Head off the beaten track to discover the magnificent wildlife on Lewis & Harris, the two largest islands of the Outer Hebrides.
21st - 27th May
11th - 17th June
10th - 16th July
Price: £955. Single supplement £120.
Great Skuas (bonxies)
Like many islands, the Outer Hebrides have their own unique collection of birds, animals and plants. Few islands, however, can boast such a spectacular concentration of wildlife and the international importance of the Outer Hebrides for nature conservation is reflected in its astonishing number of European protected areas for its birds, habitats and land & sea animals.
Happily for us, if you venture away from the main roads many species are reasonably easy to locate, so why not join us on this tremendous week where we will be walking to secluded corners of the islands in search of as many species as we can find!
Led by an expert local guide and naturalist, each day we will be heading out on beautiful walks and seeing what plants we can find and what birds, animals and marine wildlife turns up. The pace will be relaxed and none of the walks will be too demanding. This week is aimed at those with a general interest in nature rather than expert ecologists or biologists; as long as you like and are interested in Scottish wildlife and enjoy walking in beautiful surroundings then you will love this holiday!
The actual itinerary will depend on the weather each day, but here is an example of the sort of walks we might do and the species we would hope to encounter.
DAY 1 - ARRIVE IN STORNOWAY
There are several ways to reach Stornoway, the main town on Lewis, and the start point for this holiday. Daily direct flights are available from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness, whilst a twice daily ferry service runs from Ullapool - Stornoway. It is also possible to take a ferry from Uig on Skye to Tarbert in Harris, then catch the bus to Stornoway. We are always happy to provide travel advice so if you have any queries do get in touch.
When you arrive in Stornoway we will collect you from the airport, ferry terminal or bus station and take you to your guest house.
DAY 2 - TOLSTA
A memorable start for the holiday! Packing an astonishing amount into a small area, this walk takes us through a typical Lewis crofting village then along an airy cliff top walk, complete with sea stacks and rock arches, before visiting two of the island's finest beaches.
Wildlife Highlights: The star of this walk is the Great Skua (or bonxie, as they are called up here), which nests in considerable numbers on the headland. This dramatic pirate bird terrorises other seabirds, hunting them in packs before stealing their food...or worse! Quite unlike any other bird in Britain, a bonxie on the attack is an impressive sight. The Outer Hebrides is one of the very few places where it breeds in the UK and our walk gives excellent views of this impressive species.
Along the way there will be plenty of other things to see. Along the clifftops there are lots of attractive flowers from mid summer onwards, whilst fulmars and kittiwakes nest in good numbers on the rock faces and grey seals are usually seen in sheltered inlets. And we will be keeping an eye on the sea throughout the walk - we have seen whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks on this route!
DAY 3 - NORTH HARRIS
This walk will take us into the heart of the North Harris hills, a beautiful and wild area with dramatic peaks and great wildlife.
Wildlife Highlights: North Harris has the highest concentration of breeding golden eagles in Europe - it also has a growing number of White tailed sea eagles. Our walk today will give us an excellent chance of seeing at least one, and possibly both, of these iconic species.
As we walk will be keeping our eyes open for other upland wildlife - red deer and red grouse are both frequently seen on these walks and small flocks of golden plover are common sights in late spring.
DAY 4 - NESS
Today we travel to the northern most tip of the Hebrides, to the township of Ness and the dramatic Butt of Lewis lighthouse. We will visit the old fishing harbour at Port of Ness and walk along the tops of the sea cliffs on this wild section of coastline.
Wildlife Highlights: Ness is a European Special Protection Area for its corncrakes, one the UK's rarest breeding birds, so we will be listening out for their characteristic call amongst the township's croft fields. This shy and secretive species used to be widespread throughout northern Europe, but with the intensification of modern agriculture it has retreated to the fringes of the continent. Today it is only found in remote areas like the Hebrides where traditional styles of farming, such as haymaking rather than silage production, still take place. Its call is a distinctive, rasping croak - once heard it is never forgotten!
There's more to Ness than corncrakes, however. During this walk we will see great views of gannets flying to and from their huge breeding colonies at the islands of Sula Sgeir and North Rona, 30 miles north of Lewis. This is also one of the best places in the Hebrides for cetacean watching; if the weather is reasonably calm then from mid summer onwards we will have a chance of seeing whales and dolphins on this route.
DAY 5 - WILDLIFE BOAT TRIP
Taking to a boat gives you a completely different perspective on the Outer Hebrides. This is the way that everybody used to travel before roads were surfaced and it is amazing how easy it is on a boat to reach what are today very remote and out of the way places. Today we will be joining our colleagues at Seatrek (www.seatrek.co.uk) for a wonderful boat trip around the west coast of Lewis, visiting uninhabited islands and remote headlands that would take many hours to reach on foot.
Wildlife Highlights: On these boat trips we usually get great views of all sorts of island wildlife. Grey seals are pretty much guaranteed, and dolphins, porpoises, whales and basking sharks are all regularly spotted. We will almost certainly be seeing sea eagles, as well as all sorts of other marine bird species.
DAY 6 - SOUTH HARRIS
We finish with a fabulous day trip to South Harris. This is one of the most spectacular coastlines in Britain, with mile after mile of the most beautiful beaches imaginable. We will walk start off with a visit to the magnificent beach at Luskentyre before heading around the coast the village of Northton. Here we will walk out to the ruins of an ancient chapel at Northton and explore one of the finest areas of machair grassland on the islands.
Wildlife Highlights: Machair is one of Britain's rarest and most beautiful habitats. Formed by winter storms blowing shell-rich sand from the beaches onto surrounding peaty grassland, the machair is a bright green and fertile grassy sward which in summer is covered in a riot of wildflowers. It also acts as a magnet for breeding waders, with species such as redshank, lapwing, dunlin and snipe frequently raising their chicks amongst its damp flowering meadows.
DAY 8 - DEPART
On the final day we will transport you back to the airport, ferry terminal or bus station for your departure.
Holiday Fact File
Grade: Easy / Moderate. These holidays go at a gentle pace, with plenty of time to stop, take pictures, soak up the atmosphere and watch the wildlife. However, they are still walking holidays, so you will need to be able to cope with a reasonable amount of hiking each day. As a guide, you should be able to manage small uphill sections, be comfortable walking for 4 - 5 hours and 6 - 7 miles or so each day, and be confident walking away from paths - for example over rough, grassy hillsides.
We try to keep to easy ground as much as possible on these walks, but there will be some areas where the going can be a little rough and quite wet underfoot, so good hiking boots are essential. We don't tackle any hills on these walks but there are usually some modest uphill sections each day.
Start: Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
Cost: £920.00 - includes guest house accommodation plus breakfast, packed lunch and evening meals. Single supplement: £120.
We also offer a low cost self catering accommodation in shared dormitories in a comfortable Stornoway hostel. This option costs £650 per person.
Accommodation: We will be staying in comfortable guest houses in or near Stornoway, the bustling little capital of the Outer Hebrides. All rooms will have ensuite or private bathrooms.
What's Included: 6 nights accommodation, 5 days walking. All meals, including full Scottish or continental breakfasts, packed lunches and evening meals.
All transport during the week, including collection and transfers at the start and end of the holiday. The services of an experienced walking guide.
What's Not Included: Transport to / from holiday departure point at Stornoway. Entrance to any visitor attractions. Travel insurance.
Travel to and from Stornoway can be arranged for you and will be charged at cost price. (We prefer to let people choose their own way to get to the islands, to maximise people's choice of how to travel. However, whether you prefer to bring your own car, to catch the bus or take a flight, we can help arrange your travel for you).