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Benbecula


(Beinn na Faoghla)

Nestled between North Uist and South Uist in the Western Isles, Benbecula (Gael: Beinn na Faoghla, meaning 'mountain of the fords') is a low flat windswept island with a solitary hill that rises to 124m (409 feet) at Rueval. It has an area of 8,203 ha (20,270 acres) comprising machair in the west and peat moorland in the east, and its main settlement is at Balivanich. An army base established here in 1958 was extended in 1971 to house military personnel servicing the South Uist rocket range and to the northeast lies the island's airfield. The population of the island has varied principally with the movement of military personnel, although shows a slow underlying decline; 1358 (1961), 1355 (1971), 1869 (1981), 1771 (1991) to 1219 (2001) but stabilising at 1303 in 2011.

In 1896 a harbour was built at Peter's Port in the narrows between Benbecula and the island of Wiay which is a bird sanctuary. In 1960, HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900 - 2002), opened a causeway over the North Ford connecting with North Uist and in 1982 another causeway was extended across the sands of South Ford linking the island to South Uist. At 5 miles (8 km) in length, the North Ford Causeway is the longest in the Western Isles. It clips the western end of the island of Grimsay and runs over various smaller islands on route.

Antiquities on Benbecula include the ruins of the Clan Ranald stronghold of Borve Castle, Teampull Bhuirgh and the 14th Century nunnery of Nunton Chapel. It was from Benbecula that Prince Charles Edward Stuart sailed "over the sea to Skye" in April 1746 and it was from Lady Clanranald at Nunton House that he acquired the clothes with which he disguised himself as a maidservant to Flora MacDonald. The MacDonalds of Clan Ranald owned the island until 1839 when it passed to Colonel Gordon of Cluny whose estate held the island until 1942. The southern part of the island is now part of the community-owned South Uist Estate.


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