This is the edge of Britain. In the outer limits of the United Kingdom, life is a little different. The Uists (rhymes with tattooists) are the southerly string of the sparsely populated Outer Hebrides—a chain of more than 100 islands and small skerries 44 miles from the west coast of Scotland. Around 27,000 people are scattered across 15 inhabited islands, with 5,000 on the Uists. These rugged outposts were settled as far back as 8,000 BC, most likely by the Celts that populated the rest of Scotland. They were controlled by far-off governors for centuries—Scandinavian kings, Scottish clans, then British monarchs—but they’ve preserved their traditions: the Gaelic language, crofting (small-scale food production), sheep farming—and fierce pride in their isolation and resilience. Tourism is the new boom industry, which they hope will reverse the islands’ population decline. Derelict croft cottages are being renovated as self-catering housing for the (short) summer season, when people come for the simple life, the surreal, wild outdoors, and perhaps to spot some feral sheep or whales.
Prepare for cold, and solitude. A few years ago my partner got a contract to set up a radio station in the Uists. I rented office space in an old steadings building on Benbecula, and as the south of England melted in a freak heat-wave, I spent that summer wearing thermals and falling in love with the wild landscapes, powder-white beaches (better for horse-riding than sunbathing) and the peaceful remoteness. Life is slow here. The local joke is that the islanders don’t have an expression that conveys as much haste as mañana mañana. So take your time and enjoy the pace. It’s one of the many reasons to visit, and to keep coming back.