During our recent trip to Scotland, this year’s version of the annual summer trip to the UK, we spent four glorious days visiting the Outer Hebrides. I’ve been to some of the inner islands on previous holidays — Skye, Mull, Iona. Staffa and the Treshnishes — but this was my first trip, and my partner’s, to the outer isles. Fortunately we traveled with seasoned visitors who made all the arrangements; we had a rental car (a willing little BMW) for getting around on land, and we took ferries when needed to get across water. I am NOT a good sailor (understatement), but fortunately it was only the initial outward journey that involved anything other than smooth sea.
The sailing from Oban to Barra, the southern island where we began our exploration, took five and a half hours. I was miserable and seasick the last three hours, although I managed not to “cast up my accounts,” as we’d say in a good Regency romance. It was rainy and gray when we arrived, plus there was a confusion over our B&B reservation, so by the time I found my bed for the night, I was glad to have the first leg over and done.
The next day dawned much brighter; our delightful landlady gave us a wonderful big breakfast, and we drove pretty much the entire circumference of Barra before getting on the next ferry. We saw lovely beaches, including the one that’s home to the unique Barra airfield, and we had a nice view (from shore) of the local castle, Kisimul, a stronghold of the MacNeil clan since the 11th century.
Dosed up with anti-nausea drugs, I was pleasantly surprised at the smooth crossing we had to South Uist. Although the ferry was a lot smaller (usually a bad thing for me), I enjoyed the trip. We spent the crossing out on the front deck, seeing some seals and some sea birds, including guillemots, artic terns, and my personal favorites, gannets.
The Uists are beautiful. We visited more lovely beaches, met some local sheep, and bought some of their wool — I was pleased to learn that the woman minding the local crafts store had personally spun the yarn that I bought!
No more ferries that day, because South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist are all connected by causeways, so we could drive up the spine of the islands with side trips to the pretty beaches on the west side.
Day three began with another ferry, this one to the Isle of Harris. Again we had calm sea and good viewing; this crossing involves a lot of turning, because the channel is so full of shallows and small islands. We drove across Harris to the Isle of Lewis and up the coast to see the standing stones at Callanish.
We also saw the remains of traditional island homes, called blackhouses. The name might stem from the fact that they had no chimneys and so the fire blackened the walls and ceilings. They housed both people and animals, as opposed to the later “white houses” which relegated animals to a separate building or addition.
We visited an excellent example of an Iron Age broch at Carloway; it’s fascinating how sturdy these buildings are, since they are of drystone construction (stones stacked together without any mortar or mud to hold them together).
On this last night of our time in the islands, we had a delicious fish dinner of freshly caught megrim, a left-eyed flatfish that none of us had tried before. It was delicious. We then retired to our B&B on the isle of Scalpay, which we had to leave very early the next morning for our last ferry.
The early ferry to Skye gave us a chance to see some more of that beautiful island. I’ve been there once before. but we only saw the southern end that time. We stopped several times for pictures, but really you could photograph lovely views from almost any spot.
We left Skye via the bridge at Kyle of Localsh (it was a toll bridge the last time I was there, which I think was five years ago). The drive south to Conell was also very pretty; the Highlands are beautiful.