Tuesday, 29 July 2014

South Uist (4) North Uist (2) Benbecula (3) Eriskay (5) Berneray (6)

These islands are relatively flat in comparison with Skye and the northern Western Isles but wherever you are, distant mountains feature somewhere on the horizon. The islands stretch across the rim of the North Atlantic like a huge breakwater being home to a large variety of seabirds, seals, otters, dolphins, and whales.
This archipelago of islands features lots of fresh water lochs covered in small wild white water lilies, the roots of which supply a brown colouring to dye the wool used in Harris tweed cloth. 
Around the coast are sea water lochs which penetrate for several miles inland. These are lined with amber coloured sea kelp which the Crofters gather and mix with cattle dung to fertilise the land. 
Moors, bogs, beaches and interesting geological rocks combine to create some magical scenery. 
The area behind the dunes is called the Machair - a rare bio diverse coastal grassland with a total global area of just 19,000 hectares - 70% of which occurs in this Western Scottish area. Machair forms when sand with a very high shell content is blown landwards by prevailing westerly winds, creating a fertile low lying plain. Shell sand is calcareous - lime rich. It sweetens the peaty soil of the islands while facilitating drainage and warming in the spring. Although bleak through the dark winter months, the Machair is transformed during late spring and summer with the coming of the long hours of daylight into a spectacular floral display alive with insects and birds.
The crofters show a determined resilience by making full use of what nature supplies. For generations they have cut peat to warm their homes through the cold dark winter months. Timing and duration of the peat season is weather dependent but tends to begin in April with turfing - the removal of the first few mossy, heathery inches. Cutting the actual peat begins in May, and the skilled knowledge of how to cut and stack is handed down from generation to generation. Once drying is completed the stacks outside the home resemble upturned boats.
The islands are predominantly either Roman Catholic or Presbyterian. South Uist and Barra being the last remnant of native pre-reformation Scottish Catholicism, and the islands of Lewis and Harris are dominated by the Calvinist 'free church', they have been described as the last bastion of Sabbath observance in the UK.
Gaelic is the spoken language, although in a few areas English speakers form a majority.
A recently opened causeway now links Eriskay to South Uist - this beach on Eriskay is where Bonnie Prince Charlie came ashore on the 23rd July 1745, almost 269 years to the day that we too stood on this beach - it was his last attempt to reinstate the Stuart dynasty. 
the hills on the island of Barra
When I first began blogging I did a post which explains the reasons why we would have liked to visit Barra which I will show next time

44 comments:

  1. I am enjoying going on tour with you, Rosemary. The scenery is as beautiful and wild as imagined. And I think the statue is particularly unusual and beautiful. Looking forward to the next episode, thank you.

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    1. I am pleased that we finally got around to doing this trip Patricia. My understanding of our country has grown with this experience.

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  2. Lots of oooo's and awwww's here. Just wonderful. xx

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    1. Lovely to hear from you Suzy - I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the post.

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  3. My Mac Vicars came from North Uist generations ago. Have always wanted to go there. Great blog post Rosemary..and photos.

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    1. I know that many from North Uist left during the Highland Clearances and went to settle on Cape Breton and Nova Scotia. There used to be around 5,000 people living on North Uist pre-clearance and now the population has dwindled to just over a 1,000 people. I am glad that you enjoyed the post, and hope that one day you may have the opportunity to visit the land of your ancestors.

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  4. Faktycznie ...różnorodność tak a jest bardzo magiczną scenerią , ślicznie .
    Pozdrawiam serdecznie:)

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    1. Dziękujemy za odwiedziny - Cieszę się, że jesteś bardzo zadowoleni widząc dekoracje wyspa

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  5. Hello Rosemary, Scenes like these seem like something found only in history. It is amazing that people are still leading an archaic and continuous lifestyle amid these surroundings.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - I do believe that for some this is now becoming a lifestyle of choice - leaving the bandwagon behind and getting off the rat race. Of course they do have the modern amenities, broadband which I think is rather slow, and all of the usual facilities. Peat cutting is definitely back on the agenda as a result of the economic recession.

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  6. It is so beautiful, and your post is just fascinating Rosemary! xx

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    1. Thank you very much Amy, I am so pleased that you found it fascinating, I appreciate your kind comment.

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  7. Another fantastic post the scenery looks amazing. I would have loved to visit those islands too! As you say it must get very bleak during the winter. We went into an old croft on Skye where the peat was being burnt. It was a very smoky atmosphere inside but we liked the smell. Thank you for the second comment. I did get your first one but I hadn't got around to publishing it before you had returned! Sarah x

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    1. Thanks Sarah - sorry I was too quick off the mark, and am always ready to accuse blogger, falsely as it appears this time.
      I am pleased that you enjoying seeing the photos from the trip, one that hopefully you may make yourself at some time in the future.

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  8. Dear Rosemary,
    such a wild vast landscape in beautiful colours! Scotland is blessed with beautiful light, nature and colours. Thank you for showing us these exquisite photos - pure magic!

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    1. What a lovely comment Britta and thank you. You are right, there is something very special about the light in Scotland that weaves its magic all over the landscape.

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  9. Absolutely beautiful. Those beaches are just stunning, what fantastic colours.

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    1. It is certainly a place where you can get away from it all, and enjoy entire beaches all to yourself.

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  10. Hi Rosemary
    Your pictures and account of life on the islands gets better and better. I hope Scottish Tourism pick up your story.
    There is such a wonderful aroma from a peat turf fire and also wonderful heat

    Helenxx

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    1. Hello Helen - so delighted that you are enjoying the account of life on the islands - it was something that we had been thinking about doing for a long time, and I am pleased that we finally got around to going.
      We experienced a peat fire, which I shall be mentioning soon!

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  11. I always enjoy visiting, and going along for the tour...
    Gorgeous countryside....wonderful beaches....thanks!
    Cheers!
    Linda :o)

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    1. Thank you Linda, I am very happy to have you joining along with me - the beaches are pristine and completely empty apart from the wild life - paradise islands.

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  12. Dear Rosemary,

    I've read about Barra and how small airplanes fly in and land on a beach. I think that in itself would be exciting!

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    1. There are only three places you can fly to in the Outer Hebrides - the Islands of Lewis, Benbecula, and Barra - Barra is said to be the most unusual airport in the world. As you mentioned the plane lands on the beach between tides - at high tide the runway disappears beneath the waves. The islanders do need access to the mainland quickly and especially in cases of emergency. Now that you have reminded me perhaps I will fly to Barra at some stage in the future and fulfil my wish!

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  13. This looks so haunting, a land "of the sea," everything shaped by this one dominant element. I imagine you can taste the water in the air. You must have to be comfortable being alone with your thoughts.

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    1. Perhaps people that grow up on remote islands have different concepts to those of us on the mainland. Their year is much more governed by the seasons and the weather. When it is a very bright day on the islands the sun is extremely hot because the air is so pure.

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  14. These Austere landscape of Scottish isles looks oddly familiar to me though I don’t know why. I love it. Thank you for sharing, Rosemary.

    Yoko

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    1. May be it seems familiar because of paintings - the islands and highlands are beloved of painters. It is certainly a landscape of peace and quiet and a place to recharge your inner batteries.

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  15. I do like that white cottage, it looks so cute. The scenery is lovely and I expect covered in snow in winter...

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    1. Curiously enough the islands do not get very snowy - mostly just a scattering. The sea all around them tempers the climate making the islands one of the warmest places at that particular latitude. However, I should imagine that the winds can be very bitter.

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  16. Reading this post . I close my eyes and it reminds me of the books I have read about the Stuarts.
    Such a bleak landscape.
    I can imagine, that some of the people living there, have never left.
    The names of the little islands are so interesting. Names I have never heard of, until now.
    Your photos are stunning Rosemary.
    Most enjoyable post.
    Enjoy the rest of your holidays..
    val x

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    1. Dear Val - travelling to the Outer Hebrides has been a trip that we have both wished to do for some time and it did not disappoint. We saw and enjoyed so many interesting aspects including the natural life, the magnificent scenery and its history.

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  17. I've missed so much over the past month - but your blog is one with which I like to caught up, as there is always so much of interest. My father's father's family came from Uist to Cape Breton in the 1700's. Amazing as it may seem, they spoke the Gaelic until my dad's generation, and kept the pipe music as it was so long ago - so clearly that a couple of years ago my brother was asked to go back to teach pibroch and the old tunes, and to write down the music.

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    1. I am delighted that this post has resonated with you Pondside - during the 1700s life must have been extremely tough on the islands especially with all the turmoil surrounding the Jacobite uprisings and battles that were going on.
      When you say your brother was asked to go back to teach pibroch, was that to Uist? I wondered too if you have visited yourself?

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    2. No, I have never visited. I will have to find out exactly where he went - I only know that it was in the islands. Now I am very curious! One of my sisters leaves on Froday to visit there and I am a little envious!

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    3. I hope that you have the opportunity to visit someday, I think that it would give you a strong sense of your heritage. It was certainly a revelation to us and helped us to understand just how remote the islands must have been before the advent of ferries, and causeways.

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  18. The islands look beautiful Rosemary. There is still so much space and the nature....it must be overwhelming when visiting.

    Wishing you a lovely evening!

    Madelief x

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    1. It is certainly a very special and unique area to visit Madelief and we are glad that we made the long journey up to see them.

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    1. Thank you Mike glad that you enjoyed seeing it.

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  20. Such a beautiful place ! Gorgeous photos. Rosemary !

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment Dani - it was a lovely visit to the islands in the Outer Hebrides.

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  21. Islands of strong contrasts, which come across very clearly in your post, Rosemary. I remember enjoying the series of An Island Parish which featured the roman Catholic priest on Barra. I also saw a fascinating TV series on the wildlife of the Hebrides which has a long section on the Machair, which i'd never heard of before then. Your photos are wonderful as always.

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    1. The Machair was knew to me Perpetua, they do say travel broadens the mind, and we learnt so much on the trip. As a result I now feel that I now have a better concept of that corner of Britain.

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