Scotland, Europe, the world

Scotch on the rocks

The Outer Hebrides provides an exquisite setting for sociable frolicking. ‘.".‘(>'fif;: Anna Millar

ever tnind the vvhite sandy beaches and turquoise sea vievvs -— the Outer Hebrides is a tippler’s paradise. And much like the booze readily on tap. it provides a natural terrain of infinite possibilities. Day one: (iod love Baileys. l'lying into a relatively flat Benbecula is an intense experience. Linked by causevvay to the tvvo l'ist islands. Benbecula's interior is made tip of thick. lush. heather peat moorland. The descent into the airport (think hut-cum-vvendy house) provides a beautiful overvievv of the inter-tidal bays and sands. The 20-minute drive (read: assault on the sensesl to our hotel is so beyond-vvildest-dreams-beautiful that a fellovv traveller vvonders vvhether the island accepts Scottish money. While invvardly stnirking at the idiocy of the question. it's easy to see why this currency—na'i've visitor is bemused. These are not the bleak environs realised on celluloid. namely Lars von Trier's bleak Breaking the llin'es. .\'or is the trite commercial association of reality TV shovv ('us-Mvvrrv in

evidence in any of the surrounds. .Any pre-conceived ideas of

the Hebrides - cold. barren. unfriendly. staunchly Presbyterian. inclusive. and dare I say it. for the slightly older visitor - are immediately diminished. 'I‘vventy'somethings cycle past. grinning inanely. And these aren‘t your typical

lycra-clad professionals. You imagine they‘ve got hip flasks of

vodka to vvarm themselves vvhen they‘ve had enough of the day's activities and fancy relaxing vvith a quiet bevvy by the roadside. Elsewhere on the island. groups hang out in inlets and coves. trying their seemingly novice hands at kiting. kaning and surfing before hitting the local vvatering holes in the evening.

110 THE LIST 43—16 0.". 4

Which leads us back to the joys of tippling in the llcbridcs. Midnight on day one and the less hardcore are preparing to leave the novv too familiar surrounds of the hotel bar in the hope of some vv ell earned sleep. Three relative strangers are left. An e\ceptionally friendly barmaid tells us: ‘llelp yourself and leave the money on the bar before you go to bed.’ As she turns to head the tvvo miles dovvn the road to bed. she nonchalantly asks me to svvitch off the lights and check the door is locked before I turn in. Ten very large Baileys on ice later. vve leave ottr money on the bar counter (vvith a very hearty tip) and stagger to bed.

l)ay tvvo: the gin fairy cometh. Travelling in a south easterly direction. vvc approach South list. a long linear island vv ith a tnain artery road vvinding through its impressive belly. While the east hosts heather uplands. the vv est coast is lined with long sandy beaches some of vvhich are more than ll) miles long. The blue llcbt‘idean seas are easily comparable. if not superior. to the remote islands of Thailand or Malaysia.

Lying on the very east of the coast is the serene Isle of liriskay. l‘ilm aficionados might recognise the name from the setting of ll'lu'skrjv (iii/ore. lt vvouldn't be right to visit this sacred ground vvithout nipping into the Am Politician. the cosy pub made famoUs by the film. l'pon ordering a vvee (itk'l‘ vvith a particularly hardy fish and chips lunch (the fish on the menu is vvorth the trip alone). a half gin/half tonic measure is produced. vvhich only svveetens the ferry trip over to Barra. The dolphins vve see in the distance add to the appeal. Boat trips are massively popular. vvbich is no surprise