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8 fantastic ways to encounter wildlife in the Outer Hebrides

As the BBC natural history series, Hebrides, Islands on the Edge comes to an end, many viewers will have been inspired to put the Outer Hebrides on their must-visit list.  But can the islands really offer the kind of up-close and personal encounters with wildlife that the series promises? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’ – the islands live up to all the superlatives they enjoy when it comes to nature. Even the most idle stroll anywhere in the Outer Hebrides will bring visitors face to face with wildlife that it’s hard to find on the mainland. Outer Hebrides In Spring and early Summer, a tapestry of bird song is the backdrop to a walk across the beautiful west coast flower meadows, known as machair. Larks, lapwings, oyster catchers, redshank – they’re easy to hear and spot. These birds are so commonplace in the Outer Hebrides that residents barely notice them, but for many mainland visitors, it’s often the first time they’ve heard or seen them. A boat trip with one of the islands’ sea tour operators will enable visitors to see an extraordinary variety of sea-birds, and if they’re lucky, whales and dolphins too. The Minch (between the north west Scottish mainland and the Outer Hebrides) teems with bottle-nosed dolphin, minke whales and basking sharks. Visitors might be exceptionally lucky and spot Risso’s dolphins, which inhabit only a handful of coastal sites where the continental shelf is narrow and close to the shore. The Outer Hebrides is classed as one of their critical habitats. If you’re lucky, you can encounter all this and more by knowing these 8 fantastic ways to sample the wildlife of the Outer Hebrides. Kilda Cruises Based on the island of Harris, Kilda Cruises takes visitors to experience the awe-inspiring landscape, human history and the sheer remoteness of dual World Heritage Site St Kilda as well as other remote outlying Hebridean islands. Day trips to St Kilda are £190 per person. Kilda Cruises Sea Harris Sea Harris offer full day trips to St Kilda and many shorter day trips to the smaller islands including the Shiants, as well as private charters for sea angling, corporate or special occasions. Day trips to St Kilda are £170 per person. Hidden Hebrides Hidden Hebrides Walking Tours know the best places to watch golden eagles, the most likely spots for glimpsing harbour porpoises, the most stunning beaches and most evocative abandoned villages.  Their extensive local knowledge will bring alive visitors’ encounters with spectacular island wildlife and some of Europe’s most stunning landscapes. Options include ½ day tours for £90 or 6 night/5 day holidays from £670. Hidden Hebrides Hebrides Fish ‘n’ Trips This company offers private boat charters for 1 to 5 people off the east coast of the Isle of Lewis exploring the coastline of sea lochs and lagoons.  Watch out for while tailed sea eagles and golden eagles, puffins, gannets and skuas as well as basking sharks, porpoise, dolphins, seals and otters… to name a few of the wildlife on view. Charter fee is £50 per hour. Hebrides Wildwatch Hebrides Wildwatch offer bespoke off-the-beaten-track tours of the isles.  The island-based guides have considerable experience and insight into the ways of the local fauna, its habits and how these fit in with the culture and environment of the isles.  They’ll get visitors close to nature including birds of prey, migratory waders, sea birds, corncrakes, cetaceans, basking shark, red deer and otter. Options include ½ day tours at £100. Balranald RSPB Nature Reserve Balranald is one of the best places for wildlife in the UK. This beautiful Hebridean reserve has sandy beaches, rocky foreshore, marshes and sand dunes. An information centre explains the importance of traditional crofting agriculture for corncrakes and other wildlife. Many wading and farmland birds nest on the flower-rich machair and croft-land. Entry is free; guided walking tours £5 (£2 for RSPB members). Balranald South Uist Fishing The unique shell sand alkaline machair lochs on the west coast of the island create the ideal growing conditions for quality brown trout and sea trout which are universally regarded as some of the best fishing you can experience. In contrast, the middle and east coast of the islands have a rugged peaceful beauty of moor and hills leading to sheltered skerries, perfect for wild brown trout. Fishing permits start at £25 per day for two people (including boat). Clearwater Paddling Wild camping tours by kayak leave from Barra visiting stunning beaches on distant islands of the Outer Hebrides.  While setting up camp for the night and sitting round a driftwood fire as night draws in, visitors will hear the call of distant seals and the excited chatter of oystercatchers.  There is no better time to see wildlife than early morning and late evening, or from the cockpit of a kayak. Sample 6 night Wild Barra Trip is £660.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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