The Outer Hebrides – also called the Western Isles – have always been a popular road trip and cycling destination, but in May 2017 a new long-distance hiking route opened which spans 155 miles from Vatersay in the south to Lewis in the north. In summer 2018, I hiked the Hebridean Way on my own and discovered the Outer Hebrides on foot. This is a complete guide to everything you need to know about hiking the Hebridean Way: how to prepare and what to pack, where to stay and eat, what to see off the trail and of course, how to navigate this path across one of the remotest places in Scotland!
Hebridean Way FAQ
Where is the Hebridean Way?
The Hebridean Way is a long-distance hiking trail in the Outer Hebrides, an archipelago off the north-west coast of Scotland. It covers 10 islands (Vatersay, Barra, Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, Grimsay, North Uist, Berneray, Harris and Lewis) and runs from Vatersay in the south to Stornoway on Lewis in the north. The islands, also called the Western Isles, are one of the remotest places in Scotland and one of the only places where Scottish Gaelic is still spoken frequently as a first language.
Hebridean Way Map
Getting to and from the Hebridean Way
It is very easy to get to the Outer Hebrides from Glasgow or Edinburgh, however, it takes time. Flying is the fastest option, but with the weather, it is more reliable to go by boat – since flights are cancelled more frequently than ferry crossings.
I took a train from Glasgow to Oban, and from there the 5-hour CalMac ferry to Castlebay on Barra. On the way back, I decided to take the CalMac ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool and from there the bus to Inverness and the train back to Glasgow.
If you follow my route, it’s best to buy the Hopscotch 8 ticket, which includes all 4 ferry rides you need along the Way between Oban and Ullapool.
There are also several other CalMac ferry connections to the mainland along the way, which are particularly useful if you want to hike the Hebridean Way in stages, or plan to spend more time on any of the other isles after completing the hike: Mallaig to Lochboisdale (South Uist), Uig (Skye) to Lochmaddy (North Uist) Uig (Skye) to Tarbert (Harris).
How long is the Hebridean Way?
The Hebridean Way is currently 156 miles (252 km) long. There are plans to extend the path to the Butt of Lewis, adding another 30 miles or so, but at the moment the trail ends officially at Lews Castle in Stornoway.
How long does it take to walk the Hebridean Way?
You could spend weeks on the Hebridean Way, exploring the islands in great detail and going on and off the trail as you please. However, the minimum you should plan for the whole hike is 10 days – the guidebook I used for the trail uses this as a default. The book also includes a suggestion for an 8-day itinerary, but unless you are an experienced long-distance hiker, I don’t see how you would be possible to walk 156 miles in 8 days.
Personally, I allowed myself 12 days to complete the Hebridean Way, plus a rest day in the middle. I planned my own itinerary based on the 10 stages described in the guidebook, but you could also use the itinerary suggested on the official Hebridean Way website as a guideline.
In total, I spent 16 days in the Outer Hebrides, including an additional day on Lewis in the end and two days of travelling to and from the islands.
Which way – north or south?
Considering the weather, it is most logical to hike the Hebridean Way from south to north. Firstly, because the wind usually blows in a northerly direction, so you won’t have to fight with many headwinds walking in the same direction. Secondly, if the sun is out, you want it in your back, rather than your face. This is better for photography and protects your face from sunburn.
That said, I have also met a few hikers who walked the Hebridean Way north to south, and it is absolutely possible.
How much does it cost to walk the Hebridean Way?
Walking holidays can be super budget-friendly, especially if you carry a tent and do it all self-organised.
Campsites cost between £7 and £10, which includes access to washrooms and fresh water facilities, sometimes even a kitchen. Many campsites also have laundry facilities which are available for a small fee.
I spent around £600 on my two week holiday, which includes additional equipment I bought before the trip, all food, campsite fees and accommodation, trains and ferries etc. I could have probably saved here and there, for example by wild camping more often and not going to local pubs for celebratory drinks after hard sections – but when I’m on holidays (especially walking holidays) I like to treat myself!
Additional costs not included in this breakdown are my day trip to St Kilda and the rental car I got to spend a day on the Isle of Lewis.
Can I book a walking holiday?
There are a number of tour companies that offer walking holidays in the Outer Hebrides, some cover the whole length of the Hebridean Way, others do it in stages. They offer certainly a lot more comfort than individual hiking with a tent. They include B&B accommodation, luggage transfers and transfers between accommodation and the trail, but they are also accordingly more expensive and your route is less flexible than if you go independently.
How hard is it to walk the Hebridean Way?
Overall, the Hebridean Way might be long, but the trail is fairly easy to walk for beginners. The Hebrides are pretty flat and a lot of the trail leads along the coastline or across flat moorland.
The crux lies not necessarily in the elevation you gain, but rather in the terrain, you have to cross. Some parts of the trail lack an actual path, and you have to cut your own way across the moor, the bog or down hillsides, so it will still be physically challenging at times.
Additionally, there is quite a bit of road walking involved – more than I would call pleasant. Walking on the hard tarmac for miles on end can be hard on your body and your mind – prepare accordingly or alternatively, take the bus.
Is the Hebridean Way marked?
In the creation of the Hebridean Way, funding from the EU’s Regional Development Fund was used to improve the infrastructure along the trail. Footbridges were built and waymarkers put up – you can recognise these by the round white disks that carry the Hebridean Way logo.
In general, the Way is very easy to follow as there are plenty of waymarkers along it. The Way makes use of existing trails wherever possible, but sometimes you are left on your own and simply have to make your own way from post to post. Apart from higher up in bad weather conditions, it was always easy to see the next post. The only times I had issues were in the hills on Barra (stage 1) and the hillside above Seilebost (stage 8), but ever there I managed without having to navigate by map.
However, I did get the sense that moving from south to north, they slowly started running out of 4x4s and logo disks, as there are fewer waymarkers on Harris and Lewis, than on the southern islands. In the beginning there were two disks on each post, roughly corresponding with the direction of the path, but later on, there was often only one disk, either north or south facing. Sometimes the disk was also facing the trail, which made it hard to rely on the posts giving any sense of direction anymore when there was not an actual path.
Additionally, there were waymarkers indicating distances at prominent points along the trail. These were really helpful in gauging how much further it would be to my day’s endpoint and estimating how well I had progressed throughout the day. Again on Harris and Lewis, the path creators seemed to have lost interest in making these really helpful and there were much fewer distance markers than in the south. One day, in particular, stood out to me – stage 9 – when the distance markers just presented a countdown to Tarbert, rather than telling you the distance to the next useful point (like any of the villages you come past that day). It’s not the end of the world, but it is a lost opportunity to make the Way more enjoyable.
Is there a Hebridean Way guidebook?
There is a hiking guidebook for the Hebridean Way published by Cicerone. You can get it easily on Amazon or download it to your phone. The book describes the trail in 10 stages with additional options for doing the route in 8 or 14 days. It contains general information about the trail and logistics, offers some listings of infrastructure and accommodation along the way and includes detailed trail descriptions.
Unfortunately, the guidebook is not without faults though. It was written before the official opening of the route in 2017 and does not contain updates of the most recent changes to the route (for example on Scarista beach, or the route leaving Laxay). Some details, like the colour of the waymarkers along the Harris Walkway (which is now part of Heb Way), are described inaccurately and the listings of accommodation and cafes/shops on the Way miss obvious highlights (like the Kilbride Cafe or Vigadale House) while mentioning others (like a pub on Eriskay you come past way before open hours). Furthermore, the distance markers given in the book do not always correspond with the distance markers posts along the route, so that it becomes difficult to gauge which one is correct.
Nevertheless, the book is a valuable source for the trail. It gives information about what terrain to expect, where to turn when waymarkers have fallen over or were damaged by weather or wildlife, and adds plenty of additional information about the trail and the Isles.
Get the Cicerone guidebook HERE!
Walking the Hebridean Way solo as a woman
Maybe the most “shocking” aspect of my trek on the Hebridean Way for most people was that I would do it on my own. A woman walking and camping solo in the middle of nowhere at the edge of Scotland – was that even safe?
The short answer is yes, it is absolutely safe! The Outer Hebrides are a faraway place and the already low crime rate of Scotland is even lower in the Western Isles. I had no reservations about walking the Hebridean Way on my own as a woman and did not feel unsafe at any given moment during my trek.
I met very few walkers along the way, but many cyclists and road trippers, especially when I stayed at hostels or campsites. Many of them I met several times so that I felt like I always had someone there to rely on – who would ask for me, if I did not show up.
When I wild camped, I was always entirely on my own and I would not see a soul for hours. I made it a point to tell fellow travelers about my plans, again, so that in case anything happened someone would know about my whereabouts. I also gave my partner a detailed itinerary and let him know about any changes to my plan. In the tent I was never scared – only once I wondered what that noise was, only to realise that it was the long grass in the dunes scratching against my tent in the wind. Very scary – for 5 seconds.
People are still so worried about women travelling on their own, even more so when it’s an adventure trip like my solo hike on the Hebridean Way. But in fact, I met many other women on the trail, hiking and cycling, who were doing it all by themselves – and every single one of them loved it!
Hebridean Way Trail Descriptions
As mentioned above, I walked the Hebridean Way in 12 stages and walked an average of 13 miles (20.5 km) per day. I kept very closely to the suggested routes from the Cicerone hiking guidebook but slightly changed the sections across the Uists and Benbecula as well as my overnight destinations on Harris.
The main reason for this was, that the book suggested three very long consecutive days to cross Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist. I knew though, that I would not be able to walk 21-22 miles three days in a row and decided to cover this section in five days instead. On Harris, I adapted the route to work better with potential overnight stops, campsites and hostels along the way.
My 12 stages were:
- Stage 1: Vatersay & Barra, 14 miles / 22km
- Stage 2: Erisaky to Askernish, 13 miles / 21 km + detour to the shop in Daliburgh
- Stage 3: Askernish to Driomor, 13 miles / 21 km
- Stage 4: Driomor to Linacleite, 13 miles / 21 km
- Stage 5: Linacleite to Carinish, 12 miles / 20 km
- Stage 6: Carinish to Lochmaddy, 12 miles / 20 km
- Stage 7: Lochmaddy to Berneray, 10 miles / 17 km
- Stage 8: Leverburgh to Seilebost, 14 miles / 22 km
- Stage 9: Seilebost to Drinishader, 9 miles / 15 km
- Stage 10: Drinishader to Bowglass, 15 miles / 24 km
- Stage 11: Bowglass to Laxay, 15 miles / 24 km
- Stage 12: Laxay to Stornoway, 14 miles / 22 km
At the end of each stage, it was easy to find accommodation, either by wild camping, pitching at a campsite or in a hostel. The only place where I booked a B&B was Bowglass since there were no campsites/hostels in the area and the rocky and hilly landscape of Harris is not the most suitable for wild camping.
Check out my detailed 12-day Hebridean Way route!
Hebridean Way Accommodation
Since I was carrying my tent with me, I made use of campsites or wild camped wherever I could. At most endpoints of the stages described above, you will be able to find B&B or hotel accommodation either immediately on the trail or not too far away. If your accommodation is a few miles off the trail, you might want to take the bus or arrange transfers with your hosts/taxis, since adding a couple of miles in the morning and the evening can really wear you down.
If you follow the guidebook’s 10-day itinerary, you will be able to do the Hebridean Way entirely without camping, but since that requires several very long days and accommodation might be limited (especially during high season) I highly recommend bringing a tent.
By camping, you are a lot more flexible and independent and you can change your plans at the very last minute without running into cancellation fees. With long-distance hiking, you never know what the trail throws at you, or which opportunities arrive. I love the flexibility I had on my trek thanks to my tent! Plus, it saved me money!
Vegan food on the Hebridean Way
Unlike the rest of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides is not particularly vegan-friendly. The local food is all about seafood, meat and dairy, and most cafes or restaurants I came across did not have vegan options upon request. That said, there were a few welcome exceptions and very accommodating chefs along the way. I found it very easy to walk the Hebridean Way as a vegan and found many other options for food supplies.
Since I knew it would be tricky to get vegan-friendly cooked meals on the Isles (if there was even the option of eating out), I brought a lot of food with me.
I carried a week’s worth of porridge with dried fruit, seeds and nuts through it, which I stocked up with oats in Leverburgh. I mixed this with coconut milk powder so that I could prepare it with water without losing the creaminess of a milky porridge.
Local shops, especially the Co-ops, always have a “free from” section. I had no issues whatsoever finding vegan-friendly bread, hummus and Trek bars or other vegan-friendly sweeties in any shop. Fresh, packaging-free fruit and veg were always available. I usually carried lunch and snacks for 2 days before restocking at the next shop.
Be aware that most shops and restaurants are closed on Sundays, or have very limited open hours, which means you should stock up before then.
There are shops in Castlebay (Co-op), Dalabrog (Co-op), Lovats, Creagorry (Co-op), Lochmaddy, Berneray, Leverburgh, Tarbert and Stornoway (Co-op, Tesco).
I also carried a week’s worth of trekking dinners with me and sent myself another week’s worth to my half-way point on Berneray to re-stock. That meant, I only had to worry about buying lunches on the Isles.
Snacks & drinks
I also brought a small stash of emergency chocolates as well as instant coffee and a few tea bags. In retrospect, I think I could have cut the coffee, as I only had it a few times, and the instant stuff is not satisfying either way.
As I said, the local menu primarily consists of seafood and meat, and I found that many vegetarian options contain egg or dairy. However, there are a few things you can usually order, like beans on toast in cafes or cheese-less pizza in hotel restaurants.
Here are some of my favourite eateries from the Hebridean Way:
- Kilbride Cafe on South Uist, Stage 2
- Langass Lodge on North Uist, Stage 6
- Berneray Bistro & Shop on Berneray, Stage 7
- Lacklee Community Centre Cafe on Harris, Stage 9
- Tarbert Community Centre Cafe on Harris, Stage 10
And what about water?
I had brought my water filter to be able to fill up my water supplies from local streams without hesitation, but since it had been incredibly warm and dry for months before my trip, there was not much running water I could access. Instead, I filled my water supply on campsites and at shops along the Way. I did not use my water filter until I reached Harris, and even there it was more to try it, rather than because I needed it.
I had a water system with me which allowed me to carry 4 litres of water, but I never had more than 2.5 L on my back – enough to carry if you ask me. When I could not find a shop or cafe, I also asked locals who were out in their gardens, if it was possible to fill up my water and was never turned away.
Hebridean Way Packing List
When it comes to packing for long-distance hiking I stick to me well-tested and constantly optimised packing list. Here is a quick overview of what I packed – for more detail, concrete product recommendations and the contents of my toiletry & first aid kit, consider my full LD packing list!
65L + 10L hiking backpack
1-2 person tent (Vaude Hogen SUL 1-2P)
sleeping system (2-season sleeping bag & a self-inflatable mat by Vaude)
1L bottle of water
3L drinking system
camping stove + 1 gas canister + matches
food & snacks (breakfast & dinner – 1 week; lunch – 2 days)
pair of sturdy hiking boots
3 tops (2 hiking, 1 base layer)
2 bottoms (1 hiking, 1 base layer)
1 fleece cardigan
1 light-weight jacket
waterproofs (jacket and trousers)
1 bathing suit + travel towel
5x underwear + 2 sport bras
4 pairs of socks (2 hiking, 1 normal, 1 sleeping)
first aid kit
small, sharp knife
midge spray & midge net
toilet paper + matches
Hebridean Way guidebook + pen
Outer Hebrides maps
a book for reading
camera + charger + battery pack
I tried to reduce my pack as much as I could. Every gram counted, especially since I was carrying supplies for a week and a considerable amount of maps. I left my hiking poles at home, and had only one or two occasions where I wished I would have had them on the trail – I’d say it was worth it. I also reduced my cooking gear down to one gas canister, since it would have been easy enough to refill on the Isles. It turns out, I didn’t even finish the one! I took out my heavy woollen hat and replaced it with a second light-weight buff for colder days. I didn’t actually need it for my head but used it as a pillow at night (stuffed with my warm jacket and bathing suit for optimal comfort).
I could have saved some more weight, by leaving my book or my swimsuit, but both came in handy, and I was happy I had them!
My solo adventure on the Hebridean Way was a fantastic experience and I am certain that the Hebridean Way will become a very popular long-distance trail in Scotland over time. It might be a little harder to organise everything in lack of the kind of infrastructure you would find along the West Highland Way, but the unique scenery and the feeling of being away from it all are absolutely worth the effort!
If you have any more questions about hiking the Hebridean Way – alone, with a friend or in a group, let me know in the comments!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.
Disclaimer: My trip was supported by Vaude with gifted camping equipment, CalMac with complimentary ferry tickets and VisitScotland who covered my accommodation in Stornoway. All opinions are my own.