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Pollock House

An Outer Hebridean Adventure

A Grand Tour of this long strand of islands, from Barra's beach runway
in the south to the single track roads of Lewis in the north, is as much
about the journey as the destination

BY KENNETH STEVEN

Going to the Outer Hebrides from the Scottish mainland feels akin to going abroad. And at one time, it almost was. Even into the reign of King James VI of Scotland, who ruled from 1567 until his death in 1625, these islands were beyond the control of the Scottish crown. The settlers he sent to bring the Western Isles to heel, so to speak, were simply killed in cold blood.

Even now thereís a different feel about daily life in the Outer Hebrides. Doors are generally left unlocked; thereís still a sense of community and caring -- the stranger is always looked after. Further in towards the mainland, islands like Coll and Iona and Mull are certainly distinctly Highland in character but feel less removed in all senses from Scotland.

Kristina and I are lucky to live on a little island south of Oban, that town on the west coast thatís the primary hub for ferries to the islands. We live here by choice; as photographer and writer we have easy access to some of what is surely Scotlandís finest coastal wildscapes. But Kristina had never visited the Outer Isles before, and so I hatched a plot to work our way from south to north along the spine of them, beginning in Barra and ending in Lewis. We had ten days in all -- perhaps the optimum amount of time to get some real sense of the heartbeat of these very different landfalls.

I have been many times to different corners of the Outer Hebrides. My father was a journalist and wrote about wild places in Scotland and the people who inhabited them. For that reason I was privileged to be taken as a child to remote croft houses, where we'd sit and listen to stories. By the time I was a teenager, I had visited almost every corner of Scotland, particularly the kind of places most other Scots didnít know about or simply ignored.

My memories of the Outer Isles were of wild moorlands and a near constant wind; sheepdogs flowing into black and white waterfalls as they worked for the crofter; incredible stretches of white shell beaches.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2018 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on The Secrets Of Lake of Menteith by Jim Gilchrist.

Click here to preview our feature article on Pollok House, A Home For All Seasons by Stephen McGinty.

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Click here to preview our reviews of Scottish Books.

Photo © Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland / Scottish Viewpoint