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map markerThe Hebrides, Scotland

Island hopping around the Hebrides

by Aslan

January 16, 2023

Day One

As soon as lockdown lifted in the UK we decided to visit the Hebrides, in Scotland. We went as part of a project to explore coastal habitats and wildlife in the UK and, for the first time in a long time, to explore someplace closer to home.

The Hebrides are an archipelago of islands off the north west coast of Scotland, home to varied and evocative landscapes defined by wild Atlantic waves. From sheer cliffs and rocky mountains to sweeping sandy beaches and volcanic columns, this is also where you’ll find some of the richest and most vibrant marine life in the world. We decided to base ourselves in the coastal town of Oban, where long roads swing past dazzling ocean panoramas and secret bays.

Our drive up to Scotland from the south coast of England would take 10 hours, covering over 600 miles. Once there, we needed something that could meet the demands of rough terrain. A 4×4 with a splash of luxury and modern comforts to ease the long journey: that’s what we were looking for, and that’s exactly what we found in the Jaguar F Pace, which fit the role perfectly.

On our first day we chartered a boat with a team of marine biologists to explore bluer-than-blue waters around the Isle of Coll. The sea was sparkling, clear as glass, and our breath-hold dives beneath the surface revealed spectacular kelp forests. It looked almost Mediterranean (but certainly didn’t feel like it)!

Day Two

Later that week we caught the first minke whale sighting of the season. We also saw impressive white tailed sea eagles (with a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres, the largest bird of prey in the UK), porpoises near the wake of our boat, and otters drifting on their backs. When we visited the Isle of Lunga, a site of special scientific interest due to the vast number of seabirds that come here to breed, there were puffins everywhere. These “sea parrots”, as they are affectionally known, are so full of character you can watch them for hours and not get bored. Lunga is also home to an enormous guillemot colony. We couldn’t believe how many there were in one place – too many to fit in the frame of even our widest wide angle lens!

When we weren’t at sea, we were exploring the roads along the coast. We discovered lots of beautiful forested areas to walk through, and a couple ‘secret’ bays to stop at. This gave us our funniest wildlife encounter of the trip: a run-in with a group of curious Scottish Highland calves. As our car slowed down towards a gate, we could feel their inquisitive eyes on us. They surrounded us, eyeballing the car as if it were some strange kind of cow they’d never met before, and remained there, transfixed. It was a hilarious photo opportunity!

Day Three

We took a day out to road trip to the striking mountains of Glencoe. These mountains are formed from some of the oldest sedimentary and volcanic strata in the world; subsequently moulded and repositioned by a geological event almost 400 million years ago. It is amazing to drive through Glencoe, flanked on either side by million of years of glaciation and erosion that have carved the rocks into the incredible formations we get to hike and climb.

We managed to park the car down a small track just off the main road but easily accessible with the right vehicle and made our job of grabbing gear and getting straight into the action much easier. Once we had our bags packed and boots on we set off on a scenic hike led by the sights.

On our final day we managed to combine the secret discoveries made thanks to exploring in our Jaguar F Pace and our love of adventure and marine life, by driving to one of the bays we had discovered and free-diving until the sun set alongside two grey seals. We reflected afterwards that a place where you can do that is a pretty incredible one.

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