A rich clan culture permeates the Outer Hebrides, and the Co Leis Thu? Genealogy Centre on Harris provides useful resources for tracking your Scottish heritage. Nearly every household in the Western Isles has been catalogued and researched over the last 200 years, giving the centre a vast database of families and clans who either still live in Scotland or emigrated abroad.
Travel to South Uist and you’ll also find one of the region’s most culturally curious tales in the Kildonan Museum’s Clanranald Stone exhibit. A religious panel, the stone comes from an ancient settlement at Howmore. In 1990, the stone went missing from the site, before being unearthed five years later in a flat in Euston, London.
Though the region may not have many castles, the Outer Hebrides still boasts one of the most uniquely beguiling fortresses in Scotland. Kisimul Castle sits on a craggy islet off the bay of the Barra coast, meaning visitors can only access it by boat. Richly dramatic, the early records date the castle back to the 16th century. After being abandoned in 1838, Kisimul was leased to Historic Scotland by the MacNeil clan for 1,000 years for £1 per annum and a bottle of whisky.
The Western Isles’ scenic delights also prove a thrilling prospect for tourists, such as the Golden Road on the Isle of Harris. This grand, twisting corkscrew of a track snakes through the island, connecting a number of small hamlets which all go by either Viking or Gaelic names. As you travel along the unique road, you’ll likely be treated to the sight of seals basking on the accompanying coastline. Over on Lewis, you’ll be treated to equally rugged coasts, while the pristine white beaches of South Uist provide a tranquil contrast.
The Outer Hebrides offers a selection of wildlife to rival any region in Scotland. Of its three National Nature Reserves, St Kilda is perhaps the most striking. Dramatic sea stacks play home to Europe’s most important seabird breeding area, which includes the biggest northern gannet colony in the world. The nature reserve at Loch Druidibeg also offers amazing avian sights, whether it’s large greylag geese breeding grounds or the occasional hen harrier soaring above the moors.
With several manmade wonders, the Outer Hebrides has one of the most visually striking connections to ancient Scotland. No other site represents this link to ancient Scottish ways quite like the Calanais Standing Stones, situated on the village of Callanish on the west coast of Lewis. The 13 main stones incredibly date back to 2900 BC, with the tallest reaching up to 5 m. Local legend even speculates the stones were once giants who were transformed into the jutting rocks when they refused to convert to Christianity. More recently, the Iron Age Village on Bosta was excavated in 1993 after large storms partially unearthed the ancient seventh century housing.
Thanks to its fascinating links to ancient Scotland and striking coastal views, the Outer Hebrides not only shares a deep link with Disney•Pixar’s Brave, it also offers uniquely interesting tourist attractions.