Exploring The Outer Hebrides – A Journey in Pictures
Posted on Sep 01, 2017 by Neil Irvine
An Unforgettable Wildlife Adventure in the Outer Hebrides
I was lucky enough to experience our Wildlife Adventure: The Outer Hebrides and St Kilda tour in the middle of July and came back to the office with a new perspective on our adventure holidays and also a lovely Scottish suntan! Join me on a Wildlife Adventure – the Outer Hebrides.
Arrival in Stornoway
As soon as we departed from the ferry our sightseeing tour began! We explored many places in Lewis on the way to our hotel in Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris. Our guide Malcolm is an amazing professional with expert knowledge on the various landmarks we explored. He was constantly scanning the sea below and the skies above us for wildlife.
Our first stop was ‘Scotland’s Stonehenge‘ or better known to the locals as the Callanish Stones. The standing stone circles of Callanish are shrouded in historical mystery – it was truly a wondrous experience to be so close to such spectacular ancient construction. As I walked around the site my mind travelled back in time and I could visualise the ancient people of the island surrounding the stones, perhaps preparing for some sort of ritual to the stars, or mapping the solar system.
Part of the fun of visiting historical sites like Callanish was letting my mind delve deep into the mystery and imagining endless possibilities. One theory of the Callanish stones was that ancient people believed they were a circle of giants who had been petrified because they refused to convert to Christianity. As I stood next to the stones I realised how monstrous in size they actually are and I understood why the ancient people held such beliefs.
On the way to the hotel Malcolm saw an eagle flying above the glorious lush green tall grass of Lewis. We stopped to take pictures and catch a closer view with binoculars and scope that Wilderness Scotland provided. As we admired the eagle gliding overhead we were happily surprised to see another eagle invite themselves to the party and swoop in for a territorial battle.
The Hills of Harris
Our invigorating walking adventure through the beautiful Harris terrain started with an exploration of St Clement’s Church in Rodel, which has been restored many times across generations. Catherine Herbert, the Countess of Dumore, was the last to handle a restoration in 1873 before Historic Scotland took over care of the Church.
The Outer Hebrides is one of the last places in Scotland where you can experience Gaelic as a spoken language. Interact with a local resident and they can teach you how to pronounce Gaelic sayings. Thanks to our incredibly knowledgeable guide, Malcolm, I learned that many of the Gaelic names scattered around Harris actually came from the Norse language. You can enjoy a great comedy routine with your fellow travellers trying to guess how to pronounce all the Gaelic and Norse names around the islands!
The interior of the church is awe inspiring and abundant with relics. Stone tablets contained some of the most intricate carvings I had ever seen and their detailed design was something to rival the mysterious hieroglyphs of Egypt or the beautiful mosaics of ancient Rome.
I could have explored the Church all day long delving into the amazing history behind this incredible monument. At St Clement’s you can learn about the local poets buried in the church grounds, discover symbolism behind the stone carvings and see Alasdair MacLeod’s Tomb – known to be one of the finest 16th century tombs in Scotland.
Our first main walk was a fun journey battling the strong Hebridean winds, or slight breezes as they are affectionately known by the locals. As we climbed uphill we passed a huge herd of sheep, had fun scaling the runrigs (a thin strip of land suitable for growing crops – not to be confused with the famous Scottish Celtic rock group from Skye!) and witnessed a sheep stranded on the cliffside being rescued. It was a challenging first walk but highly rewarding when we reached the summit and were able to gaze at the incredible view. The summit was extremely windy but also felt tremendously exhilarating! I recall thinking “This is about as far away as you can be from busy metropolitan city life.” The wind also provided more fun and games for my fellow travellers – they absolutely loved making shapes and poses against the wind as they enthusiastically snapped photos of each other.
The beautiful Isle of Scalpay has a population of just under 300 residents and until 1997 it could only be reached by boat. We had the pleasure of walking across the bridge from Harris and onto Scalpay with the sun beaming down from the crystal blues sky. It made for a sunny scenic walk to our next destination – Eilean Glas Lighthouse.
Walking along the path towards the lighthouse in the warmth of the sun was a peaceful adventure with a relaxing soundtrack of waves splashing against the rocks.
The lighthouse was an amazing vantage point and we spotted various seabirds, yachts and fishing vessels in the dazzling sea view.
Mini St Kilda
Sadly, the wind was so severe that our scheduled boat trip to St Kilda was cancelled, but our alternative option was an amazing visit to the Shiant (pronounced shant) Isles. The Shaints are east of Harris and its Gaelic name comes from Na h-Eileanan Seunta’ which means ‘enchanted, or holy, Isles’. Often referred to as ‘mini St Kilda’ or ‘little St Kilda,’ the Shiants Isles have a huge population of seabirds and is known to be a puffin colony. The speedboat journey to the Shiant Islands was incredible – zipping across at high speeds in the heat of the sun with a refreshing splash of cool water now and then.
From the boat I had my first breathtaking view of the islands – it was truly a haven for seabirds. Thousand of birds surrounded us, some birds enjoyed bathing in the ripples of the sea water and while hundreds more dotted the cliffs of the islands.
The Shiant Isles have a significant number of razorbills, northern fulmars, great skuas to name a few and these isles are ‘a must visit’ for any wildlife enthusiast.
Next we travelled to North Uist from Leverburgh to Bernaray via a scenic ferry journey. Uist is famous for its beaches and we had the absolute pleasure of exploring some of the many spread across the north and the south of Uist.
After a day of walking through sheep filled fields and lush green tall grass we were rewarded with this:
- Sparkling seas, glistening sands and blue skies – visit the alternative Caribbean beaches of Scotland of on one of our Hebridean tours
Discover Scottish Beaches
Meeting Hercules and Listening for Corncrakes
- Learn more about Hercules on Uist on our Outer Hebrides and St Kilda tour
Further along the walk to the next beach we were constantly listening for sounds of Corncrakes on South Uist.
After our walk along the endless beauty of the Machair we arrived at another stunning beach and soaked in the exotic sun.
Along the beach there was an incredible array of bird life enjoying the tropical day by cooling in the sea water. The picture above doesn’t do the scene justice as birds scattered the area as far as the eye could see. We watched the sea birds sprinkling the water and floated majestically on the ripples while many other flew above in formation with military precision.
Although we spotted lots of wildlife I was not always quick enough to take good pictures of them but we saw an abundance of species including:
Golden Eagles, White Tailed Sea Eagles, Swans leading their young Cygnets, Hebridean Ponies, Seals, Otters, Dragonflies, Hens with Chicks, Black Throated Divers, Ganets, Red Deer and well behaved timid Border Collie Dogs.
Another snap I missed was a family of otters happily swimming near land with some seals nearby as well! The mother otter appeared to be teaching her young cub to swim.
Looking back on these pictures are a great reminder of how amazing the trip was, but it’s not the same as experiencing the Outer Hebrides in person. I highly recommend The Outer Hebrides and St Kilda trip to anyone who wants to visit the Hebridean Islands – it is an unforgettable trip of a lifetime!
Related Articles on the Outer Hebrides
Experience the sheer beauty of the Outer Hebrides like I did on one of our amazing tours:
- Cycle through nine incredible islands on our Outer Hebrides Road Cycling adventure holiday
- Hike seven spectacular islands and enjoy a privately charted boat ride on our adventure holiday of the Uists, Barra and Mingulay
- Take in the incredible views of the Outer Hebrides on our High Points walking and hiking tour of the region
- Explore the beauty of Skye and experience the Island life of the Outer Hebrides in one walking and hiking adventure
- Experience the thrill of navigating mountain tracks and glide along quiet roads on our Hebridean Trail mountain biking adventure holiday
More from Wilderness Walking
Posted on Apr 27, 2018 by Rupert Shanks