Caber, Mr B and I arrived home recently after our fantastic adventures in the Outer Hebrides, where we spent ten relaxing days island hopping. Of course, I managed to sneak a little bit of forging in, I had to didn’t I? After all, I couldn’t go to the islands, with their unique flora and fauna, and not forage. Mr B had something to say about that, but I don’t care. Because I caught him sneaking a peek at his work emails on more that one occasion. So, as the saying goes, it’s a bit like the ‘pot calling the kettle black’!
“We are who we are because we grew up the Stornoway way. We don’t live in the back of beyond, we live in the very heart of beyond.”The Stornoway Way – Written by Kevin MacNeil
In brief, if you like white sands, turquoise seas and the privilege of solitary walks on magnificent beaches, then this is the place to visit. Top that up with friendly, welcoming islanders, a choice of great hotels, b&b’s, hostels, campsites, wild camping areas, and oh so much more. Without a doubt, there’s something for everyone, and this is not a region that you’ll regret visiting, I can promise you that.
Start the Engine
Our adventure to the Outer Hebrides started in East Lothian. Where we poured ourselves, and our kit and caboodle, into my trusty camper van, ‘Stardust’. Eventually, heading off on the first step of our Hebridean journey to Ullapool, where we caught a ferry to Stornoway in leg one of our island hopping adventure.
Following a very comfortable ferry journey, we arrived in Stornoway safe and sound and eager to get on the road. Half an hour later, we found ourselves in Lewis at one of the many archaeological remains found throughout the island, the Standing Stones of Callanish. Mr B was so desperate to see them, and it was a great start to our wee Hebridean adventure.
Our Adventures in the Outer Hebrides
Moving on, we then headed off to spend three chilled out days at a semi-wild campsite at Ardroil in Lewis. In a word, it was spectacular, boasting a magnificent beach with perfect white sand. And only a hop, skip and jump away from the site. Needless to say, we enjoyed sampling nature’s 5-star luxury at no cost! I also loved the sound of the cuckoos in the background, which would wake us in the morning with their dawn chorus. And, from time to time, wild deer would stroll down from nearby hills to enjoy a snooze in ruins nearby. These sweet memories will stay with me for a long time.
During our entire time in the Hebrides, it only rained once, and it was throughout the night on one of our Lewis days. In spite of this, we enjoyed the rest of our Outer Hebrides adventure in the sunshine and occasional mild winds. Oh, and another thing; if you like birds, then the Western Isles have a fantastic Bird of Prey Trail. Hell, even if you’re not that into them, I’ll eat my hat if you don’t enjoy this activity!
It’s A Charity Shop!
While sightseeing on our way to Port Ness, at the Northern most tip of Lewis, I spied a charity shop. Of course, the forager in me couldn’t pass it by. Not only am I now the proud owner of a lovely woollen Daks jacket but it also only cost me £5! Said jacket retails between £300-£400 in their online store! However, the thing I’ll always remember about that particular forage was the soft lilt of the Gaelic language spoken by the shop assistants. It’s a beautiful, lulling melody to listen to, quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard before.
Harris, Here We Come!
It wasn’t long before we were packing up our bits and bobs in Ardroil and back on the road again, this time to Harris. We enjoyed a leisurely drive around the island before hopping on our next ferry at Leverburgh to North Uist. Harris seemed “happier” than Lewis, there’s a bleakness, and for me, a sense of sadness around Lewis that wasn’t present in Harris. I felt that Mother Nature was missing the abundance of new spring/early summer growth in contrast to Harris, where it was far more evident.
That said, I didn’t spend enough time in Harris to give you a real sense of everything it has to offer. What I can share, however, is that the beaches are all beautiful, and the visitor attractions, such as the hillwalking, unique culture, archaeological remains etc. were all on offer in abundance.
My Top 3 Hebridean Holiday Reads
While in Harris, I took around 100 photographs of its stunning scenery and plants. However, the one pic I sought of an otter, evaded me at every attempt. Which is unfortunate, as it was on my list of “must haves”. Everybody I spoke to while waiting on our ferry at Leverburgh, all had stories to tell about the otters they saw. I smiled nicely and laughed at their stories, but inside I admit I was more than a tad jealous! In spite of my efforts to grin and bear it, I still felt like a petulant child that missed her turn with the sweetie jar!
Eat, Drink Hebrides Trail
If you’re ever waiting on the ferry, at Leverburgh, in South Harris, then you’ll be pleased to hear there’s some pretty fantastic grub available. Near the ferry site, there’s a delightful old, converted bus that’s now a fish and chip shop. Here you can sample the catch of the day, along with a menu of other tasty fresh seafood. The Anchorage Restaurant also sits by the pier and features on their Eat Drink Hebrides Trail.
The Next Leg of The Outer Hebrides
After a short ferry ride, where we enjoyed watching the seals sunbathing at sea, we soon arrived in Berneray safe and sound. Eventually, we jumped into our van, and headed off across the causeway to North Uist, taking our time to enjoy the scenery. Now and then I would randomly shout “STOP!” when I saw flowers or weeds that I wanted to photograph. As a result, Mr B nearly had a heart attack each time I yelled!
Pain in The…
By this point in our Outer Hebrides adventure, Mr B was having a lot of problems with his back, and I was starting to think we weren’t going to last much longer in the van. However, I was surprised to hear that he was up for another couple of days of camping. So, off we set to Benbecula.
Was his constant complaining and moaning worth it once we got there? Well, I can say, with absolute certainty that it wasn’t! And I soon found myself trying hard to be a bit more understanding of what he was going through. I sound so unsympathetic, don’t I. But enough said, it was time to find a campsite and some much-needed relaxation…
Eventually, and after a short drive, we came across Balranald Campsite, on the north-west coast of Uist. Which, without a doubt, is a stunning site residing on a nature reserve, and only 17 miles from the popular area of Benbecula. Where we consequently spent two relaxing days walking around, enjoying the scenery, beach and archaeological sights.
A Flight of Fancy
Conversely, Benbecula runs a small airport, from which Logan Air flies a Twin Otter, and the flights run daily to Stornoway and Glasgow. So, if you’re planning a Hebridean adventure, and don’t fancy the long ferry rides, then this might be a good starting point. You can then hire a campervan once you arrive. Moreover, there’s plenty of campervan companies from which to choose – coupled with advertised wild camping areas throughout the islands. So, if camping’s your “thing” you won’t go wrong with the Outer Hebrides.
The Outer Hebrides – Final Leg
After two fab days chilling out, and taking things easy, we were back on the road. Although Mr B’s back was still causing some pain, he nevertheless insisted on driving. So off we headed to South Uist to catch our ferry to Barra. Once again, we had another pleasant journey, enjoying all the magnificent scenery as we made our way south. Soon we were crossing the causeway to Eriskay, where we caught our ferry to Barra.
Once settled and comfortable, we enjoyed another smooth ferry crossing in the “dog owners” section. This time it was full of dogs, no children funnily enough, but plenty of dogs. Speaking of which, Caber took it all in his stride, as he did every day of our travels. He was utterly chilled out with everything we introduced him to, thoroughly rocking the road trip vibes!
Barra, Here We Come
During the ferry ride, Mr B and I decided to book a hotel in Barra for our remaining days in the Western Isles. So, as soon as we disembarked, we headed straight towards the nearest hotel, but unfortunately, it was full. However, they very kindly pointed us towards a nearby community hub/shop. Where they assured us magic would happen, and accommodation would be found.
And abracadabra, after just one phone call, the hub’s lovely manager had us ensconced in a stunning apartment. Not only that, but we were also lucky enough to find ourselves with a “floor to ceiling” picture window. Through which we were able to enjoy panoramic views of the harbour from the lounge.
Community Hubs In The Outer Hebrides
It would be remiss of me not to point out that community hubs/shops are available throughout the Outer Hebrides. Interestingly, they’re managed and run incredibly well by the local community, offering food, showers, toilets and laundrettes. There are also areas to eat and heat food or baby bottles.
It’s also worth mentioning that Barra has a small airport that runs from their beach. And when the tide and flight plans allow, the local community forage for cockles from the very same beach!
A Room With A View
By this point in our adventure, Mr B was barely able to walk. Unfortunately, this meant that he spent most of his time in the apartment, resting. But at least he was able to enjoy the view from the window! I, however, was able to escape and enjoy a walk or two with Caber. Utilising this time to take more pics, and do a bit of foraging. That said, however, we were still able to get out and about in the van and enjoy a leisurely drive around the island.
The South-Western Tip of The Outer Hebrides
During one of our little adventures in the van, we found ourselves on the Isle of Vatersay, a secluded island just off the South-Western tip of Barra. Once upon a time, you needed to catch a ferry to visit this stunning island. However, thanks to the Barra-Vatersay causeway, which opened in 1991, it’s now easily accessible.
Despite its small size (3 miles x 3 miles), Vatersay packs a powerful punch of major historical events. Unfortunately, most of them carry a heavy dose of sadness. Be it the tragic loss of over 300 souls in the shipwreck of 1853, or the RAF Catalina that crashed on its shores in 1944. This island has a unique story to tell, which it memorialises and delivers with dignity to all visitors to the island.
However, in my opinion, the story of the Vatersay Raiders is the most exciting by far. Moreso, because it led to the foundation of the Crofting Commission, which is still going strong today. Here’s a story that showcases incredible success despite the struggle and adversity required to get there! Another positive growing from this island’s tragic history, is the birth of some pretty soulful folk music, traditional songs and folklore. Which, thankfully, will be passed down for many years to come.
Seaweed Seasoning & Rose Water
During our last four days on Barra, I managed to do a little bit of foraging. Taking some time out to gather seaweed from the rocks at low tide in Vatersay Bay (Kelp and Sea Lettuce). I rinsed them in water, and put them in the oven overnight at 40 C, propping the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Once they were crispy and dry, I used a grinder to crush them into a powder. I now have a delicious tub of seaweed seasoning and a small part of the island in my kitchen cupboard!
I also picked a handful of wild roses, Rosa Rugosa (Japanese Rose) and made myself a bottle of rose water. All you need to do is put the petals in a pot and cover them with cold water. Simmer until the colour leaves them, decant, then bottle! A little side note here; these particular roses are the best for rose water or essence. In terms of wild roses, nothing compares to them for aroma or taste. Keep in the fridge and use within two weeks, so only pick what you need.
A Fond Farewell to The Outer Hebrides
I have so much more I could share with you about my Hebridean adventures. However, I have to concede that I’ve prattled on a bit and you may well be bored by now! And I can’t have that, so it’s time to wrap this up and put it to bed, or publish it at the very least!
If you have any questions about this post, put them in the comments box below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. In the meantime, stay safe and take care, and don’t forget to subscribe!