As we move towards the distant beacon of travel freedom, the promise of unlimited exploration across the globe and safe passage for those who do, our minds naturally turn to distant shores with powder-soft beaches, azure waters and indulgent stays. But, whilst the tropical island clusters of the Caribbean and the Maldives have their allure, a small, but perfectly formed, island paradise can be found 50 miles due North of Scotland, home to all of this and much, much more.
The Western Isles (more commonly known as the ‘Outer Hebrides’) is alive with a wealth of natural wonders, Celtic roots than run deep throughout the islands and a gastronomic pantry that is sought after by culinary talent across the world. Looking ahead to the summer months and the long daylight hours they bring, opt to ‘go wild’ in new ways, with the unforgettable experiences our team have curated below.
Master the glimmering surf on Lewis’ rugged north coast
Arguably boasting some of the best surf conditions in Europe, the serene Isle of Lewis is edged by an incredible contrast of wicked surf and white-sand beaches. Scotland has long-been synonymous with epic conditions by the elite surf crowd, with many a pro opting to forgo the sunnier climes of the continent with the dramatic waves of the Highlands, but travel one step further North and you’re spoiled for choice.
The small community of Hebridean surf schools all offer undisputed access to the island’s empty beaches, experienced tuition and expert narration of the surrounding landscape. Lying in the path of the Atlantic’s lows and depressions, Lewis sits as the North West frontier of exceptional European waves and therefore can be relied upon to produce consistent, quality surf.
Dive into freshly-caught scallops at Uig Pier
Tempting the palate of seafood connoisseurs across the world, the mere thought of plump, Hebridean scallops is enough to set your tastebuds tingling. The Western Isles Atlantic larder produces award-winning produce and whilst you may find it’s fare flown in to sit on many a Michelin-star plate, there is nothing more enjoyable than sitting waterside, watching the local fishermen offloading their haul onto harbour and tucking in right there amongst the salt-tinged boats.
Uig’s humble ‘Scallop Shack’ is one of those lesser-known treasures. Their scallops are hand-dived (daily) and plucked from the clean, pure waters that surround the Isles, meaning that they most likely will be the best you have ever tasted. Seared and served with the award-winning Macleod Stornoway Black Pudding, the flavours will stay with you for a long time after you leave. For an additional treat, opt to enjoy your scallops on the frankly, breath-takingly beautiful Uig Bay Beach, just a 6-minute drive from the harbour. Sheer seafood bliss.
Scan the waves for whales on an exhilarating rib boat ride
With no fear of poaching, water pollution or human disruption, the gin-coloured waters surrounding the Western Isles are bursting with life. An amazing experience for both wildlife lovers and adrenaline enthusiasts alike, a fast-paced rib-boat ride from Stornoway harbour out into the ‘Minch’, is one for the bucket list.
Dipping in and out of the coastal lochs and all the way to the uninhabited Shiant Isles (one of the most critical breeding colonies for seabirds in Europe), boat tours are regularly accompanied by schools of glistening dolphins, families of curious seals and sea otters, and an Orca pod known as the ‘West Coast Community’ which remain off the West Coast of Scotland for most of the year. Our team have also witnessed juvenile Minke whales and the elegant flight of eagles and puffins, during their visits to the islands.
Set your sights skywards at the North Harris Eagle Observatory
Whilst humble ‘hides’ can be found at many a National Trust site across the UK, the exceptional observatory on the Isle of Harris is no longer reserved for twitchers alone. Seated at the foot of Glen Meavaig, visitors can quietly witness the daily flights of the resident pair of Golden Eagles, soaring through the skies above.
Part of the wider ‘Outer Hebrides Bird of Prey Trail’, this front row seat to one of Britain’s largest and most symbolic birds is special in many ways, but not least the fact that on the island reside 20 of the 400 breeding pairs across Scotland (one of Europe’s highest density strongholds). Access to the observatory is gained via an awe-inspiring 30 minute trail through the mountain valley, and is best enjoyed wrapped up against the elements, flask of hot chocolate (or a wee dram of aged Whisky) in hand.
Immerse yourself amongst the ‘history and mystery’ of Neolithic standing stones
The allure of the ‘Highlands and Islands’ of Scotland has long been intertwined with it’s archaeological importance and fascinating Gaelic history. Steeped in natural beauty, the Western Isles are home to impeccably-preserved examples of times gone by (see the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village), but the most impressive display has to be the Calanais Standing Stones.
Towering over 4m tall and pre-dating England’s iconic ‘Stonehenge’, this extraordinarily, well-preserved arrangement of megaliths are estimated to have been erected 5,000 years ago by inhabitants of the Isle of Lewis. Indicative of a thriving and advanced society, the 83m ‘avenue’ of structures forms the basic outline of a cross and are laden with insight into prehistoric communities. The fantastic information centre that accompanies this unique point of interest digs deep into the Calanais story and sets the basis for your Hebridean visit.
Fish for wild walmon and sea trout by riverbank, loch or by boat
Running from June to mid-October, Hebridean fly-fishing for lustrous salmon and full-bellied sea trout is an indulgent holiday past-time that combines the best of the stunning scenery and the culinary prowess of the islands. There are a wealth of experienced operators with sought-after advice on equipment, technique, tides and safety, ready to take willing explorers on outstanding day trips.
For those not ready to take to the water, there are a myriad of Hebridean hotspots to enjoy sublime smoked salmon, freshly prepared on the island. Uig Lodge in the western straits of Lewis boasts a unique curing process that has won countless awards, each fish sourced from RSPCA accredited farms in the Atlantic. It’s mouth-watering produce (and those of other providers) can be sampled in the stunning, seafood restaurants across the breadth of the islands – a superb accompaniment to the surrounding views.
Whenever you opt to ‘go wild’ in the Western Isles, there are ample opportunities to pair your outdoor adventure with a touch of luxury, with opulent accommodation available in the form of historic castles in the Outer Hebrides, sea-view lodges and more.
Laura Dubois is Managing Director at Together Travel. Together Travel is a luxury holiday cottage operator covering the British Isles.