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Isle At The Edge Of The Sea

North Uist's ancient landscape of golden beaches, freshwater lochs, wild moorlands
and Neolithic artifacts is a one-of-a-kind escape.


North Uist is 17 miles long by 12 miles wide, but time and tide have shattered the island into thousands of pieces. Sea and freshwater lochs twist and intermingle in a mad maze through peat-covered moorlands surrounded by gently rounded hills and rich, fertile machair grasslands that blaze with wildflowers in the soft Atlantic spring.

Lochmaddy, the terminus for the ferries from Skye, is a tiny cluster of neat houses, clinging precariously to the bay, as though constantly surprised at having successfully survived centuries of turbulent Scottish history. The harbour once boasted upwards of 300 fishing vessels. Medieval pirates sought shelter and provisions at Lochmaddy during murderous forays in the Minch. Vikings called the village home, stroking dragon-headed longships through the broken Hebridean waters to shores crowded with waiting women and ragged, cheering children.

The village is a quieter place today and is the main population centre of the island's 1,200 inhabitants. A primary school serves the needs of little ones before they are thrust into the world of secondary education at the senior school on Benbecula, where there is also a hospital. There is a single church on the island, the Free Church, ministered by the Rev. David Blunt, and clustered around Lochmaddy are the old courthouse, now a B&B, a tourist information centre by the ferry terminal, the village store/post office, the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre, and, nearby, the Uist Outdoor Centre.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2012 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos: © P. Tomkins / VisitScotland / Scottish Viewpoint