For so long I dreamed of going all the way north to the Outer Hebrides and, when the time came, it did not disappoint.
The Outer Hebrides is an island chain located off the north west coast of mainland Scotland.
Step one – Get yourself there
Let’s be honest, from half way down the coast of Wales this is a mission and a half, it was certainly an adventure.
Of course, as with most my trips, the planning ahead part was slightly neglected when I thought, due to Google maps saying so, that it would take me precisely 8 hours to get to Fort William in the Highlands of Scotland – where I would spend the night ready for the ferry early the next morning.
As anyone that isn’t me might expect… It actually took more like 12-13 hours with traffic, roadworks, flooding, and poor visibility.
There I was, fuel light on, rain lashing against the windscreen, every petrol station I drove past was closed – You could say I was somewhat anxious as to whether I would reach Fort William or be sleeping in my car along a winding country road.
I’ve heard Glencoe is stunning, I’d love to be able to write about it here and show you my incredible ‘stopped en route’ photographs… But I can’t – Note to self, go back in daylight & summertime.
However, on the plus side, I saw a deer leap across the road ahead of me (LOVE THIS!) and I can tell you I reached my hotel at midnight, grabbing a drink at the bar in a mini-celebration before bed.
The red deer is the largest land mammal in the UK and native stock are common in the Scottish Highlands. However, grazing of tree shoots and agricultural crops puts red deer in conflict with farmers and foresters due to economic damage.
– The British Deer Society
As could only happen to me, checking the ferry alerts meant I found that it was doubtful the ferry would be going that morning due to forecast storms. However, also as is what often happens – it all turns out okay in the end.
The ferry left on time from Ullapool, arriving at Stornoway a couple of hours later. During which I spent the entire time on the top deck in the wind and rain attempting to catch a glimpse of the resident population of Killer Whales (Orca) that have been spotted from the ferry in the past. Sadly I didn’t see any whales but I did see plenty of Harbour Porpoise.
The harbour porpoise is the smallest of the cetacean species found in the Hebrides. Adult animals measure 1.4 to 1.7 metres in length and weigh around 68 kg. The body is fairly stocky and lacks a prominent beak. A triangular dorsal fin is positioned mid-body and is visible when the animal surfaces. Colouration is typically dark grey on the back and pectoral (side) fins, with lighter grey sides and a pale belly. Lifespan is about 10 to 20 years
– Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust
Step two – Switch your car radio to the local station – Isles FM
I’m going to say this was one of my favourite parts of the Outer Hebrides Experience. The station is based in Stornoway, it includes local news, information and it is so massively community orientated.
Listening to this radio station made me feel as if I was part of the community while I was on the islands. The music was such a diverse mix and always a delight to listen to whilst driving down the winding open roads, even if it isn’t strictly your usual genre of choice.
How many times have you heard mainstream radio stations stop a show to announce a missing dog or coffee in the community hall? Sometimes bigger isn’t always better. You wouldn’t go to a classical music concert with heavy metal booming out of your headphones during the whole performance, so why go to the Outer Hebrides and only listen to the mainstream radio stations? Local all the way!
Disclaimer – I have not by any means been paid or asked to advertise this radio station. The views are my own and if you would like to listen to this wonderful station you can find it here http://bit.ly/1TjCmrt
Step three – Stay in luxury accommodation
Okay, maybe if you have read my Travel Essentials you would be thinking that I said I use Airbnb and I like to stay with local families… Everyone’s entitled to a bit of luxury every now and then, right?
When travelling out of season (or last minute as I do), you can often find some impressive deals on accommodation and don’t always have to ‘rough it’. I spent my time in a luxury two bed cottage on the Isle of Lewis, complete with spa bath, rainfall shower, infra-red sauna and peat open fire. It was glorious.
Step four – Drive the main road and stop at every brown sign you come across
My lack of willing towards unnecessary planning ahead meant I had no structure to my days. But, I still strongly believe that this is the best way to be.
Yes I had some tourist leaflets and had mental notes of wanting to see ‘what’s down that road?’ from my initial drive to the accommodation but, other than that, each day I jumped in the car and drove along the road until I saw a brown attraction sign or maybe an area that looked interesting to me (this is from the girl who stops half way up a hill to state how marvellous a particular clump of grass looks).
From travelling about the islands in this way, I was able to see the Blackhouse Village, Callanish Stones, Peat moorland, Isle of Lewis chess pieces, Whale bone arch, Butt of Lewis, Stornoway Harbour, Port of Ness, Shawbost Norse Mill & Kiln, Dun Carloway Broch, Bosta Iron Age House – Great Bernera and many more!
Step five – Make footprints in the sand…
… Because they are going to be the only ones there! How stunning the beaches are in the Outer Hebrides. White sands, turquoise waters, and no footprints but your own.
Step six – Prepare for the weather
Before you leave on your trip to the Outer Hebrides, you need to remember that it is a chain of islands and so, like the rest of Britain, the weather can change hourly. One minute you will have bright sunshine, the next is cold and wet… Very wet. Make sure you pack for all conditions. As I took my own transport and stayed in luxury accommodation, I could pack as much as would fit in.
Step seven – Have fun, explore, laugh, search for wildlife…
Step eight – Don’t freak out at Halloween
I loved Halloween in the Outer Hebrides. So many parties were taking place, both adults and children were dressed up in the streets on their way to the community centres and trick or treating.
In my opinion, for as much beauty as the Outer Hebrides has, there is an equal amount of mystery and magic. Sometimes, driving around, you feel like you are on another planet. The diversity of these islands is immense. For every stunning 5-bed house complete with private loch, there is the ruins of an old crofting cottage in the garden. For every magnificent moor of peat-land, there is a field with rusting vehicles no longer in use.
By no means do I want to portray this as a negative of the islands, to me this was all part of the character and charm of a truly amazing location that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.
I spent the daytime of Halloween driving along a road in the direction of what I thought would be a beach. I figured that if I got to the coast… There was obviously going to be the ocean. I drove and drove, through moorland, over cattle grids (did my windows up past the massive bulls – Just in case!!) and out the other side again. Shortly after thinking I would never make it to the coast, I found a couple of houses, shelters and buildings with no glass in the windows. They were in the middle of nowhere, I had driven for so long through nothing but the wilderness.
Now, because I have such a vivid imagination and also have probably watched far more horror films than I should have done, I began to think I was in a movie. I passed an old motel on my left with a broken down bus outside… Just like a horror film. I’m so sure I saw someone move inside the building on my right with no glass in the windows…. Was I imagining it? I wanted to turn around so I took the next chance I had to do so. As I turned, a dog ran out and barked at my car, giving me the fright of my life.
As I chilled out a bit, I realised people probably did live here, and why wouldn’t you? Outstanding cliff top views, away from the hustle and bustle of busy life. It’s amazing what the mind of a twenty-something year old can come up with, time to watch more chick flicks I think!
So, I went back the way I came, passing the house with crows lined up on the roof… Just like a horror movie…!!
Through the highland cattle and all the way back to my cottage just in time to light the candle in my pumpkin.
Maybe you think this is the reason for the title to this post, well it’s not, this road to nowhere did kind of lead to somewhere – just not the somewhere that I wanted to go. There really is an actual road that leads to nowhere…
Step nine – The road to nowhere
All that exists of this road is a short stretch over the bridge. The road was initially going to connect Tolsta to Ness and the location is actually known as the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ because of it being just that.
Lord Leverhulme owned the Isles of Lewis and Harris 1918-1923, his intentions were to improve transport on the islands. However, after the initial building of the bridge – 140 men by hand!! – those who had survived the war retuned and had no interest in Lord Leverhulme’s idea, so the road was never completed.
There is, however, a beautiful coastal walk where the road should have been.