A Hebrides Road Trip
I love our Scottish islands with a passion and would love to visit them all! I have previously visited Lewis and Harris twice, but as we hadn’t made it to the Uist’s I thought it would be a great family road trip in the Hebrides. We hired a campervan from Edinburgh airport (not far from our home) and travelled up the West coast to Skye to begin our trip.
We arrived at Lochmaddy in North Uist from Uig on Skye. This is the shortest ferry crossing to the outer Hebrides and the easiest choice for us with two young children. We travelled from Central Scotland to Uig in one day, camping at Uig over night before we caught the ferry the following morning. There’s a lovely campsite just near the ferry terminal that’s perfect to stay and give kids the chance to run around.
Arriving on North Uist we drove across to the RSPB reserve at Balranald where we were booked to stay for a few nights. This has to be one of my favourite campsite. The main reason is the stunning white sand beach just over the dune from the campsite. Crystal clear waters and white sands make it appear as if you’re in the Caribbean. I highly recommend taking bikes as you can cycle along the road and visit the bird reserve. In May when we visited the ground and skies were filled with all kinds of bird species, which was amazing to see. It’s also a nice place to cycle along the single-track roads and visit other little bays and beaches nearby. This is certainly a wonderful place to visit!
You will find plenty of other stunning beaches in North Uist if you spend more time exploring. If you continue North of Balranald you will find more stunning sandy beaches to relax on and dip your feet in the ocean. Most of the sandy beaches tend to be on the West or North coasts.
Another fun outdoor activity on North Uist is the Uist sculpture trail. You can check the link out here for more information, but there are beautiful sculptures to discover throughout the island. This would be a fun trail to visit with the kids, stopping at each sculpture to admire them.
Sandwiched between the islands of North and South Uist is Benbecula. The island was connected to it’s southern neighbour in 1942 by a bridge and later a causeway was built in the 1960’s to join Benbecula to North Uist. The bridge was later updated, but this was definitely a new stepping stone in the connection of the Western Isles.
Benbecula has several shops, restaurants and cafes. We visited the Stepping Stones restaurant which was lovely and very family friendly. There is also a busy co-op for supplies and several lovely craft shops to visit.
South Uist – Hebrides Road Trip
The longest of this chain of islands, South Uist has plenty of stunning white sand beaches all along it’s West coast. Be aware that the wind can be quite fierce, so warm clothing, hats and gloves can be required at all times of year. Especially for the kids! You could easily walk for miles down the beaches on the West coast, they really are gorgeous.
Keep listening out for Corncrakes whilst on the islands. They are rare, elusive birds and you will probably hear them calling a LOT whilst staying on the Hebrides. However, they can sound a lot closer than they are, so it’s good to be patient and wait for them to walk near you. We were very lucky to spot one in the long grass of a derelict cottage whilst out cycling one night. I had heard it’s call a lot louder than anywhere else we had visited on the island and suddenly saw it pop out of the grass in front of me!
Kildonan museum is a fantastic museum for all the family. You can find out lots of information on the local history, culture and plenty of interesting artefacts to peruse. There is also a lovely cafe and small shop selling beautiful local crafts.
After South Uist we headed over to Barra via the ferry at Eriskay. Although I do wish we could have stayed at least one night on Eriskay as it’s a beautiful little island! The ferry area is near a gorgeous beach, just perfect for playing on with the kids.
The little island found fame when a ship carrying whisky was shipwrecked just off the island. The islanders recovered some of the whisky themselves and hid it around the island. Reportedly burying some bottles in the marshy ground to avoid the customs and excise people! you can watch a film all about the whisky shipwreck, titled ‘Whisky Galore’.
It’s a short ferry over to the North of Barra from here, but fantastic views across the sea.
When you first embark at the North of Barra it’s best to check the time of the next plane arrival on the island. If it’s likely to be soon head right as you leave the ferry road and follow signs to the airport. Barra is the only airport in the world to use a public beach as a landing strip.
It’s great to see parts of the beach being used at other times of the day, then planes landing along the sandy beach once it’s cleared of people. This is a spectacular sight to watch and you certainly won’t be alone. Make sure you get there with time to spare to find a good spot to park.
A little further North of the airport, before the road runs out you will find a small hill with the remnants of an old broch. Brochs were defensive homes and were round in shape, similar to a tower. All that remains of this particular broch is the stone base covered in vegetation. It still makes a great spot to look down at the beaches below and watch the small planes fly over to Barra airport!
Castlebay is the main settlement on the island with several cafes, co-op to get supplies and a small castle out in the bay, which gives the village it’s name. You can get the boat across to the castle from the little pier, it’s a Historic Scotland site and free for members. Inside the castle seems more like a small townhouse than a castle, with a tiny courtyard in the middle. It’s a great place to visit for an hour or so!
We particularly enjoyed the cake and hot chocolate at the post-office cafe, it’s a lovely little place with tasty food!
Vatersay island is connected to Barra by a causeway to the North of the island. There are a few scattered houses and a small village, beside the twin beaches is Vatersay Hall Cafe. You can get some simple lunches and drinks here, although it can get quite busy in the summer.
The twin beaches here are well used by surfers on the West side and boats landing small craft on the Eastern beach. We still found it fairly quiet for the kids to play and use their body boards in the sea. The beaches are white sand and despite it sometimes being quite windy it’s still a stunning place to visit on a spring or summer day.
From Vatersay we headed back to Castlebay on Barra to catch the Calmac ferry back to Oban. It’s a 6 hour trip, but the ship has plenty of tables, seats and a restaurant. If you choose to brave the upper deck you’ll have a good chance of spotting wildlife. We were lucky to see dolphins swimming alongside the ferry in the open sea.