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Isle of Berneray (Scotland)

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It is the southernmost of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland.

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      23.01.2009 13:09
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      A Place To Reflect And A Place To Stop.

      10 years ago when I first discovered the Outer Hebrides I can't even begin to describe the magical time I spent on the Island of Berneray. The white powder clouds were sitting like meringue above the turquoise horizon, and the clouds in the foreground were reflecting onto the small pools left by the ebbing tide. The only thing I could hear was the sound of the waves as they came in, and retreated along the crescent moon shaped beach of pure golden sand. I thought I was in heaven.

      Berneray is a small island which lies off the coast of North Uist in The Western Isles of Scotland. It is 2 miles by 3 and has a population of 125 people who are crofting, fishing, working on the ferry which links the island to Harris, and in newer home working and internet based businesses.

      When I first went there the island was only accessible by ferry which was weather dependant. I remember our first visit because we had to reverse onto the small ferry in dreadful weather. The waves were lashing over the tyres and accuracy was imperative. Good job Rob(hubby) was driving or I think we may have been submerged! It added to the excitement of the holiday, but it was making life very difficult for the residents, not to mention expensive as getting on and off to do basic errands was often fraught with stress, as ferries had to be cancelled due to weather conditions. Part of the forward planning in The Western Isles generally is to stop the gradual trend of depopulation by linking as many of these remote communities which make up the chain of islands so helping employment opportunities. So in 1999 it was to the great delight of many that a new causeway was opened by Prince Charles who has a love for the island having stayed there on a croft.It is working as the island has seen a gradual increase in population.

      The causeway which cost 6.6 million is a road of great beauty reached by a spectacular drive along the single track road through the coastal area of Newtonferry on North Uist. It offers dramatic views and on stormy days is a place to watch waves and to gaze in awe at this giant mega structure. The causeway was built with the addition of otter culverts and it is always comforting to see the sign "Beware Otters" which makes you feel you are entering a place of outstanding natural beauty, which lies before you, behind you, and everywhere you look.

      The thing about Berneray is the way the sky is forever. You can see the horizon in every direction, and it is a place where the beauty of the landscape is only overshadowed by the friendliness of the people, who go out of their way to make you feel welcome.

      As you drive onto the island the road first passes the Eastern side which is where the majority of the population live. The houses are clustered together around the bay called Bays Loch and here you can watch seals playing on the rocks. These are actually Common Seals, though not actually that common anymore, but here they bob up and down in the water, and bask on the rocks in the sun. The road leading to the main settlement passes the Lobster Pot tearoom and Ardmaree Stores, which I must mention. This is a wonderful well stocked supermarket and the little café which sits at the side serves delicious meals and snacks all day long. Try the passion cake- it is to die for! You will often be visited by a local gull that knocks on the window to get attention!

      As the road snakes around the main bay it passes the building known as Nurses Cottage. Here in the summer you can pop in for any advice and information, and otter walks run from here in the summer which are excellent and teach you how to become a better otter spotter.

      As the road continues round it passes the Gatliff Trust. This is a hostel which consists of two blackhouses which have been converted to accommodate those who want to see Berneray on a budget. These little cottages are a step back in time and have stunning views and are great for students. There are also many cottages to rent on the island.

      A short walk over to the west beach takes you to a machair lined fringe of white sand which is backed by flowers on summer of every colour. It is a carpet of flowers. If you sit in it it is unlike anything else it is absolutely breathtaking. Corn marigolds. poppies. buttercups. orchids. it is a floral jigsaw which has every piece you can imagine. and in July it is out of this world. The beach is often deserted and you can walks for hours in peace and solitude for over 4 miles.

      In the summer there is so much daylight. It stays light until almost 11pm and the sun is rising again in the early hours, but in the winter it stays dark until 9am and light fades fast after lunch, but you can get a glimpse of the "Northern Lights" if the weather conditions are right.

      When my children were junior school age they adored this place. We took them at different seasons so they could experience all the year there. In the winter it is sometimes a case of peering out of casement windows, watching drops of rain running in little rivers inside by the warmth of the fire. We have had some lovely family times in these islands over Christmas when you can effectively escape the trappings of commercialism and experience the "board game" revival. It's funny how hours spent in cottages by the sea brings out the fun, and the family laugh and joke in a carefree way they sometimes don't. We had the game "Masterpiece" an old game in which you buy and sell paintings. With the rain on the window and the logs crackling in the fire it is really a winter break which cements families together.

      By the early spring we would visit and watch crofters planting potatoes and collecting seaweed from the shoreline to use as fertiliser. Sometimes the wind is so severe you have to fight to stand and still the crofters toil to get the maximum growing season. By May the birds have their young and as they are all ground nesting they appear in the distance following their parents, and you may see an elusive rare corncrake.

      The summer brings the flowers and the tourists and the sight of roof boxes give them away as they drive along the island -not many though, just a few hardy souls. This is when we would walk along the beach for hours watching and collecting little shells in buckets. My daughters adored this and would walk along happily with their bright yellow pales swinging backwards and forwards in time with their happy steps.


      www.isleofberneray.com - Berneray Community Website
      www.calmac.co.uk - for details of Caledonian MacBrayne ferry crossings Uig (on Skye) to Lochmaddy is the nearest and then it's a short drive
      www.gatliff.org.uk - The Gatliff Trust, which runs Berneray Hostel
      www.w-isles.gov.uk/travel - for details of bus services to Berneray
      www.visithebrides.com - information about The Hebrides in general
      www.flybe.com- flights to Benbecula which is the nearest airport and then an hour or so to drive afterwards.

      This review has been enhanced and published on Ciao with photographs under my user name Violet1278.

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