Over the last year, we have had more and more of our customers touring the Outer Hebrides. One of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, with white sands, turquoise seas and very few people, this is an area you’re guaranteed to fall in love with. It’s a place you can take your time to explore as life moves at a much more relaxed pace.
Getting there, although initially a long drive, it’s a relatively simple one. Some of the islands are connected by bridges, therefore you will need to take a ferry to get over to the isles and between them. CalMac sell a hopscotch ticket which allows you to travel between all the islands. Visit https://www.calmac.co.uk/island-hopping for more information.
The best way to start your trip is by heading across to Oban and taking the ferry over to Mull. Try and make time to have a drive round Mull, its’ beautiful coastline is teeming with wildlife. Before you set sail from Tobermory, it’s worth taking time to have a wander and admire the coloured houses and wee shops.
From Tobermory you can sail to Castlebay on Barra. Barra is the most southerly of the Outer Hebrides, taking its name from Kisimul Castle. The seat of the chief of Clan Macneil is the only significant medieval castle to survive in all the Western Isles. The Isle of Barra Distillers is the first distillery to open its doors in Barra. Aside from the great gin, (you know we love to add to our gin collection on our travels!) it’s got a great shop.
One of the most famous airports (with possibly most photographed landing strip) is Barra airport. It’s the only airstrip in the world where flights land on the beach and are determined by the tide. Watching the planes coming in is really quite mesmerising.
There are a couple of good campsites on the isle. Scurrival and Croft Number 2 Caravan and Camping site, both within 50m of the beach. Just remember to check their opening times if you’re visiting outwith peak season.
From Barra there’s a causeway to Vatersay, with its abandoned village of Eoradail and abundant wildlife and wildflowers in the machair. DO NOT park on the machair. As one of the rarest habitats in Europe – it’s both legally protected and easily damaged. Parking on there will most definitely incur the wrath of the locals!
Not far from Barra airport is Ardmhor, where you catch a ferry to the small island of Eriskay. Eriskay has a bridge to take you over to South Uist. South Uist is full of things to do and see but is perhaps most famous for being home to the Bonnie Prince Charlie trail – you can find out more about where he visited and follow in his footsteps – https://www.visitouterhebrides.co.uk/see-and-do/culture-and-heritage/bonnie-prince-charlie-trail
As with many of the isles, the wildlife here is plentiful so remember your binoculars!
Camping wise – there are campsites at both Lochboisdale and South Lochboisdale that cater for campervans. There’s also Shellbay Caravan and Camping Park at Liniclate.
North Uist has a plethora of monuments and ancient ruins for those that want to research the ancient history of the area. There are a few areas dating back to Neolithic times so if history is your bag, you’ll be in heaven!
If you’re more of a naturist, you’ll not be disappointed here. Follow the Bird of Prey Trail to see hen harriers, merlins and short-eared owls, or walk across to Vallay Island at low tide – just make sure you get back before the tide cuts you off! At Malacleit, at Traigh Bhalaigh (Vallay) on the north coast of North Uist, you can follow the Uist Sculpture Trail or explore sections of the Hebridean Way either on foot or by bike.
From Berneray you can take the ferry across the Sound of Harris. The views over the Atlantic towards St Kilda must be seen to be believed. Make sure you make the time to take a day-trip to St Kilda – it’s the UK’s only dual UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of only 39 in the world. It’s also home to nearly 1 million seabirds, including the UK’s largest colony of Atlantic puffins.
As one of the more popular islands to visit, Harris has a lot of mapped routes, suitable for discovering by foot or bike. Wildlife on Harris includes otters, seals, porpoises, red deer, golden and sea eagles, hen harriers and golden plover. The biggest attraction for visitors however, are the beaches. The colour of the water and the purity of the sand are simply stunning. The beaches range from the huge expanses of Luskentyre and Scarista to little sheltered coves beside the road at Borve.
No visit to Harris would be complete without stopping at Harris Tweed. You can buy it in Tarbert but you can also watch it being made at Drinshader. There’s also the Isle of Harris distillery producing both whisky and gin – definitely worth stocking up on for your return home. While you’re there make time to visit https://www.skoon.com/ a great gallery, studio and café.
Famed for its’ standing stones, the Callanish, Lewis is steeped in history and culture. The stones are around 5000 years old – older than Stonehenge. Locals will tell you they’re best visited at dawn or dusk as the light makes them particularly impressive.
Brochs are mysterious features of Scottish archaeology. These two thousand-year-old stone structures date from the Iron Age, and it is estimated that at least seven hundred brochs once existed across Scotland. Dun Carloway Broch is one of the best preserved brochs in Scotland. A double-walled stronghold with a staircase between the two walls, this amazing structure dates from the early Iron Age and is well worth a visit.
The Hebridean Celtic Festival takes place in Stornoway every July. This year it’s celebrating 25 years so it’s a great time to visit. For more information visit https://www.hebceltfest.com/ It’s a great family friendly festival with lots of free events throughout town over the 3 days.
From Stornoway you can take the ferry back to Ullapool on the mainland to begin your journey home.
We’ve only covered some of what this beautiful part of the world has to offer so why not see for yourself what it can offer. As always, we’d love to hear your recommendations.
Important points to remember!
Most ferry terminals have black-water emptying facilities, toilets and showers.
Remember to pack midge repellent. They are there in their thousands and love a good nibble on a human. Avon’s Skin So Soft moisturiser is said to be the most effective (as discovered by the Marines apparently).
There’s even a midge forecast https://www.smidgeup.com/midge-forecast/
Bear in mind that on Lewis, Harris and North Uist, most shops and pubs are shut on Sundays and ferries do not run (unless there have been sailing delays). Barra, South Uist and Benbeculas’ Sunday traditions are less strict.
*With many thanks to the wonderfully talented Hope Blamire for letting us use one of her paintings in this article. To admire more of her work visit – www.hopeblamire.com