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davidx Lochmaddy - A travel report by David
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Lochmaddy,  United Kingdom - flag United Kingdom
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davidx's travel reports

Lochmaddy in North Uist in The Outer Hebrides.

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The Outer Hebrides are alternatively called The Western Isles or The Long Island. Sounds confusing? Plural or Singular? Well, I guess it may depend on what you mean by an island – or it may not.


Language is a bit of a barrier here. The Long Island consists of a lot of separate islands, connected by causeway or ferry and the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris make what is normally called an island between them! Leaving out the smaller islands for simplicity’s sake, they are from north to south [with ways between in brackets] Lewis [joined with] Harris – [boat] – North Uist – [causeway] – Benbecula – [causeway] – South Uist - [boat] – Barra. Now we can introduce some of the smaller ones. Grimsay is between North Uist and Benbecula on the causeway. Eriskay [I’ve not been – yet], said on the Undiscovered Scotland website to be the best island of all, is now connected with South Uist – and Vatersay with Barra by causeways. Mingulay is next to southermost of the islands, its southern neighbour being Berneray – but there’s another island called Berneray [or Bearnaraigh] linked with North Uist by causeway. So what if you want to visit – like I want to again? If you’re going on foot, I should strongly advise against trying to see too much – public transport is very limited. Pick something from the remainder of the report. If you can get long enough with a bike, that would be great and you can use the passenger ferries as well as the car ferries. If you are going by car, you must be able to benefit by taking one of Calmac’s island Hopscotch offers. Which? Well, don’t do what I did the first time and miss out Barra. It’s a gem. So you are going from Oban to barra first and then to South Uist, from where you can drive by causeways to North Uist. If you have time you will want to cross from Lochmaddy to Tarbert on Harris. Then you have to choose whether to cross from there to Uig on Skye or from Stornaway to Ullapool. I did the second – but then I’d already been to Skye. If you’ve not, I pass on that one. Either way you’ll have a great trip and mourn missing another great trip. Read on; [and my Elgol report on Skye] it may help you choose.

Favourite spots:
There’s a real excitement about being in these islands but I think the favourite for me is Barra. It’s small enough always to feel like an island and big enough for good walks. There’s a bus round the island so that you can see different parts with ease. How long? AT LEAST three nights if you want to see Vatersay as well and probably four to get a boat trip to the very southern islands if you are into birds. On Barra see the ‘airport’, a strip of beach and you can be dropped from the bus on the west coast opposite the airport and walk right round the north tip and back down the east coast to pick up the bus again as it meets the plane. Also get them to drop you near to ‘Seal Bay, on the west coast. Its name is entirely appropriate! Did you ever see the delightful film, Whisky galore? If so, you may well find Barra familiar. The Politician went down off Eriskay but the film was made on Barra! For Barra and Vatersay see www.isleofbarra.com/

What's really great:
Some of the archaeological sites in the islands are outstanding. On Lewis the stones at Callanish, in the form of a Celtic cross, are reckoned to be second only to Stonehenge in the UK and the broch of Dun Carloway can only be beaten [if at all] by one on Orkney, where I’ve not been. Whether you know what a broch is or not, see the Undiscovered Scotland website for both places. Who knows what may still be buried in Lewis? It was by accident that the fabulous Uig chessmen, eminating from 12th century Scandinavia, were found at Uig, to the west. Now think of the chambered cairns on North Uist. On a map they look no different from some barely distinguishable piles of stone that I have seen elsewhere in the UK – but look at the photos on http://www.charles-t-ait.co.uk/li brary/archaeology/we sternisles/cairns/ The first time we went to one here I hadn’t even got a torch with me. You can imagine the childrens’ excitement when a kind man, emerging from the chamber, lent us one.

Sights:
In general the eastern side of the islands is rocky and the west has wonderful long sandy beaches backed by machair [www.wildlifehebrides.com/e nvironment/machair/]. Whatever else you do, try to see the west side of Lewis. The beaches and machair around Uig and Valtos are out of this world – not of course comparable to the South Pacific for warmth but comparable anywhere for sheer beauty.
Harris has some splendid rock scenery – or so I’m told! I can vouch for its splendid mist! We camped near Toe Head, a few miles NW of Leverbugh, a wonderful peninsula where we could look down on nesting seagulls and where a golden eagle kept emerging from the mist – to monitor our progress perhaps. Gannets can be seen doing their peerless vertical dives for fish offshore.
Leverburgh – sounds like a town? It was meant to be one, the centre of an industry based on fish. The idea died, however, with its founder Lord Leverhulme, in the first part of the 20th century.
[Continued in last section.]

Accommodations:
I’ve only camped in Soth Uist, Harris and Lewis – very easy; wild camping is very possible – and stayed in a B&B in Barra for two nights, the address of which I forget.
I advise the ‘book a bed ahead’ scheme for having somewhere arranged for your arrival in Barra – or go to the helpful and efficient TIC on the quay in Castlebay.
Then you can plug into the highly effective ‘bush telegraph’ that operates between landladies throughout the Long Island.

Hangouts:
The Castlebay Hotel on Barra proved very satisfactory for food and drink. [The village is appropriately named, with the castle being on an island in the bay – very picturesque.]

Other recommendations:
Rodel Church, a few miles NE of Leverburgh on Harris is well worth seeing – with a great view from the tower as well as some fine architecture.

North Uist – as well as the cairns, see the Balranald bird reserve.

Benbecula – Ruedal, the highest hill is well under 200m but what a view! Oddly the walk up is quite hard work, rough and boggy.

South Uist – Possibly the area of Howmore is the best for seeing a blackhouse, although you are hardly short of choice. Fascinating website at
www.theoldpostoffice.me.uk/wes ternisles/traditional_home.htm
The Free Presbyterians on other islands can be a bit severe in their observance of Sundays – practically no public transport - but South Uist remained Roman Catholic.

I’ve not been south of Barra but
www.atra04.dsl.pipex.com/lone lyisles/Mingulay/Home.htm and
www.globalguide.org/in dex.phtml?id=1371560 would seem to cover them.

Personal reservation – I can’t promise you good weather!!

Published on Wednesday March 23th, 2005


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