North Uist measures some 18 miles from east to west by 12 miles from north to south, and has one of the most complex topographies you are likely to find anywhere. The eastern two thirds of the island are characterised by freshwater lochans that seem to occupy more of the land than the land itself, plus deeply indenting sea lochs that reduce still further the proportion of green to blue.
The western third of the island also has many lochans, but fewer than in the east. And here the complexities of the coastline are outlined by sandy beaches, machair and white mud flats, rather than by the rocks of the east coast. The best and most accessible beaches on North Uist are in the north and north east of the island.
Loch nam Madadh shows how the land and the water seem to merge together in North Uist. The loch is only a mile wide where it breaks through the line of rocky hills that mark the island's east coast, and it only extends inland for about five miles. Yet someone has taken the trouble to work out that the convoluted coastline of this one loch is over 300 miles long.
North Uist was granted by James IV to the Macdonalds of Sleat, in Skye in 1495. They sold the island in 1855, but not before they cleared many of the tenants from their homes to make room for sheep. The population of North Uist, which had stood at 3870 in 1841, started a steady decline that saw it reach 1404 in 1991, and a new low of 1271 in 2001.
You can think of North Uist as a ring of "A" road from which it is possible to make excursions to the island's three entry and exit points. The best established of these is Lochmaddy, the terminus for the ferry linking it to Uig on Skye. Lochmaddy is the island's main centre and is well worth a visit, with the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre providing a particular draw. Lochmaddy is also home to the best hotel on North Uist, the Tigh Dearg (or red house) Hotel.
The road south from North Uist passes Carinish (Cairinis) en route to the five mile arc of the North Ford Causeway, taking you first to Grimsay and then to Benbecula. In doing so it passes the side turning to the island of Baleshare, and at Carinish it passes the Carinish Inn. Also in Carinish are the remains of Teampull na Trionaid, the medieval Church of the Holy Trinity.
At the north end of North Uist is the most recently established of its gateways. The B893 takes you to Otternish and to the causeway opened in 1999 linking North Uist to Berneray. In doing so, it also links to the terminus for the Sound of Harris Ferry which, since 1996, has transformed communications between Harris and the Uists.
North Uist's encircling main road is a mixture of fairly good quality single track road and more modern high quality twin track (ie with a white line down the middle) road. The best section is from Lochmaddy to the south west: and in summer 2006 another four miles of road were being upgraded to complete this stretch, effectively being built from scratch alongside the old road.
North Uist is a haven for birdwatchers and there is an RSPB reserve at Balranald. It is also a fascinating place for anyone interested in archeology, with a wide range of sites to see including Barpa Langais and the nearby stone circle.
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