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Scottish Islands: Summary

We've just got back from a very exciting trip around the Scottish Highlands and Islands. It was a pretty adventurous itinerary, which took us to Orkney and Shetland, as well as both the Inner and Outer Hebrides, plus all the way around the north coast of Scotland.

Having just put our entire route into Google Maps, I calculate that we have driven a total of 2,672 miles, which averages out at 167 miles per day. The longest day of driving was day 16, when we travelled from Hawick to home via Hadrian's Wall. The detour to Hadrian's Wall took us further west than I'd expected, so we ended up coming home via the M6 rather than the A1(M) as initially planned. The shortest day of driving was day 11, when we racked up a mere 92 miles on the Isle of Skye. The most painful day of driving was definitely day 15, with our unexpected diversion on the way back from Glen Coe xD

Of course, this holiday hasn't just been about driving. We have travelled on no fewer than 11 ferries over the course of the two weeks, covering an estimated 445 miles at sea. The longest ferry journey was the crossing from Kirkwall to Lerwick, which took eight hours on the way out, while the shortest was the crossing from Yell to Unst, which probably took less than ten minutes. The choppiest crossing was without doubt Lerwick back to Kirkwall, where the waves were so big that it was hard to stay on your feet if you stood up. The ferry journeys around the Hebrides were a complete contrast, with the boats barely feeling like they were moving.

The consequence of all this driving and sailing is that we haven't taken as many steps as we would on a regular holiday. My total for the fortnight is 174,088 which averages out at 10,880 per day.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic is that this holiday surpasses Iceland as the most expensive trip we have ever been on :o I knew holiday accommodation in the UK was expensive, but I don't think I'd appreciated quite how bad value it was compared to what you could get for the same money in most other European countries we've been to.  Over the course of two weeks we've spent the following:

Accommodation  £1,658

Eating out             £483

Groceries               £119

Petrol                     £373

Parking                  £10

Ferries                   £670

Total                      £3,313

£3,313 is without doubt the most we've ever spent on a single holiday. But, this trip was 16 days so the cost per day is £207. Iceland was £2,855 for 11 days, so at a cost of £259 per day it is still technically more expensive.

The accommodation in Scotland feels like it was ridiculously pricey, working out at £118 per night. I guess in some cases that did include breakfast, but still... if we'd been able to go to Croatia/Montenegro/Albania as planned, the accommodation cost would have been around £45 per night. 

The ferries were also quite expensive, particularly the Northlink ones to Shetland and Orkney. The return fare for two people plus a car from Scrabster to Stromness was £191, while the return fare between Kirkwall and Lerwick was £331 (but the latter did include a private cabin on the way out, which was definitely worth the money). In contrast, the CalMac ferries in the Hebrides were pretty cheap. Uig to Tarbert was £46, Leverburgh to Berneray was only £21 and Lochboisdale to Mallaig was £81.

Catching all these ferries did mean that we were able to visit an incredible number of islands. I've just been trying to add it up and, including those islands which we were able to drive to via a causeway, I make it 17:

Orkney - Mainland, Lamb Holm, Glimp Holm, Burray, South Ronaldsay

Shetland - Mainland, Yell, Unst, Trondra, Burra

Inner Hebrides - Skye

Outer Hebrides - Lewis and Harris, Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay

Over the course of the holiday we've seen some amazing landscapes. One of the strangest must surely be the Gloup on Orkney...


...although the sight of submerged warships of the Orkney coast was also pretty surreal.


The Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye was so beautiful it didn't look real...


...and the views at the Quirang were pretty amazing too.


We just about managed to see the famous Old Man of Storr before the rocks were swallowed up by clouds...


...and we saw another "old man", the Old Man of Hoy, on our trip out to Orkney.


The holiday has also involved several waterfalls. We kicked things off with the waterfalls at Low Force...


...and High Force...


...before visiting the falls at Corrieshalloch Gorge later in the trip.


On Skye we visited Mealt Falls...


...as well as the similarly named Lealt falls.


The road trip has taken us past some historical sites too and we've visited no fewer than three different standing stones. We started with Stenness on Orkney...


...before visiting the Ring of Brodgar slightly down the road.


Later, on Lewis, we also visited the Callanish standing stones.


There have been some pretty towns too. We made an unscheduled stop in Dollar...


...had lunch in Pitlochry...


...and didn't quite get what was so special about Cromarty.


Thurso was so grey we didn't bother taking any photos of it, but Stromness was much more attractive...


...and Kirkwall was memorable for its enormous cathedral.


We admired the Scandinavian houses in Scalloway...


...and found Lerwick to be a sleepy little place...


...though admittedly there was more going on there than in the metropolis of Mid Yell :D 


Back on the mainland, we enjoyed revisiting Ullapool until we failed to get into a restaurant. Having microwave meals for dinner may have been the low point of the trip xD 


Once we got to the Outer Hebrides, we found Stornoway to be a colourful town.


And of course, Glen Coe is a village with great views.


Of course, the holiday involved a lot of driving north and we managed to visit several "most northerly" points. We started with John O'Groats for an obligatory signpost photo...


...before visiting the true most northerly point on the mainland at Dunnet Head.


On the recommendation of a barman in Orkney, we then visited Britain's most northerly inhabited island, Unst, and walked along its most northerly peninsula.


We also visited the Butt of Lewis, which is definitely the most northerly point of the Outer Hebrides, even though its not the most northwesterly point in Europe as the Bradt guidebook claims.


However, the absolute star of the show as far as I am concerned is the sea. I suppose it should have been clear to me when we planned a trip which involved visiting lots of islands that we would see a lot of the sea, but that didn't really occur to me until partway through the holiday xD 

We have definitely seen some fantastic coastlines and beaches on the trip.  During our day on Orkney we watched the waves crashing against the cliffs at Yesnaby...


...and the waves were no less impressive at Eshaness on Shetland.


The sea was a lot calmer around the sea stacks at Mangersta on the Isle of Lewis, although my hair is testament to the fact that the wind was blowing just as hard xD 


The beaches on Shetland surpassed my expectations...


...but they were nothing compared to Luskentyre beach on the Isle of Harris.


Meanwhile West Beach on Berneray was in a league of its own and definitely one of the highlights of the whole holiday :) 


Overall we've had a fantastic time and I think it's fair to say that we've had as much adventure as it's possible to have without getting on a plane! I'll finish the blog with my personal favourite view of the whole holiday: the old bridge at Sligachan on the Isle of Skye in the sunshine :) 


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