Anyone with an eye for natural, rugged beauty should head straight for the pristine island chain of the Outer Hebrides off Scotland's west coast. Though the archipelago consists of over 500 islands, only a few dozen of the Hebridean Islands are inhabited. Boasting majestic mountain ranges, highlands and miles of sheltered golden beaches, the unspoilt Outer Hebrides also contain the largest concentration of Scottish Gaelic speakers in Scotland, offering a unique and fascinating look into the Celtic nation's history.
Outer Hebrides © Chris Combe
Not much is known about the history of the Outer Hebrides before the 6th century, when records indicate that the Irish-Scottish St. Columba arrived on Iona, founding several churches. Structures such as Callanish, which dates back to the 3rd millennium BC, and Cladh Hallan, the only site in the United Kingdom where prehistoric mummies have been found, make the Outer Hebrides a fascinating destination.
The major islands in the Outer Hebrides include Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Barra and Lewis, where Stornoway is the administrative capital of the Western Isles. Most of the archipelago is protected habitat, as many rare species can be found here, such as the golden eagle and corncrake, while in the surrounding ocean sharks, whales, dolphins and otters abound.
The main commercial activities in the Outer Hebrides are tourism, fishing, and weaving, including the manufacture of the famous Harris Tweed. Adventurous and energetic visitors can enjoy activities such as sailing, kayaking, canoeing and climbing, while surfing is fast becoming a popular sport here due to the tides, swell and weather. This attracts surfers from across Europe to frolic in its numerous reef, point and beach breaks.
There's a reason they say 'it's as cold as the Hebrides' and travellers are warned that it rains two days out of three here, so a sturdy umbrella and good protective rain gear are essential. Travellers who are lucky enough to be there during the months of September and October, or March and April can relax with a delicious single malt whisky, kick back and unwind while watching the mesmerising and beautiful Northern Lights dance across the starlit sky.