Berneray and nearby uninhabited Pabbay lie in the Sound of Harris between North Uist and Harris. Although a number of the islands in the Sound of Harris were once populated, Berneray is now the only one left apart from nearby Boreray with its single resident. It shouldn't be confused with the other Berneray: the most southerly island in the chain of the Western Isles, complete with another Pabbay lying (fairly) close to it.
As early as 1705, Bays Loch on the east side of Berneray was the terminus for a ferry service. The MacLeods of Harris, who owned Berneray at the time, purchased a boat, and one Lauchlan MacLean was employed as ferryman. He was instructed to run a service linking Berneray and a number of nearby islands with Harris and with Skye.
Berneray went through good times and bad. Perhaps the low point came in 1697 when the entire village of Siabaidh was buried by sand in a storm. The island later did well during the kelp boom, but less so when the boom collapsed at the end of the Napoleonic wars. Berneray then turned to potatoes. At one time much of Harris was fed on Berneray potatoes.
Throughout the 1900s the population, like that on many isolated islands, steadily fell, from 524 in 1901 to 134 by 1981. It had recovered marginally to 141 by 1991 and stood at 136 in 2001.
Today's Berneray is looking optimistically to the future like never before. On Thursday 8 April 1999, Prince Charles, who had previously revealed that he had been a regular visitor to the island since 1987, returned to Berneray to open the 900m causeway linking the island to North Uist. The causeway had actually been in use since 17 December 1998.
The construction of the causeway was tied to another revolution for Berneray. As part of the work, a slipway and harbour were built on the island close to the northern end of the causeway. This is used by the Sound of Harris ferry linking Berneray and the Uists directly to Harris at Leverburgh.
Settlement on Berneray comprises a sprinkling of crofts and cottages, mostly along the east coast of the island, with a concentration around Bays Loch, which is also home to the island's 1990 harbour. Further north the "main" road passes the island's Youth Hostel before petering out above the beautiful sandy beach at Beasdaire, overlooked from the north by a walled graveyard.
Inland from the east coast of Berneray the land rises to separate high points of 93m and 85m, before dropping almost to sea level in the centre of the island. Much of the interior of the western half of Berneray is utterly flat, and it stays that way as far as the western (and northern) rim of the island, where the land rises to dunes which back over three miles of the most perfect, white, shell sand beach.
You can access the southern end of this beach via a minor road through Borgh which then meanders across the flat centre of the island before ending at a car park behind the dunes. And the centre of the beach on the west side of the island is accessible by a ¾ mile walk from the Community Hall in Borgh.
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