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The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, is a vast island chain situated off the northwest coast of Scotland. Containing 15 inhabited islands, with roughly 27,000 inhabitants, they are famous for prehistoric structures and hugely varied wildlife.
Evoking thoughts of historic Gaelic tales, this sparsely populated and slow-paced, 130 mile long chain has everything Scotland does best: sweeping highlands, rocky peaks and magnificent ruins. It’s a place for total quietude, particularly on the Sabbath when most shops in the Protestant north close for the day, with nothing but the sound of rippling tides and serenading seabirds in the air.
Ideal for birdwatchers, the Outer Hebrides sees 90% of Europe’s Leach’s petrels and 24% of the world’s northern gannet population, as well as numerous important species like cornrakes, hen harriers and golden eagles on a regular basis. National Reserves occupy a sizeable chunk of the Western Isles, with scarce and protected species of wildflower blanketing the open landscapes, while some of the most fascinating marine life includes porpoises, orcas, basking sharks and dolphins.
A time capsule for prehistoric Britain, the Outer Hebrides features myriad ruins, standing stones and Iron Age brochs, each with their own, usually bloody, story to tell. Originally settled in the Mesolithic era, roughly 8000 BC, some of the oldest and most compelling structures include Eilean Domhnuill on North Uist; the earliest known crannog in Britain, and the Callanish Stones; regarded as the finest stone circle in Scotland.
Perhaps surprisingly, Hebridean beaches are some of the most picturesque in the world. Glistening white sand contrasts beautifully with sloping green machairs, with turquoise tides lapping the shore. The Isle of Lewis and Harris has particularly excellent windsurfing conditions, but family-friendly coastlines can be found throughout most islands.
For such peaceful and somewhat remote islands, the Outer Hebrides boasts an impressive network of ferry routes from a great number of locations. Aside from the multitude of inter-island crossings, there is plenty of choice from the Scottish mainland, and from the Isle of Skye of the Inner Hebrides, operated by the leading ferry company on the west coast of Scotland.