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by Alec Farmer

Katrina Stewart is a photographer based in the North of Scotland. She drives Scotlands winding roads, capturing the stunning landscapes along the way. This is a log of her most recent trip to the Outer Hebrides with her family, VW camper and a Trakke bag in tow. 

 

Day Zero - The Journey

Our destination for this trip is the Outer Hebrides and the Hebridean Way. Primarily a walking and cycling route, the 156 mile journey spans 10 islands from Vatersay in the south to Lewis in the north. There is no final destination, only the journey itself. 

Day One - Scalpay

The ferry master announces our arrival in Harris, first in Gaelic and then English. We make our way through the small town of Tarbert and take the winding road to Scalpay. The landscape is comprised of rugged moorland, lochans and peat banks where locals use as tairsgear to cut the peat into slabs ready for drying on the moor, eventually to be used as fuel for the stove when dry. 

A man and his Trakke Bag - a black Assynt 28 - stands infront of Eilean Glas lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides Scotland

Along with a spattering of daffodils, the newborn lambs signify Spring's arrival. We hike to Eilean Glas lighthouse, a straightforward 4km circular route giving us the chance to stretch our legs and take in the distinctive red banded lighthouse, one of the first in Scotland.

That night we camp on the warm sands of Horgabost. The blues of the water change with the sky: an alluring topaz blue evolves into piercing grey blue under the stratus clouds.

A black Assynt 28 backpack by Trakke sits inside of a VW van in the Outer Hebrides

The light pitter patter of raindrops signal an end to beach time and we take our sandy toes back to the campervan where we feast on chilli chicken with avocado and sour cream washed down with a cold beer. Sleep soon beckons. 

a vw van sits on a winding road in Uist on the Outer Hebrides

Day Two - North Uist

The next morning we head down the undulating golden road of Harris towards Leverburgh for the ferry over to the Uists. Layers of clouds peel away to reveal new weather fronts and shard like light pierces the landscape. The ferry follows a series of buoys, an aquatic dot to dot adventure into Berneray. The mostly flat outlook of North Uist provides a stark contrast to its northern mountainous neighbour. 

a man stands on a beach in the Outer Hebrides with his black assynt 28 looking out onto the burial site of a neolithic chieftain

Following the machair way along the fringes of the Uist coast we are treated to sightings of red deer, seals, herons and oystercatchers. The day is spent exploring sun kissed beaches and visiting a 5000 year old burial chamber believed to be the final resting place of a neolithic chieftan. 

We then become absorbed by the story of Flora McDonald - who played a role in helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the islands where he sought refuge after his defeat at Culloden. This hastens our trip to the Isle of Eriskay where the Prince was said to have landed. Immediately after crossing the South Uist Eriskay causeway we encounter wild ponies grazing by the side of the road and in the main island settlement. 

Cars being ferried across the water to another island of the Outer Hebrides

On the boat to Barra, the locals stay contained in the car deck but we wobble our way up to the open deck to take in the views in every direction. Barra is tinged with golden beaches and turquoise surf and feels like a condensed version of the whole of the Outer Hebrides. Washing blows precariously in the Atlantic winds and the Atlantic waters sparkle and shimmer in the sun. We jump on another much smaller boat to Kisimul castle within the bay of the main town in Barra - aptly named Castlebay.

 

A bitter wind rolls in off the sea and for the first time in the trip, we have to wrap up warm. At Kisimul cafe we gorge ourselves on scallop pakoras and monkfish & cod masala. Warmed up again, we venture back to our campsite along a single track coastal road. It's feeding time for the animals and bales of hay are being tossed over fences to eager faces. 

A picture showing the sand meeting the sea on west bay beach in the Outer Hebrides

Day Four - Vatersay

The next day we head to the southernmost island on our trip: Vatersay. We only have an afternoon here and as much as we want to explore, West Bay beach provides too much of a draw. The dramatic waves soften as they hit the shore leading curved tide lines which lead the eye along the shore and up to the hills behind. A working dog comes to join us at the shore, he drops a stone at our feet and patiently waits for us to throw it, bounding off joyfully into the surf with each throw. You can tell he's worked this beach before! It's our first taste of proper heat this year and we come away with pink cheeks. 

A damp day beckons the following morning. The sea is calmer, more muted but the birdsong is loud and echoes around the campsite. The area is peppered with fishing paraphernalia: colourful buoys, creels, rope of varying lengths and colours and boats of varying conditions. A lone black lamb catches our eye as we make our way to the 40 minute crossing back to Eriskay for the drive back up through the Hebrides and towards out last island - Isle of Lewis. 

This final part of the road trip takes in some incredible sights. Beaches of white sands and turquoise waters with names such as Scarista, Horgabost, Sielebost and Luskentyre mesmerise us. The evening brings even bigger treats with the setting sun turning the landscape a burnt orange.

We stop at Calanais Stones as the sky mellows to a dusky pink, the sky just adding to the allure of these mysterious stones. Our last day upon us we make our way up to the final wayfaring point of the trip: the Butt of Lewis and its imposing lighthouse. 

The crossing back to the mainland on calm soft water completes what has been one of our most memorable adventures. Lifelong memories have been made. This won't be our last time on these wild and beautiful shores. 

Inspired on your own wheeled adventure through Scotland's roads? Check out our guide about how to drive on single track roads in Scotland, or discover one of Scotland's most spectacular roads, the Bealach Na Bà.

Alec Farmer
Alec Farmer



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