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Island of the week: South Uist

South Uist. Picture: Robert Perry

South Uist. Picture: Robert Perry

  • by REBECCA MONKS
 

THIS week we’re exploring South Uist in the Outer Hebrides.

LOCATION: Outer Hebrides

POPULATION: 1,818

GAELIC NAME: Uibhist a Deas

MEANING: From ‘inni-vist’ - Old Norse for ‘dwelling’

HISTORY

The island’s name is said to derive from Old Norse meaning ‘dwelling’, which strongly suggests that Viking settlers saw South Uist as home in 800 AD. Though there is little other evidence to confirm their long occupation, it is known that the island was host to the last battle between the Vikings and the people of the islands.

Further evidence of South Uist’s ancient past can be found across the island, from the remains of Duns and forts to the Neolithic and iron age settlements that have been discovered.

In the 1800s vast shoals of herrings also made South Uist their home, and could be found off the coast of island. Herring salting plants at Lochboisdale and Loch Skiport commanded a large workforce, and it was around this time that the population of the island began to grow.

Though South Uist was the first island in the Hebrides to grow potatoes after they were introduced in 1743, this did not stop widespread famine from occurring in the late 18th century. When the potato blight came many people died of starvation.

By the 1840s, the Hebrides were undergoing a period of ‘clearances’, during which time landlords were clearing towns of tenants, believing that sheep were preferable to men. Many islanders were forced to emigrate to survive. This forged a strong connection between the islands and the Commonwealth. As a result, many place names in the Uists can be linked back to locations in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada.

WHAT TO DO

If you are interested in learning more about the history of the island, then it is worth a trip to Kildonan museum. A wide selection of artefacts are on display, including the Clanranald Stone, which is believed to have been carved in the 16th century.

The island is also home to Ormacleit Castle, a ruined mansion house which was built by Allan MacDonald in the early eighteenth century.

South Uist’s natural beauty makes it the perfect location for long outdoor walks. The island is known for its long stretch of white shell beaches, which run along the coast for 20 miles.

Alternatively, the Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve is the perfect place to enjoy a winter walk. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the self-guided trail, where rare birds such as the Golden eagle, hen harrier and merlin are often spotted.

HOW TO GET THERE

There is no direct flight to the island, but the Caledonian Macbrayne Car Ferry leaves from Oban on a daily basis and arrives at Lochboisdale, on South Uist.

 

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