Idylic, windswept beaches, deserted sand dunes and a sense of timelessness greet the visitor to this chain of remote islands off the north-west cost of Scotland. If you love the idea of standing alone on a remote white sand beach and you can live without seeing trees (there aren’t many on the Outer Hebrides) then this could be the ideal destination for your next road trip.
The main islands of Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Harris and Lewis are all connected by causeway or car ferry, and offer an uninterrupted 167 mile road trip through some of the UK’s most unique landscapes.
On a sunny day it’s possible to mistake a white sand beach on Berneray for a Caribbean Island
Driving on the Outer Hebrides is an experience in itself. The roads are narrow and mainly single track meaning you adopt a slow speed of driving. After you have spent a couple of days cruising the empty roads you slip into the slow pace of life. The hectic speed of every day life dissipates and is replaced by a sense of freedom that only remote places offer. The phone signal is patchy at best. The lack of connectivity gives you time to contemplate your surroundings.
There are beautiful beaches to be found on all the islands. At times I found myself walking for several hours and not seeing another person and that was in the height of summer.
It’s worth having a look at the Google map satellite before you depart. I have visited the Hebrides twice now and i’m always surprised at what I find.
If you want to properly experience the islands you need to leave time in your schedule to get off the beaten path.
There are a few different options for which route you take but I chose to drive south to north starting in Barra which has a ferry connection to the mainland. I drove Barra (ferry) South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Berneray (ferry) Harris and then Lewis. I then returned to the mainland via the Isle of Skye which offers further stunning scenery although it is noticeably busy than the Outer Hebrides.
Wild camping is tolerated on the islands. You can pull up on the edge of a remote beach and spend the night there and no one seems to mind.
This is a big attraction for me. I wild camped on several occasions in my van and woke up to glorious views. If you are considering a camp fire there is a lack of wood on the islands. I didn’t come across much driftwood on the shores so it’s worth bringing your own wood from the mainland. If you wild camp make sure you leave no trace.
The Outer Hebrides is sparsely populated with miles of sandy beaches and rolling hills. It’s the perfect place to go back in time and escape the modern world.
My top tips for the perfect road trip:
- Book your car ferry connections in advance at Cal Mac ferries. On a busy summer weekend I discovered some of the key routes were fully booked a few weeks ahead, so don’t get caught out. The same applies to accommodation.
- On Sundays shops and petrol stations tend to be closed so make sure you have stocked up the day before.
- The islands are clean and beautiful. Make sure they stay that way. If you are camping or in a motorhome take your garbage with you. Leave no trace.
- The weather is interchangeable and even in the middle of summer you can experience four seasons in one day. Bring waterproof layers and footwear if you are planning to spend time outdoors. Allow extra time at each place in case the weather is bad. If visiting St Kilda, which I highly recommend, allow at least a few days on Harris to give you a better weather window.
- Choose your time of year. July and August are peak months and although it is not a busy place it is increasing in popularity. Consider May and June as an alternative when the islands get the most favourable weather.
- Visit St Kilda! It’s amazing. You can read about my experience here.
If you would like information on how to get to the Hebrides please check out my destination guide.
The map shows one potential route starting in Barra to the south and then driving north up the island chain.