Scottish Road Trip: The Outer Hebrides

Home→ Aviemore→ Inverness→ Gairloch→ Ullapool→ Lewis→ Harris→ Skye

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Some may say that venturing to the Outer Hebrides in the middle of winter is a bold choice for a first #VanLife experience in Scotland – but I could not be more excited. Starting in Fife, we decided to head northward to catch the Ullapool ferry to Stornoway, travel through the Isle of Lewis, Isle of Harris and take the crossing from Ulg to Uig on the Isle of Skye.


Aviemore

Just outside Aviemore there is a beautiful circular walking route around Loch an Eilein. The calmness of the water beautifully reflects the pines of Rothiemurchus Forest and a castle ruin stands unwavering on a small island in the centre of the loch. We timed this walk perfectly just before sunset. Remember your £2.50 parking fee!

Our first camping spot was in a large car park next to Loch Morlich – a freshwater loch surrounded by forest and beach on one side, and the Cairngorm Mountain range on the other. We were woken up by duck quacks in the morning and the sun rose up through the clouds behind the mountain tops. Unfortunately, our first night away was a cold one. We will be making a pit stop in Inverness for a new leisure battery.

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On our way over to the west coast from Aviemore to Gairloch, we decided to explore Rogie Falls, just off the A835 near Contin. Such a unique and tranquil location and the most stunning waterfall I have seen in Scotland. It also gave me the chance to try out some photography skills and learned the art of trying to balance my SLR on a suspension bridge!

On the A832 we had lunch by another epic waterfall. I did not know Scotland had so many!


Gairloch

Our second wake up view was a little less clear on the west coast of Scotland in a cosy little town called Gairloch. We went to a coffee shop called the Mountain Coffee Company, which was filled with interesting books and other nicknacks relative to the great outdoors. It was hilarious to read all the bad customer service reviews on trip advisor for this place but I have no complaints. Comfy, cozy and great coffee!


Ullapool

Driving North-East to Ullapool, we were hoping to find a convenient place to do our last cold water dive of 2016. However, with the intense rain and inaccessible nature of the lochs, we failed miserably and this seemed to become a general theme for our “diving trip.” Still, the views along the way were beautiful and we joked about diving Gruinard Island, an area made dangerous for all mammals by experiments with the anthrax bacterium until it was decontaminated in the late 20th century.

Ullapool was a sleepy little seaside town. We were worried the ferry would be canceled due to horrendous weather conditions but thankfully not. It was lovely to walk around the little shops and stop in for a coffee at any given opportunity. We both managed to find a good pair of waterproof Craghopper trousers in the sale and basically lived in them for the rest of the trip.


Lewis

The ferry to Lewis was incredibly rocky and I spent most of the time horizontal, feeling sorry for myself. It was great to be back on land in Stornoway and we spent the night outside Andy’s relatives who kindly let us use their shower. The next day we visited Callanish, 4000-year-old standing stones on the west coast of Lewis from the Neolithic era. They are placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle. It is proposed the stones were a prehistoric lunar observatory but the true origin is unknown.

Gallan Head at Aird Uig on the west coast of Lewis was a pleasant surprise to come across. A surprise because again we were looking for a dive site but instead ended up on a cliff looking out to the Atlantic and St Kilda. I loved imagining that this place could have been a stop-off point for Neolithic and Bronze Age sea travelers, a place where anxious islanders watched out for invading Vikings and kept an eye on the seas during times of war in the ensuing centuries. It is worth a visit because:

  1. It is the most North-Westerly point of Britain
  2. The waterfalls go the wrong way!

This was the last day of the year and we still failed to find a dive site. For Hogmanay, we explored the pubs of Stornoway from The Lewis – The Star – Sea Angling. We were out until 2am which is apparently unheard of on a Saturday evening because Sunday is a very sacred day on the Outer Hebrides and everything shuts down. I would have loved to have seen some fireworks and apart from a kiss at the bells, it felt a lot more like a night out than New Year. This night marks the big step to cutting meat from our diet.


Harris

Our new found vegetarianism was hindered by a Charles Macleod Stornoway Black Pudding gift from the family. One of Scotland’s unique delicacies, the ingredients of which I will not go into detail. On January 1st, we drove down to The Isle of Harris (which is really the same island as Lewis) and spent the night on the Clisham (or An Cliseam). This is the highest point on the Outer Hebrides and the morning views were stunning.

We retraced our steps slightly and headed East of the main road through a tiny town called Maraig to attempt to dive Loch Seaforth (Scottish Gaelic: Loch Shiphoirt), as close to the sea as possible from Rhenigidale. Rhenigidale was even smaller, with roughly 5 houses and to our surprise a youth hostel. The water temperature was a toasty 8 degrees C and the air temperature was probably much cooler. We could not get deeper than 10m but it was still great to get back in salty water. Kelp beds, starfish and sea urchins were the main attraction.

Post dive, we ventured back over An Cliseam and traveled down the west coast of Harris, visiting as many stunning white sand beaches as the limited daylight allowed. My favourite beaches were Losgaintir and a small beach near Northton that was shadowed by a mountain. I can see why they are labeled some of the best beaches in the world.

It did not take us long to realize everywhere on Harris was shut down for the winter period. We stayed overnight on the east coast somewhere completely random and went for a dive in Flodabay Bay in the morning with slipway access. This was shallower than the last dive! But still beautiful with similar sealife.

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Afterwards, we drove to the Isle of Scalpay and paid a visit to one of the oldest lighthouses in Scotland – Eilean Glas Lighthouse. George from the North Harbour Bistro on Scalpay, kindly opened his doors to us, made us some chips. He also recommended dive sites and offered to give us his boat for the day! We might definitely take up his offer next time.

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We went for a night dive at the old Ferry slipway, which was an epic last dive with a wall and everything! Happy days!


Skye

We failed to book our ferry to Uist far enough in advance, so instead, we decided to drive home through the Isle of Skye. We experienced the best weather since leaving home and both of us had not visited the North of Skye before. The ferry crossed over from Tarbert to Uig and we drove around the north tip of Skye and down the east coast. Apart from spectacular views of the Outer Hebridean islands we had just visited, there was not an awful lot to see. We did, however, stop at famous dinosaur footprints and there was a beautiful waterfall descending over the cliffs.

Bodach an Stoir (The Old Man of Storr) is a 49m pinnacle on the Trotternish peninsula of the Isle of Skye. The Old Man is in fact just one element in an array of fantastic rock features, and the views out over the Sound of Raasay and to the mainland are stunning. I loved this view with the Cuillin mountain ridge in the background.

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The sunset over the Cuillins on our way home was the perfect way to end a perfect trip. 6 hours later, we were back home in a real bed, missing the solitude of our Campervan life.

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Things Learned: Do not fill your camper toilet with dive cylinders!

· December 2016 - January 2017 ·

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