The Outer Hebrides is definitely part of Scotland, but this remote and stunning region truly sits on the edge of the world.
There’s a meme going around the interwebz, with a voice over by Billy Connolly, that talks about how few people there seem to be in Scotland, despite its stunning natural beauty. There are definitely vast tracts of this country which are breathtakingly beautiful and sparsely populated, but this goes double for the Outer Hebrides, which really does feel like the edge of the world.
The Outer Hebrides are an isolated chain of islands found off the west coast of Scotland, and home to some of the most stunning landscapes in all of Europe. This is one of the most remote parts of the country and has a very distinct culture that has developed over centuries. The islands have been settled since the Mesolithic era and contain various prehistoric structures that pre-date early Roman and Greek notation of them. They came under Norse control (those Vikings really got around) for many centuries, before being overtaken by the Scottish clan chiefs, and finally the British.
I wrote about my first visit to the edge of the world in 2017 and was thrilled to visit there again some months back. Once again, we went to attend HebCelt, the Celtic music festival in Stornoway, but we also spent several days exploring further south of the two main islands of Lewis and Harris.
Made up of 65 substantial islands, only 15 of the Outer Hebrides islands are populated and, the further south you travel, many of them appear to be more water than land. Covered with vast numbers of large and small lochs and large tracts of machair (low-lying, grassy plains), they are accessed by ferries in some cases, and lots of causeways.
Based on the island of North Uist, our accommodation for several days was at the splendid Langass Lodge, an historic hunting and fishing lodge. This suited half of our travelling group perfectly because they are crazy-mad fly fishers, and the other half just as well because we were very happy to simply enjoy the comforts of the lodge and use it as a base for sightseeing.
Much of this part of the Outer Hebrides is designated for nature conservation purposes, and the whole region is home to a significant number of rare species of bird and sea life.
Sadly, such care was not taken for the security of the human inhabitants. The human history is one of frequent hardship and the heartbreakingly cruel evictions during the land clearances in the 19th century. Landowners forced families from land they’d farmed for centuries, to replace them with sheep, and in some instances whole islands were cleared of their populations. This decimation of the population was exacerbated by several years of crop failures and famine which caused the government of the day to encourage mass emigration.
Today, outside of the main populated areas of the edge of the world, the Outer Hebrides is a remote place of huge skies, wide, glorious views, astonishing beaches, and fresh, clean air. We rambled up hills, and along secluded sea strands, spoiled for choice as every turn of a bend in the roads offered new and spectacular vistas.
At the end of the day, both halves of our gang came together for a debrief, a drink or two, and some truly spectacular food, including the outrageously fresh seafood of the region. I won’t get tired of the Outer Hebrides – we are already planning our next visit to the edge of the world.[mc4wp_form id="16750"]