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Unveiling the Enchanting Secrets and Quirks of the Outer Hebrides

Welcome to the captivating world of the Outer Hebrides, a mesmerizing archipelago off the northwest coast of Scotland. From its unconventional school holidays to its breath taking landscapes, vibrant culture, and remarkable local treasures, this hidden gem offers an experience like no other. Join me as I embark on a journey to unravel my Top Nine unique charms, quirks and more that make the Outer Hebrides so extraordinary.

Come with me on a journey through the Outer Hebrides with its Quirks, Wildlife, and Craftsmanship

Vatersay, Outer Hebrides – Photo Credit: Adrian Kirby

1 – Vast Unoccupied Beaches

Prepare to be spellbound by the Outer Hebrides’ pristine beaches. With their untouched beauty and expanses of golden sand, these shores offer a sense of tranquillity that is hard to find elsewhere. From the famous Luskentyre Beach to the hidden gems of Traigh Mhor and Uig Sands, you’ll discover a beachcomber’s paradise.

In our experience they are largely deserted, you won’t have to fight for a space for your deck chair. On most days leave the deck chair at home as the sea breeze may well whisk it away across the Atlantic – we don’t call it breath taking for nothing!

2 – Marine and Wildlife Extravaganza

Dive into the wonders of the deep as you explore the rich marine life surrounding the Outer Hebrides. Embark on boat trips to observe dolphins, seals, and whales, or indulge in snorkelling adventures in crystal-clear waters. The diverse marine ecosystem will leave you mesmerized. Get ready for encounters with playful seals and the possibility of spotting the magnificent basking sharks. One of the most rewarding trips you can take is a boat trip to St Kilda with Sea Harris or Kilda Cruises.

Explore the fascinating machair landscape of the Outer Hebrides, where nature’s artistry takes centre stage. This lush coastal habitat not only mesmerizes with its vibrant wildflowers but also serves as a wellspring of inspiration for local artists and artisans. From charming puffins to graceful red deer, the wildlife that calls the machair home becomes a muse for creativity.

Kilda Cruises – Journey to St Kilda, the Islands on the Edge

3 – Unconventional School Holidays and Sundays

In the Outer Hebrides, time dances to a different tune. As I write this the rest of the UK revels in their May bank holiday, while we celebrated our school holiday the weekend prior. It’s just one of the many quirks that make this place truly unique. In the Outer Hebrides, time seems to stand still on Sundays, as a unique tradition persists. Most establishments remain closed on Sundays in certain parts of the islands, adding to the charm of the place. However, even in this tradition, inconsistency prevails, with the Southern Islands embracing more freedom on this day than their Northern counterparts. When we arrived in the Outer Hebrides in 2009 there was no ferry on a Sunday and planes had only recently started to fly out of Stornoway airport on the Sabbath. That has all changed now but many things remain closed like the Sports Centre and Swimming Pools in Lewis and you will certainly see less washing hanging out on a Sunday than on other days.

Calmac Ferry Loch Seaforth arriving in Ullapool ready for the return journey to Stornoway on a Sunday

4 – Culture and Gaelic Heritage

Immerse yourself in the rich cultural tapestry of the Outer Hebrides. This region is deeply rooted in Gaelic traditions, with a language that still thrives today. Discover the Gaelic connection through language, music, and art, and delve into the vibrant history of the islands. Don’t forget to explore our Gaelic cards, adorned with illustrations inspired by the enchanting wildlife of the machair.

5 – The Tale of Two Islands: Lewis and Harris

Experience the unique duality of the Outer Hebrides with the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris, two distinct islands on one landmass. Where else would you find that?! Explore the rugged mountains and ancient standing stones of Lewis, and venture to the southern part known as Harris, where you’ll find stunning white sandy beaches and the world-renowned Harris Tweed.

6 – Stornoway Black Pudding: A Gastronomic Delight

Indulge your taste buds in the unique flavours of Stornoway Black Pudding—a culinary delight originating from the Outer Hebrides. Learn about the traditional methods used in crafting this savoury delicacy and relish its rich, earthy taste. Support local suppliers and discover where to find the best Stornoway Black Pudding. It’s a controversial subject which butcher is the best in Stornoway. We’re lucky to be served by so many, a rare thing in the age of the supermarket. My personal preference is Charley Barley but you decide for yourself, why not sample them all?! Eat it on its own, with scrambled eggs, on a pizza – it tastes good any way it’s served.

Charles MacLeod (commonly referred to as Charley Barley) Stornoway Black Pudding
Charles MacLeod Stornoway Black Pudding

7 – Guga: A Peculiar Culinary Tradition

Stornoway Black Pudding isn’t the only culinary ‘delight’ on the islands. Delve into the curious gastronomic tradition of guga hunting. Each year, a small number of islanders embark on a daring adventure to harvest young gannet chicks, known as “guga,” from the remote Sula Sgeir island. Discover the cultural significance and the taste of this peculiar culinary tradition, a testament to the connection between the islanders and the bountiful seas that surround them. This is the only place in the UK where gannets can be hunted legally and remains a controversial subject for some.

8 – Peat Cutting

Step into the rich history of the Outer Hebrides and discover the ancient art of peat cutting. For generations, islanders have relied on peat as a vital source of fuel. Experience an age-old tradition as you witness locals skilfully extract blocks of peat from the earth using traditional tools. Learn about the significance of peat in the islanders’ lives, from its use as a fuel source to its cultural importance and the distinctive smoky aroma it imparts when burned. Find out more and soak in the rich scent at the Arnol Blackhouse, one of our favourite places to visit.

9 – Harris Tweed: A Touch of Timeless Elegance

Unravel the story behind Harris Tweed, a fabric that has captivated the fashion world for centuries. Discover the intricate craftsmanship and the journey of this handwoven textile, and explore local suppliers who continue to create masterpieces with this iconic material. Taste the essence of tradition with each thread. While visiting Harris be sure to pop in to see Becca, she taught me how to weave Harris Tweed.

And if you thought weaving from your home was just a cultural tradition then you’d be wrong. It’s an income stream for some on the islands. Running your own business from home, whether full time or alongside a main job is historical and still prevalent on the islands today. While I run Cards and Gift Wrap from our home, my husband is a full-time author from home. Though he can often be found in our favourite coffee shop, Kopi Java. And you’ll find a myriad of honesty shops around the islands. Check out The Lewis and Harris Trail to make the most of any journey from the Butt to Barra.

Why the Outer Hebrides is still our home, despite all its quirks.

The Outer Hebrides may be a place of unconventional school holidays, Sunday closures, and peculiar traditions, but it is precisely these quirks that make it feel like home. Amidst the stunning landscapes and vibrant culture, there is a sense of belonging that permeates the islands. Whether it’s the warm hospitality of the locals, the connection to Gaelic heritage, or the centuries-old craftsmanship that thrives here, the Outer Hebrides captivate our hearts and remind us of the enduring spirit of this unique corner of the world. It is a place where nature, tradition, and community intertwine, creating a timeless allure that keeps calling us back.

Every corner of this archipelago has a story to tell. Experience the magic for yourself, and let the Outer Hebrides capture your heart with its boundless charm.

You might even find yourself passing by my little shop beside our home!

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