Written by Louisa Arbuckle at McKinlay Kidd
Positioned on the edge of Europe, the Outer Hebrides are at once enthralling and elusive. The abundance of historical sites, breathtaking beaches and a unique way of life make Scotland’s Western Isles an awe-inspiring destination.
While reachable by ferry from various ports of Scotland, fly-drive travel maximises your time on the islands and allows you to experience the magic of landing on the beach at Barra’s one-of-a-kind airport. In response to demand from customers, McKinlay Kidd offer one-way car hire from tip to toe (or toe to tip) of this fascinating string of islands. Following a flight of only an hour from central Scotland, pick up your car and drive through the Uists, Harris and all the way up to the remote headland at the tip of Lewis.
Here’s our selection of destinations not to be missed along the way:
Land on the sand at Barra airport
Flybe plane at Barra airport © McKinlay Kidd
Voted the most spectacular place in the world to land in an aircraft in 2011, Tràigh Mhòr (Big Beach) airport is unsurprisingly a bucket (& spade) list destination for many. After a short flight from Glasgow – with flight times adjusted depending on the tide – experience the awe of landing on a sparkling sandy beach. Air travel will never seem the same again!
RSPB Reserve at Balranald, North Uist
North Uist © McKinlay Kidd
Travel across the Sound of Barra to Eriskay, location of the classic film “Whisky Galore!”, and continue alongside the machair-flanked beaches of South Uist up to Balranald in North Uist. This is a location not to be missed for wildlife enthusiasts and in particular birdwatchers. Listen for the elusive corncrake, and enjoy a secluded walk down to the shore. It’s worth enquiring about the reserve’s guided walks, which take place occasionally throughout the season.
The beaches of Berneray
The beaches of Berneray © McKinlay Kidd
The small isle of Berneray, just two miles by three, is a much over-looked destination, despite being the site of the ferry port for Harris. Spend a little while exploring this tiny island and its magnificent beaches. Meander along the three-mile expanse of West Beach, where you are likely to find more cows than people, and the smaller East Beach, from where you can watch across the white sands and clear sea as the ferry heads over to Harris. Both offer stunning panoramic views to the other nearby islands as well.
St Clement’s Church at Rodel
St Clements Church at Rodel © McKinlay Kidd
Once on Harris, make a stop at Rodel, where you will find the exquisite 15th-century church of St Clement’s, with wonderful medieval tombs and wood carvings. The original church was built around 1500 then rebuilt in 1784. It was last restored in 1873 and today is in the care of Historic Scotland. The church’s main points of interest are three tombs depicting knights in armour and the square tower of the church, a unique architectural feature, rising 20m above the floor of the nave. You can climb part way up it by way of a narrow staircase.
Butt of Lewis
Butt of Lewis © McKinlay Kidd
From Rodel, you’ll be treated to some of the islands’ most spectacular drives as you head all the way up to the tip of Lewis. Take the so-called “Golden Road”, a very twisty (and mainly single-track) route on the south-eastern side of South Harris, where you will find several small establishments selling the world-famous Harris Tweed. Continue on the long drive up the coast of Lewis all the way to the Butt of Lewis – an impressive and lonely headland where the next stop is Newfoundland! We recommend timing your journey to arrive at dusk, when the majestic views will be all the more dramatic.
McKinlay Kidd offer unique holidays and short breaks across Scotland, Ireland and England, including self-drive, fly-drive and train touring. Awarded ‘AITO Tour Operator of the Year 2016’ based on customer reviews, McKinlay Kidd are dedicated to helping independently-minded visitors get the most out of their holiday. Their flexible approach allows customers to add personal touches to holidays featured on their website or request a tailor-made proposal.
McKinlay Kidd are offering 2018 holidays at 2017 prices if deposit paid before 31st October 2017 – quote Bradt2017 when booking.
Discover more of the Outer Hebrides with our guidebook, which has 10% off in our online store: