Written by Mark Rowe
The key to exploring the Outer Hebrides is not to overdo things. The island chain may only run 130 miles or so from north to south as the crow flies, but any attempt to ‘do’ the whole lot in one brief visit is likely to leave you in need of a further holiday to recover from the tiring driving – and you will miss a good deal along the way.
To help you on your way, we’ve come up with the perfect itinerary for a week’s holiday on the islands.
Day 1 – Stornoway
Lews Castle is one of Stornoway’s main attractions © Kenny Lam, Visit Scotland
For most people, Stornoway is their first and usually fleeting port of call in the Outer Hebrides. The majority of visitors drive off the ferry and disappear into Lewis’s hinterland but there is certainly enough to keep you here for a day, perhaps more. An excellent new museum of island life has injected some impetus to the town’s appeal, there’s a working quayside, shop-lined streets overlooking the marina and a Victorian pedestrian quarter. Much of this modest bustle is overlooked by the mock-Tudor Lews Castle, around which the River Creed meanders its way into the Minch.
Day 2 – the northwest coast
Blackhouses such as this are characteristic of Lewis’s northwest coast © Kenny Lam, Visit Scotland
The northwest coast of Lewis is the most visited part of the Outer Hebrides, visitors flocking – a relative term here – to the island’s chief attraction, the standing stones of Callanish. Archaeology is a dominant theme, as blackhouses, brochs and other standing stones are scattered along a coastline also characterised by beautiful secluded beaches. At the end of the A857, Lewis tapers to a conclusion in the sprawling township of Ness, with its landmark lighthouse and edge-of-the-world atmosphere.
Days 3 and 4 – Uig
Sea stacks are a common sight at Mangersta © Laurie Campbell Photography, www.lauriecampbell.com
Tucked away in the southwest, Uig is one of the island’s great secrets. Much hillier than Lewis, it has a bit of everything: a mountainous skyline, staggeringly beautiful beaches, some great food, fine walks and important archaeological sites that emerge like apparitions on the vast marshy moors. Places to explore include the Valtos headland, Uig sands (scene of the discovery of the Lewis chessmen), the isolated and often violent scenery around Gallan Head on the Àird peninsula, and the southerly reaches of the B8011 which drift away through a series of scattered townships and breathtaking cliffs around Mangersta to road’s remote end at desolate Mealasta.
Days 5 and 6 – Huishnish peninsula
The view over the North Harris Hills © Laurie Campbell Photography, www.lauriecampbell.com
It’s a mighty 14 miles along the single track B887 that explores the Hushinish peninsula. The journey’s end is the beach and tiny community of the same name, but there is much to detain you along the way. Stop off at the old whaling station of Bunavoneadar, the minuscule township of Miabhaig, location for a gorgeous and spectacular walk due north up the glen to the North Harris Eagle Observatory and the magnificent Amhuinnsuidhe Castle. Spend Day 6 exploring the gorgeous scenery and stunning views offered by the surrounding North Harris Hills.
Day 7 – the Shiant Isles
The puffin colony on the Shiant Isles is quite spectacular © Laurie Campbell Photography, www.lauriecampbell.com
Head back to Stornoway, but before getting on the ferry home take a boat over to the Shiant Isles. These are one of the great bird stations of the northern hemisphere, with an estimated 250,000 seabirds nesting here, including puffin, guillemot, razorbill, shag and great skua. Many people say that the puffin colony here is even more spectacular than that of St Kilda.
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