Scottish & Sustainable: A Farm B&B Near the Callanish Stones

What could be better than spending three days at the mystical Callanish Stone Circle on Scotland’s picturesque Isle of Lewis? Staying three nights at the nearby Leumadair Guest House, a charming farm B&B where I could see the famous Callanish stones from my bedroom window.

Leumadair Guest House in Callanish, Scotland, is a small farm that takes in visitors. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I couldn’t have chosen a better spot for my visit: the price is reasonable; rooms are homey and nicely furnished; breakfast is outstanding. And this B&B is eco-friendly to boot.

Leumadair is ideal for travelers visiting the Callanish standing stones and other nearby attractions, such as the Doune Carloway Broch Iron-Age tower  and the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village.

I chose not to rent a car, which made Leumadair all the more perfect: it was just a short walk to the main stone site, and not much farther to a couple of the smaller prehistoric circles in the area.

Modern Comforts in an Ancient Landscape

After spending days out in the brisk Scottish air (no rain while I was there), coming back to Leumadair was a slice of heaven. One of the advantages of staying in a farmhouse B&B is that you sleep so peacefully: nights are quiet and dark—so if you have a clear sky you can stargaze or moongaze without light pollution.

Leumadair B&B is located very near the Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland ©Laurel Kallenbach

Also, owners Donald and Nita Macleod took very good care of me—something you appreciate when you’re traveling singly. There was always plenty of conversation with Donald or the other guests.

And Donald knows so much about this region and is an excellent source of historical and cultural knowledge. He helped facilitate my private tours of the standing stones with local archaeo-astronomer Margaret Curtis, who has studied the stone’s alignment for decades.

My comfy room at Leumadair was spotless, and it had a convenient, very modern ensuite bathroom—and two bunk beds that I didn’t use, but which would have been handy for a family. (The regular single/double rooms were already booked.)

Waking up after a good night’s sleep means something good’s going to happen: an incredibly delicious breakfast awaits. Leumadair’s features fresh eggs (from the chickens that wander about the property—they’re very free-range!) cooked the way you like them, and bacon and sausage from Donald and Nita’s own hogs. The sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes add pleasant flavor, and if you’re up for an adventure, try the Stornoway black pudding. In general, I’m not a huge fan of black pudding (aka blood sausage), but this was blended with herbs and onions and was quite tasty.

I couldn’t say no to the toast either—not with an array of Nita’s homemade jams and marmalade calling to me. I topped it off with Fair Trade teas or coffee. Breakfast was a feast that fueled me for hours of wandering the moors to see stone circles.

Walking through History

Walking from Leumadair B&B to Callanish, I passed a number of photogenic old houses, some in ruins. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Another huge asset for staying at Leumadair—besides its comforts and friendly hosts—was that I could visit the stones during the early morning or late afternoon—after the tour bus mobs have gone home. These times also happen to be when the sunlight is prettiest on the stone circle.

From Leumadair Guest House, the walk to the main Callanish Stones Circle takes 15 to 20 minutes on scenic roads. One morning as I was ambling up the hill to the stones, I encountered local crofters shearing their blackface sheep, using hand shears. I stayed for a bit to watch this snippet of Lewis culture.
 The farmers bantered and made jokes, although the sheep looked none too keen on being trussed and shorn.

Sheep shearing on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland ©Laurel Kallenbach

Leumadair’s Sustainable Efforts:

  • Recycles
  • Composts kitchen waste (and feeds leftover to the pigs, chickens, and dogs)
  • Uses energy-saving CFL lighting
  • Grows and raises some of its own food
  • Additional food is locally sourced
  • Serves Fair Trade tea and coffee
  • Bedroom furniture is crafted from reclaimed wood
  • Is equipped with low-flow toilets and showerheads
  • Uses eco-friendly cleaning products

And just as important as these efforts, the Macleods are good stewards of the land. They raise “heirloom” farm breeds: Highland cattle and Gloucester Old Spot Pigs. Donald grew up on this island, and he loves its landscape, history, and prehistory. He cares deeply about bringing visitors here to support the economy of the island, while also doing so sustainably.

Even if you’re not staying at Leumadair B&B, you might be interested to know that it runs a Sunday coffee shop/restaurant, called Pol’s Place (named after Donald’s Harris hawk). It’s open only on Sundays, when the Callanish Visitor Centre and many other island businesses are closed.

Logistics for Reaching Leumadair B&B: Whether you fly to the Isle of Lewis or ride the ferry (with or without car), you arrive in the island’s primary town: Stornoway. I flew from Glasgow International Airport, which takes less than an hour to reach this remote island. After a quick taxi ride from the little Stornoway airport to the Stornoway bus station, I hopped on the public bus. Thirty minutes later, this bus dropped me off at the Leumadair Guest House driveway. Couldn’t be simpler! (They also make a stop at the Callanish Visitor Centre. )

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

For more information on traveling in Scotland, click on Visit Scotland or Visit Isle of Lewis.

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Flavorful Agritourism: Sleeping in an Organic Vineyard


Pheasant Valley in Hood River, Oregon: a great B&B and organic vines. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I love beautiful, rural settings and local, farm-to-table foods, which is why I’m a fan of the agritourism trend: visiting and staying at farms. I like that it puts me in contact with local agriculture, and I like that farmers benefit from the additional income that small-scale tourism brings.

Recently, my husband and I spend two nights at an organic vineyard in Hood River, Oregon: at the Pheasant Valley Winery B&B. This small, Columbia Gorge vineyard is run by Scott and Gail Hagee, who live right there amid the grapevines.

The Hagee house is lovely, and they have three guest rooms—the Tempranillo Room, the Zinfandel Room, and the Pinot Noir Suite.

We stayed one night in the small, but comfy Zinfandel Room, and spent our second night in Pinot Noir, which is definitely worth the extra expense. The spacious suite has a private balcony with sweeping views of the countryside and the always-mesmerizing, snow-covered Mt. Hood. It also has floor-to-ceiling windows with the same view, vaulted ceilings, a sofa/sitting room, and a huge, luxurious bath with a walk-in shower and a Jacuzzi tub.

Hood River's peaceful and sustainable wine country ©Laurel Kallenbach

Whether or not you opt for the big digs, the house has plenty of shared space: an open, gorgeous living room, a front porch with that sweeping view of the volcanic mountain, and a shady back patio with tables. And a real bonus is Gail’s breakfasts. We dined on French toast one morning and a Mexican-style omelet the next.

Tasting the Grape

Another bonus: When you stay at the B&B, you get a free wine tasting—your choice of any six of Pheasant Valley’s vintages. We walked through rows of grapevines to the tasting room and sat outdoors on the patio overlooking Mt. Hood and the pine forest on a warm summer afternoon.

Whether you stay at the B&B or not, Pheasant Valley Winery's tasting room is worth a visit. ©Laurel Kallenbach

If the weather isn’t great, the indoor tasting room is quite atmospheric with its European décor, huge stone fireplace, and wine-barrel tables. (If you prefer to eat while you sip, Pheasant Valley Winery sells antipasto platters and ploughman’s lunches too.)

I enjoyed the refreshing, citrusy 2012 Estate Organic Pinot Gris; the 2011 Organic Pear Wine (great for dessert or with a light lunch); the berryish, oaky 2009 Tempranillo; and the smooth 2009 Syrah.

Between the wonderful wine and the beautiful surroundings, Ken and I loved Pheasant Valley. Flavor and relaxation…organically.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Organic grapes at Pheasant Valley. ©Laurel Kallenbach

See my other blog posts about agritourism on “Laurel’s Compass”:

 

Sleep in the Straw in Switzerland


Spending the night in a Swiss barn is fun and adventurous. Photo courtesy Schlaf im Stroh

When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for unique and independently owned places to stay that will benefit the local economy. Switzerland offers a sustainable, economical, family-friendly bed-and-breakfast experience I’ll never forget: sleeping in the straw on a farm.

Switzerland’s Sleep in Straw association (it’s called Schlaf im Stroh in German) consists of 150 Swiss farms and helps travelers easily connect with the hayloft of their choice.

Bed in a Barn

At Bruffhof Farm in Switzerland’s cheese-making Emmental region, the sound of cowbells and mooing woke me at dawn. I sat up in my sleeping bag, shook the straw from my hair, and looked around the hayloft to see if my friends were up.

Bruffhof Farm, in Switzerland's Emmenthal region, was flowering and beautiful when I visited. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

Bruffhof is just one of Switzerland’s Sleep-in-Straw network in which visitors bed down in the barn—not with the animals, but sometimes in an adjacent area. (At most farms, restrooms and showers are located in separate buildings.)

Guests can volunteer, if they like, to help out with farm chores: collecting eggs, picking vegetables, helping milk cows. The side effects: plenty of fresh air, a lot of fun (provided your loft-mates don’t snore too loudly), and a better understanding and appreciation about where your food comes from and the hard work that farmers do.

For breakfast: fresh-baked farm rolls. The food at Bruffhof was outstanding. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

My breakfast at Bruffhof was heavenly, with homemade bread, jam, and muesli. The cheese, yogurt, butter and honey were from the farm’s own cows and bees. “Families stay here so their children learn where food comes from,” said farmer Franz Schwarz (who spoke just a little English).

Bruffhof Farm grows organic herbs—many for the Ricola cough-drop company, based in Switzerland. The rest of the farm is certified as “Integrated Production,” a Swiss designation that allows only minimal pesticide/herbicide use. Farmer Franz and his equally hard-working wife, Rita, also raise goats and dairy cows.

How well did I sleep in the straw? Pretty well, actually. The fresh, sweet-scented hay was soft, and I managed to arrange it beneath me in a relatively comfy contour.

How Farmhouse B&Bs Work

At a Sleep-in-Straw farm, there’s always the possibility you’ll be sharing the hayloft with strangers. I traveled with a group in late September, so we had the entire sleeping area to ourselves, but if you’re traveling singly, as a couple, or with a small family in the busy summer, you’re likely to get to get acquainted with fellow snoozers from all over the world.

This beautiful, handpainted sign pointed the way to the Signer farm B&B in Switzerland's Appenzell region. © Laurel Kallenbach

To make reservations, you choose a farm in the region of your choice and book your “sleep in straw” experience directly with the host family—they’re the ones who benefit from the fee.

(These days, running a family farm requires entrepreneurial ingenuity, and the farm owners truly need the extra income generated from this B&B program. One of the joys of staying on a farm is that you’re experiencing a different place in an authentic way—and your money goes to a great cause: the continuation of small-scale, responsible agriculture.)

It’s best to book in advance. You bring your own sleeping bag or pay an extra 5 Swiss francs to use one of  the farm’s; blankets are provided by the hosts. Many of them also offer pillows; if not you can always bunch up straw inside a blanket for that purpose as well.

The Details

  • Sleep in Straw: 20 to 30 Swiss francs ($24–$30) per adult per night, including breakfast. Children (age 15 and under): 10 to 20 Swiss francs. Some Sleep in Straw farms offer other amenities (such as dinners and even beds in bunkhouses) for an extra fee.
  • If you’re not comfortable communicating in German, French, or Italian (Switzerland’s three national languages) be sure to find a farm with English speakers. At Bruffhof, where the family was German speaking, it was easy communicating with hand signals, and one of the Schwarz daughters was a excellent student of English at school.

    My friends and I felt like kids at a "lofty" sleepover! © Ursula Beamish

  • Most Sleep-in-Straw farms are accessible by bicycle. Swiss Trails rents bikes, maps out self-guided routes for you, and organizes daily luggage transfers between accommo-dations, including farm-stays.
  • For more information: Schlaf im Stroh (click “Catalog” for downloadable, multilingual information on the farms).

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance travel writer and editor

 

Adopt a Swiss Cow & Support Sustainable Dairy Farms

Switzerland is famous for its fine cheeses, yet many small, family-owned dairy farms struggle to maintain their sustainable way of life.

Photo of Albert Breitenmoser holding a photo of Selma, a cow you can “rent” © Laurel Kallenbach.

Farmer Albert Breitenmoser of Eggerstanden (in Switzerland’s Appenzell region) devised a cow-“leasing” project that gives him financial support and offers visitors an insider’s glimpse into traditional Swiss dairy farming and cow herding

The program is also a great way for kids—and city dwellers—to better understand their food sources.

The cowherd's mountain-pasture chalets. Photo courtesy Albert Breitenmoser

Here’s how it works: For a fee, you choose a cow—one with a sweet name like Maxine, Bleike, Selma, Arnika—on the Internet to “sponsor” for a season. (Pick your cow by clicking here. The website is in German only, but these bovine beauties speak for themselves!) You receive a certificate, a photo of your sponsored cow, a discount on the herd’s cheese and the opportunity to visit “your” cow on the farm.

Sponsoring a cow at a higher price gives you the unique opportunity to stay at the summertime mountain-alp pasture, get to know your cow, learn to milk her, spend the night in the cowherds’ cabins, and see how mountain cheese (called Alpkäse) is made. Alpkäse is considered the finest Appenzell cheese.

“People can learn a lot about the mountain meadows and enjoy eating cheese from a cow they’ve met,” says Breitenmoser. “They can also learn how much work it is to feed and milk the cows and make their cheese.”

Dairy lovers from all over the world have leased cows from Breitenmoser via the Internet; one cow lover from Thailand sponsored a cow for three years before he was finally able to visit Switzerland last year. Then he got to enjoy a mountain visit where the farmer’s breakfast consists of home-produced goodies: fresh milk, coffee, bread, honey, and cheese of course.

The alp cheese is made by hand on the farm. Photo courtesy Albert Breitenmoser

And oh yes, there’s that spectacular Swiss scenery to accompany your excellent cheese.

If you know of similar programs/ gifts that support sustainable farmers, share them by adding a comment below.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and cheese lover