South Uist

(Uibhist a Deas)

The second largest island in the Outer Hebrides with an area of 32,026 ha (79,136 acres), South Uist (Gael: Uibhist a Deas) is 20 miles (32 km) long by 6 miles (10 km) wide. The island is penetrated on the east coast by the sea lochs of Loch Skiport, Loch Eynort and Loch Boisdale and ranged down its east side are the hill-ridges of Hecla (606m / 1988 feet), Beinn Mhor (620m / 2034 feet) and Stulaval (374m / 1227 feet). Its western side is characterised by a large number of freshwater lochans set behind a virtually unbroken beach of white-shell sand backed by dunes and machair grasslands. That part of the machair west of West Geirinish and Loch Bee was given over to a Royal Artillery range originally established by the Ministry of Defence in 1961 to test the Corporal missile. Lochboisdale, the only village on the east coast, is the island's ferry port link with Oban, Mallaig and Barra. In the north the island is connected to Benbecula by the South Ford Causeway (1983). Notable landmarks on South Uist include a cairn marking the birthplace of Flora Macdonald, the prehistoric chambered cairn and ring of pillar stones known as Barp Mingarry on the slope of Reineval, the ruins of 18th Century Ormiclate Castle and the statue of Our Lady of the Isles on the slope of Reuval, the Hill of Miracles. Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve, extending over 1678 ha (4145 acres) of sandy shore, loch, machair and peat moorland is noted for its wildlife and flora. After the Norse occupation, South Uist was held by the MacDonalds of Clanranald until 1838 when Colonel John Gordon of Cluny (Aberdeenshire) bought the island and initiated clearances to make way for sheep farming. Ownership passed to the infamous Lady Emily Gordon Cathcart in 1878, who encouraged many of her tenants to emigrate to Canada, and then to Herman Anton Andreae, a London-based merchant banker, in 1944. Having been owned by a sporting syndicate since 1960, the South Uist Estate was bought by the community for £4.5 million in 2006. Sections of the estate had been sold over the years, including the island of Barra, while parts of Benbecula and South Uist were bought by the Ministry of Defence to form the Hebrides Missile Range. The population of the South Uist fell from a total of 5093 in 1841 to 2376 in 1961. This steady decline has continued; 2281 (1971), 2231 (1981), 2106 (1991), 1818 (2001) and 1754 (2011). Unusually for Scotland, 67% of the population are Roman Catholic (2011).

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