Walking on Lewis and Harris is just limited by your imagination, how far you can walk and your navigation and while there are roads around the outside of the islands the central areas tend to be devoid of roads, houses and even walkers. There are also some waymarked walks including the coastal walk that runs within yards of Dollag's Cottage plus there are a number of tracks and "peat roads" that lead out onto the moor and can often provide a pleasant and relatively easy walk. As with any walking in remote areas it is good to understand your own level of fitness and limitations as you don't want to set out for an enjoyable wander only to find that it is a bit more of a slog than you imagined but Lewis has good walking for those looking for everything from a quiet bimble along a well made track to a 30 mile trek across some of the most remote country in Europe.
Visitors should also consider that the moorland is the workplace of many people and on narrow roads with limited access it is necessary to park carefully to avoid blocking access, even the most rough looking tracks that you might think are unused often see a few vehicles per day as crofters feed livestock or bring peats home from the moor. There are also some areas of the islands where deer stalking and shooting are an important part of the economy and culture and much of the island is wild just because the people who shoot and stalk pay to keep it like that but this also means it is the workplace of the stalkers and gamekeepers who look after it so well. With this in mind should you be considering walking off the tracks in the North Harris, Uig or East Lewis (Eishken) hills then it would be worthwhile contacting the local gamekeeper to let him know of your intentions. You will find the keepers extremely accommodating and a wealth of knowledge and in the unlikely event that they might have stalking parties out in the area you want to walk they are sure to present you with a range of alternatives.
There are a number of nice "hill walks" close to the cottage so I'll start with them and add a few "moorland" walks as well Where it might be useful I'll give approx grid references but be sure to check these when on the ground just in case I make a mistake as I don't have my printed OS maps to hand and so am using an online map. It will be assumed that readers are relatively experienced and aware of the usual precautions to be taken when walking in remote areas. If you have no experience of walking on open moorland before then you should be aware that it can be much harder walking than on the tracks so don't be too ambitious for your first day on the moor until you get into the swing of it. It is also worth pointing out that Shawbost is a rural area and so is dark at night so if you decide to go for a walk around the village in the dark you will need a torch, there is some street lighting but it switches off late in the evening and this can leave you in total darkness. If you are used to urban lighting then you will quickly discover that you can't walk in total darkness.
Anyhow, here are a few walks to get you started, this is a tiny, tiny selection from what is available but you might find it useful to get you thinking about days out:
This is the hill with the cell phone mast on top. Despite having a mast on top it is a nice walk and there is a track right to the top so it makes for an easy wander. You can walk from the cottage, park at the fank (sheep pens) at the end of the track (If you drive from the cottage and go straight across the crossroads and follow the road after 1/2 mile you come to a gate, open the gate and park at the fank NB 254 457) or you can park at the little quarry right at the bottom of the track up to the mast (NB 254 446). This gives you several options as to length of walk depending on how you feel on the day. From the quarry to the top is only a few minutes and is probably less than a mile round trip. From the cottage to the top, round trip, is probably a little more than 5 miles but it is easy walking on roads and tracks. Below are some views from Beinn na Cloich:
This is the larger hill overlooking the village. There are good views from the hill and also from Beinn Rathacleit behind it. There are significant very steep rocky areas on the front of Beinn Bhragair in particular and so some caution is necessary especially if you are inexperienced. There are a few places where it is possible to get yourself into a position where you can go neither up nor down. It is possible to drive out the track to the old water works right at the foot of the hill (NB 263 436) but take care as there are some good potholes in the track. From here it is a short but steep climb to the top. As mentioned the front of the hill is steep and often rocky so it is best to work your way along the west side of the hill and go up the saddle between Beinn Bhragair and Beinn Rathacleit. There is a trig point on top of Beinn Bhragair and it is also possible to walk to the southern end of Beinn Rathacleit where there are a number of old shielings, including one that was still used as a summer residence until about a decade ago. As Beinn Bhragair is the highest hill on this part of the island there are views all around to the Atlantic and up the West Side of the island, to the Barvas Hills and also to the hills of Uig and Harris. From the water works to the top is only about half a mile in a straight line but the more sensible route adds about a mile to this distance making the walk to the top about a 3 mile round trip. If you want to also take in the shieling on the south end of Beinn Rathacleit then the round trip is probably something in the region of 6 miles from the water works. Round trip from the cottage to the waterworks is about 8 miles and all but the climb up the hill is on good tracks or quiet country roads so you can create a selection of walks ranging from about 3 to about 15 miles. Below are some images taken during a little walk up Beinn Bhragair in November with Dollanna, your host at Dollag's Cottage, appearing in some of them:
Locals looking for a wee walk would often do the circular route across the shore to North Shawbost and back along the Shawbost/Barvas road forming a circular route, hence the name. This route, from the cottage door, is almost exactly 3 miles of easy walking on tracks, roads and shoreline. Leaving the cottage just take the signposted road down to the shore and once you arrive at the beach you can then cross, either on the beach or along the grassy bank behind. At the North Shawbost (eastern) end of the beach is another road and after about 1/4 mile this comes to a T junction. Take a right here and walk back up to the main Shawbost/Barvas road where you take another right turn heading back towards South Shawbost. You can then walk up this road to the cross roads and back in the road to the cottage. This route is very easy walking and can be a nice wander on a dark night but be sure to take a torch as many areas are completely unlit and you simply can't walk in complete darkness
This is a small pyramid shaped hill above the Pentland Road and about half way between Shawbost and Stornoway, it requires about a 20 minute drive from the cottage but is a very nice walk. There are good views from the hill top and the total round trip from the car parking spot to the top of the hill and back is about 3 miles. All of the walking is over relatively rough, and usually wet, moorland so it requires a reasonable measure of fitness and some care. The views from the top are nice and there is usually a lot to see along the way if you are interested in the plant life and wildlife of the moorland. There are often red deer, especially stags, on the hill along with grouse, eagles, hen harriers and the usual moorland birds and animals. The route up the hill passes by Loch nan Geadh which, unusually for Lewis, holds no fish and there are also several old shielings you can visit on the route should you wish to have a sit down or make some tea. There is an excellent hard standing car parking spot on the Pentland Road just before Loch an Tobair at about NB 298 352. Should you fancy an early cup of tea then there is a good shieling above the parking spot at about NB 303 362, you can't easily see the shieling but it lies just beside a big black peat hag that really stands out as a black line against the hill. From the shieling it is a short distance over to Loch nan Geadh. At the north west corner of the loch there is another ruined shieling and I would often use this as my base camp for an assault on the summit as it makes a good spot for lunch or to leave gear you might not want to carry to the top, be sure to remember your camera though. On your way to the summit there is another very good shieling at about NB 306 374 although this one is not marked on the OS map but it is about 185 meters on a bearing of 178 degrees from the summit cairn. The shieling makes a good spot for photos of the Uig hills, better than the actual summit, and again is good for making tea or lunch. There is a summit cairn and then you can either wander back down to the parking spot or maybe find another route back if you fancy further walking.
Loch Foisneabhat is a large (by Lewis standards) freshwater loch out from the village of Shader/Siadar north of Barvas. The loch has a considerable number of old disused shielings on its banks and while the location and walk are a little unremarkable it is always enjoyable to wander the moor and get a look at the interesting things there are to see out there. The shielings on Foisneabhat are large and some look like old black houses so it is possible that there may have been a permanent settlement out here at some time. The moor is rough and the round trip is 6+ miles so you need to be fit and also a little sensible about your ability to navigate. Parking is at the Steinacleit monument which is signposted at Shader just before Loch an Duin. The track in to the parking spot is good but sometimes has large potholes in the puddles that form so take care. There is a good parking spot for the standing stones right at the end of the loch and it is best to park there. Do not take a road car further out the track, the track is just passable in a decent 4X4 with a low box and mud or all terrain tyres. The track heads due south from the carpark, the track going east goes to the standing stones. Walk out the track until it ends and then set a bearing for the north west corner of Loch Ceartabhat. You can't see the loch from the track end and there is a rather rough bit of ground, and a little burn to cross, right at the track end. This is probably the worst bit of walking on the trip. Once you reach Ceartabhat you can track around the loch and it can make a good spot for tea or lunch. From Ceartabhat I like to head over to the little Loch Sgeireach on the way to Foisneabhat. The ground between Sgeireach and Foisneabhat is quite tiring walking and I always find it easier if you stay a little further east than you might have imagined as the walking there is very easy indeed so if you walk on about 131 degrees from the most south easterly point of Sgeireach rather than heading lower down to follow the burn you will have an easier walk. Once you get to within a short distance of Foisneabhat you can then take a more southerly track to cross the burn close to where it enters the loch, if you look carefully at the last 40 or 50 yards of the burn you will find a very old bridge that someone has built using a few flat stones plus other stones to shore up the banks. The valley created by the burn makes a good sheltered spot for tea and, of course, the burn provides a good source of water. Loch Foisneabhat is a nice spot sitting in a little dip with higher ground to the south and east plus you can explore the shielings along its banks. It also makes a good launching spot to head on out to Loch Gress beyond but unless you are experienced you should consider that this is a very long walk indeed on some pretty featureless ground. Loch Gress is also a large loch and often has good numbers of red deer sheltering in the little feeder burns.
The Gress River runs north from the main road between Stornoway and the village of Tolsta on the north east coast of the island. In its lower reaches the river is tidal but further up it reaches across the moorland out as far as the hill Muirneag and Loch Gress. This is a good area to see peregrine, merlin, short eared owls and also, on a dry breezy afternoon, golden eagles. There is a track which follows the river for some distance and which is passable in a "soft" 4X4 such as a RAV4 or X-Trail but is not recommended for a normal road car. Access is best by taking the 2nd road on the left about 200 yards past Back Church, this is some distance before the river actually flows under the road and initially you might suspect you've taken a wrong turn as there is no sign of the river for a while. After nearly a mile out this road you will come to a Y junction and you should take the road to the right, this heads down towards the river. Unless you intend to drive out the track you should park at the sheep pens and recycling area on your left as you reach the river. On parking you can elect to walk up the track, which is easy going, or to follow the river bank upstream which is much more difficult going as the river cuts through a small ravine area. The track reaches for about 2.5 miles from the fank (sheep pens) before it comes to an end beside the river. At this point you could elect to return back down the track, or along the river bank, or you could head further up the river on the moor. Should you elect to head further upriver then it is best to stay quite high up the river valley to the west of the river as walking close to the river is much more difficult going. Just over a mile beyond where the road ends there is a dam on the river which has created a large pool and this can make a good spot for lunch or some tea. After this the river gets much smaller but you can continue to follow it upstream for some considerable distance. Once the river gets smaller and the valley is more steep sided it is common to see deer who like to lie up in the shelter of the peat banks and vegetation. How far you walk or the detours you take are simply a matter of how far you feel like walking on any given day. There are lots of lochs and moorland to the west of the river and of course Muirneag, the only real hill on this part of the moor, lies just to the east of the upper part of the river near Loch Gress. The photos below were taken up the Gress River and also on the lower part of the river which is tidal:
The Arnol River runs to the sea via a freshwater loch and crosses under the main Shawbost to Barvas road between the villages of Bragar and Arnol just a few miles from the cottage. The river makes a nice linear walk and you can wander as far upstream as you wish bearing in mind that you have to walk back down again. Navigation is simple as all you need to do is follow the river. There are several ways to access the river with the easiest being to park at the cattle grid just where the river flows under the road, taking care to avoid blocking access. Between the old school and Denis Autos in Bragar there is a "peat road" that heads out the moor and eventually, after about 1.5 miles, makes its way down to the river. If you want to walk out the peat road then you can park at the old school or it may also be possible to get parking at the roadside but, again, be careful not to block access. The peat road is unsuitable for a normal road car but if you have a 4 wheel drive with good road clearance and running on decent tyres then it is possible to drive out the peat road. It is suggested that if you drive out the peat road then you park on the grass to the right of the peat road just at the point where it turns down towards the river but be sure to pick your spot so you don't sink.
Once you start up the river then you can walk right up as far as Loch Gainmheach nam Faoileag (the sandy loch of the seagulls) which is about 6 miles in a straight line from the road bridge, and probably twice that if you actually follow the course of the river. walking up the west side of the river you will come to a flat grassy area which clearly once had a number of buildings on it and past this a substantial burn runs in. Just a short distance up this burn it splits into two and one of the feeders comes down the hill from Loch an Sgeireach Mhoir (Sgeireach = skerry which is a small island or area of rock often awash in some water conditions) and this makes a nice diversion as you can walk up to this loch and then head back towards the river via Loch Airigh na h-Aon Oidhche (an airigh is summer pasture so this is the loch of the summer pasture of one night! I'm sure there is a good story behind that name that is long since lost to the mists of time) and on your way back towards the river there are some good, disused shielings where you can make tea or just take in the view. As with most Lewis walking a wander up the Arnol is limited only by your imagination. Below are some photos of the river, shielings and even the one night loch: