Argyll & Bute

The Outer Hebrides have always sounded romantic to me. Outer - not the tame Inner Hebrides that anyone can visit, but the Outer Hebrides, the edges of civilisation, the edge of the world! They did not disappoint.

The four and a half hour ferry journey from Oban, first threading a way between Mull and the mainland, then passing Ardnamurchan Point, one of those remote, exotic places that feature in the Shipping Forecast, and finally, after an hour or more out of sight of land, sailing into the peaceful harbour of Castlebay with its tiny Kisimul Castle surrounded by water, was a splendid introduction that lived up to every expectation.

From Barra we hopped from island to island - Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Berneray and finally Harris and Lewis - thanks to Caledonian MacBrayne's Hopscotch 8 service - and no, they are not paying me a penny to advertise them. It's just that they are the only ferry service to the Outer Hebrides!

Each island had its own character, some hilly, some flat, some little more than a lacework of land between lochs and inlets, some substantial blocks of land. Centuries of oppression by absentee landlords - Scots as well as English - have left their mark and the bitterness of the Clearances has not been forgotten, but the natives are friendly, prices reasonable considering the remoteness of the place, and the scenery is superb.

If you want a holiday far from the madding crowd, surrounded by spectacular seascapes and mountain views, with delicious food and friendly locals, try the Outer Hebrides. The only thing is, if you want to go swimming, make sure that your bikini is made of thermal fleece, double-lined, with inbuilt hot water bottles! Be warned: if you go in summer, expect Scottish midges.