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Western Isles

Only 40 miles separate the Outer Hebrides from the Scottish mainland. But life here couldn’t be more dissimilar. Even the language is different.

This is the home of the Gaels – a land of dramatic landscapes and ancient culture.

Whether you arrive by ferry in the main town of Stornoway, or fly in and touch down on the white shell beach at Traigh Mor on Barra – there’s a real sense of arriving somewhere quite special.

Exploring the chain of islands stretching 150 miles from Lewis to Barra will take you on a wonderful adventure.

Lewis, the largest island in the Hebrides, is a landscape of moorland and freshwater lochs.

Harris, joined by a thin strip of land at Tarbert, is considered a separate island and has mountains and dramatic cliffscapes.
North Uist and Benbecula are peppered with hundreds of silver lochs which create the ideal environment for birds. Abundant wildlife brings naturalists to the island with the different habitats home to so many varying species.

Twitchers flock to see ducks and waders at Banranald Nature Reserve and greylag geese at Loch Druidbeg in South Uist.
Barra and Vatersay are again unique. Landscapes of moor, mountain, beach and croft are all found on these smaller islands of the south, known as the Garden of the Hebrides.

Off the coast, small uninhabited islands include Mingulay and St Kilda where crofters opted for ‘voluntary’ evacuation. Sad, empty little crofts wait in vain for their owners to return.

They may look pretty against the green hills and white sandy beaches, but the isolated crofts are an integral part of survival on the islands. Life here is hard.

Crofters have had to live and work with the land, finding creative ways of coping with the natural obstacles thrown in their way. When given infertile land, they created lazy beds of seaweed and peat to grow their crops. When the crops didn’t grow they turned to the sea.
Man has been living on these islands for more than 5,000 years and has left the evidence - some of the most dramatic monuments in Scotland.

The Callanish Standing Stones on Lewis were the first, that we know of, to be erected. Nearby, Dun Carloway Broch is one of the best preserved Iron Age brochs in Scotland. Other places trace the history of the clans. St Clement's Church, Rodel on Harris, contains the tomb of one of the most famous chiefs of MacLeod, Alisdair Crotach. Floating in the bay in Barra, the atmospheric Kisimul Castle is the ancient seat of the MacNeills.

Then there are monuments to ordinary man. Visit traditional thatched Lewis crofthouses at Arnol Blackhouse and Gearrannan village.
Discover the history of the Hebrides at Museum Nan Eilean in Stornoway which has artefacts dating back from the 7th century and treasures from a Viking burial. Don't miss the famous scowling Lewis Chessmen which were discovered in 1831 on the beach at Uig – allegedly by a cow!

This thriving community has a fierce pride in its Gaelic language. Culture is everywhere. Catch an impromptu ceilidh in one of the lively local pubs.

Living on the edge has given the people of the Hebrides a unique character.

They’ve a reputation for creativity and innovation, and whether it’s traditional crafts or harnessing modern technology, they have learned to diversify to survive.

In Harris the world-famous tweed is still created following traditional techniques. Many still dye and finish the tweed in the traditional way and you can hear the clack of the loom in workshops around the island and watch the weavers at work.

Other Hebridean crafts include jewellery, perfume, pottery and knitwear. All are inspired by the surrounding landscape.

Under wide open sea skies, on the grassy machair next to the white sands of the shore, or fishing in the silver lochan of the dark moor with the sweet scent of the black peat trenches in the air – impressions of the islands will stay with you. And it won’t be long before you’re back.

The landscape is something else. Stroll along white sands on wide, unspoilt, deserted beaches. Climb the highest peak, Clisham on Harris, to walk on the oldest rock in the world – Lewisian Gneiss.

Take a boat trip to the uninhabited islands of Flodday, Lingay, Pabbay, St Kilda and Mingulay or visit some of the many nature reserves.

Stroll along white sands on wide, unspoilt, deserted beaches and watch the waves from the Atlantic crash on the shore.

Sit in the sweet green machair among the wild flowers and take time to watch the skies, perhaps spot a golden eagle as it wings the breeze.

Climb the highest peak in the Western Isles. Clisham on Harris, stands at 2622ft, and is the most westerly of the Corbetts.

Take a boat trip. Beyond Vatersay lie the uninhabited islands of Flodday, Lingay, Pabbay and Mingulay where only the sheep, wild goats and the wheeling seabirds keep you company.

Watch the birdies at one of the many nature reserves. In South Uist, Loch Druidbeg is known for its greylag geese as well as the waders. Banranald in North Uist is a renowned breeding site for ducks and waders.

Go fishing. Lochmaddy on North Uist, makes a good central base for the angler, with plenty of facilities. It is completely surrounded by remote lochs and lochans where you can spend hours chasing that 20 pounder! Legends of the ones that got away are the source of endless entertainment in the friendly local in the evening. The bigger the dram, the bigger the fish!

 

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