The Butt of Lewis Visitor Guide

Butt of Lewis

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Summary

The Butt of Lewis is an area on the far-northern tip of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

In addition to being one of the windiest places in Britain, this part of the island is known for being home to the Butt of Lewis lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1862 and is unusual because it has unpainted red brickwork rather than the standard red and white colour scheme.

The Butt of Lewis is also a prime wildlife-spotting site as the steep cliffs are a haven for seabirds.

Address:Isle of Lewis,
HS2 0XH
Opening Hours:24/7
Admission Price:Free
Parking:Free on-site car park.
Contact:N/A
Facilities:None.

The highlights

  • Although you can’t enter the lighthouse station it makes a stunning sight against the dramatic cliffs that tower over the crashing waves below. The cliffs are a haven for seabirds so I recommend taking a pair of binoculars (see my recommended optics).
  • There’s a lovely walk along the clifftops heading south from the lighthouse to Eoropie Beach that is highly recommended. If you’d rather not walk there’s a car park at Eoropie Dunes Park (postcode HS2 0HX).
  • If nothing else, being able to say you’ve visited the windiest place in the UK is something that’s worth adding to any Scotland sightseeing itinerary.

Visiting tips

  • This is an exceptionally remote area so naturally, facilities are next to non-existent. If you’re visiting for the day you will have to bring food and water with you.
  • As is to be expected for one of the windiest places in Britain, the weather can change at the drop of a hat. During my visit, I experienced a continual change in weather from blazing sunshine to dreary clouds. My advice for clothing is to pack waterproof layers that are easily removed.
  • Following on from the above, the wind can be very, very strong so if you’re intending to go on a cliff-top walk keep dogs on a lead and children under close supervision. Some of the cliffs around the Butt of Lewis are up to 80 feet in height and the wind speeds often reach 50mph.

Overview

The northern end of the Isle of Lewis tends to draw far fewer tourists than elsewhere, mainly because it’s not exactly a hotbed of attractions.

Sure, there are a couple of nice beaches and some good coastal walks, but the majority of the landscape comprises huge swathes of boggy brown marshland that’s rather uninspiring and is incredibly difficult to hike across.

So does that mean you should steer clear of the region in favour of the south where you’ll find the Callanish Standing Stones and Gearrannan Blackhouse Village?

I would have to say no, as there are a few surprises waiting on the northern tip of Lewis that just might surprise you.

Butt of Lewis

Eoropie Beach is definitely worth a look for anyone with a love of surf sports and the Dun Eistean sea stack is a must for wildlife watching and clan history, but the high point has to be the Butt of Lewis.

This particular point on the island is the most northerly in the Outer Hebrides, with nothing beyond to the north except the Arctic and nothing to the west except North America.

It also has the distinction of being the windiest place in the UK – an honour that has even made its way into the Guinness Book of Records (Amazon link).

In addition, the Butt of Lewis is highly regarded amongst Britain’s twitchers as a top spot for watching seabirds due to 80-foot cliffs that are home to petrel, kittiwake, shag, black guillemot and hundreds of gannets, as well as the occasional sea eagle (the largest bird in the UK).

Having braved the elements myself on a ferociously windy day I was surprised by how mesmerising it is to just stand at the top of the cliffs and watch the foaming waves crash onto the rocks below.

Butt of Lewis

Sea stacks pepper the coastline in both directions and the sky overhead is filled with a squawking cacophony of birds battling against the wind – and what a wind!

I visited in May and the weather forecast warned of 50mph gusts all day, though apparently that’s nothing as gusts of 160mph have been recorded in the past.

That’s blowing a hoolie, and then some.

Aside from the wind speed, the Butt of Lewis is worth visiting to take a few snaps of the lighthouse that stands guard perilously close to the cliff edge.

Built between 1859 and 1862 by David and Thomas Stevenson (who built many of Scotland’s lighthouses), the Butt of Lewis lighthouse stands 121 feet high and is notable because it was constructed from red brick that was never painted.

This is in contrast to almost every other lighthouse in Scotland which is either white or white with red stripes, and I have to say it looks all the better for its unpainted appearance.

Suffice to say between the lighthouse, the cliffs and the birds, the Butt of Lewis is a great place to while away an hour or two with a camera or a pair of binoculars (my recommended optics).

In the next section, I cover what it’s like to visit the Butt of Lewis.

Butt of Lewis

Tourist information

Apart from being able to say you’ve been to what is officially the windiest place in Britain, this is the final destination of the Hebridean Way so if you’re intending to walk or cycle the 185-mile route you have no option but to end up at the Butt of Lewis one way or another.

The approach roads are tarmacked and in good condition and they’re almost entirely flat so the last stretch of the monumental journey should be easy – as long as the winds aren’t too strong.

If they are you’ll be in for a battle as the surrounding landscape is featureless and low-lying with nothing to break up the landscape. Although the A857 veers close to those dramatic cliffs it’s far enough away that you’ll never see them until reaching the lighthouse.

Speaking of, although the lighthouse is an interesting structure it’s still in use which means access is forbidden to the general public.

You can walk around the exterior walls of the lighthouse station though, and from there you can join a rough track that heads south along the clifftop to Eoropie Beach.

Butt of Lewis

This is a lovely beach with clean sand and impeccably clean sea, plus it has a great children’s play park on the road leading to it that’s guaranteed to keep youngsters entertained for at least an hour while you enjoy the peace and quiet of the nearby dunes.

There’s another coastal path heading west from the Butt of lewis that winds its way to Dun Eistean sea stack – the ancestral stronghold of Clan Morrison – after which it’s another mile to Port Ness where you’ll find an attractive harbour and a cafe.

From the lighthouse, keep an eye out for Port Stoth which is a small enclosed natural harbour that was used to bring in the bricks and building materials for the lighthouse.

The steep surrounding rocks form a barrier against the elements so if you need to take a break from the weather it’s a good place to stop at.

One point that’s worth making about either of the walks along the coast is that the winds can gust with no warning so it’s essential to keep a safe distance from the cliff edges.

The structure of the rocks (amongst the oldest in Europe) means the drops are sheer and the sandy tops are loose – not a good combination with excitable kids and animals running about.

As far as facilities go, the Butt of Lewis basically doesn’t have any apart from a small car park, so taking your own food and drink is essential.

The nearest shop I found is located 3.5 miles away in Swainbost which is part of a petrol station and has the usual snacks and basic essentials. Seach for postcode HS2 0TA to find it.

Butt of Lewis

Map and directions

Isle of Lewis,
HS2 0XH

Click the map for directions

Google Map of butt of lewis lighthouse, isle of lewis
Google Map of butt of lewis, scotland

Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:

North Lewis – 460 Explorer.

Stornoway & North Lewis – 8 Landranger.

OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.


Things to do nearby

  • Port Stoth. Address: Butt of Lewis, Isle of Lewis. Distance: 0.4 miles. A sheltered sand cove a few minutes walk from the Butt of Lewis lighthouse. The cove is a popular location for seal spotting and the surrounding cliffs are a good place for sea fishing.
  • Eoropie Beach. Address: Ness, Isle of Lewis HS2 0XH. Distance: 1.5 miles. A small and secluded white sand beach that’s a good spot for windsurfing.
  • Dùn Èistean. Address: Isle of Lewis, HS2 0XF. Distance: 2 miles. A historic sea stack that was once home to Clan Morrison. The remains of an Iron Age fort can be found on top of it alongside medieval ruins. Today, it is accessed via a suspension bridge and is a good place for bird spotting.
  • Ness Beach. Address: Isle of Lewis, HS2 0XA. Distance: 3 miles. A white sand beach located next to a traditional fishing harbour. Ness Beach is well known for its clear waters and quiet location. A small cafe (one of the few in the area) is located near the harbour.
  • Loch Stiapabhat Local Nature Reserve. Address: Isle of Lewis, HS2 0XF. Distance: 2 miles. A large, shallow loch that is a haven for flora and fauna. The loch is used by several bird species during their flights to and from the Arctic including whooper swans, pink-footed geese, and teals.

Frequently asked questions

Can you walk around the Butt of Lewis?

It’s possible to follow a rough coastal path along clifftops to the Butt of Lewis starting from the Eoropie Dunes car park. The route arrives at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse before returning via a tarmacked road. Visit Walk Highlands for the complete route.

What is a butt in Scotland?

A ‘butt’ in the Scots language is defined by Dictionaries of the Scots Language as “A small piece of ground disjoined, in whatever manner, from the adjacent lands. In this sense, a small parcel of land is often called, the butts”.

How many lighthouses are in Scotland?

There are 207 working lighthouses across Scotland all of which are managed and maintained by the Northern Lighthouse Board.

Who built the lighthouse at Butt of Lewis?

David Stevenson built the Butt of Lewis lighthouse in 1862. The 121-foot red-brick tower is unpainted which is unusual for a Scottish lighthouse. The light has a range of 25 nautical miles.


More places to visit

  • Callanish Standing Stones Visitor Guide
    The Callanish Standing Stones are located on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. These huge granite stones (the largest is 16 feet tall) were erected 5,000 years ago in the late Neolithic era, possibly for ritual use. The site comprises a cross shape of monoliths around a central circle of 13 stones, with an avenue of a further 19 stones facing northeast.
  • Reuval, Benbecula, Visitor Guide
    The 124-metre summit of Reuval is the highest point on the Outer-Hebridean island of Benbecula. Though the walk up the hill is short it’s undeniably one of the highlights of a visit to this remarkable isle as the top offers gorgeous panoramic views of the surrounding sea, beaches, and mountains.
  • The Butt of Lewis Visitor Guide
    The Butt of Lewis is an area on the far-northern tip of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. In addition to being one of the windiest places in Britain, the ‘butt’ is home to a lighthouse built in 1862 that’s unusual because it’s unpainted rather than having the standard red and white colour scheme. The Butt of Lewis is also a prime wildlife-spotting site as the steep cliffs are a haven for seabirds.
  • Luskentyre Beach Visitor Guide
    Luskentyre is located on the west coast of South Harris in the Outer Hebrides. This pristine golden sand beach is frequently voted among the top beaches in the UK thanks to its spectacular mountain backdrop and crystal-clear turquoise waters.

By Craig Neil

Craig Neil is a specialist 360° photographer from Edinburgh, Scotland. When he's not zooming around the country with his trusty camera in hand he can usually be found working on the Out About Scotland website and Vartour virtual tours.