The Outer Hebrides had never before been on our radar but since moving to Scotland and being so much closer to them, they were a must!
We had, like many others, a summer full of travel plans that were sadly disrupted by a certain worldwide pandemic.... Lucky for us, just before lockdown we had moved to the east coast of Scotland and our plans were to gradually travel the country during our time here. Although due to restrictions and safety measures put in place we were not able to have quite the road trip we had imagined, we still made the most of the short summer holiday we had left and decided to head west!
Our Outer Hebrides tour started in Ullapool. We got a great Island hopping ticket online which allowed us to travel from Ullapool - Oban via Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra in our own time, when booking we allowed two nights per Island.
Isle of Lewis
Our first stop, Stornaway after an easy crossing from Ullapool which took about three hours. We were wild camping so stopped off in town to stock up on food! We didn't spend long in Stornaway as we were trying to avoid busy places with lots of people, but it was a quaint town with busy shops and pubs, I'd like to visit it properly one day!
Our first stop on my meticulously pinned map was Traigh Mhor, a huge beach with views of the Highlands in the far distance. I can imagine it to be stunningly blue on a hot and still summers day, unfortunately for us it was quite windy and grey. It also has a neighbouring beach called Garry Beach which is much smaller and is home to 'The Bridge to Nowhere', literally a bridge that goes nowhere.... At both beaches there is a small carpark and picnic benches, public toilets can be found at Traigh Mhor. It would actually make a great camping spot if you are looking to stay near to Stornaway.
After a quick visit we wanted to make sure that we really did go from 'top to bottom' so we headed for Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. For such a small island the road seemed never ending and as we passed through village after village we wondered if we'd made the right choice in heading this far in the 'wrong direction'. Finally about 45 minutes after passing back through Stornaway we reached Lionel, where we turned off the main road and headed for the lighthouse. As we drove down the single track road it felt desolate and quiet, no-one else around and the wind getting stronger against the car as we grew closer to the cliffs. We parked up about half a mile from the Lighthouse in a small area off the road and walked the rest fo the way due to maintenance going on at the lighthouse. The waves crashed aggressively at the cliffs and flung the spray into the air. The lighthouse stood proudly in its landscape and it's unpainted red brick gave it it's own identity unlike a lot of the other Stevenson lighthouses which are all very similar. The far off Faroe Islands were nowhere to be seen and the Atlantic had never felt bigger.
As the light begun to fade we got back to the car and started our journey south to find a spot for the night. The beauty of wild camping means you can wake up in some of the most beautiful places and with the added bonus of Scotland's right to roam we are able to pick almost anywhere we want. During our Island hopping we aimed to stay as close to the beach as possible every night, not only because the midges seemed less aggressive near the sea but also because, well, we're Island hopping!
Dalmore Beach 28 miles south of the lighthouse is where we decided to set up camp for the night, just before the beach itself there is an upper and lower carpark so plenty of space if you have a van! The lower carpark also had a small, flat grass area, ideal for tents. We pitched up on the grass and were less than a minute from the sea but with the shelter from the dunes! On the pathway from the carpark to the beach there is a BBQ area with benches which would have been ideal had the rain not come in... We decided to turn in early and lay in our cozy tent listening to the rain slam against our tent, maybe an unpopular opinion but to me there is nowhere cosier than a warm sleeping bag in a tent with the wind and rain howling outside! The next morning we realised we had been joined by a couple of vans and some cyclists who were also camping. Luckily the rain had passed and we were able to go for a morning dip. Don't let the golden sand and beautifully clear waters fool you, it was FREEZING.
When we travel somewhere we always like to visit its unique attractions and learn about its heritage. On our journey south we stopped off at two unique spots, the first being Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. Sadly it is currently closed to the public but it was still great to swing by and take a look, when it is open you can visit or stay in their self catering accommodation. These blackhouses have seen generations of families and stood the test of time, they are a piece of history that feels very much alive when you are there.
Our second location just down the coast from Gearrannan was a little less practical and a little more mystical... The Callanish Standing Stones are a Neolithic setting of standing stones arranged in a cross shape with a central stone circle and were a focus for ritual activity during the Bronze Age. It's quite amazing to stand among them, feel them tower over you and to imagine what people had stood their long before us.
After a little dabble in history it was back to beaches and we got on the road to Bosta Beach. Be warned there is one road to Bosta so make sure you definitely want to go before heading off the main road as there is no circular route, you'll have to head back the same way but we think it's worth it! If you're looking to spend a day at the beach this is one I'd really recommend! Being off the beaten track means lots of beach to yourself! The beach is at the very end of Great Bernera which is an island and community linked to Lewis by a road bridge. The drive itself is stunning with winding roads and lochs either side. When you reach the end of the road you'll find a carpark and some public toilets as well as a track down to the beach. The waters are crystal clear and I was only sad I didn't have my paddle board! On a windy day there are plenty of spots to shelter and there is lots to explore including the remains of a previously undiscovered Iron Age Village hidden beneath the dunes which was exposed by a wild Atlantic storm in1993.
We chose to stay on the west coast before having to go back on ourselves and I have to say it is the coastline that just keeps on giving, there seems to be no end to the white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, there are so many dotted along the coastline that it was impossible to visit them all in our timeframe, we chose to stop at Ardroil Beach. When the tide is up becomes two beaches but when the tide is down, it is enormous.
Unfortunately for us the weather was starting to turn and it wasn't exactly what we'd call a 'beach day' with sand whipping into our ankles as we attempted to take a nice stroll down to the water, but still worth the stop!
Isle of Harris
As we were about to leave Lewis and cross over into Harris we spotted a Food Truck called 'Taste n Sea' and both being big eaters we couldn't help but stop! There is a big carpark just off the road with ample parking and a gorgeous view out to sea. All of their food is locally sourced and is cooked fresh, you head to the truck to order and are given a buzzer to take back to your car which sounds when your food is ready! I'm afraid I haven't got any pictures here as the food went down very quickly and we enjoyed the moment without cameras or phones. I would highly recommend this as a lunch or dinner stop on your way through, it was delicious and there is something even more tasty about knowing your food hasn't travelled very far at all!
The weather wasn't on our side in Harris but it still felt special, it didn't need to be beaming sunshine or boiling hot. We decided to take 'the scenic route' down the east of the island before looping back round to get west, as suggested by some cyclists we passed back in Lewis. It sounds like a hassle but on these tiny islands it really doesn't take long at all. Although it wasn't very clear it was still worth it.
The mist sat on top of the roads and visibility was poor in parts, but it felt mystical and there was not a soul to be seen, it was almost as if the Black Pearl could appear from the mist at any moment. We took a slow drive along the single track road taking in the views when the mist allowed, lots of small lochs are either side of us for a good few miles, I imagine the view from above would be like lot's of puddles lining the road. We are always keen to take the smaller less travelled routes and so far they haven't failed us. If you can, always that extra time take 'the scenic route' and discover something that maybe you wouldn't have had you stuck to main roads, it's much more fun when you don't know what's around the bend....
After our little detour we decided to get to our planned camping spot before the weather worsened. Seilebost is a crofting village on the west coast of the island, it has a stunning beach and when the tide is out on a sunny day it really does look like Whitsundays in Australia, we arrived at high tide and the weather wasn't quite that of Australia.... but still beautiful.
Something to note if you are wild camping or in a camper, there isn't a huge amount of space if you want a seaside spot here, it's much harder in the height of summer to find a place. After failing to find a spot on the north side of the beach we decided to drive around to the other side and we struck gold.
There is a small layby on the side of the twin track road about half a mile west of the village where you can park your van or car with plenty of flat areas to pop up a tent and all they ask is that you make a donation via Paypal a small price to pay for the sea view we got! The Sunset was awesome and you can see across to Luskentyre and Taransay. But be warned, this is a windy spot for a tent!
After a pretty windy night we woke to glorious sunshine and after breakfast with a view we jumped in the car and headed for the ferry to North Uist via a stop at Northton to make ourselves lunch int he sunshine. The Leverburgh ferry port was well equipped for teas and butty's. We queued patiently hoping to nab a spot as we booked our ferries for specific dates but actually ended up moving through the islands quicker than we thought. On the smaller crossings you are able to turn up on the day and wait aside until the booked cars are on, we didn't have any issues with this and always made it on!
Isle of North and South Uist
After an easy crossing we came off the ferry and thankfully the sunshine was with us for most of the day. Something we didn't realise about Uist was just how tiny it actually is! We didn't have anything planned for Uist so decided to head in the direction of Eriskay which is where we would ferry from and stop off at places we spotted along the way. We passed many galleries and workshops which gave me the impression that this was a very creative place and art seemed to be a popular pass time for people here, I later learnt that a lot of writers and artists to head to these remote Scottish islands to work, I can see why.
As we got drove towards the our desitination I kept a close eye on the map looking for places to visit and one that caught my eye was Baleshare, another tiny island connected to the rest of North Uist by causeway. The little island is dramatically flat and tidal, it doesn't seem like much when you cross but when you reach the western side you are met by a long stretch of beach which seems to go on forever and doesn't seem to match up with the size of the island. You won't see many people as it is off the beaten track and not many tourists venture across, but it's a great spot to park up for a picnic or even a surf if you are brave enough!
After a trip over to Baleshare we got back on the main road down to Eriskay where we decided to camp for the night ahead of the morning crossing to Barra. Luckily for us there was a small beach just up from the tiny harbour with a couple of flat spots, picnic benches and parking. The wind was strong but we didn't let that ruin our evening, we had a dip in the sparkling but arctic sea and hunkered down to watch the sunset from our bags. I know camping isn't everyone's idea of fun let alone wild camping but for me you can't beat the feeling of being in a tent wrapped up in your sleeping bag listening to the waves crash and the wind howl, at this moment I was utterly relaxed and there were none of life's distractions or stresses. I would reccomend that everyone, at least once in their lifetime experiences a night of wild camping.
Isle of Barra
The Isles of Barra and Vatersay are the most Southerly inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides and the most Westerly in the UK. The Isle of Barra's white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and community spirit are just a few of the reasons this was our absolute favourite Island out of the Outer Hebrides. I had seen videos of Barra online and could see why it was nicknamed 'Barrabados' but I wanted to see it for myself.
After a short ferry ride we landed on Barra and headed straight for the airport, yes the airport! Barra is home to the only beach runway in the world and we had to see it with our own eyes. As we passed the airport we saw signs waring passers by off the beach when the socks were flying, the tide was out and people were pottering on the beach preparing for a landing, so while we waited we drove a bit further on and went for a quick walk up to high point looking back down over 'the landing strip'. The view was stunning and the water even from a distance was crystal clear with a white bed of sand beneath.
We jumped in the car after our walk and headed back towards the airport, the socks were up! We parked up and others quickly joined to see the plane land. A tiny tiny plane headed towards us, landed smoothly on the huge flat sands and came rolling in, something we had to see and so should you if you ever find yourself on the Isle of Barra! The best bit about it all was that the amount of people who came to watch the plane land was probably triple the amount of that actually got off it!
Our time on Barra was short and keen to make the most of it so we headed to Castlebay which is the main town on the island. We arrived and soon spotted a sign for Kayak hire which doubled as Tigh Na Mara a great hostel if you're wanting a proper bed for the night! We called in and managed get ourselves a tour booked for the afternoon. Due to the circumstances and the fact we were there on a Sunday afternoon a lot of the town was closed however we managed to get a gorgeous lunch and a sweet treat from The Deck Cafe and Hebridean Toffee Factory.
After an induction and quick change we were down to the waters edge to get into our Kayaks, we'd been lucky enough to get the tour to ourselves. We had a paddle round the harbour while we found our balance and then set off on our tour, we didn't see any wildlife on this occasion but seeing seals is very common in the area. The wind was strong and made for a bumpy ride but we both managed to stay the right way up.
Our guide took us around the bay and across to an untouched beach that hadn't been even been stepped on and couldn't be reached by road. The sand was white and paired with the turquoise water it looked like a Caribbean island, it blew my mind that we were actually on a Scottish Island only hours from home. The water sparkled and called out for a swim but I wasn't silly enough to be fooled into freezing again.
As we paddled back towards the start we swung by Kisimul Castle which you can only reach by boat and is perched on a rock in the middle of the bay. Our guide quickly learnt that we were wild camping and recommended a spot for us to spend our last night. We plan ahead as much as we can but always find that talking to locals and following their lead is the best way to travel an area, after all not everything is online.
Our guide hadn't let us down with his recommendation and we spent out last night on Traigh a Bhaigh. The kind nature of the residents here shone through. They provide designated wild camping spots with parking and facilities for people coming to visit their island and ask for a donation in return for the use of the facilities. It is all run by the locals and locally funded. There is always someone keeping watch and as we set up our camp the local man on duty for the night came to introduce himself and tell us where everything was. We pitched our tent up in the Dunes overlooking where we had Kayaked that same afternoon and enjoyed our last sunset on the Outer Hebrides. It couldn't have been a more fitting end to our tour of the Outer Hebrides.
I could not recommend a visit to the Outer Hebrides enough, I have highlighted our favourite parts of the trip and I hope you feel inspired to visit these Island communities. If you would like to know more or have any questions regarding this post please feel free to email Amber on firstname.lastname@example.org Happy Travelling and Stay Safe.