The final and postponed part of our 2010 tour of Scotland was a visit to the Outer Hebrides, or Western Isles. We had missed vising these islands in the summer as we couldn’t get onto a ferry – but judging from local reports of the weather over the summer, this was a blessing in disguise. Our first few days on the Isles of Lewis and Harris coincided with perfect summer weather – amazing in October and unprecedented this year, according to residents!
Ferries To The Western Isles
We elected to tour the islands from north to south and purchased a Hopscotch ticket from Calmac Ferries, who run all the ferries that connect the islands to mainland Scotland and to each other. You don’t save much money with the Hopscotch tickets but they are very convenient. The tickets don’t commit you to specific sailings, only to a preplanned route – useful, as it is hard to predict how much time you will want to spend on each island.
The route we chose was:
Ullapool (mainland) -> Stornoway (Isle of Lewis)
Leverburgh (Isle of Harris) -> Borve (Berneray)
Eriskay – Ardmhor (Barra)
Castlebay (Barra) – Oban (mainland)
This ticket, including a motorhome up to 5m long and 2 adults, cost £182 in early October 2010.
This route covered all of the main islands – from north to south, we visited:
- Isle of Lewis
- Isle of Harris (actually the same island as Lewis but often described as if it is separate)
- North Uist
- South Uist
…plus a few other very small islands that are joined to larger islands by road. Many of the islands are joined to each other by causeways and so ferries are not always required.
Motorhome Facilities/Wild Camping In The Outer Hebrides
The ferry terminals are also useful for another reason – several of the larger ones have chemical toilet disposal points – some also have toilets and a shower. This is even more useful than it would be in most other places are there are virtually no campsites – even if you want to use them.
Suitable spots for wild camping are readily available on Lewis and Haris – mostly in the form of picnic areas or large, off-road laybys. Almost all have amazing views. On Barra and Vatersay (the two smallest islands we overnighted on), suitable overnight parking spots are scarce and are pretty much restricted to a few official motorhome parking/service sites. It was quiet when we were there but I imagine they could get busy in summer.
Here are two very useful links for wild camping / toilet disposal locations on the islands:
- Motorhome parking, overnighting and toilet/water locations on Lewis, Harris, North & South Uist, Benbecula and Barra – a good overall guide with useful contact info – Click Here
- Detailed information for the isles of Barra and Vatersay – this info is very accurate and is what we used (2010)
The scenery on the islands, especially on Lewis and Harris, is amazingly diverse and often very dramatic. A drive along the minor road that runs along the east coast of South Harris is not to be missed.
Other highlights include long, unspoilt sandy beaches, unspoilt moorland and relics of the Iron Age – stone circles, standing stones and villages. The traditional Hebridean blackhouses are picturesque, too, and will be enocountered occasionally on a tour of the islands.
Religion plays a major role in island life, especially in the Presbyterian north (Lewis and Harris). Churches in this area are a dramatic contrast to those found in mainland UK – they are large, modern, well-maintained and have large surfaced car parks. Everything shuts down on Lewis and Harris on Sunday, and attendance at church – formally dressed – is very high, as we found when we drove by several churches around midday on a Sunday. We even saw a community tennis court that was free to use every day of the year – except Sundays, when it was closed.
South of Benbecula, the predominant religion is Catholicism and there is apparently a more modern approach to the Sabbath, with some businesses opening. Roadside shrines are a common sight – it would be interesting to known how the islands ever manage to divide along religious lines.
More pictures to come in Part 2…