30 days in the middle of nowhere
July 19, 2011 6:09 AM   Subscribe

A month in the Hebrides. One woman, one tent. Tell me what not to miss.

Longer version: I'm escaping London to spend August in the Hebrides. Carrying a tent and planning to wild camp for most of it, resorting to hostels/B&Bs when the weather's miserable or hygiene becomes a pressing issue. Planning to get around on foot (I'm a keen walker) and by ferry/public transport/taxi. I've made plans to spend a few days each on Iona and St. Kilda. Probably won't be going to Skye, Islay or Jura but am up for going pretty much anywhere else. What should I be sure to see/do while I'm there?

Bonus questions for extra credit: will the midges really be that bad? And will I really be completely screwed if I try to do anything on a Sunday?
posted by stuck on an island to Travel & Transportation around Briarcliff, AR (9 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Further information: I like remote, deserted, beautiful, desolate, forbidding, eerie, weird and holy places. And eccentric people. And good pubs.
posted by stuck on an island at 6:17 AM on July 19, 2011

Best answer: The ferries are good and cheap for walkers/cyclists. However public transport is almost nonexistent and taxis... well, good luck booking those (we got stuck somewhere and found the three taxi numbers we had were for people no longer doing taxi service, so had to walk an unexpected 12 extra miles one day. Awkward.). You can get lifts from the Royal Mail vans but they are few and far between. Why not consider hiring a bicycle? Lewis is hilly but the islands south of there are flat, and the Uists and Benbecula are a cyclist's dream... great open EU-funded roads, no traffic, and flat as the proverbial pancake.

Horgabost Campsite is spectacular. Amazing beach, superb views. There's no shop and the site is usually unmanned (you pay in a box at the entrance). There's a grocery van that comes around most days of the week; it's well stocked. Speaking of money and payment, hit a cashpoint when you see one. Loads of places don't take cards. There are bank vans around in some places where there are no banks and cashpoints, but only on certain days.

Peat smoked salmon from the Hebridean Smokehouse is delicious, and the smokehouse itself is a nice place to visit, two rooms, usually something going on to watch. There's a shop nearby as well which is useful for stocking up on local beers and such.

Moorcroft campsite in North Uist has a kitchen/sitting room for tent campers which is great when the midges are bad. It also has a beautiful view, well kept pitches, and a nice family run it.

I'm a fan of standing stones, so pretty much went to see as many as I could. They are all really very cool if you like that sort of thing. Also the ruins of Teampull na Trionaid are worth a look.

Yes, most places are closed on Sundays. Pubs aren't a big thing in the Highlands, mostly people drink in hotels. But a large number of hotels and guest houses won't let you drink there if you're not staying. The food at Tigh Deargh in Lochmaddy is good, they have their own beer, and it's open to the public.
posted by Cuppatea at 6:31 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also: Tigh Deargh has the island's only spa and sauna, which is also open to the public. Great place t stop when you're soaked through and tired.
posted by Cuppatea at 6:34 AM on July 19, 2011

will the midges really be that bad?

Yes. Actually, worse than that.
posted by Helga-woo at 7:04 AM on July 19, 2011

Best answer: One of the most memorable things I did as a child was take a very small ferry to the tiny island of Staffa. Staffa has an incredible cave made of hexagonal basalt columns, and above the cave, on the surface of the island (no more than a quarter mile square, probably), there is a huge puffin colony. The island had no signage or development of any kind (at the time, anyway), only a steel railing drilled in to the rocks to help people get off the ferry. The cave was awesome and there were thousands of jellyfish everywhere. There isn't anything else for miles around but choppy sea.

My parents are both musicians, and the reason they took us to Staffa is because the cave, called Fingal's Cave, is famously referenced in Mendelssohn's Hebrides/Fingal's Cave overture. It's a beautiful piece of music - they sang it to my sister and I on the ferry - and also a neat old legend. Fingal was a mythical hero said to have stepped on Staffa on his way to Scotland from Ireland (well, there are many different versions of the story).
posted by Cygnet at 9:35 AM on July 19, 2011

Best answer: I visited the Isle of Eigg several years ago, and although I didn't visit any of the other islands and thus can't really compare it to your other options, it was an amazing trip. We just went for the day, but were the only people to have purchased a trail map with our boat tickets, and it was the closest thing I've ever experienced to being the only people on earth - very cool! It's beautiful, has an interesting history (wikipedia), in the past few years has transformed its energy system into the "first completely wind, water and sun-powered electricity grid in the world", and if you're lucky, your ferry boat captain will spot a minke whale and take you on an unscheduled whale-watching detour.

I would also recommend a trip on the Jacobite Steam Train, aka the Hogwarts Express!
posted by KatlaDragon at 11:18 AM on July 19, 2011

My sister lives on Iona and I have been there many times.

It's a pain to get to and seriously, it ain't all that, unless you're a Christian doing the pilgrimage thing. Seriously, you can get the gist in a day, and in August the place will be full of Christians doing the pilgrimage thing. Mull is more spectacular geographically and Tobermory is a better place to stay than anything you'll find on Iona. You won't find much at all on Iona.

Seconding the visit to Staffa. Not only is the place spectacular in it's own right but you can go get real close and personal with the puffins, and that's rather special. Skye is good, but you need to get up north/west, away from the rather boring lower part. Islay I would only recommend if you're a scotch fan, but then I'd recommend it most forcefully.

And yes, the midges will be fucking terrible. If you go on a beach at dusk you'd better like being bitten to buggery.
posted by Decani at 1:29 PM on July 19, 2011

Response by poster: NB: I am a Christian doing the pilgrimage thing, but thank you for your concern.
posted by stuck on an island at 1:47 PM on July 19, 2011

Best answer: For what it's worth, we've used about every midge spray going, and Smidge is our current fave. Jungle Formula and Skin So Soft may keep them from biting but they still swarm on you. Smidge makes it harder for them to find you in the first place. It's also worth getting a head net if you'll be camping... that first moment sticking your head out of the tent in the morning can be the worst part of the day.
posted by Cuppatea at 2:52 PM on July 19, 2011

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