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 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, an information office, 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, as well as 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, and visitors should be aware of this, although North Uist is a little more relaxed than the more northerly islands of Harris and Lewis, where 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'. In summer the village's Tourist Information Office, located near the pier, is usually open for ferry arrivals.
North Uist is linked by causeway to Benbecula to the South and Berneray to the North. On route south to Benbecula the causeway first links to Grimsay, a small island worth exploration for its rugged coast and inlets, fishing harbour, and a number of archaeological sites.
Calmac Ferries runs a few ferries which take vehicles and foot passengers to the island. Citylink coaches generally connect with the ferries on the mainland.
- From Uig, Skye to Lochmaddy, North Uist run Mon-Sun with 1 or 2 per day taking 1 hour 45 minutes.
- From Oban to Lochboisdale, South Uist runs 4 per week, taking 5+ hours.
- From Berneray to Leverburgh, Harris runs daily 3-4 per day, taking 1 hour. Berneray is connected to North Uist by a causeway and public buses.
In the Outer Hebrides, there are airports in Stornoway in Lewis, Benbecula and Barra. These airports provide direct flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. The nearest to North Uist is Benbecula.
Cars will need to have been transported by CalMac ferry, or hired from one of the companies on Benbecula. With the exception of part of the Carinish or Cairinis to Lochmaddy Road, all roads are single-track with passing places. It's important to learn the etiquette of driving on these roads, as well as taking special care.
There are reasonable bus services during the day Mon - Sat, but little in the evening and no buses on a Sunday.
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.
- Balranald RSPB reserve. Where corncrakes can be heard, if rarely seen. Allow 2 or 3 hours for the circular walk.
- Taigh Chearsabhagh. 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).
- Barpa Langass (NF 838657 accessible from the A687 Lochmaddy to Carinish Road). A 5000 year old burial chamber
- Pobull Finn ((Finn's People)) (NF 842650 accessible from the A687 Lochmaddy to Carinish Road). A stone circle
- Dun An Sticir (NF 907794 Off the road to Berneray.). An excellent example of an Iron Age broch reached across a causeway.
- Scolpaig Tower (NF 731750 close to the A865). A folly c.1830 on a small islet that can be reached at shallow water.
- 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.
- Multi-activity programmes, sea kayaking, scuba diving, power boating, wildlife watching, rock climbing, abseiling, walking and expeditions. Accommodation can be provided. Lochmaddy - at the far end of the road (past the police station) is the Uist Outdoor Centre (contact Niall Johnson, tel: +44 1876 500480).
- Visit St. Kilda. The fastest sea transport service to St Kilda (1.5 hours by RIB, carrying sea kayaks), can be organised through Uist Outdoor Centre (above).
- 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.
- Co-op Supermarket, Sollas, HS6 5BS. Mon-Sat 07:00 - 22:00. Supermarket with 3 aisles. There are also Co-ops on Benbecula and South Uist, which are open on Sunday.
- Clachan Stores, Clachan, Locheport, HS6 5HD, ☎ . Small grocer
- Bayhead Shop.
- Hebridean Smokehouse (Clachan, Locheport HS6 5HD). For really excellent smoked salmon and other smokery gifts
- Morrison's Grocer, HS6 5AA (Lochmaddy), ☎ . Mon - Sat 9:00 - 17:00?. Sells newspapers after they arrive about noon, and groceries, including Nisa products.
- The Gift Shop (Lochmaddy). Mon Wed, Fri, Sat 15:00-18:00; Tue, Thu 13:00-17:00. Small shop selling gifts, kitchenware and hardware.
- Bank of Scotland (Lochmaddy). Mon, Tue, Fri 9:30-12:30, 13:30-16:30. Bank with cash machine outside.
- 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.
- 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.
The information office, near to the harbour, will provide information on bed and breakfast and camping as well as hotels. Mainland tourist information centres will also book ahead for you.
There is a Gatliff hostel on nearby Berneray.
- Uist Outdoor Centre. self catering - 20 beds in 4 person rooms.
Bed and Breakfasts
Some can be found on the tourist board website, but many are no longer listed due to the changes and "hassle".
- The Old Courthouse, Lochmaddy HS6 5AE (Around 15 minutes walk from the ferry.), ☎ . Bed and Breakfast from 25 - 30 pounds per person per night.
- Rushlee House (Lochmaddy), ☎ . B&B with three double rooms. From £50.
Renting a house for a week or more is a popular option. Such places are generally let from Saturday to Saturday. Some of these can be found on the tourist board website.
- Lochmaddy Hotel (2 minutes walk from the ferry terminal.), ☎ . An established hotel next the ferry terminal.
- Hamersay House, ☎ . Formerly the Tigh Dearg Hotel, a new hotel (opened in 2005) located about 15 minutes walk from the ferry.
- Langass Lodge, Locheport, ☎ . Single from £75, double £95.
- Temple View Hotel, Carinish, ☎ . Doubles from £105.