National Geographic Traveller (UK)




Start point: Barra • End point: Stornoway • Distance travelled: 137 miles • Average length: 10 days

Some of Scotland’s finest scenery lies far off its western coast, across the crashing waters of the Minch strait on the fringes of Europe. If the climate were warmer, the Outer Hebrides would surely be overrun with sunseekers, home as they are to white sand beaches that could stand in for the Caribbean. Instead, with the average summer high a cool 16C, this 130-mile-long string of islands remains quiet year-round — and fiercely traditiona­l.

The archipelag­o is the last stronghold of the Scottish Gaelic language, once the dominant tongue throughout most of Scotland. It sets the tone for encounters with islanders still engaged in traditiona­l crofting, fishing and weaving, producing the world-famous Harris tweed — still handwoven using island-spun wool — and some of the tastiest seafood.

This is a journey to take your time over, making diversions to local art galleries and near-hidden Neolithic sites. Start by flying from Glasgow to Barra, then hop between South Uist, North Uist, Harris and Lewis via ferry and causeway, eventually flying back from Stornoway. Along the way, the road glides above the Atlantic, ribbons around rocky bays and hugs the foot of lofty, heatherclo­aked mountains.



This beach, on the northern tip of Barra, is the only one in the world to double as a runway for scheduled flights. Begin your Hebridean adventure with a memorable touchdown, watching the sands rushing up to meet you as you descend over the Atlantic. Pick up a vehicle from Car Hire Hebrides and drive the 20 minutes to the main village, Castlebay. Its huddle of homes gazes out at Kisimul Castle, a fortress atop an islet and the only medieval castle remaining in the Outer Hebrides. historicen­


Take the ferry from Castlebay to Lochboisda­le, on South Uist, then drive 50 minutes to North Uist and check in to Langass Lodge, a former shooting lodge. Pull on some boots for a twomile circular trail, taking in the 5,000-year-old Barpa Langais chambered cairn, Pobull Fhinn stone circle and Beinn Langais hill. North Uist is slung so low that the latter’s 300ft summit rewards you with a panorama of peatland and sinewy sea lochs. langasslod­


Continue north via road and ferry to Leverburgh, on the island of Harris, your base for the next couple of days. This is the departure point for day trips to the St Kilda archipelag­o, which rises sharply from the water 40 miles to the west. Once home to a thriving community, it now stands abandoned, the traditiona­l Hebridean blackhouse­s gently crumbling. While it’s officially uninhabite­d, some life remains here, with almost a million seabirds — including the UK’s largest colony of puffins — cloaking the sheer cliffs and enormous sea stacks. kildacruis­


Starting around 30 minutes’ drive north of Leverburgh, the Golden Road is hailed as one of the isles’ best drives. Clinging to Harris’s eastern coast, its single track loops around sea lochs, the waterline occasional­ly broken by seals’ glossy crowns. Check out local art at Skoon Gallery & Studio and Finsbay Gallery and make time for the Harris tweed exhibition in Drinishade­r to learn about the beloved cloth. finsbaygal­ harristwee­dandknitwe­


Swap Harris for Lewis with an hour-long drive north from Drinishade­r to the Calanais Standing Stones, a cross-shaped stone circle older than Stonehenge. We’ll probably never know why they were erected here some 5,000 years ago — astronomic­al observator­y? Site of Neolithic worship? — but the intrigue has contribute­d to myths and legends.

The mountains and lochs around it make it all a glorious sight.


Drive another 30 minutes to get to this blissfully quiet beach, then hike across miles of pristine sands washed by teal waters to work up an appetite. Lunch is at Uig Sands restaurant: nab a window seat and order the Uig Lodge smoked salmon, then linger a night or two in one of four chic bedrooms, all of which have private patios and views across the bay.

HOW TO DO IT: Hebridean Hopscotch has a five-day Outer Hebrides Fly-Drive Island Hopper itinerary from £899 per person, including flights from Glasgow and car hire. hebrideanh­ visitouter­

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 ?? ?? The Calanais Standing Stones, on Lewis, were erected 5,000 years ago Left: Traigh Mhòr beach, on
Barra, doubles as a runway
The Calanais Standing Stones, on Lewis, were erected 5,000 years ago Left: Traigh Mhòr beach, on Barra, doubles as a runway

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