North Uist or Uibhist A Tuathis is an island in the Outer Hebrides, north of Benbecula and south of Harris, with a total population of only about 1,200 people, yet is about 20 miles (32 km) from north to south. It is generally flat and covered, especially in the north and east, by a very large number of lochans, or small lakes. It has no large built up settlements, having a dispersed population scattered mainly over its western side, where the machair provides grazing for crofting. Despite this its history and culture is fascinating, and there are facilities for back-packing, camping and cycling. Ferries arrive at Lochmaddy, a small settlement with a harbour, a couple of decent hotels, and one or two simple shops. The arts centre Taigh Chearsabhagh is to be found here.
North Uist, like the rest of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, has a long history of neglect by its landlords, and suffered from waves of clearances of the native population, and from suppression of its native Gaelic language and culture. Gaelic, however, is still commonly spoken as well as English, and place-names and other signs are now usually by default in the Gaelic. A more sympathetic approach to the island's culture and language from the Scottish Government indicate that the island is showing signs of a revival in its fortunes. Unlike South Uist, this is a predominantly Protestant island and the Sabbath is observed seriously here. Although North Uist is a little more relaxed than the more northerly islands of Harris and Lewis, Sabbath observation can be very strict.
Lochmaddy is a village that serves as the island's administrative center. Local signs use the Gaelic name Loch nam Madaidh.
The airport for the Uists is 1 Benbecula Airport (BEB IATA), a short drive south across the causeway. There are flights daily from Glasgow taking an hour, operated by Loganair. There are also flights (M-F) to Stornoway on Lewis: these connect to other destinations such as Edinburgh, but it's generally quicker to fly to Glasgow and take the train or other transport from there. The buses from North Uist to South Uist run past the airport on Benbecula.
The main ferry port is 2 Lochmaddy. This has ferries from Uig on Skye, with 1 or 2 per day taking 1 hour 45 minutes. (Nov-March ferries sail in only one direction on some days.) Buses from Glasgow Buchanan Street connect with the ferries from Uig, which is effectively on the mainland since Skye is now linked by a bridge.
Another ferry route is from Mallaig on the mainland to Lochboisdale on South Uist. This sails daily April-Oct taking 3 hours 30 mins, then you have a long drive north up the causeways. From Nov to March there's no sailing Tues or Thurs, and some ferries ply from Oban (a 5 hour crossing) instead of Mallaig.
North Uist is also linked to by causeway to 3 Berneray, from where a ferry crosses to Leverburgh on Harris. This runs 3 or 4 times per day, taking 1 hour.
All these ferries are operated by Calmac. They take vehicles and sail year round.
For your own boat, Lochmaddy has a small marina which which charges £2 per metre of boat length per night. There are also some mooring buoys at £10 per night.
The Uists have long been linked by causeways. The road across these is well clear of the sea and passable in all tides and weathers except for the worst Atlantic winds and waves. Northbound (as B893) the road crosses to Berneray, the ferry port for Leverburgh on Harris, and ends. Southbound (as A865) it crosses to Grimsay then Benbecula, with the airport. It continues down the long thin island of South Uist, with the ferry port of Lochboisdale (ferries for Mallaig). Lastly it crosses onto Eriskay, which has ferries to Barra.
So all the Western Isles are well-linked - an important ingredient of community cohesion - and a car rental office in one part should be relaxed about you taking the car to the other islands. Buses also run down the chain of islands, integrated with ferries as part of the Western Isles Overland Route - you can travel in under a day between Stornoway on Lewis and Castlebay on Barra. For car hire and buses on North Uist, see "Get around".
By road: The terrain is low-lying and easy for cycling, though the breeze is often stiff. All roads are single-track with passing places - drivers, please observe the traditional Highland etiquette. (Translation: always give way to mad fellows in white vans who are driving at Mach 2 to try to catch the ferry.) There's no car hire on North Uist itself, but those on Benbecula can meet the ferry with a car. Or try Alda's Taxis & Minibus, 1 Kersavagh, Lochmaddy HS6 5AD +44 1876 500215.
Buses run six times Mon-Sat along the east or west loop of the island's main road, connecting Lochamaddy, Berneray ferry pier, and south towards Benbecula and South Uist.
There are many fine sandy beaches, mainly on the Western shore of North Uist. Traigh Lingeigh is a safe shallow suitable for snorkelling. The coastline around Lochmaddy and the road to Loch Portain is remarkable for the number of little sea lochans. There are several prehistoric sites worth visiting, including and the island's lochans often contain interesting remains of duns, or fortified houses.
- 1 Balranald RSPB reserve. Where corncrakes can be heard, if rarely seen. Allow 2 or 3 hours for the circular walk.
- 2 Taigh Chearsabhagh. M- Sa 10:00 - 16:00 (17:00 in summer). In Lochmaddy. This is an excellent art centre with a museum and gallery, a cafe, post office and a shop. Also worth seeing are the outdoor sculptures (ask inside for the guide leaflet).
- 3 Barpa Langass (NF 838657 accessible from the A687 Lochmaddy to Carinish Road). A 5000-year-old burial chamber
- 4 Pobull Finn ((Finn's People)) (NF 842650 accessible from the A687 Lochmaddy to Carinish Road). A stone circle
- 5 Dun An Sticir (NF 907794 Off the road to Berneray.). An excellent example of an Iron Age broch reached across a causeway.
- 6 Scolpaig Tower (NF 731750 close to the A865). A folly c.1830 on a small islet that can be reached at shallow water.
- 7 Teampull Na Trionaid (The Church of the Holy Trinity) (NF 816603 close to Cairinis (Carinish)). An early Christian site and next to the site of a battleground.
- Walk, cycle; visit the numerous artists studios; enjoy the unspoiled natural landscapes; North Uist is excellent for bird-watching and the coasts abound with sea-life.
- 1 Visit the Hut of the Shadows and other End of the Road sculptures (In Lochmaddy, Leave your vehicle in the parking space just before the road turns left to the Uist Outdoor Centre. Take the track next to the house on the right which leads towards the sea on the right. Continue following the track past the high fences. It leads you to the small suspension bridge, and over the bridge, take the track down to the right towards the sea and you will reach the stone-built chamber.). Completed around Easter 1997 with the help of local people by English-based artist Chris Drury on behalf of the Taigh Chearsabhagh. This is well worth a visit and you may be able to spot otters in the vicinity if you are patient.
- 1 Co-op Supermarket, Sollas, HS6 5BS. M-Sa 07:00 - 22:00. Supermarket with 3 aisles. There are also Co-ops on Benbecula and South Uist, which are open on Sunday.
- 2 Bayhead Shop.
- 3 Hebridean Smokehouse (Clachan, Locheport HS6 5HD). For really excellent smoked salmon and other smokery gifts
- 4 Morrison's Grocer, HS6 5AA (Lochmaddy), ☎ . M-Sa 09:00-21:00. Sells newspapers after they arrive about noon, and groceries, including Nisa products. Gulf petrol across the road.
- 5 The Gift Shop (Lochmaddy). M W F Sa 15:00-18:00; Tu Th 13:00-17:00. Small shop selling gifts, kitchenware and hardware.
- 6 Bank of Scotland (Lochmaddy). M F 09:30-12:30, 13:30-16:30. Bank with cash machine outside.
- 7 Taigh Chearsabhagh (Lochmaddy). Sells books and souvenirs.
For evening meals a hotel may be the best option. There is a decent cafe for snacks in Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy. There is also a cafe and shop on Berneray.
- 1 Claddach Kirkibost Centre (on the A865 not far (1mile) from the Clachan junction). An outstanding cafe (daytime only), perfect for a lunchtime stopover or coffee and cakes. It also has a small shop selling postcards, knitwear and local books etc. It's in an old schoolhouse now used as a day nursery; doesn't look much from outside but worth a visit and there's great views over Baleshare.
Drinks can be found in the Lochmaddy Hotel and in Westford at the pub on the west side of the island.
- 1 Westford Inn.
There is a Gatliff hostel on nearby Berneray.
Some can be found on the tourist board website, but many are no longer listed due to the changes and "hassle".
- 1 The Old Courthouse, Lochmaddy HS6 5AE (Around 15 minutes walk from the ferry.), ☎ . Bed and Breakfast £25-30 per person per night.
- 2 Rushlee House (Lochmaddy), ☎ . B&B with three double rooms. From £50.
- 3 Lochmaddy Hotel, Lochmaddy HS6 5AA (300 yards from ferry terminal), ☎ . Simple hotel, 15 en suite rooms (9 with sea view). Restaurant does local cuisine, plus bar-meal type takeaways. Hotel can fix you up with fishing permits.
- 4 Hamersay House, Lochmaddy HS6 5AE (half a mile north of ferry terminal), ☎ . Comfy hotel, open year-round. Brasserie serves non-residents. Bike hire available. B&B double £140.
- 5 Langass Lodge, Locheport HS6 5HA (5 miles west of Lochmaddy), ☎ . Cozy hotel, restaurant open to non-residents. B&B Single £100, double £125.
- 6 Temple View Hotel, Carinish HS6 5EJ (near south tip of island), ☎ . Small hotel on coast, midway between Lochmaddy and Benbecula. B&B doubles from £120.
- Self-catering cottages: several available, they usually book Saturday to Saturday.