North Uist Travel Guide and History
Over half the total area of North Uist is underwater. Lest you start drawing comparisons between North Uist and the lost kingdom of Atlantis, let me reassure you; the water in question is contained in lochs. Lots of them, most rich with salmon and trout. The land is mostly low lying, with several large hills, most notably Eaval, in the east of the island.
The largest settlement is Lochmaddy, where the ferry from Uig comes in, but none of the settlements on North Uist can really be called large. This is the Hebrides, and houses tend to be scattered over large areas, rather than clustered in villages like you would find on the mainland. There is one main road around the exterior of the island, like a great circle, though the circle is cut almost in half by a minor road known as the Committee Road, created as a makework project to counter unemployment.
North Uist is joined to Berneray to the north and Benbecula and Grimsay to the south by causeways.
There are several main historical sites to visit on the island, plus lots of other interesting places that don't quite make it onto our 'must-see' list. On that list, however, are the twin sites of Barpa Langass chambered cairn and Pobull Fhinn stone circle. I call them twin not because they are joined in any archaeological sense, but because they are located so close together that you can easily stroll between the two. Indeed, there is a signed walk enabling you to do just that. Barpa Langass is one of the best preserved Neolithic burial sites in the Western Isles, and it is easily accessible just off the main A867 south of Lochmaddy. Just over the hill from the cairn is the stone circle of Pobull Fhinn, or 'Finn's People', a reference to the Gaelic hero Finn MacCool.
South of Pobull Fhinn and Barpa Langass is Teampull Trionaid, or Trinity Chapel, a ruined church thought to have been founded by the daughter of Somerled, Lord of the Isles. Near the chapel is the site of the Battle of Cairinis (1601), the last battle in Scotland fought entirely with bows and arrows, and swords. On the east coast is Balranald RSPB reserve, a wonderful area of machair coastal grassland and beach, home to a wide variety of wading birds. In the north west corner of the island is Scolpaig Tower, a Victorian folly on an island, built atop an Iron Age dun.
At the extreme north of the island is a real dun, Dun an Sticir, joined to the mainland by a series of causeways and smaller islands. Dun an Sticir is thought to be an ancient ceremonial and administrative centre, similar to Finlaggan, on Islay. Scattered about the interior of the island are other, slightly less accessible prehistoric monuments, including a standing stone at Beinn a' Charra, and a Neolithic tomb at Uneaval.
Quick links to major historic attractions on North Uist:
- Dun an Sticir historic island fort
- Beinn a' Charra standing stone
- Scolpaig Tower
- Trinity Chapel
- Barpa Langass chambered cairn
- Pobull Fhinn stone circle
- Dun Aonghais island fort
- Kilphedder Cross ancient cross
- Balranald RSPB nature reserve
- South Clettreval Chambered Cairn