The abolishment of the toll now makes it free to travel to and from the Scottish mainland to the Island Of Skye. A car ferry sailing from the port of Uig serves the Outer Hebrides on a daily basis and can be reached by car in two different ways. The traveller follows the main road from Kyleakin (A87) throught the towns of Broadford and Sconser until reaching the town of Portree (Skye's main town). A choice of route needs to be made at this point. The quickest route is to continue along the A87 to the port of Uig which offers a view of rolling hills and moors but little points of particular interest. The other route (which is significantly longer) follows the A855 towards the north east of the island and follows the north coast until you reach the port of Uig on the west of the island. This secondary route allows the traveller to visit the Skye Museum at Kilmuir which is set within a collection of thatched croft houses depicting life on the Isle of Skye in times gone by. Further details can be found by visiting www.skyemuseum.co.uk.
From a high vantage point you will be amazed by the vast amount of lochs, large and small, held fast by rolling moorlands. The serrated coastline to the north of Loch nam Madadh (Lochmaddy) is balanced by the smoother tidal sand flats of the Valley Strand and those that surround the island of Baile Sear (Baleshare). On the west side of North Uist lie the fertile machair lands, based on sand made, not from granulated stone, but from countless millions of shells ground down by the interminable washing of the Atlantic breakers.
The road system in North Uist is very simple. A circular road begins and ends at Lochmaddy, where the Tourist Information Centre is located. But take the turn-offs to Loch Portain and to Port nan Long where you can take the new causeway to Berneray. Use, too, the other turn-offs from the main road to savour the many crofting townships on the west side of the island.
Take advantage of the information displayed at three cairns. The first one is located at Greinetobht (Grenetote), about seven miles north of Lochmaddy. Another is situated at Langass, close to the best preserved of four pre-historic chambered cairns (on the road south of Lochmaddy). The third is at Cairinis (Carnish) to the southwest.
Be prepared to come face to face with the pre-history of North Uist, for there is ample evidence here of the distant past. Examples include the Dun on Loch Carabhat, the Red Smithy of Baleshare Island and St Peters Cross just south of the impressive Scolpaig Bay completely covered by a sandstorm. Recent excavations indicate continuous human habitation for nearly 4000 years. If your interest lies more in wildlife, you will find a visit to the Balranald Nature Reserve at Hogha Gearraidh (Hougharry) most rewarding. The reserve was created to safeguard the breeding habitat of the Red-Necked Phalarope, though many other species make good use of the wet lands here.
So far as car mileage is concerned, reckon on roughly 45 miles (72km) to travel round the North Uist road system. This figure includes the side-road turn-offs and meanderings through the townships. Take time to stop and look, relax and absorb everything at your leisure.
Also based close to the ferry terminal in Lochmaddy is the North Uist Outdoor Activity Centre. The centre provides numerous half and full day, guide accompanied, excursions and water based activities within the surrounding area. Activities include wildlife spotting, rock climbing, sea kayaking and many more. For further information see the link in our “useful links” page.
Berneray is a small island located in the sound of Harris. This quiet sleepy island can be reached from North Uist by crossing a linking causeway. The construction of the causeway included for a harbour to be built which is used by the Sound of Harris ferry to link the island to Leverburgh in South Harris.
The population of Beneray is concentrated on the east side of the island since the west coast is mainly covered by the 'machair' However, the west coast of the island is still easily accessible and the vast expanses of beach and high sand dunes are looked upon as some of the best in Scotland. The island also offers a vantage point to see grey seals basking on the rocks.
Beneray offers two unspolit beaches each with stunning views over to the hills on Harris.
Leaving North Uist the road touches on the island of Griomasaigh (Grimsay), where a side road to the left goes to Na Ceallan (Kallin) Harbour. Here a plaque gives information about an important element in the economy of the Outer Hebrides – the fishing industry.
With some forty percent of the unpolluted waters of the British Isles located in the seas around the Outer Hebrides, it is not surprising that the quality of the fish caught and farmed here commands a high premium and is appreciated in the quality restaurants of Europe.
Loch Olabhat seen here is only a few hundred yards from Lionacleit Guesthouse.
Benbecula is an island of fjords and forts strategically linked to North and South Uist by bridges and causeways. Here you can see evidence of military activity going back through the centuries to the early days of recorded history. The ghosts of Iron Age warriors shelter in the remains of their fort at Dun Gainhich (Dunganachy) where traces of the original walls are still visible.
Borve castle, an oblong tower-house can be seen near Liniclate. The structure dates from the mid-14th century and is thought to have been built by Ami MacRury. The building is thought to have seen three further periods of settlement.
Balivanich, the biggest township on the island echoes the historical fact that there was a monastery built here soon after the Western isles were Christianised. At Nunton close to the beautiful Cula Bay there is a recently renovated Chapel and Nunnery. Also it was from Nunton that, in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie, dressed as Betty Burke, left with Flora MacDonald to travel to Rossinish Point on the east coast of Benbecula to cross the sea to Skye and escape the pursuing Government forces.
One of our favourite beaches can be found at Nunton, identified on the OS map as Nunton Bay but locally known as Cula Bay. Spectacular sunsets can be viewed from the shingle banks on it's northern edge.
Liniclate is the location where a relatively new secondary school is situated. This community school as well as serving the pupils of the Uists, Benbecula and Barra, also serves the wider community and the public with a library, theatre, museum, swimming pool and all weather sports track.
And why not take a trip to Peter’s Port on the B891 from Liniclate to view, at a short distance, the island of Wiay, another place associated with Prince Charlie.
Benbecula also boasts a special protection area for Corncrakes and is recognised as supporting a nationally important breeding population for the species (Crex crex). Between 1993 and 1997, the site supported an average of 19 calling males representing about 3% of the British breeding population. Recently there has been a slight increase in population.
South Uist is the second largest island in the western isles chain. It’s eastern side is moorland and hilly with the twin peaks of Ben Mhor and Hecla rising to over 600 metres. The western side of South Uist is largely fertile machair land and is also where most of the island’s crofting townships are to be found. The island’s main road from Iochdar at the northern end of the island to Ludag in the south is about 25 miles (40km).
The chapel complex at Howmore is well worth a visit and has been the subject of recent archaeological investigation. The buildings here range from 8th century AD through to the medieval period. The burial ground and surrounding land is littered with archaeological remains from various periods of activity.
Across the south ford from Benbecula into South Uist the road passes through Loch Bee. This is large expanse of brackish water, which, at certain times of the year is populated by hundreds of mute swans. Indeed the whole area is rich in wildlife.The Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve should not be missed. It is one of the largest breeding grounds for greylag geese. A minor road (B890) runs through typically remote country to the ruined pier at the mouth of Loch Sigoport (Loch Skipport) a long arm of the sea. This is the best place to drive to park for visiting the reserve.The interconnected network of roads off the A865 link many of the South Uist crofting townships, making easy access to such sites as the contrasting architecture of the churches at Bornais (Bornish), Daliborg (Daliburgh) and Gearraidh na Monadh (Garrynamonie). Two places of interest are Flora MacDonald’s birthplace, off the main road before the turn off to Gerraidh Bhailteas (Milton) and the ruins of Ormacleit Castle. This ruin exudes a rather muted atmosphere but it is still able to excite that sense of past which sets the imagination running. Also in the same area you may be able to see a Golden Eagle down from the heights of Ben Mhor to patrol the machair for rabbits. Lochboisdale is the ferry terminal for the island, connecting with Oban on the mainland and Castlebay in Barra. In its heyday it was a major herring port, crammed to the brim with fish salesmen, fishermen and herring gutters. Today, Lochboisdale quietly reflects those boom days but comes quickly to life when the car ferry berths. There is also a Tourist Information Point here. The end of the main road is at Pol a Charra (Pollacher), but if you take a left hand turn before Pollacher it will take you to the new causeway at Ludag, from where you can cross to the island of Eriskay. At Ludag there is another information plaque giving details of both Bonnie Prince Charlie and the SS Politician (Immortalised in the film Whisky Galore) with its precious cargo of Whisky.
An account of the Whisky Galore legend can be found here.
Numerous island duns can be seen while driving around the uists in various states of preservation. The Dun near the Kildonan museum seen here is clearly visible with its original causewayed approach still functioning.
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