“ Isle of North Uist / Scotland / HS6 5EP / Tel: Tel: 01876 580390 „
When I first visited the Island Of North Uist in The Outer Hebrides, it was 1996 and the island was a very different place in those days. There was only one place to enjoy a coffee north of the adjoining island of Benbecula, at Lochmaddy, so for a tourist an area of 117 square miles was devoid of anywhere to seek shelter, out of the gales and rain which so often falls in these windswept islands. Yes there were a couple of hotels, but nothing that you would describe as a café offering tasty daytime snacks, which were so necessary as the island had limited shopping opportunities for groceries in those days.
Having said all this the island is not that much changed fifteen years on, but thank goodness, as it remains one of the most beautiful and unspoilt places in the UK. There has been the opening of two cafés in recent years; one is nestled on the coast of the Island of Berneray, which sits in the north joined by a causeway now. This venture was made possible as a viable business by the building of the causeway in 1999, which ended the reliance on ferries which were so weather dependent. The second café, at the Claddach Kirkibost Centre, which is on North Uist itself was built a few years ago, on the site of the old school, and subsequently extended, and is a welcome venture, as not only is it a superb café, but is also a focal point for the community in so many ways.
It has a nursery for the under fives which allows women to work during the day, it is a venue for community talks and events, and moreover it is the home of a business enterprise making jams, chutneys, and oatcakes for sale all over Scotland as well as in the gift shop. It also provides office facilities such as email and fax to the local community.
It is, however, the setting of this café which is so beautiful. It views the silver sands from picture windows, allowing you to enjoy a leisurely lunch in peaceful surroundings. Recently extended and proud of its ecological attributes this new building has a ground source heat pump and solar panels.
To reach the café from the north it is a simple drive along the A865 where it lies on the right hand side of the road, just beyond the township of Claddach Kyles about two and a half miles south of Bayhead. There is a well marked sign telling you where to pull in. It doesn't, however, open on Sundays as a mark of respect to the island, which still very much "rests" on this day, which still has enormous religious significance for many of the islanders. The supermarkets also close here, but a tourist in search of sustenance can motor down to Benbecula or to South Uist, where the catholic religion predominates, and shops do open in line with mainland opening hours here.
Many people who visit the islands are in search of the out of doors lifestyle it offers, so they come in camper vans and on bikes with camping gear, and a favourite camping spot lies to the north at Hosta beach, so the location of this café is very welcome to those individuals who choose this picturesque spot for their holiday.
The café area is warm, and light floods in from the lovely windows that overlook wildflower meadows which carpet the ground all the way to the sea. The walls have always seen the paintings of local artists hanging in magnificence, and the gift shop area is also in the café allowing you the opportunity to browse through locally made items.
The menu is simple but everything is home made on the premises on the day and it is outstanding, both in quality and in value for money. Even simple choices come with delicious touches. Home made soups can have a warm freshly cooked scone to accompany them. The salmon used in the sandwiches is local to the islands, and though I am vegetarian and have not tried this option I know those who have and value it highly. There are a magnificent array of mouth watering cakes and these change on a daily basis, but all are fresh from the oven and difficult to resist! The prices are simply outstanding with soup and a fresh roll or scone being under £3.
There are salads and daily specials on the board, and a wide selection of teas, coffees and even herbal teas are also available, which pleases me as I really enjoy these.
The service is so friendly and the place is very popular with locals as well as tourists, which I think is testament to the excellent service they provide.
The gift shop area has a selection of their jams, chutneys and tablet, which is a type of fudge, as well as oatcakes, and I can highly recommend the raspberry jam which is always a favourite in our house. Wherever possible the café and food business uses locally grown ingredients, and I have often see advertisements for these items in the local newspaper which is providing jobs and income in a very economically challenged area.
The café is welcomed by so many travellers; many come to these islands unprepared for the weather and often seek solace in these walls. I have seen many soaking bodies sheltering from horizontal rain enjoying Hebridean hospitality at its best.
As well as the excellent all day menu the café now opens into the evening in the season, which is absolutely invaluable for holiday makers as they now have a budget friendly option. In addition to this they have curry nights when you can collect a freshly cooked curry meal to take home.
I can't think of a more picturesque setting in which to enjoy a delicious lunch, and together with the associated services the building offers, such as the child care and the office facilities, this venture is in my opinion a perfect way to marry the needs of the tourist with the community that surround it.