South of Tarbert the main road to the southern end of South Harris crosses to the west coast at Luskentyre, which it hugs all the way down to Leverburgh before heading south-east to the most southerly tip of the island at Rodel. Most visitors to Rodel go to see St Clement's Church, then turn back towards Leverburgh.
There is an alternative. The south-east coast of Harris, stretching from Tarbert down to Rodel, is deeply indented by lochs and contains some of the rockiest low level scenery anywhere in Scotland. For much of history the many tiny settlements that dot this coast were accessible only by sea. But in 1897 a road was built along the coast, linking these settlements together. This east coast road is widely known as the Golden Road, apparently because of the very high cost of building it through this very difficult terrain.
The Golden Road is best tackled from Rodel. That way the sun (assuming nice weather) will be generally behind you rather than in front of you, making driving a fairly demanding single track road easier, and showing you the spectacular scenery in, literally, its best light.
The early part of this drive takes you past the collection of cottages that make up Lingerbay. It's worth pausing to consider that this could all look very different today. After a planning process lasting many years, a proposal to develop a superquarry at Lingerbay, effectively removing an entire mountain in easy stages by ship, was finally abandoned in 2004.
The landscape of south-east Harris is truly remarkable. In north-west Sutherland the land has a green theme, through which a large amount of grey rock protrudes. But along the Golden Road the predominant colour is of the grey rock, relieved only by patches of green. It feels quite odd, almost as if a road had been build across the Cairngorm Plateau at 4,000ft above sea level.
The road twists and turns its way through a series of settlements whose names defy easy pronunciation by the English-speaking tongue. At the head of Loch Stocinis you have the option of an easy return to the A859, but it is worth sticking to the coast to complete the tour.
At Plocrapol or Plockropool you should look out for the sign directing you a hundred yards to the north-east of the road through the settlement to the coastal premises of Harris Tweed and Knitwear. This long established family-run company still hand weaves Harris Tweed in the traditional way. Visitors can see the tweed being produced and browse the well-stocked shop.
Plocrapol produces an interesting issue about the return of many place names in the Western Isles to their original Gaelic. This is a trend that should be applauded, but it is a process that can be made more complex by variations in the Gaelic spelling of names. The Ordnance Survey shows the settlement once called Plockropool as Plocrapol: but the loch it stands next to is called Loch Procrapoil, while a nearby coastal feature is Rubha Phlocrapoil.
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