The Outer Hebrides - also known as the Western Isles - stretch for 130 miles and look out on their western side to the Atlantic Ocean.
Here on the edge of Europe is a striking mix of landscapes from windswept golden sands to harsh, heather-backed mountains and peat bogs. An elemental beauty pervades each of the more than two hundred islands that make up the archipelago, only a handful of which are actually inhabited.
Lewis and Harris form the northernmost island in the Hebrides. Though actually part of the same land mass, they are thought of as different islands and each has its own distinctive culture, traditions and heritage. Lewis in the north is the largest island in the group and its main town of Stornoway is a busy centre of island life, its natural harbour a thriving fishing port.
Harris is home to the world-famous Harris Tweed, which has to be made on these islands if it carries the name. Across a narrow isthmus from the more mountainous North Harris lies South Harris, presenting some of the finest scenery in Scotland, with wide beaches of golden sand trimming the Atlantic in full view of the mountains and a rough boulder-strewn interior lying to the east.
Further south still sit a string of tiny, flatter islands including North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra. Here breezy beaches whose fine sands front a narrow band of boggy farmland are mostly bordered by a lower range of hills to the east. Uniquely, one of the beaches on Barra also doubles as a landing strip for the scheduled flights from the mainland!
The Hebrides remain the heartland of Gaelic culture, with the language spoken by the vast majority of islanders, though its everyday usage remains under constant threat from the national dominance of English. Its survival is, in no small part, due to the influence of the Free Church and its offshoots, whose strict Calvinism is the creed of the vast majority of the population, with the sparsely populated South Uist, Barra and parts of Benbecula adhering to the more relaxed demands of Catholicism.
The natural environment of the Hebrides make it ideal for walking and cycling of all standards while the superb Atlantic beaches draw surfers from around the globe. Fishing for salmon and trout, as well as sea angling, is also highly popular and of the highest quality. The clear, pollution-free Hebridean waters, also produce some of the best seafood in the UK.
Lying offshore into the Atlantic, the remarkable deserted Island of St Kilda, a World Heritage Site, is a major attraction which can only be reached by day boat or live-aboard cruise vessel, subject to weather conditions and the permission of its owners, the National Trust for Scotland.