North Uist

(Uibhist a Tuath)

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2022.

It has taken much time and money to make the six-volumes of Groome's text freely accessible. Please help us continue and develop by making a donation. If only one out of every ten people who view this page gave £5 or $10, the project would be self-sustaining. Sadly less than one in thirty-thousand contribute, so please give what you can.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry Arrow

Uist, North, an island and parish of the Outer Hebrides, Inverness-shire. The island is bounded on the W and NW by the Atlantic Ocean, on the NE by the Sound of Harris, on the E by the Little Minch, on the S, separating it from Benbecula, by a narrow, complicated, shallow strait, densely packed with isles and islets, and partly fordable between low water and half tide. Its greatest length, from E by N to W by S, is 18 miles; its greatest breadth, in the opposite direction, is 13¾ miles; its breadth, over great part, does not average more than 6½ miles; and its land area appears to be considerably less than 80 square miles. The entire eastern half is a labyrinth of land and water cut into innumerable peninsulas and islands of every imaginable form, partly by the ramifications of Lochs Evort and Maddy, inlets of the sea, and partly by the existence of ragged and many armed fresh-water lakes; and, looked at from almost every vantage ground, it seems to defy description or exploration, so intricate and broken is the outline. The whole of the territory thus cut into fragments is a dreary, flat, marshy moorland-'a brown, peaty, and boggy tract,' says Dr Macculloch, 'so interspersed with lakes and rocks as to be nearly impassable, and producing a scanty and wretched herbage for a few animals during the driest months of summer, while in the winter it is resigned to wild geese, ducks, and swans, who divide its waste and watery region with the sea-gulls which the ocean can no longer protect or feed.' Yet the tract is not all so low as its general character would seem to indicate; but presents, in a frequently broken belt of 2½ miles mean breadth along the coast, a range of hills, which gradually rise from the N to the S, reaching at one point, Ben Eval, to an altitude of 1133 feet. The western portion of the island is, comparatively speaking, continuous land; and sends up, in lines from SE to NW, three distinct groups or ranges of heights. One of these ranges bounds the Sound of Harris; and, though lifting its chief summits of Ben Breach and Ben More to nearly 1000 feet of altitude, is of tame appearance. The second range extends almost from end to end of the district along very nearly its middle, and sends up its principal eminence, Ben Croghan, to a height of 1500 feet. The third range is a prolonged and irregular group of much less elevation than the others, of a smooth and undulating surface, and with declivities which fall off in gentle slopes to the SW. A belt of uneven low land between this last group and the sea is exceedingly beautiful in summer and autumn, produces luxuriant crops of oats and barley, and forms both the chief and the most profitable area of arable ground in the island. Its soil is naturally a mixture of clay and peat, and, jointly by culture and by the admixture of drift sand from the coast, it has become a rich and fertile mould. All its seaboard, with the exception of a few bold rocky headlands, consists chiefly of various pulverised shells, which are wafted over all the tract by the powerful western winds, and fertilise it with all the power of rich lime manure. Yet beautiful and productive as this district generally is, it often in winter suffers such denudation of its more tender and valuable grasses, by the action of rain, frost, and storms, that the cattle which feed upon it can find no sustenance, and must be sustained by the stores of the corn-yards or left to perish. A curious cave called Sloch-a-choire is at Tighary Point near the parish church, and 3 miles distant at Scolpeg is a larger, but less curious one. There are numerous rude monuments and ruins, probably of Scandinavian origin, to which various traditions are attached. Gneiss forms the great bulk of the island; argillaceous schist is the chief constituent of the range of heights on the eastern shore; and trap occurs, among the same heights, in numerous veins. The chief useful mineral, apart from the building material of the rocks, is a species of bog-iron accompanied by pyrites which, with the assistance of tormentil, galium, lichens, and other native plants, is employed by the natives for dyeing. The sea-lochs and bays abound with marine fish; and the fresh-water lakes contain plenty of trout, and are frequented by flocks of wild geese, ducks, and swans. The inhabitants have shared very largely in the miseries so common throughout the Hebrides and the Highland shores of the mainland, resulting from bad husbandry, defective harvests, precariousness of the fisheries, and destruction of the kelp trade. Hence North and South Uist have figured prominently in the Crofter agitation of 1884-85.

The parish comprehends the island of North Uist, a number of inhabited islands lying adjacent to North Uist or near it, and a great many neighbouring isles and islets, some of them covered with verdure and suitable for pasture, others bare rocks, valuable only for the seals which frequent them. The principal islands, additional to North Uist itself, are Kirkebost, Illeray, Baleshare, Grimisay, Vallay, and Orinsay, all connected with the island of North Uist by dry sands at low water; Rona, less than 1 mile to the SE; Boreray, about 2 miles to the N; and Heisker, about 10 miles to the W. It contains the post office stations of Lochmaddy and Carinish. It is in the presbytery of Uist and synod of Glenelg; the living is worth £185. The parish church was built in 1764, and contains 400 sittings. There are a quoad sacra parish church at Trumisgarry, an Established mission church at Carinish, and Free churches at Paible and Carinish. Twelve board schools, all of recent erection, with total accommodation for 655 scholars, had (1884) an average attendance of 350, and grants amounting to £366, 4s. 3d. Valuation (1860) £4135, (1884) £5483. Pop. of island (1841) 3788, (1861) 3034, (1871) 3222, (1881) 3371; of parish (1801) 3010, (1831) 4603, (1861) 3959, (1871) 4107, (1881) 4264, of whom 4134 were Gaelic-speaking, and 3383 were in North Uist ecclesiastical parish.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better