Based in Taigh Dobrain (Otter House) we had another 2 days to enjoy these southern Outer Isles before heading for Harris, Lewis and St Kilda. There’s no way you can do justice to these islands in a day but in my defence, I have been to them many times so I’ll mention other places worth seeing/exploring which we missed this time.However, even in a day, you can still visit some beautiful spots.
For our previous days on North Uist please see: A TOUR OF THE OUTER HEBRIDES (5 days on North Uist, South Uist and Barra) and first day on Skye : A TOUR OF THE OUTER HEBRIDES(Part 1)
A Day on Barra
Very easy to do as a day trip in summer from the Uists, driving over the causeway to Eriskay then a short ferry hop to Barra.
However, driving down that main road through South Uist does NOT introduce you to the best of it. There are some nice views in good light of the Beinn Mhor mountain range but some of the scattered township areas can look unkempt and unappealing.
You have to get off that road to see the best of the island. South Uist ‘s west coast is made up of about 20 miles of white sand beaches though they suffer a bit from heavy seaweed and aren’t as lovely as on North Uist.However, that is all relative and many are very beautiful! Like this one near Polochar Inn……Oronsay island is in the distance.
Lochboisdale, the island’s capital (a scattering of houses and a hotel) is not the prettiest place either though the overall location is nice. Like Lochmaddy – though more so – it is VERY workaday. The Lochboisdale Hotel has long been renowned as a place for fishermen, as the Uists are world famous for salmon and trout fishing. Chris worked here as a barman in his youth (he was brought up on the island) and has a wealth of stories about some of the local characters. One I love hearing: there was BIG drinking going on as always and one evening, late on, the head barman saw one local worthy barely able to stand upright at the bar, suddenly reach for his car keys which were lying on the counter. Appalled , he chided the man – ‘now you’re not going to be driving home in that state Angus?’ To which came the reply as the keys were snatched from the counter– ‘And tell me, how on earth do you expect me to walk home in this state, Seumus?”
We headed over the long stone causeway joining South Uist and Eriskay (which has a lovely beach, the Prince’s beach, the first landfall Bonnie Prince Charlie made in Scotland).There’s also a very famous pub – Am Politician – renowned through the ‘Whisky Galore’ film which gave a humorous account of what happened when a ship full of whisky was wrecked off shore (true story). Bottles are occasionally still being found today.
The colours of the Sound of Eriskay are unbelievable ; it’s very shallow so the water is deep turquoise, pale emerald and violet – mesmeric on a sunny day.
Barra – north end
Five minutes drive away at the end of the road is the Barra ferry. A half hour sailing and we were on Barra itself. Barra and Harris are the two most immediately attractive, easily enjoyed islands for new visitors. Barra is very pretty and quite hilly though it doesn’t have quite the big sweeps of machair land which I love in the Uists. But there are plenty of lovely shell sand beaches. I particularly like the north end of Barra beyond the airport at Eoligarry and we enjoyed an easy stroll of a couple of miles along the dazzling white sands this visit. On a fine day, this area does feel like another slice of paradise.The beach opposite the airport, a short walk across a field, is also a cracker.
The Cockle Strand plane landing
It’s well worth watching the Barra plane land on the world famous cockle strand beach if time allows. It’s one of the world’s top plane journeys, as it lands when the tide is out (luckily). Prior to that, people are playing on the beach or gathering cockles then the warning flag goes up for them to leave pronto – a plane is coming in! The luggage collection point for the tiny airport is super cute – like a wee bus stop. Unusually, the airport café is actually worth a stop as it has some decent home baking. Now if only every airport was as appealing to be in. There’s a true story of a guy asking the airport staff what time he should be there for his flight back to Glasgow. ‘Oh, as long as you’re on the plane before it take off…..’ came the reply. It’s a different world out on the islands.
Eoligarry Explorer walk (North End)
There is a longer loop of a walk that goes along Traigh Eais beach , over a headland and up onto a high point with an ancient Dun before looping back round. I did it on a sunny August day when the small crofting fields were golden with barley and corn and wildflowers waved their heads gently in the breeze. The sea was turquoise and crystal clear. I’ve never forgotten it.
Traditional crofting methods exist here and for that reason, it is a haven for the elusive and rare Corncrake. Rarely seen, its continual loud, rasping croak is swooned over by birdwatchers (yes, we are they.) However, it drives crofters mad during the summer as it starts calling around 4am and doesn’t stop! Chris said his father was often tempted to reach for his gun (but desisted.)
Walkhighlands has an excellent description of this walk – the Eoligarry Explorer https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/outer-hebrides/eoligarry.shtml
Corncrakes and Collie dogs
I’ve seen a corncrake on Barra. Several years ago, we were followed by a collie, eager for a walk and latching on to which ever human happened to be around at the time; i.e. us. The dog led us up and down a small hill (part of the above walk) using various sheep tracks , no doubt a favourite walk of his and he was clearly delighted at his new companions. When we finally arrived back at the road, he suddenly bounded at full speed into a small potato patch, sending a corncrake – like a large hen with long spindly legs – flying in terror into the air. It was our new found friend’s final flourish – a sort of ‘well what do you think about that! ‘ moment. ’There and I’ve gone and shown you Britain’s rarest bird!’ Of course if we’d tried to flush the bird out like that, a local RSPB sniper would have taken us out in a jiffy. I don’t suppose the crofter would have been too happy with me trampling his tatties either.Big temptation sometimes, when you hear the bird croaking away just yards away and can’t see it as it hides amongst the undergrowth or crops!
Castlebay is a pleasant wee village with its namesake castle sitting out on a rock offshore. Shame on me, but I never have made the time to go out to see it but a boat plies the short distance several times daily. I am too keen to get across another causeway to the island of Vatersay which has the most exquisite twin beaches.
The community café here also does some nice cakes. We once wild camped above these beaches ( the ocean beach) many years ago. The beach on the other side of this narrow spit of land is lagoon like. Magnificent spots both.
Back on Barra, we drove up the west coast of the island past Tangusdale beach with multiple stops to admire some really lovely deserted spots along the rocky coastline. Nowhere though is quite like that north end. A fine day on Barra and really, it deserves more time than we ever seem able to give it.
Next Day – exploring South Uist
Another drive south from Taigh Dobrain to see the south end of South Uist.Our wee house however, was a difficult place to leave!
One of my favourite areas of South Uist is at the very south end near the Eriskay causeway, past little harbour of Ludaig.
We then took the left hand road to South Glendale and parked on some flat moorland before walking out on the huge sands there opposite Eriskay.
This area is absolutely gorgeous under bright skies – uninhabited, low rocky moorland hills, occasionally a sea eagle patrolling the skyline. I could spend ages just wandering about here.
For a real sense of a crofting area, very raw, sheep wandering the road, some lovely renovated thatched houses and some beautiful views, take the road to North Glendale.
We spent a week in a cottage here and I loved it with its fine views over Loch Boisdale.
The tidal island of Oronsay near Polochar makes for a nice walk and gives fine views to Beinn Mhor across the beach.The parking area round there is a bit depressing however as it’s become a bit of a dumping ground for rusting machinery and there’s a ruin of an industrial unit.(It’s a problem the islands have – getting rid of large items of rubbish or what is obsolete.) Still, you do leave that eyesore behind very quickly.
The beach which leads to the Polochar Inn is also a pleasant walk and there is a fine standing stone.Sunsets from here, looking to Barra, are gorgeous.
The beautifully sited Polochar Inn usually gets a visit from us and we had an excellent dinner. Huge chunks of monkfish and chips, plus a good apple crumble. We ate in the bar as the small restaurant was fully booked at 6.30pm – next time, we’ll book ahead.
And so another day well spent on South Uist, visiting some favourite spots.Benn Mhor is well worth considering if a hill walk beckons though take a map.Great views, as you would expect given its oceanic location.
Next: Berneray’s 5km/3 mile beach, wonderful Harris and a trip to St Kilda.