From experience, we’ve found that having something independent from our Paralympic Games performances to look forward to allows us to get the most out of ourselves in competition. Before, when the Tokyo Paralympics were still to be held in 2020, we booked a three week adventure to Canada. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. When Tokyo was finally confirmed for 2021, covid was still a risk and there were many travel restrictions in place. We still wanted an epic adventure, just one much closer to home.
We’d heard the Hebrides and Scottish Highlands were beautiful and seemed like the ideal place to go – cue me going into a planning frenzy where, for a couple of weeks, I engrossed myself in research. I became so obsessed that it was all I could talk about before deciding it would be far easier letting someone else do all the hard work for us. We could just sit back and enjoy the anticipation – thank you McKinlay Kidd!
The holiday lasted just over two weeks, spanning several islands and incorporating a small detour up Ben Nevis. Both of us are visually impaired and unable to drive so are completely reliant on public transport and taxis; fortunately, McKinlay Kidd specialise in car-free holiday itineraries. Our trip started with an epic flight from Glasgow to Barra, the furthest south-west Island of the Outer Hebrides, where the airport runway is the beach and the luggage reclaim is a bus shelter. We asked for unique experiences and this was certainly one!
We stayed at a warm and welcoming hotel and were given a fantastic tour of the island by a very friendly and knowledgeable guide – all organised for us by McKinlay Kidd. We enjoyed the place so much – the fact that it was so far away from the crowds but still had everything you could possibly need made us fantasize about living there (even going so far as to look up local house prices!)
After two nights, we caught our first ferry over to Eriskay. We were driven by taxi to North Uist and the family-run hotel here had a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Fishing is a main attraction here, but there are also some lovely walks to be found. We enjoyed the scenery and superb food, especially the vast array of cakes.
Our third island was Harris, our favourite island of the trip. Mountains, beaches, rocks, sea and lochs – this island has the lot. It’s also home to one of the best gins I’ve sampled (and hopefully whisky soon as well). We could’ve stayed longer on beautiful Harris but we will definitely come back. Next stop was Skye where we had three nights in Portree, the biggest village on the Island. Our tour here was conducted by a thoroughly-entertaining local who regaled us with stories, facts, and taught us some Gaelic along the way. His catch phrase, “Living the dream”, will be used by us both to spark happy memories for a long time to come.
After Skye, we caught the ferry back to the mainland at Mallaig and boarded the famous Jacobite/Harry Potter steam train across to Fort William. The next day, it was with some trepidation that we set off for Ben Nevis very early in the morning, laden with packed breakfast and lunch from the hotel. Our taxi driver certainly thought we were mad given the rain. However, something miraculous happened as we arrived at the visitor centre to meet our guide – the rain stopped falling. We managed to stay pretty much dry for the four-and-a-half hours it took us to reach the summit. The sense of achievement was immense.
Returning to the family-run hotel in Spean Bridge for the evening to rest up, dry out and refuel was perfect. This was our favourite hotel of the trip. It was so unassumingly welcoming and cozy, like staying in someone’s house, and the food was superb. Luckily, the following day of travel to Islay allowed us to rest our sore and tired legs. Arriving late meant that we didn’t really get to appreciate this island properly until the following morning but the wait was worth it. So was the whisky. I’m not a fan of whisky but Neil is, so we tasked our tour guide with finding me a whisky I’d like. Thankfully, he didn’t disappoint as he took us to Bunnahabhain Distillery for a warehouse tasting – a fun experience and, yes, we did find a dram I liked!
The rest of the day was spent touring the island, stopping in at a couple of other distilleries and visiting a few landmarks en-route. What we thought would be our final full day in Islay was spent strolling along the coast, enjoying the atmosphere and the sun. Due to the weather the following day, our flight home was cancelled. Thankfully though, we were well looked after so this wasn’t a big deal and gave us more time to sample a few extra whiskys!
All in all, this was a fantastic experience, leaving us with memories to treasure and a love for the Western Isles that will, no doubt, draw us back in the future. Everywhere we went the people were kind, generous and incredibly proud of their heritage. The food—especially the abundance of fresh seafood—was delicious and even the rain didn’t dampen our spirits or our love of the trip. We are already considering when our next visit might be.
Words & Images by Lora Fachie