Monday, 23 November 2015

Discover The Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides also know as the Western Isles is a chain of islands off the West Coast of Scotland.

From the Isle of Lewis in the North to Vatersay in the South, the Outer Hebrides offer a range of islands to discover on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

Barra - Named after a 6th century saint and world famous for its unique beach airport, Traigh Mòr, Barra is a beautiful, tranquil island with a fascinating history. Golden beaches backed by sandy, wild flower-dotted machair surround a more rugged interior. The main centre is the once prosperous herring port of Castlebay, where the MacNeils’ medieval fortress, Kisimul Castle, perches on a rock outcrop off shore.

Benbecula - Rising to 409 feet (124.7 m) on its only hill, Rueval, this low-lying and windswept isle is barely 6 square miles (15.5 km2) in area, carpeted by machair in the west and peaty moorland in the east. Long serving as a stepping-stone between the Uists, Benbecula was Bonnie Charlie’s hiding place before his legendary escape to Skye, disguised as Flora MacDonald’s maid.

Eriskay - The reputation of the tiny, hilly yet wel lpopulated isle of Eriskay extends far beyond its shores. Home to a rare pony breed, once used in the mines, it was here that Bonnie Prince Charlie first stepped onto Scottish soil in 1745. Eriskay is also famed as the site of the sinking of the SS Politician offshore in 1941, which inspired Compton MacKenzie’s novel and the 1949 film, ‘Whisky Galore’.

Harris - Historically and geographically apart from Lewis, Harris is a small region of many contrasts, offering wonderful walks and the beauty of Luskentyre beach on its sandy western shores. Rodel boasts the finest Pre-Reformation church in the Western Isles and the Harris tweeds produced here are world-famous. Although tenacious Gaelic strongholds today, Harris and neighbouring Lewis were the last of the Hebrides to adopt the language.

Lewis - The largest and most northerly of the Hebrides, forming one island with Harris. Most of its wild landscape, rising to 1,800 feet (549 m) in the south, is cloaked in peat bog - hence its Gaelic name ‘Leodhas’, meaning ‘marshy’. The Callanish Standing Stones and well preserved Carloway Broch 5 miles (8 km) to the north stand testament to its occupation since prehistoric times. The port of Stornoway is the only town.

Mingulay, Berneray and Pabbay - At the south tip of the Hebrides, these three uninhabited Bishop’s Isles, swathed in white sandy beaches and flowerscattered machair, are awe-inspiring from the sea. Around Berneray 600 feet (183 m) cliffs, nested by thousands of seabirds, tower up dramatically from the sea. In the north, the Lewisian gneiss ‘Hermit Island’ of Pabbay, settled by an early Christian community, as its Old Norse name implies, is an ideal spot on which to land.

St Kilda - The last 36 Gaelic-speaking residents of St Kilda evacuated the main island of Hirta at their own request in 1930, thereby ending some 5,000 years of continuous settlement. Behind them they left a deserted village that survives today as an outdoor museum, roamed by Soay sheep. Renowned for its awe-inspiring bird cliffs and stacs, St Kilda’s remote and exposed Atlantic location makes visits weather dependent. The archipelago is now a double UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Shiant Isles - Privately owned by the Nicolson family since 1937, the Shiant Isles are geologically outliers of Skye, ringed by basalt rocks, reminiscent of Staffa and the Giant’s Causeway, that teem with thousands of seabirds. Mythically haunted by kelpies, the isles are a renowned wildlife haven for common seals, basking sharks, puffin, herring gull, oyster catcher, eider, shag and many more.

The Uists - A paradise for walkers, the tranquil Uists abound in geological and historical contrasts. The low-lying bird-haven of North Uist, scattered with green-blue lochans, is Norse and Protestant by tradition, and a world apart from the Catholic and Gaelic stronghold of South Uist. The second-largest of the Outer Isles, South Uist’s softer, undulating landscape is carpeted in flower-decked machair and fringed by dunes.

Vatersay - The most southerly of the inhabited Outer Isles, Vatersay is sliced in two by a narrow bar of sand and machair. With dramatic beaches, spectacular wildlife and a history dating from the Bronze Age, this beautiful isle has much to offer. The population of just over 70 residents is centred mainly around Vatersay town in the south.