Travel on a shoestring: The Outer Hebrides

Lindsay Middleton

Interrailing is rapidly becoming the favourite choice for students who want to take a break from University and explore a new part of the world. Of course, there are a lot of benefits: the freedom, being able to visit numerous different countries and of course, tasting all the different European food. Who wouldn’t want to try it? It is, however, extremely expensive even with the best of forward planning.

For those who don’t want to break the bank, Scotland’s own Outer Hebrides offer an alternative adventure holiday that can be done at a fraction of the cost of travelling overseas. With some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (a Thai tourist site was recently caught using a picture of Berneray Island in the Hebrides to advertise its own beaches) as well as a multitude of hills to climb and historical places to visit, a ‘stay-cation’ to these islands is definitely a great option to consider when planning your next break.

Travelling to the Outer Hebrides will be the most expensive part of your trip but, compared to a twenty-two day interrail pass that costs £180, it still offers serious value for money.

From Glasgow, the first step is getting to Oban, via train or bus, which can cost under £20 if booked a few months in advance. From there, you will need to catch a ferry. Caledonian MacBrayne have a number of different options when it comes to how you travel. One route that will give you a full impression of the Outer Hebrides is the route that takes you from Oban to Barra and, once you have explored the islands from Barra up to Lewis, will return you to the mainland via Ullapool.

Whilst a car is undoubtedly useful for getting about once you arrive, many also make the trip either by foot or bicycle, relying on public transport and their walking boots when they get there. To take a car on the ferry costs £168 and each passenger is a further £37.60.

Once you get to the islands, there are a number of options regarding accommodation. From luxury holiday cottages to campsites, and all inbetween, there is something to meet every budget. On every island, you will find a choice of campsites, which are wonderful if you need a shower or to use a proper loo. Most cost around £8 per night for a three-man tent. However, if it is that real sense of adventure you are after, the Outer Hebrides boast some of the world’s best rough camping. By doing so, you will find some remote but beautiful spots with the most spectacular views, where you can enjoy some peace and quiet.

Make sure to look online to find out what equipment you need before you commit to roughing it. A double-layered tent is vital, as well as an extra set of pegs and a mallet to make sure you don’t blow away! A walking book is another great investment – you can get many different pocket sized ones which are really handy when planning where to go. Another necessity is midge repellent; go for something strong like jungle formula. Don’t be fooled by their size – on a still day, they make life hell and you will wish you listened to your dad and got that ridiculous, beekeeper style midge hood. If you can swallow your pride, it might be the most valuable purchase you ever make!

A few places to visit

Barra: Barra Pizza is worth the pilgrimage for the novelty. Ordering a pizza from the tiny farmhouse while chickens run around your feet will probably be the surrealist take-away experience you ever have. Eat your pizza on the impressive back-to-back beaches of Vatersay, or time it right and go and watch a plane land on the beach that is Barra’s airport.

Eriskay: A tiny but glorious island, Eriskay is the inspiration for the 1949 film Whisky Galore! which is currently being remade, starring Eddie Izzard.
After a walk/kick about (the island’s football pitch is one of FIFA’s eight remarkable places to play football in the world), visit the pub AM Politian, where they still have some of the original whisky that washed ashore in 1941. Enjoy your dram with a view of the golden sands that Bonnie Prince Charlie first landed on.

North and South Uist and Benbecula: Climbing the hill, Eaval, will give you the best view of this chain of islands, as well as St Kilda on a clear day. The tidal walk from North Uist to the abandoned Isle of Vallay lets you explore the dramatic ruined mansion and farm buildings, giving you a feel of the history of the place.
From Benbecula, nature lovers should definitely visit the tiny islet of Flodaigh, where you are almost guaranteed to see tens of surprisingly bold seals remarkably close up.

Harris and Lewis: If you are getting the ferry back from Stornoway, spend a couple of nights in mountainous Harris. Keep an eye out for sea eagles, as this is one of their strongholds. The abandoned lighthouse on Scalpay is the perfect place for a dramatic, instagram-worthy photo-shoot, especially at sunset. It has been left empty for years and the only things that live there are sheep and seabirds. The perfect place to look for dolphins.
Lewis is home to the famous Callanish Standing Stones, a popular tourist site. For a quieter piece of history head to Dun Carloway Broch, one of the only examples of its kind on the Western Isles.

The key with visiting a place like the Outer Hebrides is to do your research beforehand, so you can cram in everything you want to do. For a relatively small mass of land, there are hundreds of beautiful places to visit that surpass any other destination. Because of the nature of the Outer Hebrides, nearly everything you can do is free and this is where this holiday will trump others in terms of value. Whilst it is undoubtedly impressive to relax on a Thai island or take in the cities of Europe, there is something life-affirming about being somewhere so incredible and knowing that it is still so close to home. The Outer Hebrides will only exceed your expectations and leave you wanting more.


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