There are many beautiful beaches including Luskentyre on the isle of Harris, as well as numerous lochs, both fresh and seawater. Peat moors and pastureland occupy the western edges of the islands. It is a great place to enjoy a slower pace of life by taking in the scenery, checking out the Iron Age ruins, and doing a bit of hiking.
A Bit of History on The Outer Hebrides of Scotland
Originally settled in the Mesolithic era, there is a large diversity of prehistoric sites scattered about. For example, the Callanish Stones date back to 2900 BC. The area has a mixture of Gaelic and Norse origins.
The prehistoric structures on the islands existed long before the Greek and Roman writers composed their stories about the area. For four hundred (400) years the area was part of the Norse kingdom of the Sudreyiar.
The Treaty of Paris in 1266 transferred the sovereignty of the Outer Hebrides to Scotland. This resulted in the area being controlled by clan chiefs such as the MacNeils, MacDonalds, MacLeods, and the Mackenzies.
Because of the harmful effect of the Highland Clearances, the evictions of tenants in the Scottish Highlands and Islands in the 19th century, many communities declined in population and have only recently leveled off. Currently, the majority of the land is under local control.
Sea transport is an important part of this area and many ships have fallen under the grip of the stormy seas. With today’s modern navigation systems the area is less hazardous.
A Few Interesting Facts about The Outer Hebrides of Scotland
- The main language is Scottish Galic with English being predominant in a few areas
- The population is around 27,000 on the fifteen (15) inhabited islands
- There are about fifty (50) uninhabited islands
- There are several prehistoric structures dotted about the islands
- Commercial activity is comprised of fishing, weaving, and crofting
- Several ferry services operate between the Scottish mainland and the islands
- Local culture is influenced by music, sport, and religion
- The natural environment is protected by some conservation areas
- The major islands are North Uist, Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, and Lewis & Harris
- Lewis & Harris is the 3rd largest in the British Isles and the largest in Scotland
- Three (3) of Scotland’s forty (40) natural scenic areas (NSAs) are located on the Outer Hebrides
- Most of the archipelago is protected including the surrounding waters and islands
- Aquatic plant on South Uist is a European Protected Species
- The climate is cool and temperate although rather mild for such a northerly location as the North Atlantic Current influences it. Average temperatures are 6 °C (44 °F) in January and 14 °C (57 °F) in summer.
- Inter-island and mainland travel are supported by airports in Barra, Benbecula, and Stornoway. At Barra, the flight times often change due to the tides, as the runway is underwater during high tide.
- There is a bus service in the Broadbay area of Lewis
- Because of the tides and wind, there are numerous shipwreck sites
- The islands have both Presbyterian and Roman Catholic influences
- Gaelic music is widespread throughout the islands
- Popular activities include mountain biking, golf, fishing, canoeing, rugby, football (soccer), kayaking, hiking, swimming, and shinty The Askernish Golf Course is located on South Uist.
Things to Do on The Outer Hebrides of Scotland
* Gearrannon Blackhouse Village — located on the Isle of Lewis, accommodations are available in a restored Hebridean blackhouse at Gearranan Village where you can learn about the hand making of the Harris Tweed, crofting, and peat cutting. Inhabited until the early 1070s, these houses with thatched roofs and drystone walls now provide private cottages and communal dorms for guests. This is a great place to cycle, fish, and hike around the surrounding area. The village has a tweed mill, a gift shop, and a cafe.
* The Callanish/Callanais Stones — built around 2900 BC they are fifteen (15) feet high and quite an imposing sight. It is surmised that they were arranged as a ritualistic site or astronomical observatory. The visitor’s center has a gift shop offering traditional Outer Hebridean products with a cafe that overlooks Loch Roag.
* Castles — the Castle Grounds in Stornoway has the Museum nan Eilean that houses all of the history and culture of the Outer Hebrides. Kisimal is a castle surrounded by the waters of Castle Bay, and at Lews, you can rent a modern room in the castle.
* Isle of Harris Distillery — here you can enjoy local gin and plenty of good food.
* Harris Tweed — of the three (3) remaining Harris Tweed textile factories on the Isle of Harris Carloway Mill is the oldest. By touring the workshops you will discover the entire process from washing, dying, and warping (threads wound into large beams) of the wool with the renowned Orb trademark. These artisans use centuries-old techniques with Victorian machinery and virgin wool.
* Kayaking in the Sea — explore the Harris shoreline on a kayak and discover white sand beaches, coves, the Harris machair wildflowers (May/June best time), and sea lochs. You can camp or take a guided day trip
* Check Out the Puffins — St. Kilda, 41 miles (66 km) west of the Outer Hebrides, is the most remote area in the United Kingdom with the largest population of puffins (April to early August best time) in the UK, as well as the largest population of gannets (seabirds) in the world. Take a ferry from the Isle of Harris or the Isle of Skye.
* The Isle of Scalpay — connected to the Isle of Harris by a bridge, and provides for a 5.3 mile (8.5 km) walk where you will experience remarkable views of the Harris mountains, the Eilean Glas lighthouse, and stop for a bit of food and drink in Kennavay, Scalpay’s main town.
* The Quiraing — on the Isle of Skype you can walk the Quiraing, which is a section of the Trotternish Ridge that was formed by large landslides. Start at the village of Staffin and begin your circular 4-mile (7 km) hike experiencing incredible landscapes along the way. Be careful in the rocky areas and some places have huge drop-offs.
* The Talisker Distillery — on the Inner Hebridean Isle of Skye, is the oldest working distillery located in the village of Carbost. It was built in 1830 by two (2) brothers, Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill. You can taste their spicy single malt and other varieties as well as take a tour of their whiskey production process.
* The Fairy Pools — take a 1.5 mile (2.5 km) walk on the Isle of Skye from Carbost down the Black Cullen mountain range past waterfalls and pools created by the River Brittle. The first Fairy Pond is popular for cliff-jumping but wear a wet suit.
* Surfing at Eoropie Beach — on the Isle of Lewis, this beach is also known as Traigh Shanndaigh or Traigh Sanda, and is a great place to surf. Beware that when it’s very windy the undercurrent is very strong and there are no lifeguards. Eoropie Dunes Park has a play center for families and children. The beach has low cliffs and high sand dunes and is great for taking a walk north to the lighthouse or south and discovering several sandy coves. Animals, birds, and flowers inhabit the surrounding machair (low-lying grassy plain).
The Outer Hebrides of Scotland — A Great Adventure
You won’t get a much more remote place filled with scenic beauty like the Outer Hebrides islands. From sea kayaking to exploring ancient sites and relics, there is no shortage of things to do to fill your adventurous spirit.
As far as accommodations are concerned check out Visit Scotland to obtain needed information on hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, guesthouses, and camping. This site also provides information on a variety of subjects related to Scotland.
Many are attracted to the Scottish Highlands to experience Scotland’s beauty, but a handful of wanderers travel forty (40) miles (64 km) off the northwestern coast to the Outer Hebrides to experience the ancient stone circles, plenty of wildlife, untamed beaches, and even whiskey distilleries.
It will be quite an experience and one to give some serious consideration to.
Happy travels to all,
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