To find a great beach, head for the Hebrides

Say island-hopping, think Greece. But there are options closer to home. Louise Jury heads out to sea off Scotland's west coast

When people go island-hopping, they usually try Greece. Few try the Outer Hebrides. Yet, when the sun comes out, the turquoise halo surrounding Harris and Lewis stretching down through the Uists to Barra renders them as jewel-like as any cluster of islands in the Med. Admittedly, even in high summer, the sun is a wayward presence. But there are compensating pleasures for a traveller willing to stop and look.

Getting there, however, is not a straightforward business. Those with a strong stomach can fly into Barra on a tiny plane, which lands on a stretch of white-gold beach. We opted to hire a car from behind the railway station in Inverness, and catch the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Ullapool to begin our adventure from Stornoway, a town previously known to us only as a faraway reference point on the weather forecast.

Stornoway has its charms. There are pubs whose interiors appear to have been untouched for the best part of a century, a traditional museum worth an hour or two's pottering, and the stylish An Lanntair Arts Centre, where the town's trendies enjoy a drink and exhibition. The Lewis Loom Centre displays examples of the island's traditional Harris tweed in an eccentric clutter.

But the essence of the Outer Hebrides lies elsewhere, in the geometric cuts of the peat fields of Harris, or the eagles soaring over Benbecula and South Uist and the tiny baby hedgehog which we found snuffling down a country road, utterly bemused to discover a vehicle in his path.

The number of major tourist attractions in the Outer Hebrides is small. Yet the biggest site, the 4,000-year-old standing stones at Callanish on the isle of Lewis, is as astonishing as Stonehenge. Thirteen primary stones of local gneiss rock form a circle with a long approach avenue of stones to the north and shorter rows to the other compass points.

The raison d'être of the stones is not clear, though the alignments suggest they may have had astronomical significance as a form of calendar. Once every 18.6 years, the moon appears to bounce along the top of the neighbouring mountains. The other intriguing attraction on Harris and Lewis – which is one island despite two names – are the traditional blackhouses. They were made of stone with a thatch or turf roof, and the fire in the middle of the main room had no chimney, only a hole above, making the interiors dark and smoky. Slightly modernised versions were in use until the 1970s. There is now a museum and some of the abandoned homes have been turned into holiday cottages.

But the area's real beauty lies in the miles of beaches around Luskentyre, where golden sand is rippled by the waves against a backdrop of high hills. There can scarcely be a more beautiful spot anywhere – even if the wind is whipping.

Another ferry hop took us to North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and the tiny Eriskay, whose isolated status was eased by the building of connecting causeways. We were still often the only people strolling a beach, though we did see a handful of more adventurous visitors sea-kayaking.

But there was also a chance for luxury. Three brothers, Iain, Roddy and Norman MacLeod, opened a new hotel, the Tigh Dearg at Lochmaddy, two years ago, complete with designer rooms and elegant touches such as handmade soaps, a sauna and as much food sourced locally as possible.

Travelling further, past the "otters crossing" signs on the causeways, it was the small island of Eriskay that became our favourite spot. Famous as the setting of the classic film comedy Whisky Galore!, it was where we were adopted by an enthusiastic collie who guarded our tent with a fierce loyalty.

A brisk but barely difficult climb to the highest point on the island gave a bird's eye view back across the causeway and on to our next and final destination, Barra. There, we enjoyed probably the best meal of the trip – crab claws and chips at the friendly Heathbank Hotel – before taking the long journey back to the mainland at Oban.

Standing on the ferry, we watched the islands retreat into sea and sky, leaving just the memories of imposing standing stones and an irrepressible collie.

COMPACT FACTS

How to get there

A six-night stay in the Outer Hebrides with McKinlay Kidd (08707 60 60 27; www.seescotlanddifferently.co.uk) costs from £545 per person, based on two sharing, between May and September. The price includes ferry crossings from Oban-Barra, Barra-Eriskay, North Uist-Harris, and Stornoway-Ullapool (or Harris-Skye) for a car and two adult passengers, b&b and a personalised route from your specified starting point with suggestions on places to see, depending on your interests.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf