Berneray Travel Guide and History Information
The most northerly of the Uists, Berneray is among the most beautiful islands of the Hebrides, famed for its magnificent West Beach, which stretches for over three miles along the island's west coast. The white sand of West Beach is composed of tiny particles of seashells, to create a shining stretch of seaside splendour that would make popular Caribean resorts envious.
The most famous native of Berneray was the Giant MacAskill, who grew to over 7'9" in height. Angus MacAskill was famed as the tallest 'non-pathological' giant alive (that is, his height was not due to any disease or malformation), and his fame attracted none other than Queen Victoria to seek an audience. The Berneray giant was born in 1825 and died in Cape Breton, Canada, in 1863.
A monument to MacAskill stands at the edge of the sea, just west of the cemetery at the south end of the island. To reach the monument, take the road past the community hall towards the cemetery and park at a parking area near the southwestern tip of the island. From there a path leads to the monument by the cliffs looking south towards North Uist.
Unlike many of the Uists, there are few ancient structures on Berneray. Of those that exist by far the most striking is an 8' high standing stone on the heights of Beinn a' Claidh (Hill of the Graveyard). There is evidence of a small stone circle surrounding the stone. A signed footpath leads from the Community Hall car park, across the slope of the hill to the stone, and continues on to join the main road at the south-west of the island.
At Bays Loch, just north-west of the harbour, a seal colony often basks on the rocks and otters can sometimes be seen. On the north side of Bays Loch a set of traditional blackhouses have been converted into a popular hostel. Nearby is the oldest house on Berneray, The Gunnery, home to a 17th-century knight named Sir Norman MacLeod. MacLeod fought at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, on the side of the future King Charles II. The MacLeod coat of arms is etched on a stone lintel over the door of this late medieval building.
Just north of the Gunnery is a ruined church designed by famed Scottish engineer Thomas Telford. The Telford church has two entrances, one for the islanders and a second for inhabitants of Pabbay, who would row to Berneray for services.
A waymarked circular walk leads from the end of the road at East Beach, across the north of the island to West Beach, and follows the machair along the beach until it cuts across the southern end of the island once more to the community hall. The walk is just over 7 miles in length and takes in many of the best sights on Berneray.