Outer Hebridean Islands of Scotland
- South Uist and Vatersay
There is a causeway linking South Uist to Benbecula and another from Benbecula to North Uist. South Uist is 22 miles long and 8 miles wide (it is the second largest of the Outer Hebrides) with long sandy beaches on the west and sea lochs cutting deeply into the island on the east. There are over 190 fresh-water lochs providing a paradise for fishermen. The population is now around 2,200 but before the Clearances it stood at 7,300. When the island was bought by Colonel John Gordon of Cluny in 1838 he wanted to clear the land for sheep. He called a public meeting, grabbed around 1,000 from the crowd and put them on a ship anchored in Lochboisdale which then sailed for America.
Ferries to Lochboisdale, at the southern end of the island, run from Mallaig and Oban (on the mainland) and to the island of Barra, further south. But if you "island hop" from Benbecula you will notice the roadside shrines of this Catholic island and the nine-metre-high granite Madonna on the top of Rueval, a northern hill.
Milton on South Uist was the birthplace of Flora MacDonald> who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape, dressed as her maid. The village of Howmore has five chapels, all from the 7th century and all, unfortunately, ruined as a result of the Reformation. In the north of the island is the army rocket firing range. The economic benefit to the island of the range is significant but it does produce a "rush hour" on the road when the soldiers drive to their homes - and a lot of bits of rocket washed up on the beaches!
Lying south of Barra, Vatersay has a Gaelic-speaking population of only 70. It used to be entirely separate from Barra and when cattle were sent to market they had to swim across the Sound of Vattersay. But in 1990, after a prize bull was drowned, a causeway was built, using European Community funding, and a bus service now runs from Castlebay on Barra.
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