Drenched in Hebridean Happiness
By Four Wheeled Nomad: Words by Lisa Morris, images by Jason Spafford
Time started to slow as we sunk into the Scottish Highlands. Easing our way back into a life on the road after a nearly five-year motorcycle jaunt up the Americas, Etive Road near Glencoe proffered a trusty camping spot in the Scottish Highlands. The onset of summer notwithstanding, Mother Nature had other ideas. Chilly by day, gusting winds and lashings of rain ensued at all hours. The elements hurled down on us, but it was an apt combination to put the rooftop tent through its paces.
The Outer Hebrides has never left my bucket list. I’d read about it being a wildlife wonderland, archeologist’s paradise and historian’s dream. On the island of Barra, for example, you can see the world’s only airport where planes land on the sands, meaning the timetable is dictated by the tides. How unique.
Cobwebs suitably blown in the Highlands, we disembarked on Lewis. The sky was a fragile finch-egg blue, clouds made of porcelain. Lo and behold, there were sea eagles circling overhead. Sparsely populated, utilitarian houses were dotted about undulating roads that wound their thin passage on the isle. Weather-sealed habitation trumps aesthetics up here.
Dating back to the Neolithic era, the Callanish Standing Stones is an impressive stone circle just off the A858 on the isle. As megalithic complexes go, it consisted of rows of large pieces of Lewisian gneiss arranged in a cross shape. At the centre off the cross, a monolith can be seen and a small chambered cairn.
North Uist is a landscape of fresh and saltwater lochs, miles of sandy beaches and causeway after causeway. There are cultivated crofts, fanks (sheep enclosures) and loom-sheds galore. On the west side of the island, the road follows the machair, coastal green grassy plains bordering the sand dunes, and passes the Bairanaid RSPB Nature Reserve. The eastern side devotes itself to a birdlife-pulling water world.
Adjoining its northern counterpart lies South Uist. Crystal clear waters with more white powder beaches lie to the west, and a mass of wild heather uplands – popping in patches of colour – dominated Beinn Mhor to the east. Apparently, the 20 miles of machair that runs alongside the sand dunes provides a healthy habitat for the rare corncrake. Corncrake unsighted, we did spy golden eagles, red grouse and more red deer on the mountain slopes.
If you’re on four wheels, I’d recommend bedding down for the night on Skye’s Staffin Boat Slip Road. Quite the spot, we wild camped for four nights there, which gave us time to meet and greet some of the locals. I woke the next day to blue skies and fresh energy. Unfit from having sat in a motorcycle saddle for years, I needed every last scrap of strength for getting our ‘hike on’ and trekking the Quiraing, a landslip that’s 1,780-feet in elevation on Skye. Later followed the steep slog up to the Old Man of Storr. After an early start and keeling forward, sucking in air with my hands on thighs to catch my breath, I eventually managed to greet the Old Man.
Dramatic wilds of the Scottish Isles
Heads down, backsides up for the best part of a year has seen us in an intensive planning period. Thankfully, the Highlands and Hebrides made us take heed to things other than building the Hilux. I’d under-estimated northern Scotland’s beach beauty. We submerged into our surroundings (sometimes literally) and got lost in the feeling of being far from society. Scotland is a place where solitude overrides loneliness with only the natural beauty of coastal, mountainous and island geographies for company – made the perfect travelling companion.