The Outer Hebrides have been on my wish list for a long time so it was with excitement that I boarded the plane from Glasgow to Stornoway. Deciding to travel light, I made a last-minute decision to remove my sunglasses case from my bag. But alas, in an ironic turn of fate, the islands decided to provide bright (mostly sunny) weather which persisted for the majority of the trip. Typical!
We started the first day with a local expert guide on the Isle of Lewis. This was a fantastic way to tour the island and visit some of the distinctive sites such as blackhouses, the mystical Callanish stones, the Iolaire Monument memorialising the HMY Iolaire shipwreck in 1919, and several hidden sandy bays. I would certainly recommend going out with a local guide for a day as there is no better way to get really under the skin of a destination. You will gain insights and knowledge which you wouldn’t easily discover on your own, as well as being charmed by personal anecdotes and amusing stories, courtesy of your tour guide.
The following morning, we ventured to the Museum nan Eilean (Stornoway) which offers interactive exhibits encompassing the history and culture of the Outer Hebrides. Here, you can see six of the famous Lewis Chessmen which have returned to the island long after their discovery on an Uig beach in 1831. Although the exact details of their origin is debated, they were amongst an estimated ninety-three different pieces within the buried hoard.
The museum is situated in the grounds of Lews Castle which you can wander through at your leisure. The castle boasts grand rooms decorated in a gothic revival style and ornate ceilings to marvel at.
Next, it was time to set off for the Isle of Harris. Interestingly, Harris shares the same landmass as Lewis so there’s no need to catch a ferry or cross a causeway to get there. Driving across the island from Lewis was truly atmospheric – dramatic, contrasting landscapes waited to be uncovered at every turn. Large expanses of moorlands, machair and mountains demanded my continual attention, with glorious white sandy beaches peeking through at intervals along the coast.
There were so many places to stop off and take picture after picture. Along the way, I experienced the charm of the islands with quaint honesty boxes housing locally-made crafts and food, as well as witnessing the nonchalant sheep grazing or strutting across the roads at their leisure. Overall, this part of the Outer Hebrides felt so much bigger than I expected when first looking at the map.
Luskentyre beach was certainly a highlight on the Isle of Harris. Travelling down a single track road, the sand dunes and crystal waters of the beach-haven unveiled themselves. The sun glistened on the clear turquoise water, while white sand extended as an almost limitless expanse. It’s no wonder that it has been named one of the UK’s best beaches in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards.
Although only a flying visit, I’m already looking forward to the day I can return to these beautiful islands. Photos don’t do it justice – you definitely need to experience this magical destination for yourself. If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to pack for all types of weather – and don’t forget your sunglasses!
Words & Images by Keira @ McKinlay Kidd