Sun, sea, sand in Berneray.

We arrived home yesterday after a seven hour drive and ninety minute ferry journey. We’d purchased one of Caledonian MacBrayne’s island hopper tickets, which allowed us to drive up to Skye, get the ferry to North Uist and do a tour of the Uists, Benbecula, Eriskay and Berneray before hopping over to explore Harris/Lewis.

We camped in Uig on Skye the first night, awaiting the ferry to Lochmaddy, N. Uist. It’s a thoroughly depressing little place, dominated by the ferry terminal. We ate at the Pier Restaurant in the evening, appalling service and possibly the worst food I’ve ever been served. Truly sub-school dinner quality. Avoid. We had to ask twice to be served, whilst the waiting staff chatted away to the locals at the table next to us. As the only restaurant in town, it was soon filled up with tourists. This place will have absolutely reinforced the stereotype of British food being shite. We left an insulting 10p tip and went back to the tent. We were eager to leave Uig behind and for the holiday to begin.

Seals at Flodda Island, off Benbecula.

The crossing to Lochmaddy was wet but relatively calm. We drove south across the causeway to Benbecula and camped at Shell Bay camp site, between Creagorry and Balivanich. Basic, but clean and 5 minutes from the beach. That’s what this holiday was all about, long strolls along the beach, whatever the weather. The beaches of the Outer Hebrides are outstanding, white or golden sand and clear blue water. On a sunny day they can look Mediterranean or Caribbean. As it happens our first walk down the beach was in the drizzle and poor visibility, although we did manage to see some seals on a distant shore with the binoculars.

Day two on Benbecula was wet again so we donned the HazMat suits and went looking for more seals at Flodda Island, some were distant and not immediately obvious, but the more we looked, the more we saw. An excellent location if you have a scope or a big lens. My 200mm was about as short as you could get away with. We must have seen 35+ seals in small groups dotted around the shore. If you plan on visiting, park in the turning area [it’s only used morning and late afternoon] at the end of the road and take the clear track and look out for the seal spotting information and map taped inside the window of rusting Vauxhall Belmont.

Rusting tractor at Flodda.

We took a drive down through South Uist and Eriskay, but we didn’t fully explore either. South Uist does appear to have some fine hills, and I’d mapped and printed a couple of routes, but with the tops shrouded in thick cloud we decided against climbing them, preferring to stay low were the views were.

I got a tip from Bruce Percy to visit the beach at Solas on North Uist and it was a good one. A long ribbon of deserted white sand and fantastic dunes stretching out along the coast. I spent some time taking photos and we took a stroll under heavy skies and blustery wind. I’d bought Margaret and myself some new waterproof gear before leaving home, a Paramo Quito Jacket for her and a Velez Adventure Light for myself, both worked superbly well and I was glad of it throughout the holiday. I’ll probably do a write up at some point. Special thanks to the Solas Co-op staff for letting me use their ‘facilities’. πŸ™‚

The view from Berneray beach at dusk.

We moved on to the informal campsite at the beach on Berneray and camped at the top of the dunes. Unsurprisingly, the site without facilities was my favourite camp of the holiday. There are community owned toilets and clean showers available on Berneray. It’s a credit to the community that they manage to provide a better camping experience than most of the private sites we visited, just by having a relaxed attitude to camping along the beach and providing inexpensive, clean facilities. Of course, it helps when the sun comes out too!

We rode out past Borgh, through the fields to the beaches on the west of Berneray. The sun had come out and it was starting to feel like a proper holiday. We rode on and found a wee beach to ourselves to sit for a while before heading back over to the dunes and down onto the expanse of the west beach.

Cycling above the beach, west Berneray.

There were a couple of families building sand castles and body boarding, but it was virtually empty. The last time I was in the sea was probably about 12 years ago, so I managed to persuade Margaret to go in for a paddle with me, it would have been rude not to. The water wasn’t too cold either. πŸ™‚

I could see a few jellyfish nearby in the water, so didn’t venture further than knee height. I just stood around taking in the view.

Back the the tent, we went down to the beach with a beer and a book [The God Delusion, controversial round these parts ;)] and watched the sun go down.

Then something weird happened, at least something I’ve never seen before: Moonrise, out over the sea, coming up over the horizon. The photo doesn’t do it justice. But it put a grin on my face and rounded off a great day nicely. I think it was at this point that I said ‘Aye, we’ll be back to Berneray’.

Moonrise at Berneray.

I was surprised to wake up during the night with the sound of rain hammering the tent, normal service was resumed then… It was still raining when we woke, we packed the soggy tent into the car and made for the ferry terminal. Onward to Harris and Lewis. To be continued…