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Surfing Scotland's islands: Wild nature and pristine beaches on the Outer Hebrides

In April '22 we started our trip our destination: the north of Europe. We wanted to find out how much surfing potential is hidden in the north and started taking the ferry from Holland towards Great Britain. An absolute highlight of this tour: the outer Hebrides.

The Outer Hebrides are a group of islands in the northwest of Scotland. Due to their exposed position in the Atlantic Ocean they are real swell magnets. The islands are characterized by their harsh climate, wild nature and little signs of civilization. By chance we came across this little island paradise during our research and we knew immediately: that's where we want to go!

Surfer walking into the Water on the Outer Hebrides
Surfing on the Outer Hebrides
 

What's in this blogpost:

 

What to expect on a surf trip to the Outer Hebrides

Are you looking for sunny days, warm water, palm trees and casual bars for your after-surf beer, then the Hebrides... are definitely not the right destination. But if you're up for empty spots, beautiful nature, first-class waves and have a bit of an adventurer’s mind, then you should definitely consider the Hebrides.The outer Hebrides consist of several small islands, all of which can be reached by ferry. The two largest of these are Lewis and Harris. Especially on Lewis you will find a wide variety of surf spots with all swell directions, so that there is always a wave somewhere on this island - you just have to find it. Therefore, it definitely helps if you are able to read and understand the surf forecast. Despite the surf, the island offers pristine beaches with crystal clear waters where only the temperature reminds you that you are not in the Caribbean, wild mountain ranges rugged by fjords and local specialties like Harris Gin or Tweed.

Longboarding Outer Hebrides
Longboarding Outer Hebrides

Surf Trip Outer Hebrides
Surf Trip Outer Hebrides

Timing - What is the best time of the year to visit the Outer Hebrides

Like almost everywhere along the Atlantic, the months from September to April hold the best waves. However, these also come with wet and cold weather. Therefore we decided for a compromise and went to the Outer Hebrides in May. In May the Hebrides welcome you with long days allowing you to surf until late in the evening. In addition, May is (normally) a good time to travel to the Outer Hebrides with comparatively little rain, hardly any tourists, good waves and the most sunny days with temperatures between 13 and 7 degrees. However, as we were told, when we visited, it was an unusually rainy May. Nevertheless, nex time we would go again in May or June, because we are happy to trade slightly colder weather for less people and better waves. But you should definitely be prepared for changeable, windy and rough weather. We even fired up our heater in the camper once or twice.


Beach Outer Hebrides
Beach Outer Hebrides

Which equipment should I bring?

Both - in and out of the water, you should be prepared for cold, wet and windy. We had 4/3 wetsuits, gloves, hoods and booties with us and that was sufficient for us. However, on some windy days, a 5/4 wetsuit would certainly have been a nice addition. The water was less cold than we would have imagined, but after a few hours we were still very happy to warm up and get out of the water.


Surf Equipment Scotland
Surf Equipment Scotland

We had both our Fish boards with lots of volume, our mid-lengths boards, and the longboards with us. And of course our Sieve Fins from recycled plastic ;).Therefore, we were equipped with six boards for (almost) everything. If we had to decide for only one, it probably would have been our Fish Boards, because the boards have a lot of volume, which was good on smaller days, but we could also easily take them into the water on slightly bigger days. Apart from this, be sure to bring your hiking shoes, 1 or 2 good books, and a decent rain jacket. Because other than surfing, hiking, and watching nature, there's not a whole lot to do in the Outer Hebrides.



Sieve Single Fin Outer Hebrides
Sieve Single Fin Outer Hebrides

Wild camping and campsites - visiting the Outer Hebrides with a camper

The Outer Hebrides are a paradise for (responsible!) campers. There are many pitches on beautiful sites that you are allowed to use for a small donation or fee. Most of these sites are very simple and have an 'Honesty Box' into which the fee for the overnight stay is paid. Therefore, our advise is to bring enough Pounds with you to be able to pay for the sites in cash. We spent many nights at a beautiful site with direct beach access, consistent waves and crystal clear water, which we shared with only a few campers and a lot of sheep. For us, one of the most beautiful sites of the whole trip.


Campsite Outer Hebrides
Campsite Outer Hebrides

As everywhere, the usual rules of 'camper etiquette' apply.' However, it certainly doesn't hurt to be reminded every now and then, because some of the rules are special here. The roads are narrow and therefore there are many passing bays, these are (surprise, surprise) really meant for passing and not parking. So don't park in passing bays or driveways, not where the view of residents is blocked or houses are close by or the ground needs to be protected. Leave the place the same or cleaner than you found it, if you have to go to the bathroom, find a restroom or go for a coffee, shop at local supermarkets and ask if you're unsure where to park. If you're going slow on the road, stop in a passing place to let faster drivers pass, don't spread out unnecessarily with your tables, chairs, etc., close pasture fences behind you to keep the countless sheep where they belong, and so on. Following these simple and easy-to-understand rules will hopefully ensure that we can continue to enjoy the privilege of these beautiful places in the future.

Sheep on the Outer Hebrides
More sheep than you can count

Surfing on the Outer Hebrides: Can you surf in Scotland?

'Is it possible to surf in Scotland?' and 'Isn't it way too cold', two questions we were often asked when we talked about our travel plans. First we can say: yes, definitely. Especially Lewis enchanted us with its many different surf spots and first class waves. In addition, the days in May and June are particularly long and therefore we were able to squeeze up to three sessions in on some days. Second, we can say: it is no warm water surfing. But still empty line-ups, crystal clear water and beautiful surroundings convinced us. From difficult reef spots to easier beach breaks the islands have everything on offer. However, we would not recommend them for beginners, because the beaches are mostly empty, there is little surf infrastructure and no lifeguards. Therefore, you should already be able to assess new spots to understand when they are working, where the waves break and how to get in and out well. Alternatively, you can of course book a course with one of the two local surf schools.

Surfing on the Outer Hebrides
Surfing on the Outer Hebrides

Getting there and getting - How do I get to the Outer Hebrides?

We took the CalMac Ferries from Uig (Isle of Skye) to Tarbert on the Outer Hebrides. In order not to travel the same route twice, we took the ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool on our way back. The outward trip costed us about 50 pounds (about 60€) and took ca. 1.5 hrs. The way back costed us about 75 Pounds (about 85€) and the ferry took 2,5 hours. In total we paid about 150€ for both ways. We think it was absolutely worth it and the Outer Hebrides were one of our highlights in Scotland. You can also take other ferries from Lewis or Harris to the other islands (Uist, Barra, etc.). But since these don't have the same wave guarantee, we decided to stay on Lewis and Harris.


Once you are on the islands, it is definitely worth it to be mobile. We think the camper is for sure the best choice to explore the Hebrides, to sleep at the most beautiful places and to have your surf equipment with you in an uncomplicated way. Only weatherproof, it should be in the best case.

View from the Ferry
Ferry Crossing Outer Hebrides

Sieve Fins visiting the Outer Hebrides
Sieve Fins on tour

Conclusion: Visiting the Outer Hebrides - is it worth it?

In the end we spent almost two weeks on the Outer Hebrides and were able to explore most of Lewis and Harris and still it was hard for us to leave. For us, these two beautiful islands with their almost Caribbean, deserted beaches, wild nature and many waves are a little paradise. Safe to say that this was definitely not our last visit.


If you already felt freezing just reading about this cold water surf destination - our blogpost on the 3 best Winter surf spots for sun and waves might be something for you.


Shipwreck Scotland
Shipwreck Scotland

Flowers in Rain Scotland
Changing weather on the Outer Hebrides

Roadtrip through Scotland
Roadtrip through Scotland


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