Scotlands Outer Hebrides - early summer 2014

 

Most of my friends know, that I regularly travel to some strange islands either in the north or in the deep south, Pribilof Islands, Round Island, South Georgia, Falklands or Shetland, to name just a few.

After the very poor weather in Shetland and Orkney last year, I hesitated to go to the scottish islands again, but I changed my mind. Thomas, a good friend and professional videographer, recommended a book "Wildblumen - 50 spektakuläre Blütenlandschaften der Welt" and I was hooked by the machair of the scottish outer hebrides and I never regretted, that I changed my mind.

The plan was born to go to the Outer Hebrides with following three main topics:

  • Machair
  • Standing Stones of Callanish
  • St. Kilda

A thorough check at some agencies showed, that this region and these topics are not covered well.

During my stay I added another topic - the magnificent beaches. If you look at the pictures and do some photoshop magic, it might be the carribean islands.....

Moreover this year the weather was quite nice to me and I had more hours of sunshine in my first 5 days than in 7 weeks last year on Orkney and Shetland! This is even more surprising, knowing that my second day on Lewis was very rainy.....

St Kilda, the magical islands at the edge of the world

 

St. Kilda with the main islands of Hirta, Soay and Boreray is a double UNESCO world heritage site. This tells enough about the importance of this site. When I read my first guide book about Scottland in the 70ties I saw a picture of the village on Hirta and I knew I have to go there.

 

Then access was very difficult, as there was (and still is) no real save anchorage and no jetty and it took me more than 20 years to go there for the first time. At the end of the 90ties we booked us into a 5 day yacht cruise. Christina joined me, ask her about that trip... The skipper had a slipped disc and could not do the trip. The stand in was a good sailer, but had no idea about the waters. A mate was hired, but he was an alcoholic. the weather was very poor and so on.

Nowadays it is easier to go to St. Kilda as there are some companies offering day trips from Skye and the Outer Hebrides. High powered small ships bring you to the archipelago in about 2-3 hours. You have 4-5 hours on the island of Hirta and you cruise around Boreray on the way back.

If you like such places, highly recommended.

 

Now, for those of us, who do not know anything about St. Kilda, a short introduction. St. Kilda was inhabited for many centuries by a small group of poeple, who lived more or less completely isolated for centuries. They even developed some gentic differences which made them for example very vulnerable to our "normal" diseases. They lived from the sea and from the land, taking seabirds like puffins or gannets, keeping a very special breed of sheep (soay sheep) and doing some basic agriculture. They even managed to harvest gannets from the steep stacks around Boreray (look at the first picture). But finally they asked to be evacuated permanently in the early 30ths of the last century.

There are many fascinating stories, check out pages like St. Kilda - National Trust, it is really worth while!

The Standing Stones of Callanish

 

There is not much to say about the Standing Stones of Callanish, it is a unique place in a wonderful setting. I visited the stones several times under different weather conditions and never was bored to find new angles for pictures. The stones form a cross like structure and are not aligned to the sun but to the moon. My visit on the outer hebrides was tailored in a way to be there at solstice to get some pictures of the stone hugging solstice crowd and 10 days later for more solitude.

 

The solstice people where numerous and about 20 tents dotted the surrounding pastures. It was a lovely atmosphere, when they played the drums or the didgeridoos (very scottish?!), but it was good to return, when this event was over!

The Machair

 

When I decided to go after the machair, it was quite a challange for me, as I never was much into flower macro work. I was more interested in the machair as part of the landscape and to be honest I did not know much about machair.

The machair is the gaelic word for a sandy and fertile coastal plain. It is used as pasture or for agriculture and the best place to see the machair are the Outer Hebrides.

 

If you walk towards the coast you will smell the machair immediately. The flowering plants change over time, first it was pure yellow, later red and blue flowers started to appear. It was real fun but also a challenge to lay down in the machair and try to capture the magic of this landscape.

Bonus Track 1 - the coast - dunes, beaches and more

 

I knew from my first visit on Benbecula, that the Outer Hebrides have magnificent beaches, but I was not prepared for the diversity of coastal environments. Salt marsh, cliffs, tidal flats, lovely bays with golden beaches, huge dunes in front of the forbidding mountains of Harris, and beaches with dozens of campervans on formal and informal campsites. Some yellow licence plates and it could have been the north sea coast of the Netherlands.

Bonus Track 2 - there is more than Callanish

 

There is no doubt, that Callanish is an outstanding site, but it does not do justice to the Outer Hebrides to reduce the history of the islands to just one site. There are many more places from neolithic times to recent history, which are worth while to be visited. Sometimes they are hard to find, but it is rewarding.

Bonus Track 3 - Sheep, landscape and Stornoway

 

Of course I invested also some time to work on general landscape and on Stornoway, the capital of the Outer Hebrides. I am sure that you heard of Harris Tweed and where there is tweed, there must be sheep! And everybody knows that I never miss an opportunity to take pictures of sheep (like the great transhumance), especially as there was definitely a lack of wildlife photography!

Some impressions......

 

 

some final words

I spent 18 days on the islands, drove 2300km and had two flat tyres. Overall I shot 4250 files, all with my trusted Pentax 645D (even the sheep have been shot with medium format, this warped me back to the early 90ties, no image stabilization....) and I will need some weeks to work through the files.

I managed to work on much more topics than I had planned for thanks to the fine summer weather and many good tips from the locals. But there are still some places I could not cover, like the mountains of Harris, the puffins on the Shiant Islands or the seals on Mingulay and I missed Barra completely.

I met many interesting poeple, like Bruce at Callanish, had many good and lovely hosts, many thanks to Guido, Barbara in Stornoway and Agnes on Benbecula.

 

To quote Arnie: I will be back

 

July 2014

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