The Outer Hebrides is one of the most magical places on earth. As my love affair with Scotland developed over the last few years, I remember whispers from people saying I had to go there. Having spent a week road tripping, adventuring and wild camping through the OH, I urge you to add these islands to your bucket list. If you are looking for an unforgettable, breathtakingly beautiful, fun, adventurous and off the beaten track experience, here are my favourite hidden gems for you to explore and experience.
Outer Hebrides Vlog:
Places to Stay
1. Mangersta Bothy, Lewis (aka Eagle’s Nest)
Tucked away on the wild and remote Atlantic Coast with waves crashing against jagged cliffs on the Isle of Lewis, is the Mangersta Bothy. Described in The Scottish Bothy Bible as ‘an exhilarating and extraordinary cliff-edge retreat’ you cannot beat a night here on price or location. Built by Linda and John Norgrove 30 years ago, it really feels like you are on the edge of the world.
The adventure started well before we found the bothy. Having parked the car where the road stopped, we realised we didn’t know exactly where the bothy was. We walked along the coast, peering off the cliffs with an image in our heads of what it looked like. We spotted a woman and her dog and asked for her assistance “Do you know where the Mangersta bothy is?” As luck would have it, she was Lorna Norgrove, the owner of the bothy! “Yes, my husband and I built it, it’s just over there. It’s going to be a wild night in there, good luck!”
We felt like kids who had just arrived in Lapland. We couldn’t get over it! We set up camp inside before sharing a beer whilst watching the sunset. We felt the world melt away, focusing only on what we were experiencing and seeing. The waves didn’t stop crashing and the wind howled around us as we snuggled into our sleeping bags. It was a night I will remember forever.
2. Wild camping, West Beach Berneray
Wild camping is one of the simplest and most rewarding adventures. Pitching your tent or bivvy bag wherever you fancy and spending a night wrapped in the sounds, sights and feels of the wilderness is liberating and the best soul food I know of. The even better news is that Scotland’s Right to Roam Act means wild camping is totally legal throughout the whole of Scotland, and free. Just make sure you protect the environment and leave without a trace.
The team at Visit Scotland who had been invaluable in helping us uncover all of OH’s hidden gems, suggested the Isle of Berneray between Harris and North Uist. We felt like we had landed in Australia when we set eyes on the glorious, deserted sandy West Beach and set up camp there.
Although the night in Mangersta Bothy was unforgettable, wild camping here totally raised the game.
3. Lews Castle, Lewis
I am used to roughing it on adventures and will pretty much sleep anywhere, but if there’s an opportunity to sleep in luxury, of course I will gladly partake! Our week road tripping the OH started off in style; sleeping in Lews castle! To say we were excited waking up in Lews Castle, is an understatement. Treated to a breakfast hamper before a tour of the museum and learning about the discovery of the Lewis Chessmen, spirits were high for what lay ahead.
1. Mountain biking and Coasteering, Harris
After waking up in Mangersta Bothy, we headed to the other side of the Isle of Harris to meet Sean from the Scaladale Centre. The route sounded pretty full on, but his sense of excitement for showing me the land that he loves made me feel pumped for the ride. I reminded him briefly that I’d not had much sleep and haven’t done a huge amount of mountain biking. “You’ll be fine” he said, with the air of Scottish confidence I love, but have learnt to take with caution.
My whole body is pumping as we cycle up these mountains. No joke. It’s tough, really tough. There’s wilderness as far as the eye can see. Mountains, lochs and rivers. The descents are unbelievable, hair raising and adrenalin pumping. I love every minute of it. By the time we are back at the centre, I'm shattered meaning the options for the rest of the evening are limited but awesome; pizza, beer and bed.
The next morning we meet Sean to try coasteering for the first time! The hours fly by as we explore hidden gullies, forage wild sea food and jump off cliffs. How great to be reminded of that sense of freedom, adventure and pure joy we loved as kids!
2. Road Tripping the OH
One of the things we loved the most was spotting a random road as we drove around the islands and following it to the end, just to see what we could find. Sometimes it was a magical beach where the sea sparkled in the sunshine showing us 50 shades of blue. Sometimes it was wild ponies like on the road to Loch Scioport in Uist. Always an adventure, you never know what you might find.
3. Horse Riding on the beach, Benbecula
We woke up in our wild camp, ate bacon and black pudding rolls and drove the length of North Uist before finding the horses. It may have been a rainy, grey afternoon on Uist but you wouldn’t have guessed by the smile on my face as we galloped along the beach. Horse riding was one of my first loves as a child. It’s the sense of freedom, my love and respect for these unique animals, and the salty wind in my hair and face that made me so happy.
1. Bosta Beach, Lewis
On our last night in Barra, we watched the sun go down and shared our favourite moments and unexpected discoveries. Both of us agreed that the moment we laid eyes on Bosta Beach was up there. The colours. Oh Em Gee!
2. Isle of Barra Sea Kayaking with Dolphins
Having seen the most beautiful beaches we had ever laid eyes on, wild camped in amazing locations, seen stunning sunsets, mountain biked, jumped off cliffs, foraged wild food, slept in a castle, road tripped hundreds of miles, met many awesome island folk and eaten (quite) a few bacon and black pudding rolls, the final aspect of the OH we had not yet experienced was the wildlife.
As we set off for a day Kayaking around the Isle of Barra with Ben from Barra Surf and Coastal Adventures, little did we know that was all about to change.
Whilst picnicking on a beach in the rain, Ben spotted a dolphin’s fin out in the ocean. Alexis was the first to get close to them, as I caught up with him I was in awe to see a pod of 15 dolphins swimming around him; playing and diving. It was absolutely incredible! They stayed with us for almost 20 minutes, the three of us totally blown away. What a way to end our trip!
3. They say variety is the spice of life...
Scotland is renowned for it’s ‘character building’ weather and on OH, it’s there in full force. We loved how changeable the weather was. Long evenings of sunshine (it stays light until 11:30pm in May) followed afternoons of rain and dark storm clouds over white sandy beaches, creating a really dramatic edge to the islands. We loved how varied the islands were, how each one has it’s own personality and hidden treasures to share with you. We loved how much the people who live there have really fallen for the place, despite how hard it might be to live there with the long, cold and windy winters.
4. You feel so far away from normal life
We loved how there were hardly any people there. How the OH didn't feel like a tourist hot spot; we never queued, we didn’t see any chain shops or restaurants. (There are actually very few shops there and some of them are run on honesty) We loved how it felt so special and other-worldly to explore the wilderness in whatever way you like. Most of all, we loved how much variety there is; in the weather, the scenery, the places to stay and adventures to be had.
I would like to say a massive thanks to Visit Scotland for partnering with me on this trip, it’s a dream come true to work with you and share another corner of the land I love so much with my community. For more information check out:WATCH MY VLOG!! (Filmed on GoPro)
The Caledonian Sleeper Train takes 12 hours between London Euston to Inverness
Calmac Ferries between mainland Scotland (Oban and Ullapool) and between the OH islands
Car Hire from Enterprise in Inverness
Lews Castle, Natural Retreats, Isle of Lewis
Number 5 Drinishader, Isle of Harris
Borrodale Hotel, South Uist
Book by contacting Lorna and John Norgrove through: http://lindanorgrovefoundation.org
Adventures and Experiences
Mountain Biking and Coasteering, Harris
Barra Surf and Coastal Adventures
Clear Water Paddling, Barra
Surfing and SUP, Lewis and Harris
Bike and Kayak Hire
Cycle the Hebridean Way
North Harris Eagle Observatory
Callanish Standing Stones