I first discovered Berneray a few years ago during a 2-day trip to North Uist. We hadnt planned to visit, but the newly built causeway linking Berneray to North Uist persuaded us to explore. I really had no idea what to expect and had never even heard of Bearneray. I discovered the most stunning scenery imaginable and a way of life I thought had long since disappeared. But before I share the delights of the place with you here are some practicalities-
Getting there and around
Getting to a remote island off the western coast of Scotland is, as you would expect, a bit of a trek. Berneray lies in the sound of Harris between North Uist and Harris. With an area of just 10.1 square kilometres you would hardly notice it looking on a map. Berneray is the only inhabited island in the sound of Harris.
There are several ways to get to Berneray. We have always taken a ferry from Skye and then driven over the causeway. The only ferry is operated by Caledonian McBrayne (Calmac). Ferries leave from Uig on the Isle of Skye to Lochmaddy, North Uist. From here it is 10 miles to Bearneray.
The ferry also runs from the Isle of Harris to Berneray. The fare is not cheap at £64 for a car £13.95 per adult, children from 5-15 pay half fare. There are concessions for those who have a disability. Prices go up in the summer. There are 1-2 sailing a day and the crossing takes just under 2 hours.
I have always enjoyed the ferry crossing. There is a good soft play area for children and a restaurant serving both snacks and full meals. The staff have always been really friendly and helpful. The crossing can often be rough in this part of the world, you have been warned! If you would like more information call Calmac on 01876-500337.
If you dont fancy the ferry crossing then it is possible to fly from Glasgow to either Barra or Benbecula . There are 1-2 flights daily operated by British airways. The flight to either location takes about an hour and will set you back about £130.It is possible to hire a car at either location. Bearneray is then a short drive to the north.
If you would like to visit without a car then it is possible by bus from Glasgow to Uig. There are busses to Bearneray from Lochmady. Alternatively you could go by train from either Fort William or Mallaig and then by bus to Uig. If you do decide to use public transport then remember there are no busses on the islands on Sundays.
Berneray is only 2 miles long and 3 miles wide so it is possible to manage well without using a car. Berneray is the idea place to use bikes to get around. Bike hire is available from Morrisons cycle hire (01876-580211) in Lochmaddy, North Uist. There are only 2 single-track roads on the island. One leads from the causeway up the east coast of the island. The other goes through the Borve Township.
Whats the island like?
We have always arrived on Berneray by crossing the causeway from North Uist. Built in 1999, the causeway has made the island a lot more accessible. Berneray has a very distinctive landscape with traditional crofts and cottages scattered around the island.
Most of the 123 inhabitants live on the east coast of the island. The majority of the population are either employed in farming or fishing. Berneray is a low-lying island and where ever you are on the island the sea is always in view.
The north and west coast has the most beautiful, 3-mile long, white sand beach that I have ever seen. Reached by driving along a rough track through farmland the beach is backed by machair that grows along the sand dunes. The machair flowers during the summer making the whole place a mass of colour. The sand dunes backing the beach give it a very remote feel. If you visit remember that the dunes are not only protected but also dangerous, so dont let children climb on them! We have spent hours on the beach and have only ever seen 1 other person. The mountains on Harris are visible from the beach adding to its stunning setting. There is a small car parking area complete with a picnic bench too. This really is the perfect place to bring children.
What is there to do?
I have already described the beach but Berneray has more to offer. We love the peace and isolated feel of Berneray and that is probably the reason most people visit.
If you fancy getting even closer to the sea then it is possible to take a boat trip around the island. Trips leave from the harbour on the east coast. If you are interested then call 01876-540289 for more information. It is also possible to arrange longer trips from Berneray to visit the uninhabited island of St Kilda.
Berneray has its own information centre staffed by volunteers. It is open from June until September and situated near to the causeway.
If you are interested in wildlife then this island has a lot to offer. Otters can often be spotted here and we once watched a family of otters playing on the west beach, a truly magical experience. There are also numerous seals, sea birds and other rarer birds to see. Greyleg geese are a common sight here.
If you like walking then you will enjoy the circular walk of the island. It will take you about 4 hours, remember to take warm clothing and waterproofs as the weather can change quickly.
Berneray has several historical sights worth looking at. There is evidence to show it has been inhabited since Viking times. There is a stone circle just past the seal viewing car park thought to have been the centre of sun worship. Another large standing stone can be seen above the only shop. At 8 feet high it was thought to have be an ancient meeting place.
From Berneray it is easy to travel across the causeway to North Uist and down to South Uist if you want a change of scenery.
Accommodation and eating.
For such a small island there are several options if you would like to stay .At the cheapest end is the beautifully situated thatched hostel. Run by the Gatliff trust the hostel right on the beach on the east coast. Prices are £5.50 for a junior and £8.00 for an adult.
There are several self-catering properties too. Visit the excellent community web site at www.isleof berneray.com/buissess/ for more information. The web site also lists bed and breakfast options.
We stayed at Burnside croft near to the west beach.(01876-540235) I would highly recommend it! It costs about £28 per night with a reduction for children. This is the croft where prince Charles stayed on his many visits to the island.
There are no restaurants on Bernray but there is a small tearooms next to the shop. The lobster pot tearooms serves coked breakfasts, toasties and other light snacks. There is a well-stocked shop next to the tearooms.
If you are self catering then it is worth knowing that there is a larger co-op in Sollas on North Uist. There is no petrol available on Bernray so fill up on Uist!
Bernray is a wonderful island and the people have always been very welcoming and friendly to us. Gaelic is widely spoken as a first language on Bernray and all signs are written in Gaelic too. I really recommend Bernray to and hope this review will be useful should you decide to visit!
THE WESTERN ISLES are a group of islands of the north-west coast of Scotland. They consist of the Inner and Outer Hebrides but this opinion concerns the closer of the two to the mainland, THE INNER HEBRIDES.
Skye is the largest of these islands but is not included here as I have already written about that island.
** Although the islands are generally close together they all have a very different character.
For visitors, Mull comes closest to Skye in popularity, though many visitors travel on through to Iona. The island is large and bleak, with fairly large mountains in the south and moorland or forestry plantations elsewhere. Mull has a fantastically, wild coast, much of it only accessible by foot. Walking is the best way to see all the beauty of this island.
Getting to Mull is easy. Car ferries run from Oban to Craignure and Tobermory, From Lochaline to Fishnish and, in season, from Kilchoan on Ardnamurchan to Tobermory. If you take a car, arrive with a full tank and keep topping up, petrol stations are few and far between.
Mull is at the centre of a group of islands. Others in the Mull group, most with a history worth investigating, are Ulva and Gometra, Inch Kenneth , Eorsa, Little Colonsay, Erisgeir, Erraid, and the Treshnish Isles, a group well noted for their wildlife.
TOBERMORY - founded as a fishing station - is Mull's largest settlement and lies tucked into the shore at the island's sparsely populated northern end. The vivid colours of the brightly painted crescent of mainly 18th century buildings around the busy harbour give the village it's picture-postcard look.
This is the starting point for many wildlife trips both on land and sea. Whale and dolphin watching has become very popular and the Whale and Dolphin Trust has its survey centre and shop on the main street. Tobermory also has a museum, distillery, golfcourse and many sm
THE MULL MUSEUM, in an old bakers shop on the harbour front, is small and old fashioned, and a great place to learn about Mull's history and to read about the galleon from the Spanish Armada (the San Juan de Sicilia or Florencia), which sank in mysterious circumstances in Tobermory harbour. Its treasure of gold doubloons, have eluded salvage crews ever since.
Within a few miles of town the LITTLE THEARTE of MULL, once the world's smallest professional theatre, has undergone massive expansion and can now accommodate 43 people! Plays written or adapted for a cast of two are performed throughout the summer.
A major Canadian city took its name from the small fishing village of CALGARY, whose fabulous sandy beach, ringed by old trees and hemmed by cliffs is worth a visit.
BEN MORE, at 3,267 feet, is one of the highest mountains in the Hebrides. It's name translates from gaelic to the highly imaginative 'Big Hill'.
Although a relatively easy hill walk, rather than a challenging climb, the weather can be 'changeable', and a compass will be unreliable due to the magnetic rock that forms much of the summit. Remember too that as you start from sea-level, you climb every single foot. Wear strong footwear, take warm and waterproof clothing and allow 5-6 hours.
MACKINNON'S CAVE is one of Mull's best-known sights, but accessible only by foot. A farm-track takes you to a path leading to a magnificent cliff top and then steeply down to a beach of large boulders.
It is huge and very deep, with a wide interior chamber. Keep to the path, make sure to arrive on a falling tide, and take a torch.
The Ardmeanach peninsula has a more unusual attraction than MacKinnon's Cave, MACULLOCH'S FOSSIL TREE has suffered more damage since it was discovered in 1819 than during the previous 50 million years, but is now protected from souvenir hunters. The cast of the lar
ge pine tree, 40ft tall, 5ft across, and hollow, is a facinating sight.
Pilgrims en route to Iona once trudged along a narrow track from Glen More to Fionnphort, where there are regular passenger ferries to Iona, Staffa and the Treshnish Isles.
Few will remain unmoved by Iona's spiritual peace. Despite masses of day trippers in and around the main sights, finding a quiet spot is easy.
The birthplace of Christianity in Scotland is small (three miles by one and a half miles) and mostly flat and windswept, but its importance to Christianity is great. The Irish monk Columba chose Iona for the setting up of a monastery in 563AD. Legend has it that it was because it was the first place he reached from which he could still see Ireland.
Such was the importance of this religious community that it eventually became the burial place of the kings of Scotland A total of 48 were buried here until the 11th century.
It suffered during repeated sackings by Vikings until the community finally moved to Kells in Ireland.
It was not abandoned entirely though, and a Benedictine monastery and Augustinian nunnery were founded at the beginning of the thirteen century, but both were vandalised during the Scottish Reformation.
The Iona Community was founded in 1838 and restoration work on the buildings began at the turn of the 20th century. Today the restored buildings are a spiritual centre under the jurisdiction of the Church of Scotland.
The small medieval nunnery is a well-maintained ruin; the church and chapter house are original, while the cloister and refectory were built around 1500. MacLean's Cross is one of Iona's best medieval religious carvings, decorated with Celtic motifs. The Abbey, near the site of the original monastery, has been massively restored, but some of the walls and a large number of carvings are original.
The restored 12th century St Oran's Cha
pel is the islands's oldest building, and arguably the best.
Staffa means 'Pillar Island', which merely hints at the breathtaking formations of basalt columns. It is an island of caves, of which the best known is FINGAL'S CAVE, 69 m deep and 20 m high. Mendelssohn's overture Fingal's Cave, also known as 'The Hebrides', was composed in 1829 after a visit to the island.
COLL and TIREE
These islands - as with much of the highlands and islands of Scotland - were cleared of most of the people by the landowners. Coll was cleared to make room for cattle rearing and today has a population of around 150. Tiree was not so ruthlessly cleared and has a population of about 750 people who still follow the crofting way of life.
If wide skies, open seas, wild flowers on windy dunes and a pace of life dictated by the tides is your idea of bliss, then these are the islands for you.
The attractions here are undisturbed peace & quiet, bird-life, views, coastal scenery and gentle walking.
Both islands are flat, but Tiree is green and fertile whereas Coll is rocky and boggy. Both islands have magnificent, deserted beaches - and on Tiree are likely to be populated by surfers. Sunshine is common out here away from the hills, but so too are strong Atlantic winds.
There is little point in using a car - hiring a bicycle is cheaper and a more sensible way of getting around. There are a number of small sights - prehistoric remains and a ruined castle or two. There are 2 hotels, 2 pubs, guesthouses and self catering accomodation on both islands. You should be able to buy enough food for picnics locally, but do not expect anything sophisticated in the islands' shops.
This is a tiny island, criss-crossed with dry-stane dykes and with everything in miniature, fro
m the trout loch to the golf course. There is only one road so a bicycle is the best transport. You can hire a bike at the post office or the Gigha Hotel. Its main attraction is Achamore House Gardens. With the island's mild climate, the 130 hectare gardens are ideal for exotic shrubs and are open all year.
Colonsay, along with Oronsay, is only 10 miles long. It has several archaeological sites, but you will probably remember it best for its tranquility. Quiet and undemanding, with only three ferries per week, it is the perfect retreat. Apart from one hotel and a couple of bed and breakfasts, all the accomodation is self-catering.
This is a beautiful island of green pastures, moors and woodlands, surrounded by cliffs and rocky coves and a good selection of sandy beaches. 500 varieties of local flora and 150 species of birds have been recorded here.
The Colonsay House Garden, a small woodland of rhododendrons, giant palms, exotic shrubs and many rarer species, are open to the public all year.
ISLAY and JURA
The islands of Islay and Jura lie off the coast of Argyll. They can be reached easily by car ferry from the Kintyre peninsula. On a clear day the coast of Ireland can be seen in the distance.
ISLAY has fertile farmland, producing superb meat, trim villages, and low heather covered hills. Islay has a quite different feel from the rest of the Hebridean islands. It is an island of farms rather than crofts, and a number of distilleries provide work for the local community. The population of Islay is about 3,500.
At Port Ellen it is a short walk from the ferry, (past 3 distilleries) to the Kildalton Cross, carved 1200 years ago. The blue grey stone cross is large, impressive and decorated with Celtic motifs.
At Lower Killeyan, there is a rocket-shaped monument in memory of two sea tragedies. In
Feb. 1918, the Tuscania was torpedoed and sank 7 miles offshore with the loss of 266 men. 8 months later the Otranto was accidentally rammed by another ship in her convoy in almost the same place and 356 men were drowned.
The American Red Cross built the tower monument in 1920 and it was dedicated as a monument to the US soldiers who lost their lives on the two ships.
JURA is wild, rugged, and mountainous, with remote moorland. The Paps of Jura (mountains)have been landmarks for ships for centuries. Jura has less than 200 inhabitants.
Barnhill, where George Orwell wrote 1984, stands in isolation on a footpath that winds along the shore to the whirlpool of Corryvreckan. The roar of the water can be heard long before you see it.
Both islands attract people for a variety of reasons; hill-walking, bird-watchering, naturalists, amateur archaeology, and photography, fishing and golfing. Not to mention the excellent malt whisky. The islanders have a hospitable attitude, and you will find plenty to see and do during your stay.
The so called Small Isles - RHUM, EIGG, MUCK and CANNA - also offer a true island experience, very definitely away form it all, with Rhum the best for scenery.
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~ ~ My late mother was born and bred in Caverstay, a small hamlet about 15 miles south of Stornoway, the main town of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
The people from the Hebrides are an ancient and proud race, being descended from a mixture of Celts and Vikings, dating back to the 1st Century A.D. Even today, if you ask a Lewis or Harris person where they are from, they are unlikely to answer Scotland. More likely, "Lewisman" or "Harrisman".
~ ~ Although 99% of the population do speak English, their first tongue is still "the Gaelic" (pronounced Gallic), an old Celtic language which bears great resemblance to traditional Irish.
I had a cousin from Lewis visit me (I live in Dublin, Ireland) a few years back, and he was able to hold a conversation with my wife (who speaks Irish) with ease. My mother was twelve years of age before she was taught any English.
~ ~ The islands of Lewis and Harris, along with North and South Uist and Barra, make up the Hebrides.
This is a wild and barren land, consisting in the main of "peat" bogs in Lewis, and a sandy subsoil in the rest of the peninsula.
To this day one of the main forms of heating is this "peat", which is cut from the bogs in the summer months, and then stacked beside the crofts (small farms) for use in the Winter.
~ ~ Most of the islands are virtually uninhabited, the main town of Lewis being Stornoway, and the main town of Harris, Tarbert.
Vast tracks of Harris are as near as any human will ever get to a Lunar surface, with rocks, heather, and fauna dominating, and only single lane roads being the norm. You must take care when driving, as there is literally only room for one car, and there are designated passing places where you must pull in to let another vehicle pass.
~ ~ This may sound as though the Islands are not worth a visit, but to assume this would be a big mistake.
You are tot
ally removed from the hustle and bustle of modern living, stress is something that only exists in magazines and newspapers, and the people are so friendly and accommodating you will not believe it. If you like a holiday where you can be at one with nature, then the Hebrides is for you.
~ ~ A word of caution. The Islands are nearly exclusively Presbyterian, or to be more specific "Free" Presbyterian.
They take their religion VERY seriously, to the extent that literally everything closes down on a Sunday. It is almost a cardinal sin to be even seen in the street, unless you are going to Church.
The exception is the island of South Uist, which is joined to its neighbour, North Uist, by a causeway that is only passable at low tide. The north island is the traditional Presbyterian, while the south is one hundred per cent Roman Catholic, and as near to Irish culture and the west coast of Ireland as you can get without setting foot on the "Emerald Isle".
~ ~ There is much to see. The "Standing Stones" at Callanish date back to the times of the Druids, and are in the tradition of Stonehenge in Southern England.
Stornoway is a lively, bustling, little market town, with a picturesque harbour along with a Castle overlooking it.
~ ~ A good day out is to drive to the very southern tip of Harrisl to a tiny hamlet called Rodel.
All that is here is a tiny distillery, a run-down hotel (which isn't always open) and a little harbour. It is the distillery that is unique. It makes a Scotch whisky called "Royal Household". But not for retail consumption. This drink is EXCLUSIVELY for the use of the British Royal Family.
If you sweet-talk the old man on the gate, he will give you a taste of this "water of life", and if you catch him on a particularly good day, he may even sell you an illicit bottle or two of this nectar.
~ ~ If you are visiting Scotland, the Hebrides is ce
rtainly worth a visit. They can be accessed by plane from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness or Aberdeen. But by far the best way is to drive to Uig in the Isle of Skye, and then take the car ferry to either Tarbert or Stornoway. The drive through Skye is, in itself, the experience of a lifetime, with scenery to compare with anywhere in the World.