The Island of South Uist - Uibhist a Deas
Part of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, South Uist is the second largest of the islands in the Western Isles, measuring some 22 miles north to south and 7 miles from east to west. South Uist has over 20 miles of brilliant white shell beaches running continuously down the west coast. The geography is divided into a series of north-south strips, each running the length of the island. The west coast faces onto the Atlantic and comprises around 20 miles of beach, broken only by a headland at the half-way point. East again is a strip containing a vast number of small fresh water lochans, and a series of dispersed crofting townships.
The incredible machair lands and dunes alongside these beaches are brimming with flowers and wildlife such as corncrakes and otters. Long and linear, the east coast of South Uist is composed of fjordic inlets and bays. The Loch Druidibeg Nature reserve is a fantastic day out on a crisp winter's day.
South Uist has a community who preserve their Hebridean traditions. In this laidback, friendly island, community crofting activities like peat cutting, wool dying and seaweed gathering are still part of everyday life.
The island is home to the annual Ceòlas arts festival, promoting music, and song from the Uists as well as Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Students from around the world travel to South Uist each summer to learn from some of the most respected and talented teachers in the Gaelic Arts community.
There is a nature reserve and a number of sites of archaeological interest, including the only location in Great Britain where prehistoric mummies have been found. The island, in common with the rest of the Hebrides, is one of the last remaining strongholds of the Gaelic language in Scotland.
In 2006 South Uist, and neighboring Benbecula and Eriskay were involved in Scotland's biggest community land buyout to date. In the north west there is a missile testing range. Its inhabitants are known in Gaelic as "Deasaich" (Southerners).
South Uist stayed overwhelmingly Catholic after the Reformation, and it remains a focus of Gaelic culture to this day: despite the efforts over the centuries of Governments and landowners as late as the end of the 1800s to suppress the language, culture and religion of the island. And in the 1840s clearance to make room for sheep grazing led to many of the residents being evicted and forcibly shipped off to Canada.
South Uist is a treasure trove of archaeological sites pertaining to the Lords of the Isles and the MacDonalds of Clanranald. It is therefore no surprise that South Uist also contains considerable Clan MacMhuirich history as well. The ruins of the MacMhuirich blackhouse at Stilligarry are still quite visible. In old Gaelic, the site was known as "Baile nam Bàrd" or "township of the Bard." Stilligarry will be the site of future archaeological initiatives led by the Clan Currie Society.
As part of the Clan Gathering weekend, an archaeological test trench will be excavated at the site under the supervision of Western Isles Council Archaeologist Deborah Anderson. The dig will help illustrate the type of work which will be carried out at the site in years to come.
Clan members will also be invited to participate in the building of a memorial cairn (monument) at the Stilligarry site to commemorate the many generations of MacMhuirich bards who made South Uist their home while serving as principal poets to the MacDonalds of Clanranald.
At Ormacleit are the ruins of Ormacleit Castle. This was one of the last castles built in Scotland, being finished in 1708. It was also one of the shortest-lived, being burned down in an accidental fire in 1715. In nearby Benbecula, history buffs can visit the ruins of Borve Castle. Another MacDonald stronghold, Borve was occupied from approximately 1370 to 1725.
Also worth visiting is the village of Howmore (Tobha Mor) with its ancient Clanranald cemetery, and the Kildonan Museum. In more recent times, it was from South Uist that famed Jacobite heroine, Flora MacDonald rowed Bonnie Prince Charlie “Over the Sea to Skye” as he made his escape from English forces after the Battle of Culloden.
In addition to great history and culture, South Uist has also become something of a mecca for the serious links golfer. The recently-restored Askernish Golf Course, originally laid out by Old Tom Morris around 1890, was beautifully restored in 2005.
South Uist is now linked to the Isle of Eriskay by a causeway: an indoor highlight on Eriskay is the pub, restaurant and guesthouse, "Am Politician" named after the real cargo ship full of whisky that sank off the Isle of Eriskay back in the 1940s: Compton Mackenzie's inspiration for his fantastic novel, Whisky Galore. South Uist is notable for its views and range of walks: you can find yourself strolling through a deserted blackhouse village in an empty valley one day and then experiencing dramatic cliffs and coastal coves the next.
Links to learn more about South Uist:
A South Uist Photo Gallery