Wednesday, September 17, 2014

THE WILDS OF NORTH UIST

Typical N. Uist landscape
Set out from the Hamersay House, an excellent hotel in Lochmaddy, to explore the very northern tip of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Roads continue to be single-track with passing places and the one this morning goes all the way around the north of the island, with a few no-through lanes darting off to the coast.

The country here is flat, wind-swept, and has no trees at all. Sea lochs penetrate inland and it was low tide. The colours of the landscape are green, yellow, brown, and the blue of the sky. Houses and crofts are well separated, and sheep predominate. It feels remote and it is. Strangely beautiful in all its guises and in all lights.
Scolpaig Tower

As we wound around the top of N. Uist, we came upon the remains of a tower perched on an islet in a shallow loch. In the distance could be seen the island of Hasgeir with a light house on top. These uninhabited islands are home to the breeding colonies of gannets, kittiwakes, and many species of seabirds. The time to visit for birding is in the spring, of course. Though I did nearly run over a cock pheasant today.
A beautiful croft at Traigh Bhalaigh

The most amazing feature here are the shallow, wide sea lochs that the ebbing tide turns into acres and acres of white sand. They are quite stunning. Beside one we came upon a restored croft with a thatched roof held in place by rocks attached to chicken wire. Peat is still cut and used for fuel here – it is the brown pile beside the animal's byre on the right of the photo.

There are many more abandoned and neglected crofts in the Outer Hebrides than there are those that are still occupied. The ones that are lived in are mainly now bought by owners from the mainland wanting a holiday home or for retirement. The climate in North Uist is mild and rarely drops below -2C in the winter, despite the winter storms and gales that roar over the island.

Tigharry
At Tigharry is a huge bay with many sandy beaches and on the left-hand headland is an RSPB reserve (Balranald). Sadly we didn't stop here, as much as I would have liked to, as my husband was still not feeling up to walking. But, it is beautiful - sandy, grassy plain that sports a carpet of wild flowers and is home to 600 pairs of wading birds, as well as otters. From May to August, visitors can take guided walks with the staff. A must-do, IMHO.

As we returned to Lochmaddy for a late lunch in the pub overlooking the sea, we made a six mile detour along Locheport, a sea loch that almost reaches the west coast of North Uist. Here the landscape changes a bit, with purple mountains in the distance. It is achingly beautiful in the sun with blue waters, crofts, brown streams, rock bridges, sheep everywhere, and heather growing on the granite outcrops.

Locheport and Mt. Eabal

IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2014
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