The rugged landscapes of the Outer Hebrides, off Scotland’s west coast, may be sparsely populated, but there’s a deep human history here, from ancient stone circles to traditional Gaelic culture. These interconnected islands have shaped a distinct way of life, not just in the Harris Tweed and whisky distilleries that travellers encounter, but also in the daily routines of remote fishing communities. Spanning over 150 miles, this island chain is stitched together by causeway, bridge, road and boat, meaning visitors can pick their own method — car, bike, bus or ferry — to make the most of this extraordinary destination.
1. Barra, Castlebay
With beaches reminiscent of those in Thailand — but often feel more like they’re in Greenland — Barra is one of the most beautiful Hebridean islands. Before rushing north, be sure to visit 16th-century Kisimul Castle, the similarly named Indian restaurant with its scallop pakora, and the local airport, which sees light aircraft landing on sand.
Few people think they know anything about Eriskay but it was off this coast in 1941 that the SS Politician was wrecked, with its famous cargo of whisky, and a considerable amount of cash. The following raids by locals were the basis for the 1949 film Whisky Galore! Today the Politician Bar offers a popular nod to that ignoble history.
3. North Uist
Each of the three Uist islands has a highlight, but the Hebridean Smokehouse offers a chance to pick up a souvenir, learn about the history of peat-smoking, and meet an earl. Fergus Granville is not only the owner of the smokehouse, he’s also a talented artist and the late Queen Elizabeth II’s godson.
A stop at Luskentyre means you can visit one of the most gorgeous beaches in Europe while being in the right spot to visit a traditional Harris tweed shop. Owner and weaver Donald John Mackay is well practised at explaining exactly why the tweed’s trademark matters so much — and perhaps why you should buy some.
Completists will want to make the journey all the way to the Butt of Lewis, the northernmost extremity of the Hebrides. An almost 30-mile drive north from Stornoway, it feels suitably storm-lashed and dramatic, with a battered lighthouse, thriving colonies of northern fulmars and, incredibly, masochistic surfers coming to try their luck in the cold waves.
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