Now that the summer crowds are beginning to dissipate, the ferries to the Outer Hebrides become much more available, as does the camping on the islands. Click these links for more information on Ferries and Outer Hebrides Campsites.
Although a wee bitty colder at this time of year, the Outer Hebrides is a treat you will not want to miss! With spectacular beaches, beautiful scenery and it’s own little taste of history including the standing stones of Lewis and the birthplace of Donald Trumps mother. Don’t let the latter put you off, as these islands are spectacular in their beauty and serenity. The autumn or spring months are the perfect time to set off on this adventure. The leaves start to turn, dazzling glorious colours in autumn and in spring everything comes to life, from snowdrops to little lambs with black socks.
We landed in South Uist about 10pm and most locals who were thoroughly familiar with the island territory, disembarked here. We and a few other weary travellers went onto Castlebay, arriving close to midnight. Now, you would expect the stars to be out in their gazzilions at this time on a small north western island with little light pollution. However, as May was still creeping toward the longest day, the sun was still reflecting it’s red rays off the light clouds as the moon was rising rapidly into what can only be described as a twilight sky. We would have to sit up a little longer to see the Milky Way in full cover of darkness. This, luckily, was no mean feat as we were excited to have finally arrived and looking forward to viewing this iconic island in all its morning glory.
We travelled back to Barra and explored the west coast of the island, again, delighted with the beautiful beaches and rock pools, sheltering crustaceans from the North Sea. The sheep, lambs and highland cows grazed peacefully in the fields at the side of the road, taking little notice of our presence and simply enjoying basking in the sunshine.
We travelled onward to South Uist by boat and searched for a place to park up that was not on private land. It’s always best to head to the nearest pub or restaurant and talk with the locals as some farmers will allow you to park on their land overnight in a self contained vehicle for a small fee. We were again, stunned by the night sky in this isolated, northern island and disappointed not to be able to capture the moment on camera.
For our final day we travelled to the island of Lewis. We arrived on a Sunday and were surprised by the lack of shops and restaurants open in the main town of Stornaway. This is their day of rest and they take it very seriously on this island. We discovered one of the most spectacular beaches, Traigh Mhor Tolsta, with long stretches of white sand (similar to our experience of the aptly named 90-mile-beach in New Zealand which is not, as the name suggests 90-miles), and views out the mountains surrounding Ullapool on the mainland. Further inland, we followed our noses to the Callanish Stones of Lewis. Standing in a circle, reminiscent of the famous Stonehenge, these stones were, as far as science can place, erected in the Bronze Age. Rumoured to be a place of worship and rituals of Druids, folklore suggests they are giants, petrified when they refused to convert to Christianity.
We decided our Scottish related soundtrack would be Emilie Sande and set off on our journey. Wanting to take in all the Outer Hebrides, we left from Oban on the last ferry to first Lochboisdale, South Uist then Castlebay on Barra. In typical Calmac style, the ferry was delayed 5 hours due to a tangled anchor. No we weren’t waiting on the dock for 5 hours but on the ferry itself. The crew solution to the problem of a tangled anchor was to stop in the middle of the Sea of the Hebrides, drop anchor and circle around the anchor for several hours until the chain had become untangled. Efficient, if not a little time consuming.
And wow we weren’t disappointed! Waking up in our cosy campervan with a view looking out over Castlebay, named aptly for the circular castle situated in the centre of the east-facing bay. Kayakers were already on the calm waters, taking in the sunrise and marine life starting to migrate here for the summer. We set off south to the island of Vatersay. Joined to Barra by a short causeway, this island is classed as one of the most southerly and beautiful islands of the Outer Hebrides. We were blessed with a little sunshine, although the biting wind chapped our cheeks as we stepped out onto Vatersay Bay with it’s pristine white sand and tropical blue waters. We were the only people here for more than an our before spotting a local dog walker. Serenity with a cup of tea and breakfast.
We circled round the north of the island and settled for lunch, watching and waiting for the few planes that land on the only beach runway in the world. We were lucky the tide was out and a flight had indeed been scheduled to land. The small aircraft, whipped by the wind, swayed into it’s landing zone and expertly controlled, landed on the white sands rolling quickly toward our perch and the end of the runway. A magnificent sight that the idle creatures of the island, again, paid no heed to.
The following day we headed to Lochmaddy in North Uist, stopping at the Statue of Our Lady of the Isles to take in the views and stretch our legs. After a few navigational errors on behalf of my co-pilot, we continued onto the ferry terminal and landed on the glorious island of Harris. Immediately welcomed at the dock by a fish restaurant and local hang out, we got some good tips on where to stay that evening and treated ourselves to some of the freshest fish I have ever had the opportunity of consuming. Harris has many beautiful and peaceful beaches of it’s own and you can spot a marked difference as the sand becomes more beige as we continue north. The beaches here are surrounded by rugged peaks and days can be spent hiking and swimming in the summer months.
We took our final Calmac ferry to Ullapool with a campsite on the west-facing beach with views to the island beyond. We watched the seals and dolphins play in the wake our ferry left in the channel as we headed to port. After watching the red rich sunset, eating local fish and chips, we headed to The Arch Inn for a wee dram and were delighted to have landed on jam night! We were entertained by talented local musicians, with Celtic vocals and fantastic renditions of Caltic and popular songs. An apt finale to our unique and varied adventure in the Outer Hebrides.