My Islands in the Sun; Come Rain or Shine, the Outer Hebrides, with Their Mythical Names, Magical Landscapes and Unique Way of Life, Are Scotland's Natural Gems

Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland), June 30, 2013 | Go to article overview

My Islands in the Sun; Come Rain or Shine, the Outer Hebrides, with Their Mythical Names, Magical Landscapes and Unique Way of Life, Are Scotland's Natural Gems


Byline: CAT HARVEY

There is something about embracing the great outdoors in Scotland that's liberating, exhilarating and often a leap into the unknown, given the unpredictable nature of the weather.

However, the Outer Hebrides are worth the effort in any season. As long as you pack for all conditions, you'll have a wonderful time, thanks to the friendly locals, the fascinating culture, the ever–changing landscape and the best beaches you'll ever paddle on.

Situated off the west coast, the Outer Hebrides – an archipelago with more than 40 islands – stretch 130 miles from Barra in the south to Lewis in the north.

Many of the main islands are linked by causeways but, where there's a bigger expanse of sea, a CalMac ferry waits to connect you to your next destination.

Along with basking sharks, dolphins, seals, eagles, otters, craggy mountains, golden shell beaches and wild flowers, I witnessed a treat – five days of glorious back–to–back sunshine.

These islands in the sunshine are probably the most naturally stunning places you will ever have the pleasure to visit and, because this is Visit Scotland's year of Natural Scotland, you'll find plenty of well–mapped hikes, nature trails and cycle routes throughout. I started my journey on the island of Barra, a five–hour ferry trip from Oban – but don't let that put you off, the route is gorgeous.

Barra is only eight miles long by four miles wide – but it was recently voted the most beautiful island in the UK.

Only 1300 people live here but there's a fabulous sense of community. It's rugged yet rural with lush green fields and stunning bays with white sand beaches.

Halaman Bay is the perfect place for a picnic or to watch the sun slowly dropping into the horizon.

I stayed in the Grianamul B&B in Castlebay, the main town. Run by Ronnie and Ann MacNeil for nearly 30 years, it's a perfect base, spotless, friendly and with lovely breakfasts.

Kisimul Castle, which sits in the bay, was built in 1039 and is the ancestral home of the Clan McNeil.

For less than PS5, you can take a boat trip to explore. You could also join a sea–kayak tour with Clearwater Paddling to get a closer look. A night out in the Castlebay bar is legendary, particularly if local band The Vatersay boys are playing. Don't plan an early rise the following day!

Plane–spotting the Flybe flights that land on the white beach runway when the tide is out – the only airport like this in the world – is also a treat.

The adjoining island of Vatersay is also worth a visit for the glorious beaches and hiking.

From Barra, the Calmac Ferry takes just 40 minutes to Eriskay, famous for its wild ponies and the SS Politician, which sank off the coastline in 1941 with 260,000 bottles of whisky.

Another causeway joins Eriskay to South Uist, where I stayed at the 17th–century Polochar Inn.

Family–run with elegant, boutique–styled rooms, it has chirpy staff and fabulous food.

Thousands of sea lochs attract anglers from all over the world to South Uist but I wanted to walk some of the Machair Way, a well–signposted route along the west coast and the machair (low–lying, fertile land, rich with wild flowers). …

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My Islands in the Sun; Come Rain or Shine, the Outer Hebrides, with Their Mythical Names, Magical Landscapes and Unique Way of Life, Are Scotland's Natural Gems
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