From beautiful beaches to historic blackhouses, picturesque harbours to crumbling forts, there’s an Instagram-worthy shot around every bend in the road in the Outer Hebrides. Here are some of my favourites, which might just inspire you to visit the Outer Hebrides…
1. The beaches on the Isle of Harris.
How could I choose just one? Scarista, Luskentyre, Seilebost, Nisabost… I love them all. Fine white sand that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean, crystal clear turquoise water, and not a soul to be seen: there’s a reason these beaches are regularly hailed as some of the most beautiful in the world. I often tell people that driving along the road on the west coast of Harris is dangerous – because all you want to do is look out the window at the landscape, and you end up taking your eyes off the road a bit more often than is wise!
2. The Callanish Standing Stones
Forget Stonehenge: the Callanish Stones on the west coast of Lewis are much more impressive – and even older, dating back 5000 years. My favourite time to visit is just before sunset, when the cross-shaped stone circle feels even more atmospheric. Bonus: the cafe at the visitor centre here makes delicious homemade brownies with ice cream, among other tasty menu items.
3. Stornoway Harbour
Stornoway Harbour celebrates its official 150th anniversary this year, although of course boats have been coming and going from the capital of the Western Isles since the days of the Vikings. It’s a lovely location for a stroll, breathing in the salty air and taking in the myriad colours of the fishing boats and yachts that bob up and down on the water.
4. St Kilda.
Lying 40 miles to the west of the Outer Hebrides, the isolated islands of St Kilda are a dual World Heritage site, home to the highest sea cliffs in Britain and over one million birds, including the country’s largest colony of puffins. St Kilda was once also home to a community who lived in Village Bay on Hiort, the main island. The last of the islanders were evacuated in 1930, and the abandoned homes and dramatic landscape are now a poignant place to visit – my journey to St Kilda with Sea Harris in 2014 was a highlight of my year (and dare I say, all my travels to date!).
5. The Dun Carloway Broch.
Dun Carloway is the name given to these hilltop remains of an old fortification, an Iron Age Broch; this is one of the best-preserved in the country. As children we hurried in and out of the passageways as if we were in an adventure book, and the appeal doesn’t wear off as the years go on. Located on the west side of Lewis, it’s one of the first places I take friends who are visiting from the mainland, and the novelty never wanes.
6. The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village
The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village is a unique mix of past and present, pairing traditional island blackhouse exteriors with modern amenities inside. There are whole houses for hire, perfect for families on holiday, large flocks of friends, or parties of locals booking the space for an overnight escape (I can vouch for the fact that the American-style fridge-freezers can stock plenty of bubbly for special celebrations). There’s a small museum here too, but a wander through the beautifully restored village is completely free.
7. Bayble Beach.
Bayble Beach in Lewis is a place close to my heart: a place where I first learned to build sandcastles and swim in the sea; met friends after school during our teenage years; and took brisk walks before the family roast dinner on Sunday. Whether rain or shine, the view out to Bayble Island is a lovely one, and on clear days you can even see the hills of the Scottish mainland in the distance. The local community cafe, Cafe Roo, is only a short drive away if you need a pick-me-up in the form of cake, coffee, or a hearty Scottish breakfast roll.
8. St. Moluag’s Church.
St Moluag’s Church is found at the end of a grassy path that passes by someone’s home in the lovely village of Eoropie, in Ness on the Isle of Lewis. Although it’s still used during the summer for Episcopal church services and local weddings, St Moluag’s remains something of a mystery: no-one is quite sure who founded this ancient place of worship. Whatever the building’s origins, it’s an imposing site as you approach on foot, and well worth a visit.
9. Bostadh Beach.
Bostadh Beach, located on the island of Great Bernera (just to the west of the Isle of Lewis), is something of a hidden gem – partly because of the long winding, often-single track road that leads there. I visited for the first time in years last summer, and was suitably stunned at Bostadh’s beauty.
10. Uig Bay
The white sands of the beach by Ardroil stretch so far that there are times you can’t even see the sea (it can be a slightly surreal experience, especially if you’re the only person there). On top of the soft sand and brooding vistas of the Uig hills is an intriguing history: this is the spot where the Lewis Chessmen were discovered in 1831, frightening the crofter who found them into thinking he had stumbled across ‘the little people’, or fairies!
11. The beaches at Dal Beg and Dal Mor
These two neighbouring beaches on the west side of Lewis bear the full force of the Atlantic, making them great spots for surfers (and those who, like me, prefer to watch the waves from a safe distance). Dal Beg (pictured) is also my go-to picnic spot after picking up a sandwich (or two) from the fabulous 40 North.
12. The ‘Narrows’ and streets of Stornoway.
When the sun shines, the streets of Stornoway look positively Mediterranean. I recommend grabbing a coffee and cake from Delights (and having a chat with the lovely ladies behind the counter) before wandering through the ‘Narrows’ (the streets in the centre of the town) and browsing the various shops and local businesses that line them.
13. The rural beauty of the Pentland Road.
The views as you drive south west along the Pentland Road are beautiful in that bleak, dramatic way of open moorland, stretching in shades of brown and green as far as the eye can see, the Harris and Uig hills visible on the horizon. It’s a narrow single track road that acts as shortcut between Stornoway and the west side of Lewis – if you can navigate its curves, bumps, and blind summits, that is!
14. The Port of Ness.
I love the Port of Ness, a pretty little village that overlooks the harbour of the same name. In summer it’s a peaceful spot, with colourful boats tied to the concrete maze of the pier, but in winter it’s a different story, when high winds and waves sweep over the walls. The pier is also where the ‘guga hunters’ arrive each autumn, after their stormy sail back from the remote island rock of Sula Sgeir, continuing a centuries-old tradition of harvesting and eating gannet meat, called ‘guga’ in Gaelic.
15. Tarbert, Isle of Harris
Tarbert, the tiny main town in Harris, is a picturesque place whether seen from street level or high up on the hill above the harbour. Stop into the local grocers for the well-known scones made the old-school island way, or have lunch at Hotel Hebrides (I’m particularly partial to their Stornoway black pudding fritters). As you read this, the first distillery in Harris is currently under construction in the town; their first malt will be appropriately named ‘The Hearach‘, Gaelic for an inhabitant of Harris.