By John MacLean, 11/05/15:
There has been an amazing rise in the number of tourists visiting the Western Isles/Outer Hebrides in the past few years. A large part of this surge surely is a result of the dramatic reduction in ferry fares following the introduction of RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) by the Scottish Government several years ago. Things are going to get even better for islanders and visitors alike later in 2015, when RET is extended to (among others) the Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra CalMac ferry routes, cutting fares by about 44%/55% for passengers/cars.
Another explanation for the increase in visitor numbers, and one which I see much evidence of as I travel round the Hebrides as a working photographer, is the amount and standard of accommodation now available, even in far-flung corners of the islands where not so long ago even a single basic B&B was hard to find. No longer are visitors restricted to a few hotels and guest houses in Stornoway and a few other main settlements: now their options include campsites, caravan parks, youth hostels, and numerous high quality B&Bs and self-catering properties dotted right round the islands, as a quick look at VisitScotland’s site shows.
The award-winning Hebridean Celtic Festival (hebceltfest for short) celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and is responsible for the largest single influx of visitors of the year into Stornoway and surrounds: a boon for B&B operators, hotels, eateries, bars and many other businesses in and around the town. Before the main evening gigs in the Big Tent a lot of visitors spend the mornings and afternoons travelling round Lewis and Harris, enjoying the beaches, hill climbing, rambling or visiting the many ancient monuments and sites of archaeological interest.
The jewel in the crown of the arts scene in Lewis is undoubtedly An Lanntair arts centre, which opened in October 2005 and runs a varied program of events year-round, including the Faclan book festival, live concerts, films, dance workshops and full-scale art exhibitions in its spacious ground-floor gallery. Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy, North Uist is another excellent meeting place combining a fine museum, art exhibition space and cafe/shop under one roof.
Just a few of the many things to check out in the Hebrides, which are now more accessible than ever!