Argyll and the Outer Hebrides: what to see
Scotland’s west coast is world famous for its stunning scenery, shaped over millennia by wild weather and crashing ocean waves.
Experience an ancient landscape that first began to take shape 5,000 years ago. Moine Mhòr National Nature Reserve takes its name from the Gaelic for ‘great moss’. This is one of Britain’s last raised bogs, and its wild hummocks, hollows and pools are home to a rich variety of wildlife.
Go even further back in time at Taynish National Nature Reserve, one of Europe’s finest ancient Atlantic oak woodlands. This fine example of Scotland's rainforest has been growing here for more than 7,000 years. Mosses, lichens and ferns thrive among the trees, and insects dart about the flower-rich grasslands.
Beavers were reintroduced to Scotland at Knapdale in 2009, initially as a trial and now on a permanent basis. It’s possible to spot these unusual animals – and their handiwork – in the woods and waterways around Loch Coille-Bharr. Watch for beavers swimming in the early morning and evening, or look out for nibbled trees and newly built dams.
Full day boat trips to St Kilda National Nature Reserve set off from Lewis and Harris, weather permitting. Lying 41 miles west of Benbecula, St Kilda feels like it’s perched on the edge of the world. Yet people inhabited this group of islands – with its sheer cliffs and sea stacks – for 2,000 years, until the 1930s.
St Kilda is Europe’s most important seabird breeding area and the world’s largest Northern gannet colony is found here. Two early breeds of sheep – Soay and Boreray – have survived on these remote islands. St Kilda is one of only a few places with dual World Heritage Site status for natural and cultural significance.
If you can’t manage quite as far, the island of Mingulay – known as the ‘near St Kilda’ – is just 12 miles south of Barra. Hop on a boat to see the island’s cliffs laden with all sorts of seabirds. Or spend time on land discovering Mingulay’s rich human history. Like St Kilda, it was also home to people for millennia.
Machair and marshes
Balranald RSPB nature reserve is a great place to discover the beauty of Uist’s west coast. Enjoy the huge expanse of sandy beach and dunes, against a backdrop of flower-rich machair and marshes. Listen out for the calls of the corncrake and corn bunting, and watch for wading birds and even otters.
Machair is unique to the north-west of Scotland and Ireland, where traditional crofting practices have created this fertile and flower-rich habitat. Another great place to explore the machair, besides Balranald, is Benbecula. The short walk on Lionacleit machair will take you almost as far as the ruins of Borve Castle.