Last summer I arrived in Outer Hebrides, further north than the Inner Hebrides which can be reached through the ‘road to the Isles’. The Outer Hebrides are a totally different matter.
From a geological point of view, the Outer Hebrides are a small part of the American continent which for some reason ended up in this part of the world. I dreamed of this islands for a long time, since I deeply love the northern isolated lands. If you share my taste for travels, this islands will leave you speechless, but don’t start your journey without proper preparation: being so ‘outer’ and ‘extreme’, the Outer Hebrids are a very peculiar place.
A possible way to get here is by boat. I left from Ullapool, in the Northern Highlands, and after three hours I arrived in Stornoway, the largest town of Outer Hebrids… well, actually a large fishermen village with about 8000 inhabitants. The town is located on the isle of Lewis, the biggest of all Outer Hebrids. On the island there is also an airport with direct connections to Edinburgh, although the boat journey is very enjoyable and a two-way ticket costs only 38 pounds. From Ullapool there are two daily ferries.
We are still in Scotland, so European travellers won’t need any visa. The common language is gaelic and in Stornoway there are summer courses lasting from one week to three months.
To roam Lewis you may rent a car, but I suggest you to use the efficient public service or walk. Beside the two main roads, there is a a pattern of paths and dirt patches. About the buses: often there isn’t any clear bus station and if you signal to the driver from the road he will stop and allow you on board.
The ‘rover’ tickets cover several journeys and are really convenient, but on Sunday you won’t find public means. Actually, the whole island is off on Sunday, since the people here strictly abide to the religious norms. The only business open on Sunday is a service station in Stornoway and just for three hours during the morning… so you better plan carefully your travel.
But what are Lewis’ main attractions?
Let’s start with Callanish, the most beautiful stone circle I have ever seen. If possible, choose a working day to visit it and you will encounter less people. An enjoyable path starts from here towards two more ancient stone circles. Walking on the peat is a strange sensation. I suggest you to use trekking sandals or shoes: the peat moss is soft and wet and your sneakers won’t do a proper job.
If you are here on Sunday you should definitely go for a trekking on the castle grounds through the paths stretching from Stonoway Castle’s park. But don’t forget to spend a visit to the tourism office before to take a map, or you may easily get lost. When I did it, I prolonged my way until Loch Arnish to enjoy its stunning landscape.
Another unmissable experience is Gearrannan, the blackhouse village. The blackhouses are Lewis’s most ancient buildings, characterized by straw roofs and rocky walls.
No journey to the Hebrids can be complete without a good share of stunning beaches and in Lewis there are many of them. My choice has been Eoropie, in the north if the island, one of UK’s windiest corners!
The Outer Hebrids need to be explored slowly, walking and enjoying the soft earth surrounding the dry smiles of the inhabitants, proud and resolute people, used to few visitors and happy for their lives in this corner at the end of the world.