I fancied a new challenge.

You see, I really love islands – especially the Hebrides. There’s something about the west coast of Scotland – the wild weather, the white-sand beaches, the wildlife – that when combined with a CalMac journey (and the sense of isolation that brings) creates a wonderful whole. I feel at home on an island – I suppose that’s because I literally live on one, albeit a rather large one. But the sea is never far away on a Hebride and you never know what’s going to get blown in, or if you’ll even make it on or off the island. After visiting my 13th inhabited Hebridean island, I thought it was high time I put in some research into them – how many are there? How many people live on them? And just how can I visit them all?

InHabridean 50 InHab50

Everyone loves a round number, so I was particularly pleased that this challenge involves visiting exactly 50 inhabited Hebrides (the ‘InHab50’). The ‘A-Z’ is a B-V, from Baleshare off North Uist to Vatersay, south of Barra. There are islands with one occupant (Danna, Eilean dà Mhèinn and Soay) all the way up to the 21000+ on Lewis and Harris – and as the census data is from 2011, one job will be to check if they’re all still inhabited!

You can explore each one via this map and sortable table:

Island ⇕ Main Group ⇕ Sub Group ⇕ Area (ha) ⇕ Location ⇕ Population ⇕ Pop. Density ⇕ Households ⇕
Baleshare       Am Baile Sear Outer Hebrides Uists and Benbecula 851.8 57.527, -7.366 58 6.8 21
Barra       Barraigh Outer Hebrides Barra 5793.0 56.988, -7.465 1174 20.3 549
Benbecula       Beinn nam Fadhla Outer Hebrides Uists and Benbecula 7721.2 57.443, -7.319 1303 16.9 577
Berneray       Beàrnaraigh Outer Hebrides Uists and Benbecula 1077.6 57.722, -7.187 138 12.8 82
Canna       Canaigh Inner Hebrides Small Isles 1131.4 57.062, -6.55 12 1.1 6
Coll       Cola Inner Hebrides Mull 7442.0 56.627, -6.57 195 2.6 87
Colonsay       Colbhasa Inner Hebrides Islay 3969.3 56.078, -6.21 124 3.1 70
Danna       Danna Inner Hebrides Islay 320.8 55.947, -5.692 1 0.3 1
Easdale       Eilean Èisdeal Inner Hebrides Slate Islands 20.4 56.292, -5.658 59 289.3 29
Eigg       Eige Inner Hebrides Small Isles 2969.9 56.904, -6.152 83 2.8 38
Eilean dà Mhèinn       Eilean dà Mhèinn Inner Hebrides Knapdale 4.0 56.091, -5.567 1 25.3 1
Eilean Shona       Eilean Seona Inner Hebrides Loch Moidart 641.1 56.796, -5.851 2 0.3 1
Eilean Tioram       Eilean Tioram Inner Hebrides North Highland 1.0 57.701, -5.724 6 574.4 2
Eriska       Aoraisge Inner Hebrides Loch Linnhe 110.6 56.532, -5.413 ?* ?* ?*
Eriskay       Èirisgeigh Outer Hebrides Uists and Benbecula 716.1 57.075, -7.292 143 20.0 73
Erraid       Eilean Earraid Inner Hebrides Mull 223.5 56.294, -6.367 6 2.7 4
Flodaigh       Flodaigh Outer Hebrides Uists and Benbecula 79.3 57.476, -7.266 7 8.8 3
Fraoch-eilean       Fraoch-eilean Outer Hebrides Uists and Benbecula 47.8 57.504, -7.246 ?* ?* ?*
Gigha       Giogha Inner Hebrides Islay 1396.2 55.69, -5.744 163 11.7 74
Gometra       Gòmastra Inner Hebrides Mull 457.2 56.489, -6.285 2 0.4 1
Great Bernera       Beàrnaraigh Mòr Outer Hebrides Lewis (Loch Ròg) 2041.2 58.23, -6.841 252 12.3 116
Grimsay (North)       Griomasaigh Outer Hebrides Uists and Benbecula 712.0 57.492, -7.237 169 23.7 80
Grimsay (South)       Griomasaigh Outer Hebrides Uists and Benbecula 76.3 57.405, -7.276 20 26.2 7
Iona       Ì Chaluim Chille Inner Hebrides Mull 853.9 56.329, -6.408 177 20.7 69
Islay       Ìle Inner Hebrides Islay 61798.1 55.765, -6.232 3228 5.2 1479
Isle of Ewe       Eilean Iùbh Inner Hebrides North Highland 351.6 57.833, -5.623 7 2.0 3
Jura       Diùra Inner Hebrides Islay 36493.7 55.971, -5.901 196 0.5 93
Kerrera       Cearrara Inner Hebrides Firth of Lorn 1206.0 56.398, -5.545 34 2.8 19
Lewis and Harris       Leòdhas agus na Hearadh Outer Hebrides Lewis and Harris 213987.5 58.136, -6.684 21031 9.8 9503
Lismore       Lios Mòr Inner Hebrides Firth of Lorn 2183.5 56.51, -5.515 192 8.8 93
Luing       Luinn Inner Hebrides Slate Islands 1420.0 56.229, -5.644 195 13.7 98
Muck       Eilean nam Muc Inner Hebrides Small Isles 520.9 56.837, -6.245 27 5.2 11
Mull       Muile Inner Hebrides Mull 88332.4 56.457, -5.966 2800 3.2 1271
North Uist       Uibhist a Tuath Outer Hebrides Uists and Benbecula 29858.6 57.596, -7.311 1254 4.2 608
Oronsay       Orasaigh Inner Hebrides Islay 516.1 56.018, -6.244 8 1.6 4
Raasay       Ratharsair Inner Hebrides Skye 6128.6 57.406, -6.048 161 2.6 77
Rona       Rònaigh Inner Hebrides Skye 980.3 57.548, -5.973 3 0.3 1
Rùm       Rùm Inner Hebrides Small Isles 10682.9 56.998, -6.341 22 0.2 9
Sanday       Sandaigh Inner Hebrides Small Isles 194.4 57.05, -6.492 9 4.6 3
Scalpay (Harris)       Sgalpaigh na Hearadh Outer Hebrides Harris 683.6 57.864, -6.67 291 42.6 138
Scalpay (Skye)       Sgalpaigh Inner Hebrides Skye 2474.6 57.3, -5.969 4 0.2 2
Seil       Saoil Inner Hebrides Slate Islands 1375.8 56.299, -5.621 551 40.1 252
Shuna       Siuna Inner Hebrides Slate Islands 449.4 56.214, -5.604 3 0.7 1
Skye       An t-Eilean Sgitheanach Inner Hebrides Skye 163477.8 57.366, -6.234 10008 6.1 4453
Soay       Sòdhaigh Inner Hebrides Skye 1009.8 57.149, -6.219 1 0.1 1
South Uist       Uibhist a Deas Outer Hebrides Uists and Benbecula 30872.3 57.254, -7.328 1754 5.7 781
Tanera Mòr       Tannara Mòr Inner Hebrides Summer Isles 303.9 58.011, -5.409 4 1.3 2
Tiree       Tiriodh Inner Hebrides Mull 7856.3 56.505, -6.884 653 8.3 316
Ulva       Ulbha Inner Hebrides Mull 1832.5 56.481, -6.209 11 0.6 6
Vatersay       Bhatarsaigh Outer Hebrides Barra 931.3 56.93, -7.537 90 9.7 38

* These islands are known to be populated but their resident populations weren’t counted in the last census.

All you need to do is visit each one of the ‘InHab50’ and check if anyone’s home. I doubt there are too many people who can already lay claim to visiting all fifty, but anyone who can prove so will become an honorary President of the challenge. And of course, anyone who completes all 50 in the future will be welcomed into the club – and get a sweet t-shirt that totally exists and wasn’t just made in MS Paint…

InHab50 T-Shirt

One day this imaginary apparel could be yours!


A few different sources were needed to create a nice, connected dataset. The 2011 Census, National Records of Scotland (NRS) and Wikipedia had enough info in them to create a decent spatial dataset, with a few fixes: Fraoch-eilean needed to be split from Grimsay (North) in the NRS data, and Eriska wasn’t included so had to be digitised and added. Finally, there was some confusion around Eilean Tioram, which the NRS data showed to be in Loch Maree and *not* the site of Castle Tioram as many websites presume. The correct site is known as ‘Dry Island’ on most maps (from the meaning of its Gaelic name), but OS goes with the Gaelic for both sites, hence the confusion.

  • Habitation data for the 2011 census came from this NRS Islands PDF.
  • Hebridean island lists (and some supplimentary population info) came from these two lists on Wikipedia.
  • Island names, gaelic names, locations and statistics were QAed from the above resources and a merged CSV file was created with any corrections included.
  • Spatial data came from this NRS Islands shapefile from this website. It was then was modified, added to and linked to the CSV data to create this GeoPackage file (can be opened in a GIS). Areas and population densities were then calculated from these polygons, which were then simplified for display above.
  • All background mapping is from the NLS Historic Maps API, and the island polygons were made with leaflet for R.

Hebridean Visits

I’ve now been to 13 of the 50, a decent start to the challenge. I’ll hopefully be adding to that list soon, but for now this is my record of those islands and the trips to them. May a new Hebride be in my pocket shortly…

Barra Barraigh
⛴ 2018 👪︎ 1174 🏠︎ 549

Barra was a delight, albeit a wet & wild one. Tiny pockets of good weather were taken advantage of, with visits up to the beach airport and across to Vatersay (see below). Just walking around Castlebay was rewarding – it feels like a bit of a hub (in Outer Hebrides terms), with a supermarket, museum and a community shop. You can’t help but fix your eyes on Kisimul Castle, a potentially-inhabited island but no residents in the last two censuses – no boat trips nor lights at home during my October visit either.

Barra 1Barra 2Barra 3Barra 4

Coll Cola
⛴ 2018 👪︎ 195 🏠︎ 87

I spent an amazing week on Coll, living in Arinagour and cycling around the island each day. It’s a surprisingly varied landscape, with plenty of hills, bogs, lakes, beaches and lovely roads around the island, with just the NE corner remaining untamed. The fantastic Community Centre offered a market, play and film-screening during my stay and the lovely hotel supplied locally caught crab and langoustines a-plenty.

Coll 1Coll 2Coll 3Coll 4

Erraid Eilean Earraid
⛴ 2017 👪︎ 6 🏠︎ 4

Reached at low tide by walking over a beach, Erraid is a lovely little island that features an rent-free community living in the old lighthouse cottages. The ‘lighthouse’ is actually a now-disused signal station for the Skerryvore and Dubh Artach lighthouses, many miles to the west / south-west (respectively) across the sea.

Erraid 1Erraid 2Erraid 3Erraid 4

Gometra Gòmastra
⛴ 2019 👪︎ 2 🏠︎ 1

Reaching Gometra was via a 10 mile rough track from Ulva Ferry. This was the start of the adventure (I wouldn’t recommend trying it with road bikes in the rain!) and the island was fascinating. We bumped the population up to 5 during our visit, with 2 or 3 on the island regularly. Jane Ann’s Bothy was amazing, totally off-grid and no mobile reception, so the peace and tranquility of the island really shone through. The previous occupant of the bothy was recorded for a documentary called My Island, which highlights the highs, lows and ethos of the island in modern times.

Gometra 1Gometra 2Gometra 3Gometra 4

Iona Ì Chaluim Chille
⛴ 2017 👪︎ 177 🏠︎ 69

Iona in the sunshine is a delight. I’ve no idea what it’s like in the cold & rain because the sun shone the whole time. Famous for being a religious island, it also has plenty of stunning beaches to explore, with Godwits flitting about on the shores. The very brief CalMac ferry from Fionnphort was later utilised to secure some crab and lobster caught locally, but unable to be delivered back to Mull by the small fishing boat due to increasing winds. After that delicious meal, it was definitely an ethereal experience.

Iona 1Iona 2Iona 3Iona 4

Islay Ìle
⛴ 2015 👪︎ 3228 🏠︎ 1479

Islay has always brought me there for whisky, in one way or another. My family and friends descended on the island for my 30th birthday – my first visit to the island, but an amazing place to stay. I’ve since visited every distllery on the island in an action-packed two day trip, but there’s more to come, so I’m sure I’ll be back again soon.

Islay 1Islay 2Islay 3Islay 4

Lewis and Harris Leòdhas agus na Hearadh
⛴ 2009 👪︎ 21031 🏠︎ 9503

One of my earliest Hebridean adventures, Lewis and Harris rained down on us for a solid 3 days, bar about half an hour at the amazing Luskentyre Sands. Our visit to Callanish was well worth the effort, despite the driving rain – although that’s the kind of weather that goes well with the mysticism. The road around South Harris is an underlating adverture, which can be broken up with a trip to Berneray in calmer conditions than ours..

Lewis_Harris 1Lewis_Harris 2Lewis_Harris 3Lewis_Harris 4

Mull Muile
⛴ 2019 👪︎ 2800 🏠︎ 1271

Mull is wilder than I expected. I’d always thought of it as the ‘easy one’ to get to (perhaps now eclipsed by Skye), but it offers a great island experience, with plenty of untouched corners. It’s also the gateway to a bunch of smaller islands, all of which I’d highly recommend visiting. Ben More (A’ Bheinn Mhòr) rises high towards the west coast, with otters and sea eagles common sights on the surrounding shores – or so I hear, I’ve only seen seals! The cycle from Ears Fors Waterfall (Waterfall Waterfall Waterfall) > Torlisk > Dervaig > Tobermory is a varied delight.

Mull 1Mull 2Mull 3Mull 4

Seil Saoil
⛴ 2008 👪︎ 551 🏠︎ 252

My very first Hebride – although I didn’t really know it at the time. We crossed the ‘Bridge over the Atlantic’ to the ‘House of Trousers’ (Tigh an Truish) pub, then went to explore this Slate Island. I regret not making it over to Easdale for their World Stone Skimming Championshiops, but another time…

Seil 1Seil 2Seil 3Seil 4

Skye An t-Eilean Sgitheanach
⛴ 2017 👪︎ 10008 🏠︎ 4453

Skye has enticed me back 4 times since first visiting in 2009, its combination of dramatic mountains, weather and wildlife hard to pass up. Well known for it’s popularity with tourists, this issue is easily reduced by visiting Oct-Apr, when tourists and midges are generally replaced with rain! Unlike some of the other Hebridean islands that really shine when the sun comes out, Skye works with wild weather – walk the Quiraing (A’ Chuith-Raing) as the clouds roll in and you’ll be transported to a fantasy world you won’t want to leave.

Skye 1Skye 2Skye 3Skye 4

Tiree Tiriodh
⛴ 2018 👪︎ 653 🏠︎ 316

Noticeably flatter than its neighbour to the NE, Tiree is also more populated and ‘built-up’ than Coll. It’s hardly a metropolis, but more the land is worked and utilised thanks to its low profile. This pancake nature brings plenty of wind, which is harnessed by the multitude of windsurfers flocking to the area – only challenged by the peewitting residents who exploit the surrounding farmland.

Tiree 1Tiree 2Tiree 3Tiree 4

Ulva Ulbha
⛴ 2019 👪︎ 11 🏠︎ 6

It’s only 1 minute ferry ride from Mull, but Ulva feels like a different place entirely. Its 800-strong population has long gone, but their presence is felt across the island. Pockets of woodland dot the eastern end of the island, leading to a wilder and more varied terrain towards Gometra. The southern shores were once home to the family of David Livingstone, today this quiet shoreline is a great place to watch otters instead.

Ulva 1Ulva 2Ulva 3Ulva 4

Vatersay Bhatarsaigh
⛴ 2018 👪︎ 90 🏠︎ 38

I took advantage of a small sunny weather window to cycle over to Vatersay from Barra, and the white sand beaches and crystal clear water are particularly breathtaking in this light. It’s the westernmost island in this list, and probably has the most-westerly inhabitants too. Home to both the Vatersay Raiders, the memorial for the wrecked Annie Jane and a crashed Catalina seaplane, it’s an island not short of history either.

Vatersay 1Vatersay 2Vatersay 3Vatersay 4

And finally..

Leave a comment below on your own progress through the #InHab50 list, or follow the action via the Twitter hashtag:

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