The Remote Islands of the Outer Hebrides

by Donald MacDonald

The Outer Hebrides are a fascinating group of over 200 islands which can be found off the west coast of Scotland. Gaelic is the native language of the area and the main inhabited islands are those called the Isle of Lewis, Isle of Harris, North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra plus there are a number of smaller inhabited islands such as the Isle of Scalpay off Harris. In recent years there has been a continued growth in the interest in the Hebrides and tourism is now a major element of 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 seem that wherever you turn in the Outer Hebrides there appears an archaeological site. There are certainly many unusual mounds, lumps and bumps which could easily be ancient burial chambers and each year more and more sites are unearthed and documented. One of the most famous sites is to be found in the small village of Calanais on the Isle of Lewis. The standing stones there rather than forming a stone circle they have and inner circle and four avenues making a shape rather like a cross or crucifix.

The Outer Hebrides are also home to some rather unique flora and fauna which, in many cases, is extremely rare and in some endangered. One of the most interesting types of ground found in the Outer Hebrides is that which is called machair. Machair is a patch of coastal ground just in from a beach which is continually dusted with fine shell sand which is nutrient rich. During the spring and summer months the machair is awash with bountiful and colorful wild flowers and, sadly, large numbers of rabbits.

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 are truly astounding and many consider them to be amongst the greatest in Scotland, the United Kingdom and some even believe them to be the finest beaches in Europe. You will find the beaches along the west coast of the islands (the east coast is rocky), with the best beaches being to the south.

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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