Few places in the world are still bastions of resistance against the flood of consumerism and embracement of false values, obviously shedding traditional ones as futile and obsolete. Some still exist though, and the people choosing to build a life there are in close connection to their ancestry, feeling and breathing life differently than those being crammed in overpopulated cities, being rushed about and stressed out. Among those peaceful places are the Scottish islands, with a heritage of thousands of years, vestiges from the very beginnings of human civilisation, a tumultuous history, and, of course, plenty whisky distilleries.
The Scottish islands exceed an impressive 800, if one counts the 790 offshore islands and adds the multitude of freshwater islands scattered across bodies of water across the mainland. With regards to the offshore islands, according to their positioning, they can belong to any of the three main groups: to the west, there are the Hebrides, also classed into two subdivisions, the Inner Hebrides, which are closer to the mainland, and the Outer Hebrides, on the western extremity of this group. To the north east of mainland Scotland lay the Orkney Islands, and further north, the Shetland Islands. Larger or smaller, each island has a tale to tell, and stands as a testimony to by-gone times.
These are unique stretches of land, bestowed with a very special climate, and anyone who’s ever visited a Scottish island can describe the swiftly changing weather, the salty marine breeze and omnipresent country freshness one strives to find in more crowded parts of the UK. Far from inducing a feeling of isolation and solitude, the landscapes are a monument of contemplation, as one can walk for hours on end along the quiet beaches and imposingly steep rocks, the only sound for miles coming from the waves that crush upon them. In terms of altitudes, they vary according to the geology of each island and whilst there will not be many bumps in the road on islands such as Tiree, others, Mull for instance, reach fairly high altitudes in their precipitous structures. Outdoor activities will be any visitor’s main focus, aside from indulging in the evocative music and culture of these places. A very large variety of sports are suitable for practicing whilst visiting one, depending on its specific landscape and of course on the weather. The waters around some islands are particularly perilous though, due to strong tides and deep currents, which can turn sports such as sailing, kayaking and fishing into quite an adventure. But even lacking such activities from one’s schedule, sightseeing is an unbeatable way of passing the time away and the experience will be like no other.
And if someone deemed the variations of the Scottish dialect found on mainland Scotland difficult or nearly impossible to understand without a versed ear, the northernmost islands will be a true delight from that point of view, as the specific accent adds to the uniqueness of each region. The Orkney Islands, for instance, are known to pose a fair share of quandaries when launching into conversations with locals. Of course there will be local products it would be a shame not to try, and unlike product sold in most purposely organised tourist destinations across the globe, these will be local and provide the taste of authenticity any self-respecting visitor will look for. Islay, for instance, located very close to the mainland, is officially a whisky producing region on its own, prospering and even surpassing older regions as to the quantity of whisky being distilled and bottled there, the number of functioning distilleries and so forth. This is not just a business but tradition in itself and as representative to Scotland as many national symbols.
In terms of historical remnants, the Scottish islands are one of the few places in the civilised world where these vestiges are preserved in their natural state, without being excessively promoted as tourist attractions. There will be a vast array of castles to discover, many of them in ruins, crumbled by the aggressiveness of nature and centuries of human struggle for survival. In fact, the UK is said to be the most haunted country in the whole world, due to the underlying bedrock fabrics, some say, which allows certain energies to be captured and later released in the form of apparitions. Therefore these quiet and history-charged islands are excellent sites for studying paranormal phenomena as well. And due to the greater resistance of these places to the changes enforced upon them by the passing of time, there will be many castles and archaeologically significant buildings still belonging to the same clan or family that has owned them for centuries. Dunvegan castle, on the island of Skye, for instance, is a perfect example, as it has belonged to the clan MacLeod since the 14th century and still does to this day, and what is more, descendants of its initial owners still follow certain family traditions, handed down through generations. That is quite symbolic for the Scottish islands altogether.
Culturally, these islands are a million miles away from the noisy, littered, overbearing cities where buildings change their appearance and function quite often and people easily lose their individuality. Each corner of these islands will have its very own story, often linked with mythology and deeds from long ago. Places and people matter, life goes on at a less hectic pace and is less dependent, if at all, on futile and short-lived trends. Scottish Gaelic is still widely spoken and is still a great part of people’s lives, whereas on the mainland it has become sort of an accessory one can just as well do without. On these remote places there is authentic culture, not the subculture of today’s mainland youth, embodied in nightclubs and gang fights, nor the aristocratic pseudo-culture used by snobs to embellish their otherwise poor intellects – but culture in its true meaning, in close connections with local traditions, arts and crafts passed on throughout the years, music, legends and an overall feeling of belonging.