Apologies for waiting so long to write this review, the time got away from me. Our trip to the Outer Hebrides Islands was the stuff off fairytales. This was, indeed, a trip of a lifetime--and we are so happy we did it. Our guide Paul was a class act and a quiet, gentle force of nature and knowledge. (Also a man with a great sense of humor.) What a cool person, we felt so fortunate that he was our guide. He never made anyone feel slow, had a way of hanging back and chatting should one fall behind or be really jet lagged how we were on those first days. Somehow he also kept track of the front runners--as two of the hikers were runners! He really worked with the weather and our love of hiking long hikes, and he was able to tailor the trip to where we'd find the most sun and the most fun each day!! It was so obvious our guide loved the nature and the history of the area. He was dedicated to wilderness conservation and education, and his true joy was spotting the animals that live on these stunning islands and in the waters and sharing them all with us. For most of the days, our group saw no other groups hiking. It was just us, the sea, the wind, the eagles, the views and the wild, beautiful Hebrides. It was perfect. The Outer Hebrides has this special moonscape environment that is easy to fall in love with. The long-long hikes up peaks were incredible (one day we went from peak to peak to reach 4 full peaks total!!!). Our guide led us up past dreamy lochs that later led to views leading out into the far open sea. He took us on the hikes where we were surprised to find empty, untouched white sand beaches. We did some of the Hebridean way where we stood on steep ocean cliffs and watched nesting shorebirds. Each day, I would think: I've seen everything there is to see, and our guide would show us yet another surprising landscape feature that just blew us away, or he'd get us into a charming pub or the cutest coffee shops to warm up. We went to the standing stones---two different sets of standing stones--on the same day, and ahh, what can I say about the them beyond they were so cool and we were able to hike to them, and through them and really hear and feel the history that we were standing in while Paul told us about them. The Black house village was also great. When the wind and rain was such we could not go out on the boat, our guide flipped up the schedule and chose the rainiest day to show us the touristy things so we did not miss out on hiking. We also learned about Harris Tweed and quickly toured a Gin distillery. Paul also had us goofing off in the van singing songs, learning bands like Flogging Molly--lots of Glaswegian indie bands--and our new favorites, Peat and Diesel. Hello. We're big fans now. Because 'That's how we do it in the Western Isles.' The hiking was a lot of work--our group hiked much further than what was on the online 'brochure' each day, and we loved every second of it. I'd like to encourage everyone who is thinking about this trip to do this. If you love to hike--this is the trip for you. If I had something to tell future hikers on one of these trips it would be to not take the packing list lightly--you do need the waterproof pants, a thicker Gortex type shell jacket (not just a puny thin raincoat), and nice waterproof boots. As well as--you do need the hiking poles to navigate the heather (which is kind of bouncy and fun to walk on, but it will work muscles you never knew you had). That said, every second and every aching muscle will be worth it. To sit and have lunch next to an empty loch or a waterfall, watching seabirds hunt, or to find a white sand beach where you can watch Orca whales spouting, and to be followed by a family of seals for over an hour while you hike on the cliffs--even if it rains and is windy some--you will be warm and happy. Because, there's not bad days in Scotland, only bad gear. (So said our guide and we all had the gear, therefore we all had perfect days). That said, you also need more sunscreen than you'd think. We went in May and the sun was really out and blaring each day except for one. We even had a day where some of the group jumped into the clear water and did a swim. It's a constant 'layers-on to layers-off' situation, but you will need ALL that is recommended. Above all--and part of our highlights was how we were happy to have chosen the trip that had one basecamp instead of hotel hopping. We wanted that immersive experience to really connect to the Hebrides and the other hikers whom we did not know yet. The 'one basecamp lodging' was special. Meeting the other hikers and getting to form fun relationships and friendships with them and with our guide Paul exceeded what we'd hoped--they were all simply wonderful. I'd also like to state that more than half of the group had already done multiple trips with Wilderness Scotland, and that we've exchanged numbers and hope that one day they will all come hike with us in Colorado. The old hunting lodge as a place to stay was above and beyond--right on a long loch, with a formal dining room and living room with cozy couches that overlooked all of this beauty. A few times sea eagles flew past the windows, and the baby sheep were out there dashing around and being adorable while we ate as though the whole animal show had been set up just for us. The food was beyond delicious--how to describe it? It was very 'country-luxury' and also really fun to carve all of that fresh meat--giant leg of lamb, a prime rib, chicken of my dreams--on and on it was so good. Don't think you'll lose weight on this trip because there is desert and these people should be famous chefs. The food was hearty and exactly the fuel we needed to hike all day the next day and the next. The vegans were happy, my vegetarian friend had enough to eat as well, and I truly don't know how the lodge managers pulled it off. They were also so wonderful. Anyhow, I hope this is enough of a review. I am already planning my next trip with Wilderness Scotland (pestering my husband). I can't thank you all enough for the perfect memories that we get to keep in our hearts now because of all of your hard work on our behalf. Can't wait to hopefully get to go again sometime. Give our best to the lovely dear chefs, to Mad Maggie and of course to 'sexy Malcom'. We will never forget them. xo xo xox Annie (And Mary)
Accommodation & Food
(Oops. I put a long review of all in one--see that for the compliments to the perfect lodging).
Paul was our guide for the Outer Hebrides. See my comments in the first comment. Will say it again: Literally--Paul is a perfect person all around the best.