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Hiking the Outer Hebrides: The Outer Limits

The Outer Hebrides Map

Map of UK by Tourizm Maps © 2003

The Outer Hebrides, sometimes called the Western Isles, lie off the north west coast of Scotland. Next stop heading west is Canada and the USA.

Although it’s as far north as Labrador, the Gulf Stream heading over from the Gulf of Mexico ensures that the climate is never too cold. However, weather systems track across the Atlantic and hit the islands with some ferocity. So, equipment has to be geared to keep you dry and secure when the gales are blowing.

One other hazard, is the scottish midge. This tiny critter likes to bite you, so between May and September, when the air is still, you have to beware. The good news is that the coastal walk I am planning should mean that even in the calmest weather a sea breeze should be blowing enough to keep the pests from getting airborne. However, if you value your sanity, sleeping under the stars without a tent on a multi-day trip is not really an option.

The route I am planning will take me from the Island of Barra, north through the Uists.  Barra boasts the only airport in the world running scheduled flights off a tidal beach. It is home to a small community that likes to party.

The route will take five days.

Day one, crossing Barra, will take me through hilly untracked open country with great views of the surrounding islands. After catching a ferry north to Eriskay, the landscape changes to white shell sand beaches backed by the Machair of the west coast.

This is sandy soil grassland, with an abundance of wild flowers in season, and it should provide sheltered camp sites amongst the dunes. The walking should be easy, the only risk being the crossing of rivers on tidal estuary sands. However, this will be avoidable, if necessary. I should see seals, sea birds and otters, as I progress north.

I know the Heb quite well, and I cycled through the Uists about 16 years ago with my wife and kids. Walking through should give me time to explore more on the way. Stone Age hunter gatherers made it across the Minch (the water that separates the islands from the mainland), not long after the ice sheets receded, and there’s plenty of early dwelling sites embedded in the landscape. I’m starting in Barra which is the most southerly inhabited island in the chain which stretches for about 200 miles I think (including the bits of sea in between them). Heading from south to north I will also have my back to the prevailing wind.

About Phil Jones

I was 13 when I began to explore the open moors and forests of North Wales (UK). I progressed into climbing at 17. That sport took me to a lot of wild places and taught me how to look after myself, and the virtue of ‘light-weight’. I started doing longer walks in 1989 with a trip to Iceland. The best routes I have done in Europe would be the GR20 in Corsica, and The Lycian Way which traverses the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. I’ve made two trips to the Himalaya; to the Annapurna Sanctuary, and to the Langtang and Helambu. I’ve visited the USA three times, twice to climb, and last year I did the JMT. I’m 61, and retirement beckons at the end of this year. First thing on the agenda next year will be the TGO Challenge in Scotland. I’m researching the CDT in Colorado, and the Sierra High Route as possible future trips.

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3 comments

  1. Hi there,

    Sounds awesome! How about food? How much will it weigh?

    -Sean

  2. Sounds like a great hike. Looks like you have two windshields, do they serve different purposes? Its always interesting to see what other people carry. Hope we will get to enjoy a trip report after the hike. I assume you are catching boat rides between islands? Have fun.

  3. Hi,

    I've done the trip and will post more details when I get back home. I only had one windshield. Just counted it twice. I did take 3 different cooking systems. The evernew pot stand that doubles as a bush cooker, I didn't get to use. The evernew meths burner; I used this most. I found it tended to go out shortly after I had lit it, unless I let it 'bloom' before I put the pan on. it was quite slow, and being new to me, I found it somewhat hard to judge how much fuel I needed for a given meal. The esbit worked well, but neither could be said to match the convenience of a gas cartridge. I'm in a library in Tarbet, listening the the hailstones hitting the roof as I type this. Time to find a cosy retreat I think…..p

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