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The Outer Hebrides
The Outer Hebrides—the Western Isles in common parlance—stretch about 130 mi from end to end and lie about 50 mi from the Scottish mainland. This splintered archipelago extends from the Butt of Lewis in the north to the 600-foot Barra Head on Berneray in the south, whose lighthouse has the greatest arc of visibility in the world. In the Hebrides, clouds cling to the hills, and rain comes in squalls. Any trip here requires protection from the weather and a conviction that a great holiday does not require the sun.
The Isle of Lewis and Harris is the northernmost and largest of the group. The island's only major town, Stornoway, is on a nearly landlocked harbor on the east coast of Lewis; it's probably the most convenient starting point for a driving tour of the islands if you're approaching the Western Isles from the Northern Highlands. Lewis has some fine historic attractions, including the Calanais Standing Stones—a truly magical place. The Uists are known for their rare, plentiful wildlife.
Just south of the Sound of Harris is the Isle of North Uist, rich in monoliths, chambered cairns, and other reminders of a prehistoric past. Benbecula, sandwiched between North and South Uist, is in fact less bare and neglected-looking than its bigger neighbors to the north. The Isle of South Uist, once a refuge of the old Catholic faith, is dotted with ruined forts and chapels; in summer its wild gardens burst with alpine and rock plants. Eriskay Island and a scattering of islets almost block the 6-mi strait between South Uist and Barra, an isle you can walk across in an hour.
Harris tweed is available at many outlets on the islands, including some of the weavers' homes; keep an eye out for signs directing you to weavers' workshops. Sunday on the islands is observed as a day of rest, and nearly all shops and visitor attractions are closed.
The Outer Hebrides at a Glance
- Amhuinnsuidhe Castle
- Balranald Nature Reserve
- Barpa Langass Chambered Cairn
- Black House
- Butt of Lewis Lighthouse
- Calanais Standing Stones
- Caledonian MacBrayne
- Dun an Sticar
- Dun Carloway
Elsewhere in The Northern Highlands and the Western Isles
- Isle of Skye
- John o'Groats
- Kyle of Lochalsh
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