The sands of Luskentyre on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides (Image: VisitScotland / Kenny Lam)
As we pulled off the single-track country lane, it was quite a sight that greeted us. A deserted mile-wide, white-sand beach was spread out below, split by a blue stream meandering down to a clear emerald-green sea and small islands dotted on the horizon. Thailand, or the Caribbean maybe? No, this was Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. On a weekend break in North West Scotland, my wife Ildi and I were certainly blessed with Caribbean weather - a rarity in these parts as the locals never hesitated to tell us.
We'd flown with easyJet from Luton to Inverness, then driven alongside Loch Ness before taking the breathtaking A87 up through the Highlands to Skye.
After stopping off to marvel at the huge columns of basalt rising out of the Sound of Raasay at Kilt Rock, we met up with Angus Murray, programme manager for the Skye Ecomuseum project which aims to boost the local economy and promote the area's heritage and landscape. He recommended a walk out to the peninsula of Brothers' Point, where 170 million-year-old dinosaur footprints have recently been discovered.
We spent our first night at the welcoming Uig Hotel, Uig, where a plate of haddock and chips, plus a pint of local ale hit the spot while watching the sun set over the harbour.
Next morning we boarded the Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry and set off for Harris - 1hr 40min away.Whereas Skye is green and leafy, Harris is like another planet. In fact, its bleak, almost treeless, rock-strewn interior was used to portray the surface of Jupiter in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Just 1,916 people live here and most youngsters leave to find work but one innovative company is reversing that trend.
The Isle of Harris Distillery was founded in 2015 with a community ethos and a determination to rewrite the distilling rule book. They hired locals who'd previously left the island, trained them in the subtle arts of distilling and started their boutique operation in Tarbert.
Ian and Ildi take the plunge on a boat voyage to the isles of Lunga and Scarba (Image: Daily Mirror)
Their Hearach single malt whisky is currently being cask-matured with an on-sale date still several years away while the company runs on sales of its Isle of Harris gin - an award-winning spirit infused with nine botanicals including, uniquely, sugar kelp, which is harvested locally by the distillery's own diver, Lewis McKenzie.
After a fascinating tour, we headed out along the Atlantic coast road, stopping at Seilebost to capture that jaw-dropping view across Luskentyre to the island of Taransay - home of the TV series Castaway, which Ben Fogle first appeared on back in 2000.
The blind crests of the single-track roads require concentration - not easy when every bend reveals a picture postcard scene.The only occupants of the beach at Borve were cows munching on seaweed.
Turning inland after visiting the tiny church of St Clement in Rodel, built by the MacLeod clan in 1512, you enter the surreal moonscape of Harris's