Exploring the Outer Hebrides A ONE week self-drive camper-van holiday

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The Outer Hebrides comprises over 200 islands and is located off the west coast of northern Scotland. Also known as the Western Isles or the Islands of Strangers, the archipelago has six main islands which are connected by a series of bridges and ferry lines.

HOW TO TRAVEL?

There are a number of B&Bs throughout the islands, however the best way to visit the Outer Hebrides is a self-drive camping holiday, which provides the freedom to explore some of the most remote (and most beautiful) areas. Hebridean Campervan Holidays offer weekly camper-van hire for between £600 and £800, depending on the time of year. Campsites can be found on all islands, however there are also many beautiful spots to pitch a tent or pull up your van - wild camping is accepted on the islands but make sure to leave your chosen spot as you find it.

WHEN TO TRAVEL?

Although the beaches look like those of the Caribbean, the weather in the Outer Hebrides is definitely Scottish. Visit during the summer months for the best weather but make sure to bring warm and waterproof clothes anyway!

The Butt of Lewis is the northernmost point of the Outer Hebrides

The Main Islands

Lewis forms the northern expanse of the Outer Hebrides and is home to the islands' capital, Stornoway. The Lewis Chessmen are the most iconic artefacts associated with the island and replicas of the historic pieces can be seen in various places. There are many places of interest on Lewis, including the famous Standing Stones. Stornoway airport is known as the gateway to the Western Isles and has scheduled flights to and from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Manchester.

Harris is actually part of the same landmass as Lewis, although the two are often considered to be separate islands. The west coast of the island is home to some of Britain's most spectacular beaches, while the east coast is made up of some of the oldest land on earth. Harris and Lewis are connected by road.

Great Bernera is a small island, connected to Lewis by a bridge. It has a beautiful beach, a replica Iron Age house (built on the site of an original Iron Age Village), a museum and one of the UK's 12 Time and Tide Bells.

North Uist is characterised by its long stretches of sandy beaches, peat bogs, crofts and countless lochs. The island lies to the south of Harris and can be reached by ferry.

Benbecula means the Mountain of Fjord and the island's solitary hill is a stepping stone between North and South Uist. The small island has an airport, which provides daily flights to Glasgow, Stornoway and Barra. The island is connected to both North and South Uist by causeway.

South Uist is said to be a wildlife wonderland, archeologist's paradise and historian's dream. The island lies between Benbecula and Barra and is home to many sites of archeological interest, including Neolithic tombs and Iron Age duns.

Eriskay is home to the famous wreck of the S. S. Politician and her namesake pub. It is also the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie first set foot on Scottish soil. Eriskay is connected to South Uist by bridge.

Barra is the second southernmost inhabited island of the archipelago and is famed for its unique airport - the world's only beach airport with scheduled flights. Barra can be reached by plane or by ferry.

The Magnificent Standing Stones of Calanais pre-date Stonehenge

DON'T MISS

The Outer Hebrides might seem like a remote wilderness but there is actually so much to see and do that one week might end up seeming too short. Here are a few of the things that visitors to the Western Isles should not miss.

Butt of Lewis - The northernmost point of the archipelago and the windiest place in the UK. The views from the Butt of Lewis are spectacular and this makes a great starting point for a self-drive holiday. Get some photos and then drive south to explore the rest of the islands or take some time for a short hike.

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village - This unique group of 19th century restored blackhouses is now the site of self-catering holiday accommodation and a living museum.

Dun Carloway Broch - One of Scotland's best preserved brochs, it is thought to date from the 1st century BC or earlier. Set against a magnificent backdrop of Loch an Duin, Dun Carloway is free to visit.

Calanais (Callanish) Standing Stones - These magnificent standing stones form one of the most remarkable and significant Neolithic sites in Britain. They pre-date Stonehenge and are thought to have been an important place for ritual activity for at least 2,000 years.

Abhainn Dearg Distillery - Visitors can take a tour of the first legal distillery in the Outer Hebrides in 200 years and taste the Spirit of Lewis whisky, which is made from local ingredients.

Time and Tide Bell - Bosta Beach is the location of one of the 12 Time and Tide Bells that were installed around the UK as part of a permanent art exhibition. As the tide comes in, the water moves the clapper to strike the bell, creating gentle music.

Bosta Iron Age House - This replica house is built on the site of an Iron Age Village that was discovered after a severe storm. Visitors can explore the inside of the house and learn about what life was like during the Iron Age.

Harris Tweed Store - A trip to the Outer Hebrides would not be complete without a visit to a Harris Tweed Store. Harris Tweed Isle of Harris is located in Tarbert (Harris' main town) and sells a variety of clothing and souvenirs.

Church of St. Clement - As the only intact medieval building in the Outer Hebrides, this is a must for anyone with an interest in history or architecture. Built in approximately 1520 this beautiful church has a number of very interesting features, including the tomb of Alexander MacLeod.

Our Lady of the Isles - This statue is located just off the main road through South Uist and was erected in 1957. The depiction of the Madonna and child lights up at night and was intended to remind anyone arriving in the isles that they are entering a different world.

The Birthplace of Flora MacDonald - A commemorative cairn stands on the site of the house in which Flora MacDonald was born.

The Politician - This pub on the Isle of Eriskay takes its name from the famous S. S. Politician, the wreck that inspired the book Whisky Galore. Ask at the bar to see the two bottles of whisky, said to have been salvaged from the ship.

Hike up the hill by Minch View Campsite to enjoy a spectacular sunset.

Do's and Don'ts

Do Get The Guide Book - The Visitor Information Centre in Stornoway sells The Outer Hebrides Guide Book, Third Edition by Charles Tait. It is a great book with lots of information on places of interest, wildlife, suggested routes and maps.

Don't Rush - Although it is technically possible to drive from the northernmost point of Lewis to Barra in a day, throughout most of the islands there is only one road and at many points only one lane. After a few hours you will already be used to stopping to let sheep (and cows) cross the road, so allow yourself plenty of time to travel from one place to another.

Do Pick Up A Map - Before you set off from Stornoway pop into the Visitor Information Centre and pick up a free copy of Explore: The Outer Hebrides. This handy map will show you all the places of interest, as well as the locations of some restaurants and campsites.

Do Use Passing Places - It is common courtesy in the islands to pull over into passing places and let the cars behind past if they are traveling faster than you. If you are in a camper-van or simply taking your time and enjoying the scenery, let the locals past.

Don't Trust Your Map Too Much - Tourist maps give you a great idea of what there is to see and do on each of the islands but many of the points are not quite accurate and you might find yourself driving right past point of interest if you are not careful. Likewise, some of the maps show only the campsites with waste disposal. Use GPS, if you have it, to make sure you don't miss anything!

Do Stock Up When You Can - There are not many shops in the Outer Hebrides, so get your groceries from the Co-Op in Stornoway before you set off. Whenever you pass a Co-op, stock up on anything you need for the next few days.

Don't Wait For The Next Petrol Station - Gas stations are few and far between in the Outer Hebrides, so fill up your tank when you can. There is limited mobile phone signal in many areas, so you would not want to run out of gas.

Do Ask For Directions - The local people are very friendly and helpful (and, it seems, quite used to helping lost tourists!). If you can't find something, just ask a local, they will probably be able to point you in the right direction.

Do Take A Hike - The Outer Hebrides' main attraction is its beautiful wilderness. Park your campervan, pull on your hiking boots, pack a sandwich and spend the day exploring the remote corners of the Western Isles.

Don't Get Lost - If you decide to take a hike make sure you know the way back. Stick to the paths, pack warm, waterproof clothes and plenty of water. It is easy to get lost in such remote places and you are unlikely to have any phone signal if you do.

Do Camp Wild - There is nothing better than waking up to a stunning view of the Western Isles in a spot all of your own. Drive through the remote region of Uig and find a spot to yourself but be respectful of the environment.

Do Use Campsites - There are places where you will have to use campsites, especially in or near the more populated areas of Stornoway and Tarbert. Even if you camp 'wild', find a campsite to fill up your water, throw out your rubbish and empty your waste.

Do Enjoy The Hebridean Sunsets - Hebridean sunsets are quite spectacular and can be enjoyed pretty much anywhere. The best places we found to watch the sun set were on a hill above Minch View Campsite on the Isle of Harris and on one of North Uist's beautiful beaches.

Do Buy Ferry Tickets In Advance - Especially if you are traveling in a campervan and want to travel at a specific time. There are limited places for vehicles available on the ferries so purchase your ticket and book your place in advance, either online or ask at the Visitor Information Office for the nearest ferry office.

Dun Carloway is one of Scotland's best preserved brochs

Campsites

Eileen Fraoich, Isle of Lewis is a great starting point, located not far from Stornoway on the west coast of Lewis.

Laxdale Holiday Park, Isle of Lewis is a good place to spend your final night before returning the campervan in Stornoway.

Minch View Touring Park, Isle of Harris is located on the east coast of the island and has some great walking routes nearby.

Horgabost Campsite, Isle of Harris is a particularly popular spot, located by a beautiful beach on the west coast of Harris.

Moorcroft Holidays Campsite, North Uist has some of best and cleanest facilities of all the campsites in the Outer Hebrides. They also have wonderful Hobbit Homes that can be rented.

Our Lady of the Isles reminds visitor that they are entering a different world

Restaurants

Woodland Centre, Isle of Lewis is a good place for lunch or a quick snack while visiting Lews Castle. There is also a selection of souvenirs for sale.

The Star Inn, Isle of Lewis is Stornoway's oldest pub - worth visiting, at least for a pint!

McNeills, Isle of Lewis is a lovely pub in Stornoway with a warm atmosphere and friendly staff.

Doune Braes Hotel, Isle Of Lewis is a great spot for lunch after visiting the Standing Stones.

Hotel Hebrides, Isle of Harris is a good place to eat while visiting the main town of Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. The hotel has a pub (The Mote Bar) and restaurant (The Pierhouse Restaurant).

Harris Hotel, Isle of Harris is another great spot in Tarbert. The hotel has both indoor and outdoor seating, great food and wonderful service.

The Westford Inn, North Uist is a must - it is the only pub on the island! Good food and a lovely atmosphere.

AM Politician, Isle of Eriskay is located by the beach. It has indoor and outdoor seating and delicious food.

The beaches of the Outer Hebrides rival those of the Caribbean

ITINERARY

Day 1 - If you arrive early, visit Lews Castle before you pick up your camper-van from Hebridean Campervan Holidays in Stornoway. Stock up on groceries and drive to the Butt of Lewis to see the spectacular landscape. Spend the night at Eileen Fraoich campsite.

Day 2 - Visit the Blackhouse at 42 Arnol, stop at the Whalebone Arch, wander around the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village and see Dun Carloway Broch. As the highlight of the day, visit the Standing Stones of Calanais before driving to Uig. Drive to the end of the road in the deserted township of Mealista and park your camper-van on the flat, grassy area overlooking the beach for the night.

Day 3 - Head back up the road and visit Abhainn Dearg Distillery for a tour. Stop at Baile na Cille, the birthplace of the Scottish Nostradamus and then drive to Great Bernera to see the Time and Tide Bell and Bosta Iron Age House on Bosta Beach. Visit the Local History Society exhibit at the Village Hall in Breacleit before traveling south to Harris. Spend the night at Minch View Campsite and hike up the hill behind the site to watch the sun set.

Day 4 - Visit the Isle of Harris Distillery and Harris Tweed Isle of Harris in Tarbert, the main town on the Isle of Harris. Take the west coast road to Leverburgh in the south and then catch the ferry over to Berneray. Drive south to North Uist and visit the Trinity Temple, then spend the night at Moorcroft Holidays Campsite.

Day 5 - Drive south through the Uists and stop at the Kildonan Museum in South Uist and see the burial cairn of the Pictish Kilpheder Kate, which is outside. Continue to Eriskay, take a walk along the Prince's Strand and have lunch at the AM Politician. Drive back through South Uist and stop to see the Birthplace of Flora MacDonald and Our Lady of the Isles statue. Continue back up to North Uist, visit the island's only pub and then camp near one of the remote beaches to the north of the island.

Day 6 - Catch the morning ferry back to Harris and visit the Church of St. Clement. Take the Golden Route along the east coast to North Harris and then turn off on the road to Hushinish. See Amhuinnuidhe Castle (from the outside only) and then enjoy a walk along the Outer Hebrides Birds of Prey Trail to the North Harris Eagle Observatory. Drive back to Stornoway and stay at Laxdale Holiday Park.

Day 7 - Drive to the arranged meeting point to return the campervan to Hebridean Campervan Holidays. If you didn't have time on your first day, visit Lews Castle. If you have already been to Lews Castle but have some time before your flight, visit the An Lanntair Arts Centre.

Make the most of the long summer days and take a walk through the remote countryside once you have found a spot to camp for the night
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