Travelling around the Outer Hebrides in Winter is obviously a lot different to travelling there in the Summer. For anyone considering this, I would (loosely) suggest the following itinerary, starting from Barra and travelling from south to north. I know it is good, because I did some of it two years ago! Because you are travelling out of season, most of the main attractions would not be open (they tend to open in the first week of April). Below are attractions that are open out of season or are free to visit because they are in the open.
Day 1 – half day walking tour of the Isle of Vatersay. A beautiful circuit of the southern half of Vatersay, taking in lovely beaches, colourful machair, iron-age fort and standing stone, and the remains of a land raiders village. Half a day walking up Ben Heaval overlooking Castlebay on the Isle of Barra. Halfway up the side is “Our Lady of the Sea”, a white marble statue of the Madonna and Child. Alternatively, a visit to see the famous beach runway, to watch planes take off/land on the beach.
Day 2 – travel by ferry to the Isle of Eriskay. Cross the beach where Bonnie Prince Charlie first arrived in Scotland, explore the main village made famous by Whisky Galore and then climb via a hill loch for great views over Eriskay. Visit the Am Politician pub and if you ask nicely they will let you hold one of the whisky bottles from the SS Politician. Then travel to the Isle of South Uist (possibly visiting Kildonan Museum – visits are sometimes possible out of season). Alternatively, visiting Flora McDonalds monument, the statue of ‘Our lady of the Isles’ and The Cladh Hallan Roundhouses, which are the only place in the UK where prehistoric mummies have been found.
Day 3 – Isle of South Uist. Travel to the village of Howmore, passing Ormacleit Castle on the way. Howmore has a remarkable collection of ruined churches and Chapels as well as some good examples of thatched houses and blackhouses.. The most striking religious remains are of the Teampull Mor the “Large Church” or St Mary’s, of which only part of the east gable remains. This church dates back to around the 13th century. From Howmore travel to Loch Skipport to see the old pier and fantastic views out to sea. Then visit Hebridean Jewellery, who are manufacturers of sterling silver and gold jewellery from the Pictish and Celtic periods through to the modern era. They also have a lovely cafe with excellent views.
Day 4 – From South Uist, travel on the scenic road around the coast of the Isle of Benbecula and then travel up to the Isle of North Uist. If the weather is kind, I would also visit Baleshare Beach on the Isle of Baleshare, which is attached to North Uist via a causeway. Onto North Uist next and a visit to Barpa Langass, a 5,000-year-old burial chamber thought to be the burial place of a Neolithic chieftain. Then visit the ruins of Trinity Temple at Carnish, which is thought to be Scotland’s oldest University. There is also the chance for a spot of Otter watching, as the east side of the island is a landscape of inland and sea lochs, inlets bays and channels. This would obviously take patience and a bit of luck! In the afternoon, travel via causeway to the Isle of Berneray to visit Giant Macaskill’s monument. He was one of the world’s tallest men. Near here is West Beach, possibly the finest beach in the whole of the Outer Hebrides (and there is a lot of competition)!
Day 5 – travel to the Isle of Harris and visit 16th century St Clements Church at Rodel. From here visit the magnificent beaches that the island is famous for such as Luskentyre, Seilebost, Horgabost and Borve. Next visit Seallam! Visitor Centre. The Centre has a changing series of exhibitions on various facets of local life and history and is open all year round. Alternatives include a walk to the North Harris Eagle observatory which provides one of the best opportunities in Scotland for viewing this iconic species or a scenic trip around the peaceful Isle of Scalpay.
Day 6 and 7 – travel from Harris to the Isle of Great Bernera, Visit Bosta Iron Age House next to Bosta Beach. The original houses date from 400 – 800 AD and you can visit one of the reconstructed houses. From here, visit the Gearannan Blackhouse Village (Museum may not be open – but you can walk around the blackhouses and down to the coast). Nearby is Carloway Broch, one of the best preserved Broch’s in Scotland. An absolute must is a visit to the Callanais Standing Stones. The Calanais Visitor Centre contains an interactive Story of the Stones exhibition, which explores how the standing stones were built and used and what they have meant to people through the centuries. Other possible attractions to visit include Arnol Black House, a traditional Lewis thatched house that is fully furnished, complete with an attached barn, byre and stackyard and the Butt of Lewis, which is the most northerly point of the Isle of Lewis and therefore the Outer Hebrides. Also, a visit to the historical town of Stornoway, which is the biggest town in the Outer Hebrides.
As you can see, even out of season, there are plenty of things to do around the Outer Hebrides in winter (or indeed any of the other island groups). It just takes a little bit of planning and a little bit of luck with the weather.
I hope to see you there!