the East Coast.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Skoon Art Cafe is my favourite 'space' in the world. To be surrounded by Andrew's gorgeous art, enjoying wonderfully tasty yet honest food, listening to relaxing music, and looking out at stunning views over the Minch to the Isle of Skye... yes, I would drive a thousand miles at the drop of a hat just to be there.
Andrew and Emma bake amazing shortbread and cakes. Their lentil soup is my favourite, or if the soup of the day is not to my taste I go for the cheese platter.
For meals a tad more hearty, I head to Northton and what I affectionately call 'Gail's Caff', but its proper name is the Temple Cafe.
Gail is an amazing cook and a wonderfully friendly hostess. Best of all, a lot of the yummy food on offer at Temple Cafe is veggie-friendly. Decent vegetarian food (in fact, anything veggie other than macaroni cheese) can be hard to find in this corner of the world. Gail has this 'knack' with her salads that make them amazing. Don't get me started about her incredible baking, both savoury and sweet. I have been known to eat there for five consecutive days.
An honourable mention goes to Hebrides Art, a gallery cum 'Five Star' cafe on the West Coast, sitting on the main road just North of Seilebost. I've only swung by for a brief visit, and have enjoyed the art that's on sale and the friendly welcome. The cakes are purported to be legendary, but sadly I have yet to sample.
This list is far from exhaustive. There are plenty of galleries on Harris that I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting, and there are plenty of further cake opportunities. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to go back. Again.
(Footnote: This entry was drafted over two separate occasions, once on the way to work and once during a quiet evening. On both occasions, recounting my happy times upon the Isle of Harris has seen me quietly sobbing. Tears of happiness and a yearning to return. It's not often that happens.)