Michael Robson fell in love in 1948—with a place he'd never been.
An illustrated magazine swept the young boy's imagination from the familiar domesticity of his English home to the wild islands that rise in jagged ranks off Scotland's northwest coast. As soon and as often as he could, first on school holidays and later on breaks from work, Robson surrendered to the call of the Hebrides, making long journeys from the mainland by steamer and bus, by small boat and on foot, venturing from the mountains of Skye to the moors and sea lochs of Lewis and Harris and even farther, across miles of ocean to a rocky speck of land where the last permanent settlement had been abandoned a century before.
More than 500 islands and islets make up the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Often cloaked in mist and rain and nearly always wind-scoured, they're surrounded by waters temperamental enough to test the most skilled captain, seas that can vary in a day from a silken ripple of improbably tropical blue to a roiling assault of gunmetal and spume. For thousands of years humans have struggled to survive here. Even so, Celts and Vikings, then Scots and English, fought to rule these shores. Today only a few dozen of the Hebrides are inhabited. "The islands are a challenge," Robson says. "Some visitors call them bleak, but that just means they're not really paying attention."