The Outer Hebrides are Scotland, but they are not Scottish. They form a spine of islands, lounging off Britain’s northwest coast like a semi–submerged crocodile. Across 40 isles and countless islets, of which only 15 are inhabited, the Outer Hebrides combine the limpid, turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the grey severity of Iceland and, in the people, the reserved perseverance of Scandinavians. Then there are the coastal cliffs, which drop straight and red into the crashing sea – their ruggedness a reflection of a culture that is stoic and enduring, despite the relentless buffeting.
Hardship and strife are historical themes on these islands – and their coast–hugging counterparts, the Inner Hebrides – wrought by forces both natural and man–made. The anti–feudalist Hebridean Land Revolt took place here in 1884, and it was from the Isle of Eriskay that Bonnie Prince Charlie launched his doomed Jacobite revolution to overthrow the British throne in 1745. Meanwhile, the Highland Clearances, a century of forced resettlement from the mid–18th century, undermined the Gaelic clan system and pushed the population onto small tenements called crofts. Many chose to leave, fleeing to Canada’s Maritimes, where the Gaelic language and culture still survive in pockets. The crofts they abandoned for a new life fell into disrepair, their stone walls now crumbled and half hidden under tufts of moss. But that may be about to change.