Hebridean Hop 13: North Uist

Thursday 9th August 2018

Traffic jam North Uist style

The main road heads up the spine of South Uist and Benbecula to North Uist, where it turns into a loop. Pretty as it is, we didn’t want to keep driving up and down the same stretch so decided to cover as much of North Uist as we could in one day, tackling the loop clockwise.

First stop was for coffee and scones in Kirkibost Hebridean Kitchen, another of the fabulous community enterprises that have sprung up since our last visit. We had a cheek really, given how much hotel breakfast we had eaten, but the scones proved too hard to resist.

We attempted to walk them off at Balranald RSPB Nature Reserve (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). We saw more cows than birds, but the scenery was beautiful, a mixture of machair and beaches. At the end, we were unaccountably peckish again and stopped at the campsite’s catering caravan for some delicious home-made lentil soup.

We got glimpses of the abandoned islands of St Kilda from the nature reserve, but after lunch we headed (by car) up the hill of Cleitreabhal a Deas where there is an observation platform with telescope. It was actually clear enough to see the islands with the naked eye. If you look very carefully at the horizon in the first picture below there is a hump slightly to right of centre, Boreray, and a more elongated form to the left is Hirta. Boreray, much zoomed, is in the second picture flanked by Stac Lee and Stac an Armin.

Back in the car again, we made a quick stop at Scolpaig Tower, an 1830s folly in the middle of a loch.

This sightseeing is thirsty work – the next stop was the hotel in Lochmaddy, North Uist’s largest village, for a coffee, then a quick walk over a funny little suspension bridge to The Hut of the Shadows. This structure is Neolithic in appearance, but was created as an artwork in 1997 – inside it’s a camera obscura and an image of the loch lapping peacefully appears on its walls.

By this time it was half past 5 – and so much more to do! A circular walk would have taken in two ancient sites – the Neolithic tomb of Barpa Langass and the stone circle of Pobull Fhinn (Fingal’s People), but in the end we drove between them. It’s no longer possible to go into the tomb because of roof falls – relief from me, but John would have been game.

Pobull Fhin is the largest stone circle on Uist with about 24 stones (not all still standing).

We’d reached the end of the loop now, but made a couple more stops on the road as it headed south to Benbecula. We turned off at Baleshare, following signs to a road-end sculpture which turned out to be a sweeping ceramic tiled seat designed by local schoolchildren (tbh we were expecting a bit more than this!)

Our last visit was to the Church of the Holy Trinity, site of a medieval monastery and college. To get there, we had to walk alongside the Ditch of Blood commemorating the Battle of Carinish on 1601 between the MacDonalds and the MacLeods (if there are any MacDonalds or MacLeods reading, the MacDonalds won).

It was now quarter to 8, and far too late to get back to our own hotel for dinner, so we stopped off at the Dark Island Hotel in Benbecula. I can report that they do good pizza.

We finally got back to Lochboisdale about 10pm. “Our” view was still there and the ferry was in – once again, we were staying somewhere that we could watch the ferry arrive in the evening, and hope it did not wake us up with its early morning departure. This one serves Mallaig on the mainland so would not be the one we would catch in a few days time – we had another island as our destination.

It had been a long day and we were glad to turn in. The following morning we planned to head back up to Benbecula to explore it further.