The wind was whipping across the hilltop with such force that it was the only sound I could hear. I imagined that maybe I could hear the stones around me humming.
I stepped up to the largest center stone, towering more than twice my height, and tentatively reached out one hand. Slowly, I leaned forward and touched the rough surface.
Apparently I am not a time traveler.
I slapped the stone a couple times (just in case), and then stepped back, laughing, to make way for the other “Outlander” fans in my tour group to try their own hands at falling through the Callanish Standing Stones.
Needless to say, none of us fell through time, and there was (sadly) no sign of Jamie Fraser.
None of us were too disappointed, however in fact, visiting this stone circle on the Isle of Lewis ended up being one of the (many) highlights of my 5-day trip around the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides.
On my very first trip to Scotland in 2012, I booked a 5-day tour up into the Highlands with a company called Haggis Adventures. Geared towards the younger backpacker crowd, Haggis had bright yellow buses and “Wild & Sexy” as their main motto.
I instantly fell in love and had one of the best tour experiences of my life.
So, even though I've more or less outgrown my backpacking/hosteling days, when I decided to go back to Scotland for the fourth time earlier this year, I found myself being drawn back to Haggis Adventures. Especially after I saw the itinerary for their 5-day Hebridean Hopper tour: 5 days through the Highlands and Scotland's Western Isles, including two nights on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, which was on my bucket list.
Despite the chilly late-September weather and a distinct lack of time traveling, Haggis Adventures (and Scotland as a whole) once again impressed me.
For anyone looking to explore this part of Scotland without renting a car and self-driving, this is a great option.
Hebridean Hopper: The Highlights
So what all do you get to see on this 5-day tour? Well, A LOT, actually. Scotland isn't all that huge, after all, which means that you can fit a lot more in than you might expect.
Here were my personal highlights from this tour:
Callanish Standing Stones
Located on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, this ancient stone circle is probably one of the most famous in the UK after Stonehenge. But unlike at Stonehenge where there are ropes and regulations and tons of tourists, you'll find open space and silence at the Callanish Stones.
Instead of a bus parking lot and fancy visitor center, here you find a cafe and small museum and a gravel trail leading up to the 5000-ish-year-old stone circle. Other than my tour group, we only saw a handful of other people here. I know the reason for this is partially because of the remoteness of the island, but it still made it feel special (and maybe even a little magical).
To be honest, the Callanish Standing Stones were the main thing I wanted to see on the Isle of Lewis meaning I didn't bother Googling any of the other sites we'd be visiting there.
So I was absolutely delighted when we pulled up to Dun Carloway, the remnant of a stone broch (small tower) that’s roughly 2000 years old. We spent some time here climbing up into the old broch and enjoying the views of the nearby countryside.
The Butt of Lewis
The very northern tip of the Isle of Lewis is known as the Butt of Lewis, and we went on a late afternoon hike here along the coastal cliffs, led by our guide Mahri.
The wind is no joke (this is said to be one of the windiest places in the UK), but the views out over the North Atlantic were worth the hour out in the cold.
The third day of our tour focused on the Isle of Harris, which is south of the Isle of Lewis and technically connected by a narrow bit of land. While we hit up a bunch of spots on the Isle of Lewis in just one day, most of our time on Harris was spent at Luskentyre Beach, which has been named one of the best beaches in the United Kingdom.
Luskentyre Beach is long, smooth, and was virtually empty when we visited I can certainly see why people love it so much!
The sights of the Isle of Skye
I've been to the Isle of Skye a couple times before, but this time was exceptionally special because of the calm, sunny weather we had in the morning. Mahri pulled over just so we could get the above photo because she said she's never seen the Old Man of Storr and Loch Fada looking quite that stunning.
We also hit up favorites like Lealt Falls and Kilt Rock during our jaunt around the island, and made a stop at the Sligachan Bridge where it's said you'll be blessed with eternal beauty if you can hold your face in the water for 7 seconds.
The Fairy Pools
I think what I love most about traveling with Haggis Adventures is that even if you visit the same spot twice, it will never be exactly the same because of your guide. On our ferry ride over to Skye from the Isle of Harris, Mahri went around and asked everyone if there was anything specifically they wanted to see on the Isle of Skye. Even though the island isn't huge, there's a LOT to see and you can't possibly fit it in to just one day.
Normally, a group tour like this would not visit Skye's famous Fairy Pools because of timing (it takes a bit of hiking to get to the pools), but enough people from our group listed the Fairy Pools as the #1 thing they wanted to see that Mahri decided we would go anyway.
So it was on my third trip to the Isle of Skye that I *finally* got to visit the famous Fairy Pools! These “pools” are actually a series of waterfalls and shallow pools that tumble down a hillside.
And even though the lighting wasn't the best and we didn't have nearly enough to to explore, I was still running around like a little kid on Christmas morning. The fairies definitely had me under their spell.
I don't think I could ever get tired of driving through the towering mountains of Glencoe, and so it makes my list of highlights even though I've been there before. This time we had a chance to walk a bit in the glen and enjoy the sunshine.
Glencoe doesn't have a very beautiful history (it was here in 1692 that the Massacre of Glencoe took place, in which 38 members of Clan MacDonald were killed by Clan Campbell, who were guests in their homes), but it is nevertheless quite a beautiful part of Scotland.
Those are just my personal highlights. Other places the Hebridean Hopper tour visits include:
- Rogie Falls (Day 1)
- Abhainn Dearg Distillery (Day 2)
- Gearrannan Blackhouse Village (Day 2)
- St. Clements Church (Day 3)
- Eilean Donan Castle (Day 4)
- Loch Ness (Day 4)
- The William Wallace Monument in Stirling (Day 5)
Now that you've read the highlights, are you ready to book a spot on this tour for 2017? Here are a few other things you might want to know:
Who goes on a tour like this?
Haggis Adventures targets younger travelers (think: backpackers), but they don't put any age limits on their tours. My group was a mix of mostly Aussies and Americans, and I'd say the average age was probably 25-27.
Where do you stay?
Haggis uses hostels for their main accommodation option. There are a few private-room upgrades available on each tour, but these tend to book up quickly and most people will find themselves in shared dorm rooms.
We stayed in:
- Heb Hostel in Stornoway (Isle of Lewis) 2 nights
- Portree Independent Hostel (Isle of Skye) 1 night
- Morag's Lodge in Fort Augustus (Loch Ness) 1 night
The hostels are all clean and cozy, but I will say this about the hostels on the isles of Lewis and Skye: They are essentially old converted houses, meaning you'll be sharing a small room with anywhere from 3 to 8 other people and probably won't find many bathrooms. While the Heb Hostel and Portree hostel were perfectly comfortable with super nice owners, it was frustrating to have to share 3 showers with 30+ people.
(This is coming from someone who has definitely outgrown hostels, though I wouldn't let this sway you away from this awesome tour!)
How do you get around?
Every Haggis Adventures tour is conducted in a small yellow bus with the company's mottos emblazoned on the sides.
This tour also included two ferry crossings one from Ullapool to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, and another from the Isle of Harris to Uig on the Isle of Skye. These are pretty hefty crossings, too: the one from Ullapool to Stornoway lasts nearly 3 hours!
How much is it?
If you're looking for a budget tour in this part of Scotland, then Haggis Adventures is definitely for you. The base price for the Hebridean Hopper tour is $369 USD per adult, which includes your guide and transport. There's also a pre-pay bundle you can purchase when you make your booking that includes 4 nights of hostel accommodation, as well as your entry to the distillery and the blackhouse village OR you can pay for those as you go. (Haggis recommends budgeting roughly $30 per night for hostel dorms, and the activity add-ons run $5-$15 each.)
All-in, you're looking at just over $500 for the entire tour, which is pretty great in this part of the world.
What if I want to see more?
Are five days just not enough of Scotland's Highlands and Isles? Well, good news! The Hebridean Hopper tour is part of the longer 10-day Compass Buster tour, which also includes a visit to the Orkney Islands, along with more time to explore Loch Ness.
Should I book this tour?
Yup, you definitely should! Not only will you get to see parts of Scotland that many others miss, but you'll get to do it stress-free with a great guide (I've *never* had a bad one with this company!) and a fun group of other travelers.
I don't think you'll regret it!
Are the Hebrides calling to you now? Would you ever go on a tour like this?
*Note: I was a guest of Haggis Adventures on this tour, but, as always, all opinions are 100% my own.