Sunday, 23 November 2014

Lochmaddy, North Uist : faraway, deeply Scottish and with a modern Art Gallery.

I simply can't resist the particular charm of these small civilized places, with almost every modern facilities, but completely isolated in a semi-desert and bare netural environment. Like genuine european "Ultimi Thuli", these are the last refuges in Europe for those seeking quietness and simple life merged in pristine and protected Nature.

North Uist is sub-arctic, at its 57º N latitude. Trees are scarce (mostly rowan trees, or mountain-ashes), the island is almost plane and covered with grass or a few shrubs.

The Vikings arrived in the Hebrides in 800 AD, where they built large settlements, but later the island must have been almost deserted in large periods of History. Presently some 1300 inhabitants live there, scattered in small or minuscule settlements.

The main 'town' is the fishing port of Lochmaddy, where the ferry from Skye or Harris, more frequented islands connected to the continent, arrives at least twice daily with supplies, the post, news from the world... and visitors ! Yes, because Lochmaddy became a small-scale Mecca for walking and cycling tourism, offering a surprising choice of lodging places.

In North Uist, the severe lack of trees does no harm the natural beauty of freshwater lochs, estuary heather moorland, inlets and grassy hills.

Lochmaddy (Scottish Gaelic: Loch nam Madadh, "Loch of the Hounds") is the administrative centre of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

Lochmaddy village.

Coordinates: 57.60° N, 7.16°W
Population: ~300

The Tourist office, close to the ferry terminal.

The village sits at the end of a sea inlet and, due to the rocky coast nature, is the only settlement on the east coast, but not far from the villages in the west of the island.

Lochmaddy's Sheriff Court.

The Old Courthouse, now a character B&B.

The first mention of Lochmaddy is dated 1616: "Lochmaldie on the coast of Uist is a rendezvous for pirates". The natural protection of the local harbour made it ideal for raids against ships sailing nearby.

Lochmaddy's harbour at dawn.

Nowadays the same good harbour makes Lochmaddy the ferry port for the island, and the village has the only bank, courthouse, tourist information office, post office and youth hostel on North Uist.

The Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre

The Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre stands close to the high-tide mark in Lochmaddy. The oldest building, from 1741, was originally an inn.

This is a major a focus for cultural life in North Uist. Taigh Chearsabhagh include a museum, where displays of local life and history can be seen. There are also two galleries.

Chris Drury's boat.

It is worth visiting for its family-run café alone. The shop stocks a selection of books, pottery, jewellery and crafts, plus music by traditional Scottish musicians.

The 'Hut of the Shadows'

Along the shore, after crossing a suspended bridge over a deep inlet, stands a traditional, turf-roofed building. Hut of the Shadows was built on 1997 on the end of a spit of land and surrounded by sea, islands and sky; the work, also by welsh artist Chris Drury, is a grass-roofed, stone tumulus which mirrors the shapes of the surrounding islands.

It has a curved passageway leading into a small chamber which, by means of a lens and three mirrors built into a wall, projects on to the opposite wall, the reflections of Loch nam Madadh´s waters like an old blurred movie.

Winner of several prizes in 1997 and 1998, for the protection through art of rural Scotland.

Another artistic intervention: a mosaic macquerel, part of a the sculpture trail in North Uist.

Caledonian MacBrayne's  MV Hebrides, the twice daily ferry.

Still in northwestern Uist, a rather peculiar feature is the Scolpaig Tower, a weird octogonal tower on a small islet in a low-tide inlet lake.

Built over an Iron Age dun on a small islet in Loch Scolpaig, it's a Gothic-style lunacy from 1830 with the noble intention of providing employment and income to starving natives.

But, on the island of North Uist, the most distinctive landmarks are the turf-roofed thatched houses, like this one in the northwest, at Malacleit near Sollas.

Struan cottage, on the shore of 'Traigh Vallay', 10 miles from Lochmaddy.

The Uists have lots of deserted beaches, tiny villages and areas teeming with wildlife.

'Traigh Udal', North Uist, near Malacleit

'Scolpaig bay' beach