North Uist (Gaelic Uibhist A Tuathis) is an island in the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It measures about 20 miles north-south, 25 miles east-west, and is separated from Benbecula to the south by a tidal ford, nowadays bridged by a causeway. It's thinly populated (1200 residents), low-lying and dotted by innumerable lochans or small lakes. Lochmaddy (Loch nam Madaidh) on the east coast is the ferry port and what passes for the main village, but most settlement is scattered along the west coast, where the machair provides grazing for crofting.
North Uist, like the rest of the Highlands and Islands, was drained of its population both by voluntary emigration and by eviction to make way for sheep farming. In Sollas in 1849 there was a pitched battle between residents and evicting officers. Gaelic language and culture was historically persecuted heavily by the Scottish and British authorities in the Outer Hebrides. Since the formation of the Western Isles Council and greater European funding becoming available for indigenous minority languages it is considered to be on the rise. It's predominantly spoken here, and road signs are primarily in Gaelic. North Uist (like Lewis & Harris) is predominantly Protestant and the Sabbath is observed seriously here, unlike on the Catholic islands further south.
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 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 to Lochboisdale, which has 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 or even dropping it off on another island. Bus W10 / 16 / 17 runs M-Sa along the chain of islands, integrated with ferries as part of the Western Isles Overland Route - you can travel in a day between Stornoway on Lewis and Castlebay on Barra, though only one service per day plies the entire route. North Uist, being midway, has more connections, with four from Stornoway, six from Tarbert on Harris, six from Benbecula and South Uist, and three from Barra.
For car hire and other 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.
Bus W18 loops five times clockwise and five times anticlockwise along the island's main road, from Lochmaddy and back. It doesn't cross to Berneray or Benbecula.
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.
- Taigh Chearsabhagh (by Lochmaddy Hotel). M-Sa 10:00-16:00 (17:00 in summer). 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).
- 1 Camera Obscura (Hut of the Shadows), 25 Sponish HS6 5AF (From Lochmaddy walk north past police station to the footbridge, turn right on other bank.). Only worth coming on a sunny day. Enter the stone chamber and within is projected a view of Lochmaddy.
- 2 Dun An Sticir, Port nan Long HS3 5AZ (NF 907794 off the road to Berneray). 24 hours, but access is tidal. A stout Iron Age broch, built circa 100 BC to 100 AD, but in the medieval period converted to a rectangular hall. It's on a small island reached by causeway from a larger island, in turn reached by a choice of two causeways. The loch is tidal and the causeways flood at high tide. Free.
- 3 Scolpaig Tower, Scolpaig HS3 5DH (NF 731750 close to A865). 24 hours but access is tidal. An octagonal Georgian folly built circa 1830 (obliterating the broch there) on a small isle that can be reached at low tide. Otherwise you can see it fine from shore, it's derelict within. And they call this small tower a folly, when the council is planning to spend megabucks to turn Scolpaig into a spaceport?? Free.
- 4 Balranald RSPB reserve (west tip of island). 24 hours. Where corncrakes can be heard, if rarely seen. Allow 2 or 3 hours for the circular walk. Free, donations welcome.
- 5 (Baile Sear) is a small tidal island off the southwest coast, connected by road to North Uist. It's a low-lying farmland with good beaches and a couple of B&Bs, and its machair and sandhill habitat make it a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The SSSI extends to the island of Kirkibost, which may once have been joined to Baleshare before being severed by coastal erosion.
- 6 Teampull Na Trionaid (Church of the Holy Trinity), Carinish HS3 5EH (NF 816603 near causeway south to Benbecula). 24 hours. Ruins of a 13th C church and seminary. The Battle of Carinish, fought nearby in 1601, may have been the last battle fought with bows and arrows in Britain. It was part of a feud between Clan Macleod of Dunvegan and Clan Macdonald of Sleat; the Macdonalds won the day and the overall conflict. Free.
- Barpa Langass (NF 838657 on A687 by turnoff for Langass Lodge). 24 hours. A 5000-year-old burial chamber, partly collapsed but you can still enter. There may be two more chambers amidst the rubble. After seeing it, you can walk south past Langass Lodge to reach Pobull Finn. Free.
- Pobull Fhinn (Finn's Tent) (NF 842650 by Langass Lodge). 24 hours. A stone circle, the best on the island, not least for its setting. It's more like an ellipse, and dates to around 2000 BC. After seeing it, you can walk past Langass Lodge then north to reach Barpa Langass. Free.
- 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 Morrison Grocer, Lochmaddy HS6 5AA, ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-18:00. Sells newspapers once they arrive about noon, and groceries including Nisa products. Gulf petrol across the road.
- The Bank of Scotland is 100 yards north of Lochmaddy Hotel. It's open M & F 10:00-16:00 and has an ATM outside.
- 2 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.
- 3 Bayhead Shop, Bayhead HS6 5DS (on SW coast). M-Sa 08:00-18:00. Convenience store.
- 4 Hebridean Smokehouse, Clachan, Locheport HS6 5HD. M-F 08:00-17:30, Sa 09:00-17:00. For excellent smoked salmon and other smokery gifts.
- For evening meals a hotel may be the best option. There is a decent cafe for snacks in Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy.
- 1 Kirkibost Cafe, Claddach Kirkibost HS6 5EP (on the A865 between Westford Inn and Hebridean Smokehouse). M-Sa 10:00-16:00. Good cafe 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.
- The bar in Lochmaddy Hotel is open to non-residents.
- 1 Westford Inn, Kirkibost, North Uist HS6 5EP (main road on southwest coast). Su-Th 12:00-23:00, F 12:00-00:00, Sa 12:00-01:00. Well-stocked friendly inn with good meals. Also has one double room available in "The Bothy", which has variously been a cowshed and a whisky store.
- There are campsites at Clachan Sands (two miles SW of causeway to Berneray), Balranald (west tip of the island), Tractor Shed (SW coast) and Moorcroft (near bridge to Benbecula).
- There are also hostels on Berneray and another on Benbecula.
- B&Bs can be found on the tourist board website, but many are no longer listed there as it involves charges and hassle.
- 1 The Tractor Shed, Paible. Hostel, campervan pitches and camping pods. beds from £22.
- 2 Rushlee House, Lochmaddy HS6 5AE (half a mile north from ferry pier), ☏ . B&B with three double rooms, clean and welcoming. B&B double £80.
- 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.