Lochmaddy, United Kingdom
Safely based in the Orasay Inn on the shores of Loch Charnon means that today we could explore some of the middle islands more fully. After breakfast we hit the great north-south road and retraced yesterday afternoon’s steps uphill and back towards Berneray. First stop was the ferry port of Lochmaddy in North Uist, arriving just as the giant CalMac ferry to Skye was in (yes, just like yesterday in Tarbert on Harris). There was a nice little museum, gift shop and cafe in Lochmaddy in which we wiled away a happy hour or so.
Back on the road it was north, north, north over the causeway, past the landing ramp from yesterday and on to the island of Berneray properly. On the east shore, after taking a series of increasingly narrow roads, we finally came to a car park by a vast curve of beach. There were probably half a dozen people in the whole area, and I never caught sight of more than two at a time. It seems incredible that something that would be fought over on the English mainland should be so deserted here.
After a good bit of beach combing, we headed back the way we had come, but at the bottom of the Berneray road, instead of turning left for Lochmaddy and home, we took the right fork round the top of North Uist and the ‘long way’ back. We seemed to spend ages driving past endless beaches interspaced with rocky shores, all of them deserted and basking in the sunshine, until we eventually turned off the road to climb up the steep sides of Cleitreabhal a Deas towards the radio masts and frankly very military-looking radar dome on top. The military clutter stopped us going too far, but at a viewing station part way up we looked back out towards the Atlantic to clearly see the silhouetted islands of Boreray and St Kilda. Turning 180 degrees towards the other side of the island, it was just possible to make out the faint blue outline of Syke, many, many miles away across The Minch.
Soon after, a large dark bird lazily circled overhead, moving away from us further up the hill. It was obviously a large raptor, easily recognisable by its size, soaring flight and wide, outstretched wing tips. I had my suspicions, but it wasn’t until an hour later at the RSPB nature reserve down by the shore at Balranald that the visitor centre identified it for us. Yes, there were a pair of Golden Eagles nesting nearby on the hill, currently raising a single chick. Obviously super thrilled to catch sight of one of those.
From Balranald (and another breathtaking white beach), we completed the circle by visiting the chambered neolithic tomb at Barpa Langass. It’s quite a hike from the car park, so I was slightly disappointed to find the interior of the tomb closed off for safety reasons. Ah well, cannot win them all.
Heading back south, we took another looped detour by the airport on Benbecula. It looks very large actually, though I think a lot of that is due to the presence of a military base alongside the airport. No flights came or went whilst we were there though. From there it was just a 20 minute ride back to the hotel and a nice tea.