The Outer Hebrides of Scotland

by Donald MacDonald

Not too far off the west coast of Scotland can be found the interesting group of over 200 islands known as the Outer Hebrides. To the locals they are known as ‘na h-Eileanan Siar’ as the language spoken by the majority is Gaelic. While there are over two hundred islands only a very small percentage is actually populated. The main islands are, from south to north, Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Isle of Harris and the Isle of Lewis. For a number of years now the islands have become a popular vacation destination and the income is now crucial to the local economy.

Further out, and separated by the Minch, from the Isle of Skye, in the Inner Hebrides, the islands look out across the Atlantic ocean. The Atlantic has played a major role in the development of the islands, it has provided the fish for the menfolk to catch but it’s main role has been in the shaping of the spectacular coastline.

It would sometimes seem that there are archaeological discoveries made every year in the Outer Hebrides. While this is something of an exaggeration it is pretty close to the truth as the islands are dotted with numerous examples of ancient homesteads, ruins, burial chambers, stone age monuments and iron age forts and houses. The most famous site is the incredible stone circle, or standing stones, of Calanais on the Isle of Lewis (also know and the Callanish Standing Stones).

The Outer Hebrides are also of great interest to geologists and botanists. The unique flora and fauna found in the Hebrides attracts many each year. Unfortunately many species are in danger of extinction through the actions of man. The worst offence is the introduction of species not known in the islands and most recently the introduction of hedgehogs has led to severe problems as they feed off the eggs of rare birds. Strangely there is the machair which can only really exist with the help of man. This land is enriched with calcium and other elements by the dressings of shell sand swept inland continually. Used as farm land for potatoes and the likes the machair is often covered in nothing but a blanket of wild flowers.

Although many consider the interior of the islands rather boring this is simply untrue. Although the interior of the Isle of Lewis consists mainly of flat and barren peat lands there are also a great many interesting and beautiful lochs and lochans. Maybe the interiors seem boring due to the fact that the islands coastline is so astounding. Along the west coast of the Outer Hebrides are some of the most beautiful beaches to be found in the United Kingdom (and some say Europe).

The beaches of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland are amongst the finest to be found in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. They are to be found all along the west coast (the east coast is mainly rocky inlets) with the vast majority found along the south west coasts of Lewis and Harris and along the west coast of South Uist.

All across the Outer Hebrides are superb places to enjoy a wide variety of sports. While golf, fishing and hunting remain as popular as ever newer sports are becoming increasingly important. Surfing and other sea & wind related sports such as wind surfing and wind carting have recently become extremely popular. However, when you visit you will notice just how popular cycling vacations are here.

Visiting the Outer Hebrides has never been easier. Not so long ago it took many hours to reach the islands but it is now possible to fly to the islands or travel via a roll on roll off ferry which run regularly from a number of ports along the west coast of Scotland. Accommodation in the area is amongst the finest you are likely to have experienced. The Highlands and Islands of Scotland are world renowned for their hospitality. Accommodation ranges from first class hotels, superb bed and breakfast guest houses and lodges to excellent self catering properties. With most accommodation available online booking a vacation could not be easier.

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