Also known as 'The Long Island' the Outer Hebrides form a chain off the north-west coast of Scotland.
Whilst forming a single administrative unit the Western Isles show a surprising variety of landscape, economy and culture.
Where they are
In the north the 'islands' of Lewis and Harris (actually only one island) with their attendant islands stretch for about 75 miles from the Butt of Lewis to the Sound of Harris. Next are the Uists, consisting of three main islands of North and South Uist and Benbecula and running for another 60 miles to the Sound of Barra which separates them from Barra.
Geomorphologically the islands show a range of landscapes. The north and middle of Lewis is essentially moorland with a thick peat cover, with the exception of coastal strips of better agricultural land where the sands helped to produce better soils. Further south Lewis becomes increasingly hilly, especially to the west, until in Harris there are much wilder hills with bare rocky landscapes on the east and narrow expanses of machair on the west. In the Uists the machair is much more widespread and there are extensive beaches. The east has more bare rock, hills and some peat moor. High average wind speeds have meant that there are few trees, apart from a few places such as Lews Castle in Stornoway and some other estates. Modern forestry planting has been limited and appears to have met with limited success.
Whilst none of the hills are particularly high they are relatively wild and inaccessible for their size. With the exception of in the machair areas there is a complex drainage system with very many lochs and lochans. All this together with the contrast of acidic peat and alkaline machair, tidal flats an indented coast and relatively little disturbance means that the flora and fauna of the islands is particularly diverse and rich. Tragically this is now under extreme threat from proposals to build very large wind power stations over vast areas.
Getting there and getting
Given the nature of the islands with long distances and scattered small communities the bus service is reasonable with close integration and clever feeder services.
There aren't many roads but standards on the main routes are reasonable and improving, although even some of these have poor single track sections. Much of the main 'spine' route in the Uists is still single track. Some roads in more isolated areas need care with limited visibility and steep gradients, but surfaces are good and passing places adequate. Traffic levels are very low and drivers very courteous, especially in Lewis and Harris. Distances should not be underestimated - road atlases tend to show the islands at a smaller scale than other parts and this can be misleading!
MAIN SITE MAP
BRITISH ISLES PICTURES
Isle of Man
Pictures, problems etc