Short visitor guide to the island of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland...
Phone code: + 44 (0) 1876
The low-lying island of Bearnaraigh, now connected by a new causeway, is famous as the place where Prince Charles spent a holiday helping out on a croft. It's also the birthplace of the giant Angus MacAskill. Its real attraction, though, apart from the splendid isolation, is the three-mile-long sandy beach along its north and west coast. A Western Isles Walks booklet for Bearnaraigh, available from Lochmaddy TIC, describes an enjoyable eight-mile walk around the island visiting all the main places of interest including the 16th-century gunnery at Baile, the beaches and machair of the north and west coast, and archaeological sites dating from the Viking period near Borgh.
Local Sights & Activities for Berneray
Around the island
The real charms of North Uist are its fabulous beaches on the north and west coasts. Heading anti-clockwise from Lochmaddy, the A865 runs northwest, passing the turning for Otternish and Bearnaraigh (see above), which is now connected to North Uist by a causeway. It continues west through the township of Sollas (Solas), where there are a couple of B&Bs, and then past the beautiful sands of Bhalaigh (Vallay) Strand. Near the northwestern tip of the island is Scolpaig Tower, standing on an islet in Loch Scolpaig, a 'folly' built for famine relief in the 19th century.
Three miles south of here is the turning to Balranald RSPB Reserve, an area of rocky coast, sandy beaches and dunes, machair and lochs. The reserve is ideal for bird watching, especially waders. A two-hour guided walk along the headland allows you to see Manx shearwaters, gannets, skuas and storm petrels, and during the summer you can listen out for the distinctive rasping call of the corncrake, one of the rarest birds in Britain. There's a basic visitor centre, which is open April-September.
In Ceann a Bhaigh is the Uist Animal Visitors Centre, where you can see Highland cattle and other rare native breeds, as well as more exotic species such as llamas. Info Mon-Sat 1000-2200. Adult £2.
Clachan na Luib
The road continues south to Clachan na Luib, at the crossroads of the A865 and A867 which heads east back to Lochmaddy. There's a post office and general store, and a few miles south, at Cladach a Bhaile Shear (Claddach-baleshare) is F Taigh Mo Sheannair, Tel. 580246, a renovated crofthouse on a working farm which offers good hostel accommodation all year round, rents out bicycles and has space for camping
Offshore is the tidal island of Baile Sear (Baleshare), now connected by a causeway to North Uist, with its three-mile long beach on the west coast. A further five miles west are the Monach Isles (also known by their old Norse name of Heisker), which were once connected to North Uist at low tide, until the 16th century when a huge tidal wave swept away the sand bridge, thus isolating them. Even so, the islands were still populated until as recently as the 1930s. Now they are populated by the largest breeding colony of grey seals in Europe.
South of Clachan na Luib
South of Clachan, the road runs past Cairinis (Carinish) over a series of causeways to the little-visited lobster-fishing island of Griomasaigh (Grimsay), before heading across another causeway to Benbecula. There's accommodation at C Temple View Hotel, Tel. 580676; and B&B at E Bonnieview, Tel. 580211, Near Cairinis is Feith na Fala, or Field of Blood, site of the last battle fought in Scotland solely with swords and bows and arrows, in 1601, between the MacDonalds of Sleat and Macleods of Harris. The bloodshed was provoked by one of the MacDonalds divorcing his Macleod wife. When 60 Skye Macleods set off to North Uist to wreak revenge, they were met by 16 MacDonalds who literally chopped them to pieces, proving that divorce was a messy affair even then.
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Berneray Hotels & Accommodation
There are a couple of options for those wishing to stay. You can share the prince's crofting experience with Donald (Splash) MacKillop at Burnside Croft, Tel. 01876 540235, who also offers cycle hire and stories round the fire for evening entertainment. There's also a Gatliff Trust Hostel (12 beds, no phone, open all year) in two restored blackhouses overlooking a lovely sandy beach and old Viking pier about a mile up the east coast from the old ferry pier.
There are a couple of places to stay near Balranald: in Hogha Gearraidh (Houghgarry), overlooking the beautiful beach, is E Mrs Kathy Simpson, Tel. 510312; and in Ceann a Bhaigh (Bayhead), a few miles to the south, is E-F Mrs Morag Nicholson, Tel. 510395.