In North Uist
North Uist may be small, but its scenery is extremely varied. The eastern shores possess an untamed beauty. The coastline is dotted with trout-filled lochs, and everything is set against a backdrop of rolling heather-clad hills. Nights come on fast in winter; sunsets linger in summer. The western side of North Uist is a land of rich meadows filled with wildflowers. Here you find long white beaches, where Atlantic rollers attract hardy surfers.
Heading northwest from Lochmaddy for 4km (2 1/2 miles), you come to the hamlet of Blashaval, where you find the Three Standing Stones of the False Men. Local tradition has it that this trio of stones, known in Gaelic as Na Fir Bhreige, were actual men, wife deserters from Skye turned into stone by a witch.
Continuing along the road for 6.5km (4 miles), you approach uninhabited Dun Torcuill Island, rising above the west side of Loch an Duin. Access to the island is possible on foot only during low tide; exercise caution. On the island is a broch; it's a ruined, though still fine, example of the circular fortified towers that provided defense during the Middle Ages. Most visitors prefer to admire it from across the water.
Turning north on B893, you come to Newton Ferry. A 15-minute crossing takes you to the little offshore island of Berneray, which has some ancient sites, including the mysterious-looking Borve Standing Stone. There's a privately run hostel here. The 140 or so people who live on the island are mainly engaged in crofting and fishing and may regard you as a sightseeing attraction.
After you return to Newton Ferry, head south on the same road. A left-hand fork takes you to Trumisgarry to see the ruins of an old chapel where an early Christian settlement was founded. St. Columba's Well (Tobar Chaluim Chille in Gaelic) is named after the saint.
Return to the main road and head west toward Sollas. On both sides of the road are cairns and standing stones, many from 2000 B.C. Pass through Hosta, a site of the Highland Games, heading for the Balranald Nature Reserve, 5km (3 miles) northwest of Bayhead. At a reception cottage at Goulat, near Hougharty, you can learn more about the birds inhabiting the Outer Hebrides. You can walk through the reserve at any time at no charge, but guided tours (£3) are given at 2pm Tuesday and Friday.
Back on the main road, heading southeast, you pass through Bayhead. Again, the area is filled with an astonishing number of ancient monuments. At the junction, take A867 back toward Lochmaddy. You'll see a sign pointing to Ben Langass. On the mountain slopes is a chambered cairn thought to be at least 3,000 years old, one of the best preserved on the island. Some historians believe a warrior chieftain was buried here, but others suggest it was a communal burial ground. Bones and pottery fragments removed from excavations were sent to the National Museum in Edinburgh.
Returning to the main road again, retrace your trail and head south for Carinish, a hamlet known for the Carinish Stone Circle and the Barpa Carinish, the site of the major attraction on the island, Trinity Temple (Teampull na Trionad in Gaelic), off A865 some 13km (8 miles) southwest of Lochmaddy. Admission is free and it's open at all times. It is said that the monastery was founded in the 13th century by Beathag, the first prioress of Iona, daughter of Somerland, an Irish mercenary and the founding father of the MacDonalds.
In South Uist
The biggest village in South Uist is Lochboisdale, at the head of a deep-sea loch on the southeastern part of the island. It was settled in the 19th century by crofters who had been forced off their land in the notorious Land Clearances. The ruins of a small medieval castle are at the head of the loch, on the island of Calvay, one of the many places where Bonnie Prince Charlie hid out.
Leaving Lochboisdale, A865 goes west for 5km (3 miles) to Daliburgh, where you can pick up B888 south to Pollachar, on the southern shore, a distance of 10km (6 1/4 miles). The village is named for the Pollachar Standing Stone, a jagged dolmen rising a few paces from the hamlet's center. Continue east along a minor road for 4km (2 1/2 miles) to the Ludag jetty, where a private ferry goes to Eriskay and Barra.
The next stop is the Klipheder Wheelhouse, 3km (1 3/4 miles) west of A865, the meager ruins of a circular building from A.D. 200. Back on the main road again, you come to Askernish, site of a 9-hole golf course.
About 5km (3 miles) north from Daliburgh, at Airidh Mhuilinn, is a Flora MacDonald memorial. West of A865, 182m (600 ft.) up a little farm track about 1km (2/3 mile) north of Milton, a cairn atop a little hill marks the spot where this woman was born in 1722. She is revered for helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from George II and his supporters.
If you stay on the minor roads, you'll see the dramatic machair-fringed shoreline and pass through the hamlets of Bornish, Ormiclete, and Stoneybridge. At Ormiclete are the ruins of Ormiclete Castle, constructed by the Clan Ranald chieftains in the early 18th century.
Rejoin the main road at Howbeg. The part of the island directly north of Howbeg is rich in archaeological remains. Ruins of several medieval chapels are all that's left of a major South Uist ecclesiastical center.
Farther north, A865 passes the Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve, the most significant breeding ground in the country for the native grayleg goose. Attracting the dedicated bird-watcher, it's a setting of machair and brackish lochs. At Drimsdale lie the ruins of a big dun, a fortification in a loch where the villagers retreated when under attack. It continued as a stronghold for the Clan Ranald until the early 1500s.
The road continues past the Royal Artillery Rocket Range. On the flank of Reuval Hill stands Our Lady of the Isles, a 9m (30-ft.) statue of the Virgin and Child. Erected in 1957, it's the largest religious statue in Britain. Loch Bee, inhabited by mute swans, nearly bisects the northern part of South Uist.
You'll find Hebridean Jewelry, Garrieganichy, Iochdar (tel. 01870/610-288), signposted on the north end of the Iochdar Road. The shop produces silver and gold pendants and brooches featuring Celtic patterns. The artists here create custom pieces on request.
If you'd like to explore the island by bike, head for Rothan Cycles, 9 Howmore (tel. 01870/620-283).