Step aboard the Highland Chieftain from Edinburgh, then ride the ferry far out to the Outer Hebrides, a string of islands home to dunes, birds and solitude.
We’re on the northernmost tip of the island of Lewis, which in turn is the most northerly of the Outer Hebrides. A ghostly grey bird, its wing tips seemingly dipped in ink, flutters past at head level.
“Hen harrier!” exclaims Thomas, almost self-combusting with excitement. He knows it’s a hen harrier because he’s already seen several further south, on the island of Benbecula. Later, he and his brother Oscar will almost come to blows over whether they’re looking at golden or sea eagles. A snowy owl behind a beach on North Uist proves easier to agree upon.
Birds are just part of the fabric of this wonderful skein of islands that flutters south from Lewis, through Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, and Barra to Vatersay. Even getting here has proved to be part of the holiday. In Edinburgh, we’d boarded the Highland Chieftain train for Inverness, then taken the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Ullapool across the Minch to Stornoway. Home feels — and, indeed, is — a long way away. When we finally depart, reluctantly, we’ll lift our spirits by taking the Caledonian Sleeper night train back south.
Published in the spring 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family; read the whole article here.