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Issue 83 - Destination of the Year

Scotland Magazine Issue 83
October 2015


This article is 2 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Destination of the Year

Scottish Hebrides

Scotland Magazine's chosen Destination of the Year for 2015 is the Scottish Hebrides. In each edition this year we are featuring one or more of the jewels of this magical 130 mile archipelago of west coast islands.

Steeped in history from the Mesolithic age, and subject to a clash of Pictish, Celtic, Gaelic and Norse cultures, these fiercely individual havens of tranquillity are divided into the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the former embracing Islay and Jura and Colonsay, Mull, Skye and the Small Isles; the latter incorporating Benbecula, Barra, and Harris and Lewis and the Uists.

Dominated for generations by the all powerful Lords of the Isles, these islands set in a restless, silver sea under a big sky continue to capture the imagination of writers, painters and poets alike.

North Uist
Scotland's tenth largest island is connected by causeways to Benbecula via Grimsay, and to Berneray, and to Baleshare. A patchwork of peat bog and lochans, more than half of the island is covered by water. The main settlement is Lochmaddy, a fishing port with a lively museum, arts centre and camera obscura. The Vikings arrived here in 800 AD and created large settlements but after their departure the island was controlled by the MacRuairidhs before being incorporated into the Clan Donald Lordship of the Isles. There is a RSPB nature reserve at Balranald.

In the Gaelic language, Beinn na Faoghla (Benbecula) means Mountain of the Ford. This island lies between North and South Uist and is connected by road causeways. The main settlement is at Balivanich, which in Gaelic means ‘Town of the Mon’, where there is a fine nine-hole golf course surrounded by grasslands next to the air strip.

The township of Lionacleit houses the Uists' main secondary school which also doubles as a community centre. A community buy-out of 92,000 acres (372 square kilometres) by Stòras Uibhist took place in 2006.

South Uist
Linked to Eriskay and Benbecula by causeways, South Uist has the oldest known rocks in the British Isles. There are chambered tombs, roundhouses, brochs and cairns. South Uist is also the only place in the
United Kingdom where prehistoric mummies have been discovered indicating that there
was once a thriving Neolithic community in these islands.

After the Norse occupation, South Uist was held by Clan Ranald who harvested kelp until that industry collapsed in the early 19th Century. With the Highland Clearances that followed, peat cutting and seaweed gathering remained important industries for the surviving crofting communities. The Askernish Golf Course, designed by Old Tom Morris, is the oldest in the Outer Hebrides. After a protracted campaign, the residents of South Uist (with Benbecula) took control of the island in 2006.

The name in Gaelic translates as ‘Eric's Isle’ after a Viking ruler. Eriskay lies between South Uist and Barra and is connected to the former by a causeway. A ferry terminal was introduced in 2001. The island is celebrated in song by the haunting Eriskay Love Lilt and, in 1745, the French frigate Du Teillay landed Prince Charles Edward Stuart here with his ‘seven men of Moidart’ to commence the Jacobite Rising of that year.

It was just off the island in 1941 that the SS Politician en route to America ran aground with a cargo of Scotch Whisky, inspiring Sir Compton Mackenzie's celebrated novel Whisky Galore, and the subsequent film. A re-make of the 1949 Ealing Comedy is currently in progress.

Gifted to the MacNeil clan in 1427, the island was subsequently sold but bought
back in 1937 by Robert NacNeil, an American architect and 45th Chief of Clan MacNeil.
In 2003, he gifted the island to the Scottish Government.

Where to Stay

Borrodale Hotel
Daliburgh, Isle of South Uist HS8 5SS
A comfortable, welcoming hotel since 1978. The conservatory overlooks the neighbouring golf course and surrounding Machair land.
Tel: +44 (0)1878 700 444

Isle of Barra Beach Hotel
Tangasdale, Barra HS9 5XW
Scotland's most westerly hotel. There is a sea view restaurant, lounge bar patio, and the Halaman Bar to enjoy.
Tel: +44 (0) 1871 810 383

Castlebay Hotel
Isle of Barra, Castlebay HS9 5XD
Comfortable rooms overlooking the sea and Kisimul Castle, ancestral stronghold of Clan Macneil.
Tel: +44 (0) 1871 810 223

Langass Lodge

Locheport, Isle of North Uist HS6 5HA
Primarily a restaurant with rooms. Excellent sea food. Wonderfully relaxing. Pathways lead to a sea loch, stone circle and forest.
Tel+44 (0) 1876 580 285

How To Get There

By Road
From the Scottish mainland, there are two car options for visiting North Uist. The first is to drive to Mallaig and take the ferry to Skye, or drive further north to Kyle of Lochalsh and cross over to Skye via the Skye Bridge. The ferry takes 30 minutes and docks at Armadale.

Once on North Uist, both South Uist and Benbecula are accessible to cars via causeways.
The town of Oban is situated a three hour drive from Glasgow. The ferry port with crossings to Barra and South Uist sits to the south of the water front.

By Train
There are rail services from Glasgow Queen Street to Oban. The journey takes 3 hours.

City Link operate coaches from Glasgow and Inverness; also, a bus service from Fort William to Portree.

A North Uist Ferry runs from Uig on Skye, landing at Lochmaddy. The journey takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. Ferries also serve Leverburgh on Harris to Berneray from which you can drive south (vehicle reservations are recommended).
Caledonian MacBrayne ferries operate from Oban to Lochboisdale on South Uist. The crossing which goes via Barra, takes 6 hours 30 minutes. During the winter months there is also a ferry from Mallaig on the Scottish mainland to Loch Boisdale. Vehicle reservation is recommended.

There are weekday flights from Glasgow to Benbecula Airport on Barra.
Tel: +44 (0) 1870 602 051

Places to Visit

Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre
Lochmaddy, North Uist HS6 5AA
A partnership between two voluntary organisations – Comann Eachdraidh Uibhist a Tuath and the Uist Art Association.