Scotland – Exploring the outer limits
by D’Arcy Kavanagh
If you’re looking for a wee escape from life’s non-stop challenges, try the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. It’ll take some effort to get there, but it’ll be worth while.
The reasons for making the trip are varied and numerous. First, the 5 ½ ferry ride from Oban on the mainland to Lochboisdale in South Uist passes by some spectacular islands (Mull, Eigg and Rhum among them), leaving you with a distinct feeling that you’re leaving civilization behind. Next, the two Uists – south and north plus neighbouring islands – are not just gloriously remote but remarkably beautiful in a wild, moor-like way. Then there are the people who seem to possess a droll sense of humour about almost everything, especially the “mainland” which is held in some contempt. You’ll also get introduced to island politics with locals praising their region while disparaging – with wit – other islands in the area.
My wife and I do our traveling by bike. Touring the Outer Hebrides by bike isn’t for everyone, given the frequent gloom and rain. However, there’s not a dull kilometre anywhere. Moreover, if enjoying some wild and vacant area that looks like it hasn’t changed in a couple of million years works for you, then these islands should prove fascinating.
Finally, there is the history of the islands. It’s long and rich. Arguably, the most unique story involves a WWII cargo ship that went aground off South Uist. Its main cargo? Hundreds and hundreds of bottles of single malt whiskey. In those days, the region was extremely religious – it still is but to a lesser extent – and drinking alcohol wasn’t approved of. Still, a bunch of islanders from South Uist and neighbouring Eriskay grabbed as much whiskey as they could and hid it from the authorities. In some cases, they buried it but only after drinking enough beforehand that they couldn’t recall where they had put their treasure. Some of them were apprehended by the police with four being charged and convicted of crimes relating to the incident. Mackenzie Compton recounted the story in a book which was turned into a movie. Today, in both South Uist and Eriskay, that episode in Hebridean history remains fresh.
So, for an unusual escape, try the Uists and Eriskay. Have a wee whiskey in a sleepy pub. Sit and watch a storm drop down over a nearby hill. Engage a local about which part of the Outer Hebrides is the most interesting. Smell the sea and earth. And keep reminding yourself that, one day, you’ll have to go home.