Guide to Benbecula in Outer Hebrides in Scotland with suggestions for sights, things to do and places to stay
The Island of Benbecula in Outer Hebrides-Scotland, lies between the islands of Protestant North Uist and Catholic South Uist, to which it is connected by road causeways and bridges. In Gaelic, Benbecula means the "island of the fords" as the island essentially is flat. The tiny island is 5 miles long by 8 miles, and the mountain referred to is "Rueval", a rounded hillock only 126m high. To the east, the land is pitted with freshwater lochs, and to the west lies the main town of Balivanich, a home to army personnel who work on the missile range in South Uist.
The resident population of the island is with a sizable percentage of Roman Catholics. It forms part of the area administered by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar or the Western Isles Council.
History of Benbecula
Benbecula has a long military history. An airfield to the north, built during World War II, became the control centre for the Hebrides rocket range, established during the Cold War and is now Benbecula Airport. Benbecula has historically been a very strong Gaelic-speaking area.
Local Sights & Activities for BenbeculaSightseeing
Things to see and do in Benbecula
Benbecula’s beauty lies in it’s natural surroundings, where anglers and birdwatchers, walkers and backpackers can share a great respect for the land with Benbecula’s crofters and fishermen, and marvel at the stark scenery of the land of the Gael.
Medieval chapel and burial ground on the left-hand side of the road when you are travelling southwards after Balivanich.
Nunton Steadings is a visitor centre which includes a museum, art gallery, cafe, function room, and a shop selling local produce and crafts. Internet access is available. It hosts a variety of events including historical exhibitions and music concerts. Open daily Monday - Saturday. Tel: 01870 603774.
Borve (Buirgh in Gaelic) Castle is a tower-house or hall-house, which was built in the 14th century. At this time, the owners of Benbecula were the Clan Ranald and it is thought that Borve was owned by Ranald, son of John of Islay in the 1370s. It was also owned by another Ranald (known as Ranald of Castellborf) in 1625. Now in ruins, it is located 150 metres from the B892 road visible between 2 houses near Lionacleit. The remains can be seen of a rectangular structure measuring around 15 x 12 metres with very thick walls.
Tourist Information Centres
Open from Easter to October only:
Lochboisdale - Isle of South Uist - Telephone: 01878 700286
Lochmaddy - Isle of North Uist - Telephone: 01876 500321
Open all year is the main office in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis
(telephone: 01851 703088 / fax: 01851 705244).
Car hire: Maclennan Self Drive, Balivanich (Tel. 602191, Fax. 603191); Ask Car Hire, Lionacleit (Tel. 602818, Fax. 602933).
Balivanich (Baile a Mhanaich)
As Benbecula's main settlement, Balivanich in Gaelic means "Town of the Monk" in the northwest. This refers back to the 6th century when there was a monastery here and the ruins of Columba's Church can be found just south of the village. Balivanich is the main administrative centre on the island. A large percentage of the population are Royal Artillery personnel and their families stationed at Baile a Mhanaich (Balivanich), a sprawling army base of utilitarian buildings in the northwest of the island.
Not only is there an airport, but also a relatively large number of shops and amenities, including the only NAAFI supermarket in the UK that's open to the public, a Bank of Scotland (with ATM) and post office. There are worries, however, that the base may be run down or closed, which would have a devastating effect on the local economy.
South to Lionacleit (Liniclate)
The hamlet of Lionacleit is the home of the Uists' main secondary school, which also doubles as a community centre containing a swimming pool, cafeteria, sports facilities, theatre, a small history museum and a library. Info Mon, Tue and Thu 0900-1600, Wed 0900-1230 and 1330-1600, Fri 0900-2000, Sat 1100-1300 and 1400-1600. Free.
Benbecula Hotels & Accommodation
Sleeping & Eating: Accommodation in Benbecula
There are a range of hotels, B&B and self-catering accommodation available on the island. The ones listed in the tourist brochure are now given on the official Western Isles Tourist Board web site.
- Most accommodation is in Lionacleit, including the functional Dark Island Hotel, Tel. 603030, Fax. 602347, which is a lot nicer inside than its name may suggest, and has a good restaurant.
- There's also Inchyra Guest House, Tel. 602176 as well as a couple of B&Bs (both E) and the Shellbay Caravan and Camping Park, Tel. 602447; open Apr-Oct.
- Well recomended is the Borve Guest House at 5 Torlum, Benbecula, run by Mrs Gretta Campbell (Tel. 01870 602 685 / Fax: 01870 603 235). 3 ensuite bedrooms. Scottish Tourist Board 4 Stars. Open all year.
- The Stepping Stone is just opposite the airport entrance and is a nice place to eat. This bright, nicely decorated building with wooden interior houses the Food Base (an informal cafe area where you can get snacks and meals such as scampi/fish and chips) and on the slightly raised level is the licenced restaurant, Sinteag, which is more expensive. Phone 01870 603377.
- Lionacleit Guesthouse and Self-Catering are situated on a 24-acre croft on Benbecula. The guest house offers B&B accommodation with a choice of single, twin, double and family bedrooms. Evening meals can be provided by arrangement. Am Botham provides self catering accomodation for up to 6 (4 adults and 2 children). Tel: 01870 602176
- Glendale B&B is located at the mid point of the circular road round the island of Grimsay with easy access to Benbecula, North and South Uist via the causeways. Overlooks Kallin harbour. Scottish Tourist Board 4 Stars. 3 rooms (double & twin). Contact Katie and Murdo MacLeod. Tel: 01870 602029.
- Uist Cottages have 2 self catering properties on Benbecula. 1 Grimsay Island sleeps 2 and 3 Kyles Flodda sleeps 4.
- Hillview Holiday Cottage (sleeps 4-6 people) has panoramic views and is less than 3 miles from Culla beach on Benbecula. Situated 30 minutes drive from Lochmaddy ferry terminal and 40 minutes from Lochboisdale ferry terminal. Contact Ann & Archie MacLeod. Tel: 01878 700862.
- Taigh-na-Cille bunkhouse run by Mr. Millar at Balivanich (Benbecula) sleeps 8 people. £10 per night. Telephone: 01870 602 522.
- The Shellbay Caravan and Camping Park at Lionacleit can accommodate up to 15 caravans / motorhomes and 15 tents. April-October only. Tel: 01870 602447.
Travel Directions to Benbecula
Travelling in and around Benbecula
Travel to any of the other main Hebridean islands, or to the British mainland, must be done by air or sea.
a) By Air
b) Ferry Services
There are no direct ferry services from Benbecula to the mainland, but a service operated by Caledonian MacBrayne from Lochboisdale on South Uist provides a five-hour crossing to Oban on the mainland, whilst another service from Lochmaddy on North Uist provides a two-hour crossing to Uig on the Inner Hebridean island of Skye, and hence to the mainland via the Skye Bridge. Ferry services from the islands of Berneray (linked by causeway to North Uist) and Eriskay (linked to South Uist) connect to the other Outer Hebridean islands of Harris and Barra respectively.
c) Road Services
The island is connected by causeways to both North and South Uist, and there are local service buses travelling to and from Lochmaddy and Lochboisdale pass through the villages of Balivanich, Lionacleit (Liniclate) and Creag Ghoraidh (Creagorry). There are also regular island buses which run between these settlements. Car hires are also available.
Getting around Benbecula
It takes your time to explore the island, or perhaps even run around it for the brilliant Benbecula Half Marathon, you'll appreciate that it's really a beautiful island. With a landscape of small islands and islets, well spaced out cottages, interesting monuments and historic remains, machair lands and vast expanses of shallow sandy bays, which when the light is right and the waters still, make for an unforgettable scene.