Every now and then, you come across a place that will forever be held up as the benchmark against which all others will be measured. That’s just a fancy way of saying this place ROCKS.
Look, it’s pretty remote. For starters, you’re in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. And then, you’re following a single track road (that means you have to pull over if someone is coming the other way. Literally, the road is the width of one vehicle) for about an hour through stunning landscape in the southwestern corner of the island of Lewis. Although to be fair, it might be quicker if you don’t stop to watch a bunch of border collies moving sheep, while their masters walked behind with actual shepherds crooks in their hands. Seriously. For a while, you think you might be lost, or that you’ve missed the turn off. Or maybe that you’ve gone back in time.
But then, all the directions seem to make sense and you round a bend, and there it is. Auberge Carnish is a B & B run by the most charming Frenchman you will ever meet. It sits above a stunning golden sandy beach with water the colour of Tiffany’s boxes. There was no room in the main house for us, so we had the great joy of staying in Port Carnish, the almost brand new cottage across the road and up the hill a bit. Just past the chook pen, in fact, where the fresh eggs for breakfast come from.
Everything was perfect. The view was expansive and a little mesmerising. The cottage was warm and beautifully decked out. There were bunnies frolicking on the front lawn. Outside the back door were the ruins of a traditional black house. We cracked a bottle of wine and soaked in the view. Life would have been pretty perfect if that had been all.
Except that we had a dinner date.
Somewhat incredibly, on this edge of the world (as we were staring out at the sea, it struck us that the next land mass was Canada), our effervescent host Richard runs an exquisite French restaurant. In the dining room of the B & B, with huge windows overlooking the bay, we dined on extraordinary dishes that combined the best of local produce with French techniques. Braised rabbit on black pudding, for example (the rabbit, the waitress told us, is very local, which explained its freshness, but also made us worry about the fluffy little bunnies we had seen hopping innocently on our lawn just an hour earlier). Great big fat hand-dived scallops with monkfish. Juicy Lewis lamb. And there was absolutely no way we were passing up dessert. Chocolate & Guinness pudding with Baileys icecream for Gav and banana and poppyseed cake with mango icecream for me. Seriously divine.
The food was incredible, obviously. And the view across the bay as that Tiffanys blue tide spread across the sand was gorgeous, but the thing that really sealed the deal for us was the graciousness, warmth and great humour of our host Richard. When he had finished cooking for the evening, he pulled up a chair at our table, glass of wine in hand and chatted about life in Carnish, life before Carnish and everything in between. He apologised often for not being able to accommodate us for an extra night (although by this stage, we were considerably sorrier about this than he was) and the following morning, he recommended a restaurant for us in Stornoway and even made the reservation for us. In every way, our time in Carnish exceeded our expectations. We were genuinely sad to leave. Believe me, it’s a hard act to follow.