The now world-famous Luskentyre Beach on Harris. It is not irregularly voted the most beautiful in the world. It extends well beyond that isthmus in centre screen, providing what could be hours of celestial walking. Photo: Eddy Downpatrick
In the ne’er dying early-summer light of the Outer Hebrides - why it is so worth crossing the Skye Bridge (and the Sea of the Hebrides).
White-sand beaches, turquoise waters of varying turquosity, 3-billion year old rock formations that could surely only exist in sci-fi films… greens the like of which make sense of the fact that Gaelic has 9 different words to describe them (and possibly more), much in the same way that the layman’s identification of ‘snow’ to an Inuit will be met with rapturous laughter (they have 50 words for the stuff), it makes our singular (non-hyphenated) offering look rather pedestrian by comparison. The translation for the green glimpsed upon what looked like a bonsai bush atop an island within a sea-loch’d archipelago I have not been able to locate, so perhaps someone could help me track down: ‘type of green one would only expect to perceive whilst hallucinating’.
Approaching North Uist from South Uist, shot taken on the move. Photo: Eddy Downpatrick
Yes alright, enough with the colour fixation/asphyxiation, but no no no, please no… there is a seriousish point to be made here. We go away, well some of us at least, to ‘experience new things’, to be surprised, to feel and perceive the world in ways hitherto unimagined or imagined alone. To get to these rarefied isles is no mean feat. If you fly, private/chartered aircraft aside, you will need to do so via Glasgow or Inverness, quite likely not within the same day, and at not inconsiderable expense. Logan Air are the tartan-wing’n’finned flydudes who’ll do it you, though for all our sakes, they could do with some competition. Their propeller planes will land you on an impressive number of airstrips, many of them beach runways in previous incarnations (and in the case of Barra Airport, not that long-ago b’tarmac’d), but as with a host of lovely things in this mortal coil, it’ll leave you shy a penny or three.
North Uist’s semi-surreal archipelago of sea lochs stretching out northwards. Shot taken atop the isle’s loftiest perch, Eaval. You have to get to high ground to truly comprehend the isle’s rather unique topography. Nb. The tallest peak in the Outer Hebrides is in fact, Clisham, on Harris. Up here, so close to the summer solstice, the day and the night share but a few hours of darkness.
Photo: Eddy Downpatrick
Option number two (oh calamity, the beautiful roads up past Glencoe, Eilan Donan, beneath the Cuillin, gazing out at the isles of Scalpay and Raasay, past the Sligachan River, a doff of the cap to the Quiraing…): the more scenic, adventurous, (ahem) superior, but more time-consuming of the twain, is to drive over the Skye Bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh, head to the port at Uig, and jump on a Calmac (Caledonian McBryde) ferry. In the words of Gimli son of Gloin, “what are we waiting for?” If travelling in the fiendishly-busy months of July and August, which in my humble opinion give you both a better chance of terrible weather, getting stranded, and being surrounded, make sure you book your car onto a ferry as far in advance as possible as the demand far outweighs the supply. A little but not exactly like Logan Air, Calmac could not so much do with extra competition as it could extra boats. It should be mentioned that if you’re a foot passenger, little to less bother you’ll have getting aboard sans booking. Holidaying with children restricts all parents, but if I could sway you to head up over the May/June or October half-terms, I would. Fewer people, fewer cars, normally drier conditions.
Talisker Beach, Skye … ought to speak for itself. One of the isle’s many treasures; something to see alongside the Storr, the Faerie Pools, the Cuillin, and more, on your way Outer Hebrideswards or back. Photo: Eddy Downpatrick
Right, I’ve slightly lost my train of thought so here’s a totally non-staged shot to keep everyone sweet. But the train of thought was… these extraordinary colours, unusual landscapes, and vast wildernesses transform that long journey into that unforgettable experience.
The author gazing east towards Skye from one of Eaval’s surrounding foothills. Photo: Eddy Downpatrick
Stuff not to miss on North Uist, Eriskay, and Harris:
- Walking out to the eerie ruins of Vallay at low-tide.
Isle of Vallay. Credit to Canmore www.canmore.org.uk for this shot.
- Walking around Balranald RSPB reserve (not far from Vallay) and catching a glimpse and a symphonic squawk (it actually has a very nice and indeed distinctive call) of the legendary and extremely-rare Corncrake.
I hope the photographs herein enclosed have been enough to sway you.
Ascending Eaval – even beneath clouded skies, a not infrequent occurrence up here, the doily-like, silvery-greeny-black patchwork of waterways beguiles. Photo: Eddy Downpatrick
- Watching the sunset from along the Udal peninsula – cloud dispersion will optimise such, but turquoise waters will grace you ne’ertheless.
- Walk along Eriskay Beach and swim in its turquoise (and rather chilly) waters.
Eriskay Beach beneath clouded skies. Fine white sands await your toes, crystal-clear turquoise waters your eyes, and a life-renewing dip your body and soul. Photo: Eddy Downpatrick
- Luskentyre Beach – cf. the photo closer to the top (and any further Google imaging you may wish to do). Photo: Eddy Downpatrick
The rest, you can decide for yourself, but if you’re looking for two lovely places to eat and drink, look no further than the Langass Lodge (where you could also stay) and Hamersay House (where you could also stay), both on North Uist.
Stuff I wish I’d had a little more time to do:
- Ascend Ben Mhor on South Uist (our attempt was blighted by seriously-dicey weather).
- Get a boat out to St. Kilda (westernmost landmass in the British Isles).
- Get another to Mingulay (southernmost point of the archipelago and of which a beautiful mariners’ tune called The Mingulay Boat Song is written: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgkGrm5516k ).
- Explore Lewis and Harris much more rigorously.
- And a whole lot more… says he, wistfully.
The author, Eddy, looking somewhat bedraggled, atop Eaval.