Winter in the Hebrides

22 November 2016


It’s difficult to sum up exactly what makes the Hebrides such an attractive place to visit in winter. The best explanation I have heard for the fresh but warm and cosy feeling the islands have at this time of year came from a Danish friend of mine. Hygge is a concept intrinsic to the Danish psyche but seems incredibly appropriate to the Western Isles. Even the Danish have difficulty in translating this idea exactly but essentially it means a sense of cosiness. It is about living in the moment. It’s about spending quality, peaceful time in a calm environment with no agenda. It’s about humour, warmth and making connections. It’s about spending time alone and spending time with family.  On the west coast it is about massive peat fires, snuggling under a big blanket when reading a book, it’s a hot toddy with an old friend or watching a storm pass from a shelter. It’s dinner by candlelight when it’s pitch dark outside or a bracing stroll on a beach in the wild wind. It’s a nebulous concept for sure but when you experience it, of course it all makes perfect sense.

In practical terms the Hebrides is the perfect destination to banish the winter doldrums. It is bracing, restorative and beautiful. Wild weather is part of the attraction, the freshness that comes when storms sweep over the long sandy beaches has to be felt as well as seen. Geography means that snow is rare on the islands, and certainly not a major cause of travel disruption as it can be in the rural highlands. High winds can mean some exciting ferry crossings but with the modern boats that service the islands cancellations are very rare. The Hebrides never get what you could call crowded, if however the thought of having to share a 5 mile stretch of beach with another person fills you with disappointment then visiting in winter will almost guarantee you will be able to find peace and solitude on some of the most scenic shores in the entire country. Off season prices are incredibly reasonable with amazing bargains to be had on accommodation and transport.

The last ferry across to the islands before Christmas is famous for being where families and old friends returning home meet up for the first time in ages so you may have to book as early as possible. If you do get a spot on the ferry then enjoy the party. Traditionally locals stay at home with their families at Christmas, but by the time Hogmanay comes around then everyone is ready for a huge celebration. Unlike many big towns and cities which have concerts or fireworks there is no major focal point. Local pubs will be busy until midnight at which point the youngsters will depart for a ceilidh and the older generation will go first footing. Despite occasionally inclement weather the custom endures of people walking sometimes long distances carrying a plastic bag with a ‘carry- out’ and knocking on every door in the village that has still has a light on.

For more adventurous sorts then there are many outdoor activities you can still enjoy at this time of year. It is usually possible to find a sheltered spot somewhere where you can launch a sea kayak and the Harris hills are just as inviting as they are in summer.

This is also a great time of year to spot wildlife. The Hebrides are on the Western Palearctic Flyway, and barnacle geese and Lapland buntings overwinter here. If you are really lucky you may even spot white-tailed sea eagles, these are the largest UK bird of prey and are a truly majestic sight.

Photography buffs will already know just how photogenic the islands can be but the low winter sun in the west coast can make for perfect landscapes and stark monochromatic images. Also bear in mind how accessible sunrise and sunset are with neither requiring an early start or late finish to snap that perfect winter moment. An additional bonus is the opportunity to capture the Northern Lights. The low levels of light pollution and clear skies on the west coast mean that they can frequently be seen at this time of year.

LHH still has availability on many properties throughout the islands, Christmas and New Year weeks are going fast but you can still grab yourself a bargain for November, December and January. Get rid of the winter blues and inspire yourself with some Hebridean Hygge.

Photo Credit: Mll