454: North Uist

OS Explorer map 454, North Uist & Berneray – I own this map, and have visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 29th March 2018.

So, this is the sixth post (of an eventual twelve) about a trip to Scotland I went on with my parents. Travelling up on Sunday 25th, we stayed on Harris in our little cottage there for four nights; my last post was about one of those days, when we did a trip up to Stornoway to do some shopping. (I didn’t post about Harris itself, of course, because I’ve already been there since starting this blog, so have posted about it previously!) We went all the way up to Harris in one day at the start of the holiday, flying to Inverness and hiring a car there to drive across to the ferry, but we’d be taking the journey home over five days, staying two nights on Skye and two on Mull before returning the hire car at Glasgow Aiport and flying home from there.

So, on the 29th, we were to leave Harris. Now, since we were going to Skye, we’d normally take the Tarbert to Uig ferry, which conveniently leaves from just a few minutes away from our cottage.

The ferries relevant for this discussion! (from OS Maps online)

However, some weeks after I booked us onto this ferry, CalMac (the ferry company that serves most Scottish islands) emailed me saying they’d cancelled that ferry crossing; something to do with moving ships around to new routes. Therefore I was rebooked; rather than a ferry directly to Uig, we’d be taking the Leverburgh to Berneray ferry across the Sound of Harris – Leverburgh is at the south end of Harris, and Berneray a small island attached to North Uist by causeway – and then another ferry from Lochmaddy on North Uist over to Uig later that day.

We left the cottage at about 7:30am and arrived at the Leverburgh ferry terminal at slightly past eight. There we parked up in the boarding area. Now, the Leverburgh-Berneray ferry is much much smaller than those crossing to the Western Isles from the mainland, so wouldn’t have a restaurant on it in which we could breakfast. [1] Our plan for breakfast, therefore, was to eat on the ferry if there did happen to be a coffee kiosk or something that sold bacon rolls or something, or otherwise find somewhere on Uist. However, we were saved from either option by the presence of the Butty Bus, a bus selling breakfast sandwiches of various kinds at the ferry port.

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The Leverburgh Butty Bus

I had a sausage roll, which was perfectly pleasant. Father Dearest had a scary looking “full breakfast roll” containing egg, sausage, bacon, and black pudding. Mother Dearest, alas, had to satisfy herself with tea and the banana we had in the car, since they didn’t do anything dairy- and gluten-free.

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Father Dearest’s scary breakfast

We then got on the ferry, and the voyage went without incident. [2]

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Looking back at Harris from the Sound ferry

Now, we had a couple of hours on North Uist before our next ferry, so it was time to do some things! We drove to the south end of the island to look at the Teampull na Trionaid, Trinity Church, at Carinish. (“Trionaid” really looks to me like it needs some length accents, but I didn’t see any on any of the signs, so probably that’s just the flawed instincts of someone who’s really only learnt Old Irish looking at modern Gaelic.)

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Approaching Teampull na Trionaid

So, what is it? It’s a 13th-century ruined church is what it is. Signs there, though, not only told us of the battle fought there in 1601 between parties of MacLeods and MacDonalds, but also told any visitors that the site was a “medieval monastery and college of European significance, founded by Beathag daughter of Somerled”. Now, I admit I don’t know as much about the early history of this specific region as I might, and I am very happy to believe that there was a monastery here. However, I do slightly doubt the “college of European significance” comment – the Undiscovered Scotland page on the church does say that the source for the place’s early history is the late-17th-century “Book of Clan Ranald”, which, since it sounds as if it was written by a local clan for the purposes of glorifying themselves, doesn’t quite sound like the most reliable of sources. But yes, still, it was a very interesting place. It was evidently used as a burial site for a long time after it was ruined, with gravestones inside the church itself.

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Inside the church

From there, we got back in the car and started driving towards Lochmaddy and our ferry, but we still had a little time, so we stopped at Barpa Langass, a very large Neolithic chambered burial mound. The walk up to it from the road was short but steep. Normally it’s possible to enter one of the chambers if you’re willing to crawl a little, but unfortunately there had recently been a collapse, meaning that the entryway was blocked off with a sign. Still, it was a very old and interesting big pile of rocks.

From there, we drove to Lochmaddy to catch our 11:50 ferry across to Skye, on which see my next post!

Previous visits

I’ve been to North Uist twice before, the first of which was on the 2013 driving trip around Scotland that I went on with my parents and cousin, featured also in my previous post about Stornoway and in my Fort William entry. We came over on the Leverburgh ferry just like this time, although in the late afternoon, and went to our hotel. (Very near the Langass burial mound that I visited this time).

Driving to the hotel, I assume

I recall that when we got there, my cousin fell asleep, and Father Dearest and I went for a walk down to the water – I feel like there was some suggestion of visiting a nearby stone circle, but we didn’t manage that. We also drove off briefly in search of a shop, and in the end had to drive all the way to Benbecula (the next island south in the chain) to find one. I can’t remember what we needed to buy though!

Apparently the only thing Father Dearest and I saw on our walk that was exciting enough to photograph!

We had dinner in the hotel, which I remember being really very nice, and I suppose went to sleep!

At dinner

The next day, we’d be leaving on the Lochmaddy to Skye ferry – to then drive all the way to Edinburgh before stopping for the night. That holiday was very condensed, with a lot of driving; we had to go all the way through Skye without stopping. But yes, before then, we stopped for a walk in some woodland, which I think was Langass Woods – both because they are very close to the hotel we were in, and because the Hebrides aren’t exactly furnished with a lot of woods, so there aren’t many other options. The only trees in the Outer Hebrides have been planted intentionally in the last century or so, so you only see small patches of woodland.

That was mostly notable, I think, for some tree stumps that had been pleasantly carved to look like mushrooms! From there, I think we just went and got on our ferry. (My memories of that trip aren’t as detailed as they could be, so my apologies for the lack of amusing anecdotes.)

The other time I’ve visited North Uist was in 2014, on the camping trip around Scotland with my school friends Cabbage, Climbing Programmer and Joystick, previously mentioned in my Inverness and Cuillin Hills posts. We had stayed the previous night on South Uist, and after a walk up a hill, got in the car and drove north, er, towards North Uist, stopping on the way to buy food in the Co-op near Lochboisdale. We then had a late lunch (at half past three according to the timestamp on the pictures), on a bench by a beach.

Eating lunch

Now, I must confess, I’m not exactly sure where this bench is, and it’s possible it’s on Benbecula rather than North Uist, and so not in this map area. I’m going to say it’s on this one though, because it gives me more to blog about now, and since when I get to do a South Uist and Benbecula post (they’re on one map), I’ll have plenty of pretty pictures anyway because the walk up the hill that morning was very pretty. We also had a little walk on the beach, by the look of things.

Edith, my car of the time, is visible in the second of those pictures!

I’m not quite sure what we did for the rest of the afternoon, but we eventually came to our campsite for the night, at Balranald on the west coast of North Uist. Now, being on the west coast of the Outer Hebrides can be a little perilous at times, because there’s no more land between you and Canada, so the wind can get a little bitey. That night was not a calm one. It was very very windy and also extremely rainy. We only managed to pitch our tent by strategically parking the car as a windbreak, and had trouble cooking too – we had to put the camp-stove just outside the car door, on the sheltered side, and all sat in the car while one unlucky person cooked through the open door.

Cabbage and Joystick preparing food in the car

I recall that meal, actually – Cabbage was in charge of the cooking, and he made something that he called “potatoes and onions”, consisting, surprisingly enough, of potatoes and onions tossed together with various spices and things, which he claimed to make for himself fairly frequently at university, it having the advantage of being rather cheap. It was also fairly nice, especially considering the cooking conditions.

We somehow managed some sleep eventually, although the tent walls were very blown inwards. The next day, we went for a walk on the beach – the rain had cleared up and it was a pleasant sunny day, but still the windiest I’ve ever experienced anywhere, I think.

We packed up the car, and were off!

Packing up the car to leave

Our ferry to Skye was in the late afternoon, and again I’m not exactly sure what we did all day, but I have some more pictures of us having lunch, this time sitting on some rocks.

The lunch would appear to have consisted of rolls – I can see Joystick cutting up cucumber to put in his, and there is some cold meat and some mini scotch eggs sitting on the floor there. What I can tell you is that that day’s lunch and the previous day’s dinner cost us £29.27 in the Lochboisdale Co-op, because I have spending records from that trip since we needed to work out how much we owed each other. The campsite was £30 for the four of us, a car and three tents, in case you’re curious.

That little corner of that spending spreadsheet!

Our ferry to Skye was at 3:15pm, and while we were waiting for it, it seems I took a photo of two lego models – Cabbage had bought his one in Edinburgh, I think, and remember buying the second because I was jealous and wanted one too; I think mine must have come from Oban.

Our Lego models!

We acquired a lot of rubbish that we filled the car with on that trip; there was also Sanjit the coconut, described in my Inverness post, and a pot plant acquired near Oban, but that will have to wait for a future post!


[1] Two days later, on the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig (look forward to my Ardnamurchan entry, where I’ll probably describe that!), I bought a slim book about CalMac ferries, which lists all of their ships with various interesting facts. I am informed that the ship on the Leverburgh-Berneray route is the Loch Portain, which has a capacity of 32 vehicles and 200 passengers. This is small by comparison with the one on the Uig-Tarbert/Lochmaddy route, the Hebrides, which takes 98 vehicles and 612 passengers.

That route runs across the Minch from Uig to the Hebrides and back three times daily, doing two to one of Lochmaddy and Tarbert and one to the other each day. (It then switches the next day, so when looking at the timetable for one or the other you see one sailing or two on alternate days.)

[2] There wasn’t any kind of food dispensary except a hot drinks vending machine.

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