21 May 2015
Author and walking expert Peter Edwards presents a guide to walking in the Hebrides, along with tips for enjoying the splendour and challenges of this beautiful group of islands on foot. ...
Author and walking expert Peter Edwards presents a guide to walking in the Hebrides, along with tips for enjoying the splendour and challenges of this beautiful group of islands on foot.
The Hebridean isles lie scattered like rough gemstones along Scotland's Atlantic seaboard. Some of the finest walking in the British Isles can be found here amid the sublime, elemental beauty of the Hebridean hills and shores. In the islands' wild hinterlands rugged, scree-strewn mountain ridges rise above austere moorlands jewelled with peat-dark lochans; whisky-hued burns tumble through mighty glens to the sea. Along the wild Hebridean shores towering cliffs and storm-battered headlands give way to silver shell-sand beaches and iridiscent blue-green waters.
The Hebridean archipelago is comprised of two main island groups: the Inner and Outer Hebrides. There are 36 inhabited islands in the Inner Hebrides with a combined population of around 19,000 and a further 43 uninhabited islands of substantial size. The fifteen inhabited islands of the Outer Hebrides have a population of around 26,500, and there are more than fifty substantial uninhabited islands.
Though sparsely populated, the Hebrides have a long history of human occupation and the traces of man's tenure, ancient and more recent, are scattered throughout the landscape.
Mesolithic hunter-gatherers' shell middens, enigmatic Neolithic standing stones, Bronze Age roundhouses, Iron Age hill forts and early Christian beehive cells are among the ancient vestiges found on hill, moor and coast, while the toponymy itself is threaded through with Old Norse place names.
Chapters of more recent Hebridean history are also written in the landscape. The corrugations of crofters' lazy beds, their long-ruined black houses and abandoned villages testify to life before the 19th century Clearances, while the long-forgotten enterprises of entrepreneurial Victorians, the grandiose follies of wealthy Edwardians, shipwrecks, monuments, coastal defences and radar stations chart the ages of industry and global conflict.
Though the islands are a wonderful place to visit on a touring holiday, enjoying the magnificent scenery and the superb beaches, visiting sites of cultural and historical interest and generally soaking up the Hebridean ambience, the best of the Hebrides is often experienced in the course of a journey on foot – remarkable vistas ranging from rugged mountain ridges, breathtakingly beautiful coastal scenery to spectacular wildlife.
The Hebrides is a region of great geological, topographical and natural diversity, and the denomination 'area of outstanding natural beauty' is a fair description of the entire archipelago.
The Hebrides provide the adventurous walker with a wide range of fine walks among diverse and magnificent landscapes. From the jagged mountain ridges of the Skye and Rum Cuillin, the majestic glens and summits of Mull and Harris, to the wild shores of Jura and Islay, the vertiginous sea cliffs of St Kilda and the dune-backed bays and machair pastures of the Uists, these islands provide a wealth of possibilities – and no shortage of challenges.
The terrain is often rough, rugged and pathless and a degree of navigational competence is essential. The facilities and infrastructure walkers may rely on elsewhere, such as way-marked paths and public transport are few and far between, requiring a certain amount of self-reliance. This of course only adds to the rewarding nature of walking in the Hebrides for those who like a challenge.
The Hebridean shores teem with wildlife – including white-tailed eagles, otters, seals, waders, dippers and assorted seabirds – and they are arrayed with remarkable geological features, including vast raised beaches of storm-scoured, sun-bleached pebbles, glacial cliffs, natural arches, huge submarine caves lifted above the waves after the glaciers' retreat and imposing basalt dikes exposed by coastal erosion.
Many traces of the islands' histories, both ancient and more recent, are also found around their coastlines – from Bronze Age fortifications perched on rocky promontories to abandoned crofting settlements.
From the walker's perspective, however, there is much more to the Hebrides than coastline alone. Several of the finest hill-walking days and mountain ridge traverses in all of Scotland can be found here, along with day walks and backpacking routes through remote island hinterlands. What all of these routes have in common is the breathtakingly beautiful landscapes they traverse, with elements of the diverse geology, flora, fauna and human history of the Hebrides encountered on every walk.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Edwards is the author of The Hebrides, Cicerone Press, 2015
This guidebook brings together fifty fine walks in the Hebrides. Some are well known or established routes while others are off the beaten track. The book's aim is to provide an overview of the vast array of magnificent walks that the Hebrides have to offer.
Unsurprisingly, many of the routes included in this guidebook are coastal walks. These are a diverse range of walks over extremely varied terrain, from half-day circular routes along sparkling white sand beaches to multi-day backpacks traversing some of the wildest, most rugged coastline in the British Isles – and some of the finest.
The Hebrides also includes a number of magnificent hill-walking days and multi-day backpacks, taking in classics such as the Rum Cuillin traverse, the Paps of Jura and the Clisham Horseshoe while also visiting lesser-known peaks such as the Uig Hills of Lewis, Cruach Scarba and Mull's much overlooked Beinn Talaidh.
Accompanied by clear, detailed route descriptions, maps and magnificent photography, The Hebrides is a Cicerone 'inspirational' medium format guidebook.
READ OUR EXPERT GUIDE TO WALKING IN THE ANGUS GLENS.