An explorer's guide to the islands of Britain

Distance: 54.5 km
Difficulty: Easy
Method: Road cycling
Wow Factor: 7 out of 10

Key Facts

  • Location: Outer Hebrides
  • Size: 30,300 hectares
  • Terrain: Good quality road
  • Access: Ferry from Uig on Skye, landing at Lochmaddy. Also ferry from Leverburgh on Harris to Berneray and drive south
  • Height gain: 428 metres
  • Map: OS Explorer 454
  • Starting point: Lochmaddy Ferry Port
  • Accommodation/food:

    There is a range of accommodation and food on the island, here’s some of our favourites:

    Campsites – Moorcroft Holidays for great views over the beach towards Benbecula for campervans, tents also a bunkhouse and Hobbit Home Glamping. Balranald has touring and camping sites within the nature reserve and is very close to the beach.

    Food and drink – The Westford Inn near Kirkibost is one of our favourite pubs on the islands. Always a great welcome and good fun and the food looks excellent too. There is a bothy to rent on site. The Hebridean Smokehouse at Clachan is the place to spoil yourself with delicious smoked seafood, salmon and other goodies for a picnic on one of the magnificent beaches en route. There are stores at Sollas (Co-op), Bayhead Shop (Bayhead) and J Morrison at Lochmaddy. We also love the cafe and arts centre at Taigh Chearsabhagh, just after the Lochmaddy ferry terminal.

  • Island Summary:

    The more time you spend on North Uist the more you’ll love it. One night at the Westford Inn I said to a local sat at the bar ‘I love North Uist’. His gentle response was ‘And North Uist will love you back’.

    The island’s interior is moorland interspersed with many deep, black freshwater lochs. The western side is bordered by miles of machair and sandy beaches that have been carved by the Atlantic with views across to the Monach Islands and St Kilda. The north has a little forestry along with vast stretches of sheltered sands and opportunities to walk out to the tidal island of Vallay or cycle across the causeway to explore Berneray. The eastern side is more sheltered and relatively uninhabited with many islets dotted throughout its vast watery landscape.

    North Uist is a destination for wildlife lovers who come to see otters, corncrake and the largest breeding colony of grey seals in Europe on the Monach Islands off the west coast. There is plenty of history on offer too with several prehistoric sites including the huge chambered burial cairn of Barpa Langais.


  • Look out for:
    • Cycling quiet roads through surreal landscapes
    • Watching the short eared owl hunt during the day
    • Chatting to the locals in the fabulous Westford Inn
    • Walking the incredible tidal beach of Traigh Bhalaigh
    • Neolithic chambered cairn at Barpa Langais
  • Route description:

    Starting at the Lochmaddy Ferry Terminal the clockwise route follows the main circular island road. Heading west on the A867 there is plenty of evidence of traditional peat extraction for local fuel amongst the numerous lily and trout-filled lochtans.  Just before reaching the road junction at Clachan, Barpa Langais is the best preserved Neolithic chambered cairn in the Outer Hebrides. It is a mound of stone with a small burial chamber inside.

    The route veers northwest at Clachan at the junction with the A865 passing the Hebridean Smokehouse and the Kirkibost Cafe with tantalising views seaward to the white sands and machair. About 4.3 km from the junction, The Westford Inn is well worth a stop for great food, music and liquid refreshments. A further 7.3 km on, a small lane to the left leads to the RSPB’s Balranald Reserve were it may be possible to spot corncrakes or take a walk down to the beach. The route continues through the peat lands to the north west tip, past Loch Scolpaig with its much photographed Scolpaig Tower, then along a fabulous stretch of straight and fast road before descending slightly to reach the vast stretch of tidal sands south of the island of Vallay.

    The A865 continues to Malacleit, with its traditionally thatched-roofed croft cottage sitting above incredible sand and watery vistas before reaching Solas. After passing the junction to Berneray the route passes the many islets of the east coast before returning to Lochmaddy.

    This is often a wind-blown trip, full of some very welcome refreshment stops with subtle changes to the inland scenery and exhilarating vistas across vast tidal sands and islets. Most visitors pass through and haven’t a clue what they are missing.


  • Getting there:

    Calmac ferry from Uig on Skye, landing at Lochmaddy. Also ferry from Leverburgh on Harris to Berneray and drive south

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Welcome new readers

Take a look around the site. Learn about islands you may never have heard of. Take up the islandeering challenge and find a pioneering route, or simply see what each island has to offer for a more chilled out visit. Go to ‘islands’ and find something that inspires you.

Island overview

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From peat-smoked scallops, delicious cakes to the warmest pub welcome you'll ever likely get

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