The Outer Hebrides is an archipelago of 15 inhabited islands and more than 50 others without human presence off the western coast of Scotland. Huge variations in landscape are found across the islands, from Lewisian gneiss, which dates back almost three billion years, to rugged Harris with its magnificent sands running down its western flanks and the windswept, undulating flatness and jagged sea lochs of the Uists. This is a land where Gaelic is increasingly spoken and ancient monuments abound, where stunning seabird colonies and birds of prey can be watched, and where the grassy coastal zones known as the machair are transformed into glorious carpets of wildflowers in late spring and summer.
Now travellers to the Outer Hebrides can plan for their journey with the first ever guidebook to focus on the islands: Bradt’s Outer Hebrides: The Western Isles of Scotland, from Lewis to Barra, written by experienced writer and journalist Mark Rowe.
Rowe is an environmental and outdoor journalist and writer who first visited the Outer Hebrides in 1990. He’s been in love with the islands ever since, and has visited every year for the past decade. He’s written about his experiences for National Geographic Traveller and other magazines.
A relaxed approach to life runs through the Outer Hebrides, and for Rowe one experience sums up that attitude to life perfectly: ‘While on Lewis researching the book I woke up thinking it was a Tuesday. That evening I realised it was actually a Wednesday. Not only was this the first time in my life that I had muddled up my days, I had also missed an appointment with a local expert on the Gaelic language. Rather than fib my way out of it, I called him to apologise. Not to worry, he laughed, he too had overlooked the meeting as he had been busy helping his brother do some gardening. As a shopkeeper put it to me: “People rarely turn up late – it’s just that we don’t always turn up on time.”’
The guidebook boasts masses of background information on the islands, from geography and geology, to art and architecture, as well as significant coverage of wildlife. It includes all the practical details any visitor might need: when to visit, suggested itineraries (including walks Rowe took around the islands), local culture and festivals, plus recommendations for where to stay and places to eat and drink. Walkers, bird watchers, wildlife photographers and beach lovers are all catered for. This is also an ideal guide for those who travel simply with curious minds to discover far-flung places of great cultural, historical and wildlife interest.
Rowe says his perfect Hebridean day would involve buying smoked salmon from Loch Carnan on South Uist, taking the ferry across the Sound of Harris to Leverburgh, and having a picnic below Horgabost campsite overlooking Luskentyre on South Harris. Bradt’s Outer Hebrides: The Western Isles of Scotland, from Lewis to Barra will help ensure you also have the perfect Hebridean experience.