PETER May is not the first person to acknowledge that the wild, remote Hebrides can get under your skin.

For five months a year, for five years in the early 1990s, May, a journalist-turned-TV-writer/producer, was based on the Isle of Lewis, working on the Gaelic television soap, Machair, which he co-created and produced. The landscape and the weather made an abiding impression on him. Much later, he would use the island as the setting for his well-received trilogy of novels, The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chess Men.

Now he has returned again, for his latest project, Hebrides, an "odyssey in prose and photography", in which he retraces the steps taken by Fin Macleod, the protagonist of these three bestsellers.

The stunning photographs are the work of David Wilson, a former BBC production designer, and a colleague of May's on Machair, who now lives on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis.

The Outer Hebrides is a 200 kilometre-long archipelago stretching from Lewis in the north to Berneray in the south. Outlying islands include St Kilda and the Shiant Isles.

Lewis, according to the Hebrides' official tourism website, has many world-famous archaeological sites, including the Neolithic Callanish Stones, which predate the pyramids of Egypt.

"The islands," writes May, "vary from the peat-covered uplands of Lewis and the mountains of South Harris to the wonderful sandy beaches of Barra and the Uists and the breathtaking cliffs of St Kilda."

The memory of his first research visit, in January 1991, made in the company of his wife, the playwright and screenwriter Janice Hally, will be with him forever.

"What had struck us most on our arrival on that bleak January day was the landscape. We had crossed to Tarbert on Harris from the Isle of Skye, and driven up through the mountains on a single-track road.

"There was snow on the Clisham, the highest peak on the islands, which cast its shadow over the mountain passes that led us down into the dark and brooding valley at the head of Loch Seaforth. There, on the shores of the loch, stood Adrvourlie Castle, a hunting-lodge built in the 19th century."

As they drove north to the Isle of Lewis, they were struck by the sight of so many lochs and the complete absence of trees.

The west coast was distinguished by a "savage beauty" and seemed like an alien landscape, with "a temperamental sea smashing into its rising cliffs of stubborn gneiss". Hidden bays and sandy coves would only announce their presence on subsequent visits.

The biting, persistent wind did not permit anything to grow taller than a couple of feet. The only thing that seemed to grow in abundance were the Presbyterian churches; every village seemed to have one.

The couple could not fail to notice, either, the number of old tractors, abandoned cottages and ruined stone walls that pockmarked the area.

Uig beach, and the 1876-built Uig Lodge, was a striking location used on Machair. "To this day, I find it hard to imagine a more stunning setting for any TV drama anywhere in the world," says May. "The turquoise colour of the crystal-clear waters, the silver of the sand, the cloud-ringed mountains rising to the north…"

The weather is the most inescapable feature of island life. May says he has been nowhere else "where the weather has so dominated daily life. Not because of any extremes of temperature … but because of its changeability."

The wind blows constantly - sometimes softly, "and sometimes with such force that it can blow waterfalls back up mountains". The vast sky, which takes up three-quarters of one's field of vision, dominates the landscape and is forever changing.

The Sabbath was observed to a quite remarkable degree back in the days of Machair, but things have changed in the intervening years.

"Since the early nineties," observes May, "the taboo on Sunday transport links between the islands and the mainland has been broken.

"There are now Sunday flights and Sunday ferries. Some pubs and restaurants are open." But while this may suit the tourist, May feels that something has perhaps been lost.

The photographs by Wilson show the Hebrides in all their captivating glory: breathtaking dawns and sunsets, preserved blackhouses, golden beaches, and fields, and banks of peat drying in the warm spring winds. But they are careful to show, too, those landscape-littering old tractors and houses and other detritus.

"Love them or hate them," says May, "once visited, these Western Isles will stay with you for the rest of your life."

Hebrides, by Peter May, photographs by David Wilson, Quercus, £20. The official tourism site is at