The Western Isles enjoy a different culture, language and scenery largely because of the Minch separating the islands from mainland Scotland and the rest of Britain. That stretch of sea does not however make it difficult to get to the Western Isles. By air, you can reach the islands in less than one hour from Glasgow and Inverness and in two or three hours from London. Car and passenger ferries make the journey quick and comfortable if you prefer to take the sea road to the isles.
Caledonian MacBrayne run a fleet of well-equipped car and passenger ferries to five ports in the Western Isles, and also some of the inter-island ferry services within the Western Isles. If you are taking the sea route, you can depart from mainland Scotland at Ullapool, Oban, or Uig (in Skye).
Stornoway (Isle of Lewis) is served by the MV Isle of Lewis which sails from Ullapool. In summer you can travel two or three times daily (Monday to Saturday). Journey time is 2.5 hours. This is the largest ferry operating on the west coast of Scotland.
Tarbert ((Isle of Harris) and Lochmaddy (Isle of North Uist), are served by the ferry, which sails from Uig (Isle of Skye). There is a daily or twice-daily service to Tarbert (Monday to Saturday) and to Lochmaddy (seven days a week). Journey time is 1.75 hours. There is also a direct vehicle ferry connecting Leverburgh (Harris) and Otternish (North Uist) six days per week. Vehicles can be booked in advance.
Lochboisdale (Isle of South Uist) and Castlebay (Isle of Barra), are connected by sailing from Oban. There is a daily service to both island ports seven days a week with a journey time of 5-7 hours. The travel time between Lochboisdale and Castlebay is 1.75 hours. In addition there is a weekly sailing to both ports from Mallaig during the peak summer period.
All of the above sailings refer to the summer timetable which is in force from Easter to mid October. There is a slightly reduced timetable outwith this period, so please ensure you check all dates, times, availability and prices with the operator before you travel.
‘Island Hopscotch’ fares are available for those using more than one crossing, with 16 different combination of routes offered. These fares usually offer substantial savings, especially for those on car touring holidays.
Remember when driving was a pleasure? The roads in the islands are quiet, and paradise for those whose nerves are daily frayed in traffic jams and on motorways. They are excellent also for the cyclist, with no heavy traffic. Some of the roads are single track, so remember to use the passing places to allow other road users to overtake.
Toll-free road bridges connect to the islands of Scalpay (Harris) and Great Bernera (Lewis). Causeways link many of the smaller isles to the main isles, Benbecula, Vatersay, Eriskay.
The ‘Island Rover’ gives unlimited travel with or without a car on most Caledonian MacBrayne ferry routes for eight or fifteen days. For reservations and full details of all services, please contact Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd, The Ferry Terminal, Gourock, PA19 1QP, or telephone 08705 650000 (reservations) or 01475 650100 for general enquiries. You can also contact Caledonian MacBrayne’s local offices, details of which are listed on the back cover of this guide.
Getting to the ferry ports by bus.
Regular bus services to Ullapool, Uig (Skye), Oban, and Mallaig all connect where possible with ferry arrival and departure times. The main bus operator from central Scotland is Scottish Citylink Coaches for all connections (Tel: 0990 505050). The company offer a special luggage handling service from Inverness to Stornoway.
TRAVEL BY RAIL
The “Freedom of Scotland Travelpass” offers unlimited travel on most scheduled rail services in Scotland, on all Caledonian MacBrayne ferries and selected Citylink coach routes including those connecting with ferries to the Western Isles. The ticket is available for 4 out of 8 consecutive days, 8 out of 15 days, or 12 out of 15 days
You can go as far as Oban, Mallaig and Kyle by train on some of the most scenic lines in Britain. To get to Ullapool you can take the train as far as Inverness, and then go by bus to Ullapool. For Uig, bus connections are available from Kyle.
Details of timetables and fares are available from the National Rail Enquiry Service on tel: 0345 484950.
COMING BY AIR
British Regional Airlines operate flights from Glasgow to Stornoway (2 flights per day, Monday to Saturday) and from Glasgow to Benbecula (1 flight, Monday to Saturday). Loganair operate mainland connections from Edinburgh and Inverness to Stornoway (1-2 flights, Monday to Saturday) and from Glasgow to Barra (1 flight, Monday to Saturday). In addition Loganair operates the inter-island route linking Stornoway, Benbecula and Barra (1-2 flights per day, Monday to Friday).
Connecting flights to and from Glasgow and Inverness are available from London and other cities throughout Britain and Europe.
Ask for details of the Highland Rover which allows 5 separate flights within Scotland to be made on routes operated by British Regional Airlines and Loganair at a cost of £189 excluding taxes. (Tickets can only be issued outside Scotland).