Hebridean Hop 10: Tarbert to Lochboisdale

Monday 6th August 2018

Ferry approaching Leverburgh

We never tired of watching ferries. Our hotel in Tarbert was right next to the pier and we could see the boat coming in as we had dinner. (It wasn’t such fun hearing it leave early in the morning though.) Very convenient, too, for our onward journey you might think, but no. That was the Skye ferry and we were off to South Uist, so we had a drive to Leverburgh first.

This was a short journey – just an hour – on a much smaller ferry. We were first on and first off, and slightly alarmed at how close our car was to the ramp, especially when it started to descend for arrival and we could see the sea!

Although our ultimate destination was South Uist, the ferry deposited us in Berneray leaving us several more islands to cross. This is another change over the last few decades –  more causeways have been built. When we island hopped in 1989, North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist were already joined, but new causeways north to Berneray and south to Eriskay have extended the chain.

But first things first – lunch! As I’ve mentioned before, the number and quality of cafés in the Hebrides has increased markedly since our previous visits, and all that we tried were excellent. The Berneray Bistro was no exception.

As we’d not been to Berneray before, we decided to take a walk here before moving on and chose the South Berneray loop. This took in machair (a fertile mix of sand and peat, often covered in wild flowers in summer) and both rocky and sandy beaches.

We passed another of those lovely coastal cemeteries and a memorial to Angus MacAskill, the Nova Scotia giant. The plaque records that Angus was born in 1825 and grew to 7 feet 9 inches in height “without pathological defect”. He emigrated to Canada in 1831, achieved many feats of strength and is remembered as “a kindly and just man and a humble Christian”.

After our walk, we drove straight through North Uist and Benbecula – we would return to explore them later in the week – and made just one brief stop in South Uist.

Our Lady of the Isles, at 30 feet tall the largest religious statue in Britain, stands proudly above the road. But wait, didn’t I say we were in Presbyterian, Sabbatarian country? Well we were, but the southern parts of the Outer Hebrides are firmly Roman Catholic.

Close by is a Ministry of Defence missile testing range, and there is a political as well as a religious significance to the statue. In the 1950s, the MOD proposed a much larger range covering much of Uist, including a military town and facilities for building missiles. Islanders worried that this would destroy much of their way of life, culture and language, and resistance was led by Canon John Morrison, the local parish priest, who then became known as Father Rocket. It was he who commissioned and raised funds for the construction of the statue which was designed by Hew Lorimer and dedicated in 1958. The islanders were partially successful – there is a military presence, but smaller than the original proposals. The Madonna remains as a reminder to the army that there is also a spiritual world as well as their militaristic one.

After admiring the statue, we headed off to our hotel in Lochboisdale, our home for the next week.


  1. Looking at that photo of the ferry ramp descending, it certainly looks as if the ferry is going to dump your car in the drink!

    Like Donna, I live on an island, but unlike Donna, I still love riding on the ferry. It still seems like an adventure every time.



  2. Still enjoying the ‘Hop” I had never been to the Islands so it is all very new to me. Reading your adventures reminds me of “Home”and yes, most of us still call Scotland “Home”.


  3. It is a lovely cemetery, but I can’t help thinking that Angus MacAskill was lucky that he wasn’t born a few decades earlier (and that he moved to Canada) or his body probably would have ended up falling into the clutches of one of the Hunters, like poor Charles Byrne’s did.


  4. I think that’s a very good message for a statue to convey! Thank goodness the whole community wasn’t replaced with the missile testing base. And I’ve never traveled on a ferry…it would make me nervous if my car was that close to the ramp, too!

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  5. Hi, Anabel – I previously loved to watch ferries…until I lived on an island where traveling by ferry (or plane) was the only way off (and back on again). Congratulations on being last on, first off. Despite consistently arriving early, we are usually last on, last off. Being last off on our ferry system is often a strategy for vehicles/passengers who are ‘suspect’ in some way or another. We try not to take it personally!
    I’ve greatly enjoyed your Hebridean Hop Series.


    • I can see it might get old if you had to do it all the time! For us it remained a novelty. We were top of the second line so I don’t know why we were taken first. A few days later we ran into the people who were top of the first line and they were quite (jocularly) indignant that we had leapfrogged them! Perhaps they looked at the age of our car and decided it wouldn’t matter too much if it rolled into the sea 😉.