Escape to Uist

For three days, I experienced life on one of the most remote islands of Scotland, an island in the Outer Hebrides known as North Uist. I arrived in a tiny, shaking airplane that swept into the pocket sized airport over breath-taking views of rock and shining, glimmering waves. The sea in the Uist is stunning. It is not like the nearly colourless waters around St. Andrews, but instead a wonderful Caribbean blue-green, which is yet more striking next to the white sands and black rock of the islands.

Though the Uists are only an hour plane ride from Glasgow, they feel exotic. As I stood in the airport, I came to the fantastic realisation that everyone around me, other than an Indian man and a woman from Spain, all knew each other and were, moreover, speaking Gallic. It was like being a part of a family reunion, which is an apt analogy, since no family reunion is complete without three random people also being awkwardly in attendance, with no one quite sure of how they got there or who, in fact, they are related to.

Local events held in communal halls are the social highlights of North Uist, and one that I attended was indeed the social highlight of my own visit. I was supplied with free wine, listened to traditional music, and “circulated” among the locals – i.e. I said a very shy “thank you” to the man behind the bar. However, I did make a concerted effort to blend in among the locals with a visit to the local Co-op. I talked the entire time in a whisper, so that my loud American tones didn’t sing out over the aisle and cause everyone inside to look at me in startled amazement.  Despite my efforts, though, I’m sure they could tell I wasn’t from the island. Nonetheless, I hoped that they would assume I was some distant cousin of some fisherman, and that the reason for my silence was that I was a mute.

When I wasn’t making poor attempts to be a local, I went for vastly long walks on white beaches that ran as far as the eye could see, with glittering turquoise sea on the left and towering dunes on the right. I explored among the tide pools, clambered over rocks and searched for interesting sea shells, and loved those of a deep purple colour, as well as those that had the luminescence of pearls.

The Uists are worth visiting, if not for the beauty, then for the communal feeling of the islands, as well as the overwhelming sense of being in a place almost untouched by time. As it has been said of the Uists:

 “The sea is all islands and the land all lochs…

and that which is not rock is sand…

and that which is not mud is bog…

and that which is not bog is loch…

and that which is not loch is sea…"

Photos courtesy of Rafal StanczykSarah Moore and Stephen Holman.

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