South Uist (Gaelic Uibhist A Deas) is an island in the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It extends 25 miles north-south and 5 miles east-west, and has long been linked by road to Benbecula and North Uist; and since 2002 it has been linked to Eriskay to the south. The main village and ferry port is Lochboisedale (Loch Baghasdail) on the south-east corner. The population of 1800 is mostly scattered along the west coast, exposed to the Atlantic but where the machair soil supports crofting. The east is a line of boggy brown hills. South Uist is never pretty like Skye, but has a haunting, spare scenery, with few tourists.
No-one knows where the name "Uist" came from, it could be Norse or earlier, and there are several Iron Age remains. (Astonishingly, two ancient inhabitants were intentionally mummified, in about the same era as the Egyptian pharoahs though by different techniques.) Like much of the Highlands and Islands, South Uist was a poor place to scratch a living, apart from a brief boom in the kelp trade at the start of the 19th century. Thereafter it was systematically and ruthlessly depopulated by its landlords, and fell into long decline. Modern initiatives were not always helpful: there's a missile base in the north, and in the Cold War there were grand plans to commandeer the rest of the island. But the late 20th century saw a gradual recovery, and in 2006 there was a community buyout of the South Uist Estate by Stòras Uibhist, to ensure sustainable future development and safeguard Gaelic culture. 60% of the population speak Gaelic, and are mostly Roman Catholic so, unlike the Protestant islands to the north, you can shop or get a drink on a Sunday.
The airport for the Uists is 1 Benbecula Airport (BEB IATA), a short drive north across the causeway. There are flights daily from Glasgow taking an hour, operated by Loganair. There are also flights (M-F) to Stornoway on Lewis: these connect to other destinations such as Edinburgh, but it's generally quicker to fly to Glasgow and take the train or other transport from there. The buses between South Uist and North Uist run past the airport on Benbecula.
Another route is to cross by ferry to Barra, which has daily flights to Glasgow. But it's a smaller plane with only 15 kg checked baggage allowance, and tide-dependent as it lands on the beach. If there's some reason why you can't get on the Benbecula flight, it will probably also apply to the Barra flight.
The ferry port for South Uist is 2 Lochboisdale near the south tip of the island. April-Oct this has Calmac ferries daily from Mallaig (3 hr 30 min) on the Scottish mainland. The outbound ferry can be reached, but only just, by the first train of the day from Glasgow; the return connection is less fraught. Return fares are £122 per car and £22 per adult including the driver (valid for 2020). In winter the Mallaig ferry runs W Sa Su in Dec, Jan & late Feb. Otherwise in winter, the ferry is from Oban (5 hours to Lochboisdale) M & F in Dec, Jan & late Feb, and on M W F Sa Su in Nov, early Feb and March.
Two other ferry routes are from Uig on Skye to Lochmaddy in North Uist, and from Barra to Eriskay, from where you can drive, cycle or take the bus to South Uist.
Lochboisdale has a marina, with fuel and facilities for launching boats; mooring charge £10 a night.
A linked bus / ferry service runs up the Western Isles through Barra, the Uists and Harris to Stornoway, so M-Sa it's possible to go the whole way in one day. There are half-a-dozen services part-route through the Uists, but to reach Stornoway you need to set off from Lochboisedale at 09:00, passing Benbecula at 11:10, Lochmaddy North Uist at 11:30 and Tarbert Harris at 16:20, to arrive in Stornoway by 17:30. Going south, you leave Stornoway at 12:30 to reach Tarbert at 13:40, Lochmaddy at 16:40, Benbecula at 17:05 and arrive Lochboisdale at 18:15. To go south to Castlebay on Barra, the last bus leaves Lochboisedale at 17:20.
- You need wheels, it's a long island, and a car will shield you from the wind, rain and midges.
- M-Sa six buses run along the main road from North Uist and Benbecula to the junction at Daliburgh. Most then turn east to Lochboisedale, before doubling back to Daliburgh to take the causeway to Eriskay for the ferry to Barra. An occasional bus terminates at Lochboisedale or bypasses it for Eriskay.
- Fine beaches run the length of the west coast. It's just a matter of access: the main road runs inland but if a lane runs down to the coast, there'll be a good beach at the end of it.
- 1 Our Lady of the Isles (Moire ro Naomh nan Eilean) (Grid ref NF 776407). 24 hours. A 30-foot white granite statue of the Madonna and child by Hew Lorimer erected in 1957 on the slopes of Ruabhal. It's reached by a tarmac track from the main road. The Madonna looks like a typical local woman, and faces the Protestant northern islands, as a hint that you're entering the Catholic south. But her gaze was more directed at the nearby military facilities, which during the Cold War were intended to expand over South Uist and turn it into a vast missile base. Free.
- 2 Loch Druidibeg Nature Reserve (Take lane towards Loch Sgioport). 24 hours. This freshwater loch in the north of the island is an SSSI with over 200 species of flowering plant. Free.
- Taigh Dubh or blackhouses, the traditional dwelling of the Uist crofter, are seen in several places. Some are now restored, such as at Howmore (Tobha Mor), Grid ref NF 758364, where there is an important medieval ecclesiastical site.
- 3 Ormacleit Castle, Ormacleit HS8 5SB. 24 hours. Fragmentary ruins of a mansion house from 1707, destroyed by fire in 1715. Free.
- 4 Bornish (Bornais) (NF 729302). The site of three settlement mounds from the Late Iron Age, circa 150-50 BC.
- 5 Dun Vulan (Dun Mhulan) (NF 715297 near the track to Bornish.). An Iron Age broch and settlement, same era as Bornish.
- 6 Kildonan Museum, Kildonan HS8 5RZ. April-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. Small museum with a good display of local history, crafts, and a decent cafe. £3.
- 7 Flora MacDonalds house, Mingarry (NF 740269, 3 miles north of Daliburgh). Flora MacDonald (1722-1790) was born at nearby Milton but her early years were in this cottage, of which only the foundations survive. Her father died, her mother re-married and moved to Skye where Flora grew up. In 1746 she happened to be revisiting Benbecula when the fugitive Bonnie Prince Charlie and his aides turned up, shipwrecked nearby on their first attempt to sail away to France. Flora had enough family connections (a family loyal to the Hanoverians, and therefore not suspect) to secure safe passage for him, unconvincingly disguised as her Irish maid Betty Burke. The 1884 song Over the Sea to Skye is very loosely based on this escapade. They sailed to a relative's house in a remote corner of Skye, where the house steward firmly advised the Prince to remove the disguise since it just made him more conspicuous. Next day they travelled on to Portree and parted, never to meet again. Charles was taken to the nearby island of Raasay. For the next few weeks he managed to stay just ahead of the government search parties then sailed from Lochaber to exile in France. His cause was lost forever, his clansmen supporters slain or facing execution, Flora herself was thrown in the Tower of London, and the Highlands lay under harsh military reprisals.
- 1 Play Golf at Askernish. A course designed by Old Tom Morris in 1891, and after many years of neglect restored in 2008.
- Walking on Ben Mhor (620 m), Ben Corodale (527 m) and Hecla (606 m). A horseshoe trail starts from the hostel at Howmore and leads into the best of the hill scenery. Paths are boggy and indistinct, so take compass, maps and sensible clothing.
- Fly Fishing (angling). For salmon 1 Feb - 31 Oct and brown trout 15 Mar – 30 Sep, M-Sa only. Excellent Fishing for brown trout, sea trout and salmon on numerous lochs. Several lochs have boats for anglers to use. Permits from £8 per day.
- Buy fuel before arriving - if you drive up, you'll use most of a tank just reaching the ferry pier at Uig. Best place to refuel is the filling station at the south end of Portree on Skye, it's only a few pence more expensive that mainland supermarket prices.
- 1 Co-op, Daliburgh HS8 5SS (just south of road junction). M-Sa 07:00-22:00, Su 12:30-22:00. Supermarket with about 5 aisles.
- Failte, Lochboisdale (by the pier). M-Sa 10:00-17:00. Sells clothes, hardware and various essentials.
- Uist Craft Producers, Kildonan Centre, HS8 5RZ (near Kildonan Museum, 3 miles north of Daliburgh). Apr to mid-Oct M-Sa 11:00-16:30, Su 13:00-16:00. Outlet shop for local arts & crafts collective.
- 2 The Big Garden, Cille Bhrighde (West Kilbride), ☏ . Daily 10:00-17:00. Seasonal fruit and vegetables, hand-spun wools, knitted/crocheted/woven garments and other items. Teas, coffees and other refreshments served in the garden on fine days, or to take away.
- Salar Smokehouse, Lochcarnan HS8 5PD for hand crafted smoked delicacies, open M-F 09:00-16:30. It's near the northeast tip of the island.
- Lovats is a convenience store just south of the causeway to Benbecula. It's open M-Sa 08:00-18:00 and Su 14:00-16:00 - and nothing north of here will be open Sunday.
See Hotels below
- 1 Howmore Hostel, Howmore HS8 5SH (Grid ref NF75759 36433 north end of island). Simple hostel with no advance booking (and no phone). Open all year. Dorm £16 ppn.
- 2 Kilbride Campsite is south end of the island by the walled garden.
- Several B&Bs can be found on the tourist board website , but many are no longer listed due to the charges and "hassle".
- 3 Brae Lea House, Lochboisdale,HS8 5TH, ☏ . A guest house with ensuite bedrooms about a mile from the ferry.
- 4 Wireless Cottage, Lochboisdale (5-10 minutes walk from the ferry.), ☏ .
- 5 Lochboisdale Hotel (Right next the ferry pier.), ☏ . 10 room traditional hotel which particularly caters for those fishing for the excellent local brown trout (has a rod room). Good bar meals in the evening. from £45.
- 6 Polochar Inn, HS8 5TT (south tip of island), ☏ .
- 7 Borrodale Hotel (on the main road at the turn-off for Lochboisdale), ☏ . 12 room hotel from £58.
- Self-catering cottages are generally let from Saturday to Saturday. Some of these can be found on the tourist board website.
- 8 Askernish/Aisgernis, HS8 5SY (One mile north of Daliburgh), ☏ . A renovated croft cottage with wood-burning stove, open all year. Dogs welcome. Sleeps four, one double bedroom and one twin. Kitchen with breakfast bar, living room, bathroom with shower over. Well-maintained and spotless. From £110 per night.
- The road north leads to Benbecula, North Uist and Berneray, then take a ferry to Harris and Lewis.
- The road south crosses to Eriskay, then take a ferry to Barra.