island of the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK

South Uist (Gaelic Uibhist A Deas) is an island in the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides of Scotland, with a population in 2011 of 1897. It extends 25 miles north-south and 5 miles east-west, and has long been linked by road north to Benbecula and North Uist, and since 2002 it has been linked south to Eriskay.

Lochboisdale (Loch Baghasdail) in the southeast corner is the ferry port and main village. However most of the population is 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.

Understand edit

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.

Get in edit

By plane edit

1 Benbecula (BEB IATA) is the airport for the Uists, a short drive north across the causeway. Loganair fly daily from Glasgow (one hour), and M-F from Stornoway on Lewis (35 min). The buses from North Uist to South Uist run past the airport.

Barra (BRR IATA) also has daily flights from 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.

By boat edit

2 Lochboisdale is the port for South Uist, 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. Until end of March 2025, return fares are £137.10 per car, £24.60 per adult including driver, and £12.30 per child aged 5-15. In winter the Mallaig ferry sails W Sa Su in Dec, Jan and late Feb. Otherwise in winter, the ferry is from Oban (5 hr 30 min) M and F in Dec, Jan and late Feb, and on M W F Sa Su in Nov, early Feb and March.

Lochboisdale marina is southeast of the ferry pier, on the island of Gasay now linked by road. It has fuel and facilities for launching boats. For leisure craft the berthing charge is £3 / metre / day.

3 Eriskay has ferries five times a day from Barra, taking 40 min, then you drive or take the bus over the causeway. Barra can be reached by ferry from Oban or by air.

Ferries also sail from Uig on Skye to Lochmaddy in North Uist, from where you can drive, cycle or take the bus to South Uist.

By bus edit

A linked bus / ferry service[dead link] runs up the Western Isles through Barra, the Uists and Harris and Lewis, and M-Sa it's possible to go the whole way in one day. There are half-a-dozen services part-route, but to get here from Stornoway you leave no later than 12:30PM to reach Tarbert on Harris at 1:40PM, Lochmaddy at 4:40PM, Benbecula at 5:05PM and Lochboisdale at 6:15PM. To return north you need to set off from Lochboisdale at 9AM, passing Benbecula at 11:10AM, Lochmaddy on North Uist at 11:30AM and Tarbert at 4:20PM, to arrive in Stornoway by 5:30PM. The connection to nearby Barra is easier, with the last bus south to Castlebay leaving Lochboisdale at 5:20PM.

Get around edit

 
Our Lady of the Isles
  • You need wheels, it's a long island, and a car will shield you from the wind, rain and midges. The nearest car hire is at Benbcula airport.
  • M-Sa six buses run along the main road from North Uist and Benbecula to the junction at Daliburgh. Most then turn east to Lochboisdale, before doubling back to Daliburgh to take the causeway to Eriskay for the ferry to Barra. An occasional bus terminates at Lochboisdale or bypasses it for Eriskay.

See edit

  • Beaches run the length of the west coast, clean and sandy. The main road runs inland but wherever a lane runs down to the coast, there's a good beach at the end of it.
  • 1 Our Lady of the Isles (Moire ro Naomh nan Eilean). 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 (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.    
  • Dun Raouill in the west corner of Loch Druidibeg is an islet with a ruined fort, built maybe 16th century and occupied into the 17th. It probably overlies an Iron Age broch or dun.
  • 3 Ushenish Lighthouse is a 39-ft (12-m ) stone tower built by the Stevensons in 1857 and automated in 1970. It's a rough boggy hike to reach it, with no trail.
  • 4 An Carra or Loch an Aithan standing stone is the tallest in the Outer Hebrides at 17 ft (5.2 m). It's easy to reach by the paved lane to the waterworks, drive up or walk if the gate is locked.
  • Howmore (Tobha Mor) has the island's best collection of thatched blackhouses, the traditional taigh dubh dwelling of crofters — one of them is the hostel, see Sleep. There are also ruins of medieval churches, but even the best-preserved, Teampull Mor or St Mary's, has only a fragment of gable remaining, while others are incorporated into livestock pens. The present church is Protestant, a white-harled building of 1858 that serves as a day-mark for fisher folk. The islet in the loch a quarter mile north is Caisteal Bheagram, a Clan Ranald stronghold until the 17th century and probably built over an Iron Age broch.
  • 5 Ormacleit Castle, Ormacleit HS8 5SB. 24 hours. Fragmentary ruins of a mansion house from 1707, destroyed by fire in 1715 on the same day that its owner, the chief of Clan Ranald, perished in the Jacobite cause at the Battle of Sheriffmuir. His successors moved to Nunton on Benbecula and abandoned this site. Free.    
  • 6 Bornish   is a village east of the remains of a Viking settlement, but these are covered by grass and sand, nothing to see. There are signs that the Vikings farmed deer here, less bother than hunting them.
  • 7 Dun Vulan (Dun Mhulan) (take track west from Bornish.). 24 hours. An Iron Age broch and settlement, with a Pictish house added within. The site is suffering sea erosion but has been protected by a wall. Free.    
  • 8 Kildonan Museum, Chill Donnain / Kildonan HS8 5RZ, +44 1878 710343. Apr-Oct: daily 10AM-16PM. Small museum with a good display of local history, crafts, and a decent cafe. Adult £5, conc £3, child free.
 
Sheltered inlet on Loch Boisdale
  • Flora MacDonald's house is half a mile southwest of the museum, accessible free 24 hours. 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. On 21 June 1746 she was revisiting here 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 in Benbecula (loyal to the Hanoverians, and therefore not suspect) to secure passage for him, unconvincingly disguised as her Irish maid Betty Burke. The 1884 song Over the Sea to Skye is ever-so-loosely based on this escapade. They sailed to a relative's house on Skye, where the house steward briskly 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. For the next few weeks the Prince managed to stay just ahead of the government search parties then sailed from Loch nan Uamh to exile in France. His cause was lost forever, his clansmen supporters slain or facing execution, Flora was thrown in the Tower of London, and the Highlands lay under harsh military reprisals.
  • 9 The Listening Place is a sculpture-cum-windbreak on the lane south shore of Loch Boisdale. The lane is unpaved beyond here.
  • Eileanan Iasgaich is the little archipelago between The Listening Place and the ferry port. Its islets are connected at low tide to each other but not to South Uist main island. The name means "fishing islands" and they're rigged with fish traps.
  • 10 Calvay Castle is the scraps of a medieval bastion, visible from the ferry approaching Lochboisdale. It's on a tidal islet connected to Calbhaigh or Calvay island, though the causeway has washed away. Bonnie Prince Charlie spent a night here on 15 June 1746, a fugitive after Culloden. The lighthouse is a simple navigation light to mark the channel: it was originally built in 1891 by the Stevensons, but replaced by a drab little metal tower in 1985. Don't confuse this island with the Calvay off nearby Eriskay, where in 1941 the whisky-laden SS Politician came to rest after an attempt to refloat and repair her.
  • Pollochar standing stone is 70 yards west of Pollochar Inn. It's odd to find a prehistoric megalith on the coast like this.

Do edit

 
Beinn Mhòr from Howmore
  • Golf: 1 Askernish GC, Aisgernis HS8 5SY, +44 1878 700628. A course designed by Old Tom Morris in 1891, and restored in 2008. White tees 6074 yards, par 72, visitor round £60.    
  • 2 Beinn Mhòr at 620 m (2034 ft) is the highest point on the island. A horseshoe trail starts from the hostel at Howmore and also takes in Ben Corodale (527 m) and Hecla (606 m). Paths are boggy and indistinct, so take compass, maps and sensible clothing.
  • Fishing for salmon is 1 Feb - 31 Oct and for brown trout 15 Mar – 30 Sep, M-Sa only. Permits are available at hotels and stores, £10 for bank fishing.
  • Hebridean Way is a way-marked hiking and cycling trail the length of the Outer Hebrides. Northbound you arrive via the causeway from Eriskay and follow the lane to Pollachar Inn. Hikers stay on the beach or machair to Daliburgh for an overnight stop; cyclists take the loop of lane through Baghasdal to Daliburgh then stay on the main road north. Stage 3 for hikers continues along the coast to Howmore / Tobha Mor; cyclists take the lane through Ormacleit then stay on the main road. Stage 4 for hikers cuts inland by Loch Druidbeg and Loch Sgioport and is boggy, until rejoining the road across the causeway to Liniclate on Benbecula.

Buy edit

  • Lovats is a convenience store just south of the causeway to Benbecula. It's open M-Sa 8AM-6PM and Su 2-4PM, and nothing north of here will be open Sunday.
  • Salar Smokehouse, Lochcarnan HS8 5PD has smoked fish delicacies. Order online, they no longer have a walk-in shop.
  • Uist Craft Producers, Kildonan Centre HS8 5RZ (near Kildonan Museum). Apr to mid-Oct: M-Sa 11AM-4:30PM, Su 1-4PM. Outlet shop for local arts & crafts collective.
  • Co-op Food, 292 Hillview, Dalabròg / Daliburgh HS8 5SS (just south of Borrodale Hotel), +44 1878 700326. M-Sa 7AM-10PM, Su 12:30-10PM. Supermarket with five aisles, well-stocked for self-catering.
  • Uist Gifts is by the ferry pier at Lochboisdale, open M-Sa 10AM-3PM.

Eat edit

  • Orosay Inn at the north end and Borrodale Hotel to the south have the best food. There isn't a free-standing restaurant.
  • Kilbride Cafe next to Kilbride hostel and campsite is open M-Sa 8:30AM-3:30PM, Su 11AM-3PM.

Drink edit

  • See Hotels below for drinks.
  • South Uist Distillers Company sell rum, but they're coy about where it's made. Their registered address is in Askernish near the golf course, in what appears to be a defunct shellfish business, so you might taste a bit of a tang.

Sleep edit

 
Flora Macdonald took the fugitive Prince to Benbecula then Skye

Budget edit

  • 1 Howmore Hostel, Howmore HS8 5SH. Simple but comfy hostel with no advance booking and no phone. Open all year. They also run the hostel on Berneray and at Rhenigidale on Harris. Dorm adults £20 ppn, under 18 £10.
  • 2 Kilbride Campsite, 9 Cille Bhrìghde / West Kilbride HS8 5TT, +44 7751 251522. Friendly well-managed campsite and hostel on the lane to Eriskay causeway.

Mid-range edit

  • 3 Orosay Inn, Lochcarnan HS8 5PD, +44 1870 610298. Small hotel, but it's the restaurant that visitors admire. B&B doubl £100.
  • Lochboisdale Hotel, Lochboisdale HS8 5TH (at ferry pier), +44 1878 700332. A bit tatty, but a comfy enough trad hotel with 10 double rooms, one king-sized and 5 singles. It has a rod room for anglers, and good bar meals. B&B double £130.
  • 4 Brae Lea House, Lasgair, Lochboisdale HS8 5TW, +44 1878 700497. Great reviews for this welcoming guest house a mile from the ferry pier, open all year. B&B double £120.
  • 5 Lochside Cottage, Lochboisdale HS8 5TN, +44 1878 700472. Friendly comfy guest house between the port and Daliburgh. B&B double £80.
  • Riverside Cottage B&B is 200 yards west of Lochside Cottage.
  • Grianaig Guest House is half a mile north of Borrodale Hotel.
  • 6 Borrodale Hotel, Daliburgh HS8 5SS, +44 1878 700444. 12-room hotel with restaurant. They also run two hotels on Benbecula. B&B double £170.
  • 7 Polochar Inn, West Kilbride HS8 5TT (south tip of island), +44 1878 700215. It changed owners in 2023 and the new people haven't yet got a grip: some guests have a comfy stay, others get a bleak reception. The inn is open all year but restaurant opening is erratic. B&B double £140.
  • Self-catering cottages are generally let from Saturday to Saturday.
  • Uist Stormpods are in several locations, £85 per night for two.

Connect edit

As of Sep 2023, South Uist has 4G from EE but no signal from other carriers. 5G has not reached the Uists.

Go next edit

  • The road north leads to Benbecula (for airport), North Uist (for ferry to Skye) and Berneray (for ferry to Harris and Lewis)
  • The road south crosses to Eriskay, for the ferry to Barra.
  • Ferries from Lochboisdale return you to the mainland at Mallaig or Oban.



This rural area travel guide to South Uist is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.