SCOTLAND | THE MYSTICAL OUTER HEBRIDES
The Outer Hebrides are a group of islands lying off the northwest coast of Scotland. In more recent years, the Outer Hebrides have been reclaiming their historic name after several decades of being referred to as the Western Isles of Scotland. Scotland has many islands to the west of the mainland, but only those sitting within the archipelago that stretches from the Isle of Lewis in the north and Vatersay in the south can lay claim to the title Outer Hebridean. These islands have been inhabited for thousands of years, and archaeological finds have been made that date back to Mesolithic times. Today, visitors will find themselves in a part of Scotland that feels and sounds very different from the rest of the country. The islands are the last stronghold of the native Gaelic language, and the majority of the older natives have Gaelic as their mother tongue.
It is often said that the dialects spoken on these islands have a Scandinavian lilt. This is not surprising given that the islands were once ruled as part of the Norwegian Kingdom for almost four centuries. The Vikings referred to them as the “Sudrens”. As you travel around the islands you will notice many place names and features that retain their Norse heritage. The traditional Lewis Blackhouses or long houses that were home to generations of islanders have their roots in the architectural styles that were introduced by Viking settlers in the 9th Century AD.
Day 1 | Fly from Glasgow to the Isle of Barra. The afternoon flight will land on the famous Cockle Strand beach airstrip at Eoligarry. Our first destination as we drive north will be the Eoligarry Cemetery, where the author Compton Mackenzie (author of Whisky Galore) is buried. Touring the east coast of Barra to Castlebay, the main centre of the population on the island, will provide a taste of what is to come. Our first overnight stay will be at the Craigard Hotel, overlooking the harbour…a wonderful way to relax with a glass whiskey.
Day 2 |Isle of Barra Following our previous day, we will tour the Isle of Barra and the adjoining island of Vatersay with visits to Kisimul Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan Macneil, and the monument to the Annie Jane, which pays tribute to one of the worst disasters in maritime history. Several meetings have been scheduled that include the local Councillor talking about some of the issues that challenge the islands today. The NTS Ranger on Mingulay will talk to us about depopulation and conservation, and Eoin Macneil of Voluntary Action Barra will talk about community development. After a busy day we will return once again to the Craigard Hotel.
Day 3 | Isle of Eriskay Departing the Craigard Hotel after breakfast, we travel north via the west coast of Barra to Ardmhor to board a ferry to the Isle of Eriskay. Highlights of our tour of the Isle of Eriskay include the Princes Strand, Whisky Galore, Eriskay Ponies, local knitwear and the strong religious heritage of the island, as well as a visit to St Michaels Church and the heritage of Fr Allan Macdonald. More recent tourism developments including the Peter May Trail (writer of a trilogy of books set in the Outer Hebrides) and the developed Bird of Prey Trail are well worth a visit. Continuing north via the “causeway”, a road connecting to the Isle of South Uist, we will meet representatives of Storas Uibhist and learn about community landownership. The day will include site visits and meetings with members of the community who are involved with the development of The Machair Way (long distance footpath), Kildonan Museum and Ceolas, which is an organization that delivers traditional music and dance. There will be opportunities to visit heritage sites including Flora Macdonald’s birthplace, ruined chapels at Howmore and the Askernish Golf Course before driving south again to Pollachar. Our day will end with an overnight stay at The Pollachar Inn.
Day 4 | Ormacleit Castle Departing our hotel and traveling north through South Uist we visit the ruins of Ormacleit Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan Ranald before, continuing north onto the Isle of Benbecula and North Uist. The drive north will take us past several military installations including a missile testing range. The presence of the military has influenced the economy and infrastructure of South Uist and Benbecula. Opportunities to visit several sites of cultural importance on route including the Nunton Steadings and Kallin Harbour on the Isle of Grimsay. A visit to Claddach Kirkibost a community facility and possible meeting with community activists about the role the centre plays in the community. Traveling north to Balranald Nature Reserve and a meeting with the local warden to talk about rare species and conservation. Our journey continues as we tour North Uist and visit Barpa Langass, a Neolithic Chambered Burial Cairn in a spectacular location. The day comes to a close with an overnight stay at the Langass Lodge.
Day 5 |Isle of Harris After a hearty breakfast at the Langass Lodge, we continue our journey north to Lochmaddy, visiting the Taigh Chearsabhagh art centre and museum before traveling on to the Isle of Berneray. Here we will enjoy a picnic along with a dram of whiskey on the Machair. With appetites satisfied, we continue on via the 1:30pm ferry from Berneray to the Isle of Harris, arriving in Leverburgh, South Harris 1 hour away. Back on land, we will travel south to Rodel and visit the ancient church of St Clement before continuing north to Northton, home to the Genealogy Centre, where we will meet with Bill Lawson who will give a presentation regarding the population dispersal from the islands and landownership history. Traveling north we arrive in Tarbert for a two night stay at the Isle of Harris Hotel.
Day 6 | Isle of Scalpay Our day begins with a meeting of a representative of the North Harris Trust; we’ll hear about the community ownership of land and other local developments. After a tour of the Isle of Scalpay and a meeting with local community members talking about the fishing heritage, we return to Tarbert followed by a visit to a Harris Tweed Shop and a distillery. Driving south through the Golden Road and the Bays District, our personal guide, Chris Ryan, will discuss local governance, the Lord Leverhulme Legacy, and the local kelp industry. Returning to Tarbert via the west coast, we conclude our day with a personal visit to Donald John Mackay for a demonstration of traditional tweed weaving. Second of a two night stay at the Isle of Harris Hotel.
Day 7 | St Kilda Climb aboard with St Kilda Cruises as we visit the Double World Heritage Site of St Kilda. This is a full-day excursion with several hours ashore. Overnight accommodation in a local hotel.
Day 8 | Delivering Mail by Rocket We move on to Amhuinnsuide Castle to view a natural salmon ladder and learn about the sporting estates (fishing & hunting) in the Outer Hebrides. Continuing on the road to Husinish to walk on the Machair, Chris Ryan, our guide and island resident, will share stories about an attempt to deliver mail by rocket to a neighboring island. Returning to Tarbert for lunch before a short drive to Rhenigadale, we will meet islander Kenny Mackay, the last island postman to use a trail before a road was built. Moving north to the Isle of Lewis, we tour the South Lochs District. This area has been revitalized in recent years by the growth of the Salmon Farming industry, shellfish and a number of small innovative businesses. We continue north to Stornoway, where we take residence for 3 nights in Aline Lodge, a newly refurbished lodge that offers comfortable accommodation in a spectacular setting on the shores of Loch Seaforth, looking down the beautiful fjord all the way to the Isle of Skye. We are fortunate that the Hebridean Celtic Festival is being held in Stornoway at this time, and the Cross Cultural Journeys team has reserved tickets for the group. Famous Rock Band, Run Rig are playing at the festival. If you are a music fan, be excited!
Day 9 | Visit Comunn Eachraidh Nis Following a relaxed breakfast, we have several meetings arranged with the following: the University of the Highlands and Islands, Comunn Na Gaelic, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and BBC Alba to hear about the Gaelic Medium Education and further education in the islands, promotion of Gaelic language etc. We will lunch in Stornoway, followed by a tour north to the Ness District of Lewis. Visit Comunn Eachraidh Nis and meet some of the staff who help to look after the archives and museum. If possible, meet someone with experience of the Guga Hunt, the annual voyage to a remote island to harvest young Gannets for food. On the return to Stornoway, we will visit several sites of historic interest. We will return to our lodge for dinner and an evening attending the Hebridean Celtic Festival.
Day 10 | Callanish Standing Stones The historic Westside of Lewis boasts Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, The Doune Carloway Broch and the Callanish Standing Stones. At Gearrannan, we have the opportunity to visit a reconstructed village that illustrates the type of dwelling many islanders in rural Lewis lived in until very recent times. The Broch at Doune Carloway is a superb example of an Iron Age Hill fort and the Standing Stones at Callanish have been dated in excess of 5,000 years old and this site is one of many stone circles on the Westside of Lewis, a true indication of the island’s long history. Lunching at the Callanish Visitor Centre before moving onto Great Bernera, we may get a chance to meet with the chairperson of the development group, pursuing a community buyout of the island. Returning to Stornoway for an opportunity to attend the festival finale and afterwards, a good night’s sleep.
Day 11 | Uig District of Lewis We depart the hotel after breakfast and tour the Uig District of Lewis. This is a very beautiful but sparsely populated area of Lewis with a long history of land clearance and population decline. There are several historic sites to visit, including the area where the famous Lewis Chessmen were discovered. This concludes our itinerary before returning to Stornoway to board the 1:30pm ferry departure to mainland Ullapool and onward to Glasgow in preparation for returning international flights the following day.
NOTE: This itinerary is subject to change to take advantage of the serendipity of the moment when we are on the Islands… to meet someone special, to engage in an activity that might occur unexpectedly, or to accommodate circumstances beyond our control. Restaurants or hotels may change in similar category.
INCLUDED: Flight from Glasgow to Isle of Barra; all accommodations in the Outer Hebrides (double occupancy); full breakfast daily at the hotels. Local guide; guest speakers; all entrance fees on itinerary; preparation materials; bottled water on the bus.
NOT INCLUDED: International air travel from USA to Glasgow; alcoholic drinks; meals not on itinerary. Excursions not on the itinerary; tips for local guide and driver (optional, yet customary); travel cancellation and evacuation insurance (strongly recommended, info will be sent upon registration).