Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Hurstpierpoint West Sussex
Many thanks as usual,to Margie for putting up with me, although she was in the bad books for a while, what with standing there laughing while I was floundering in the muddy pit of doom, however she did redeem herself by spotting the corncrake and several other awesome birds and also completely saved my shoes and also by being the usual good company !! I promise the next holiday will have more castles.
Thanks as well to Christina at Claddach Cottages a very nice place to stay with absolutely everything you need for an enjoyable stay,the bed was comfy,the shower fantastic obviously from a birders point of view the garden and surrounds are superb,the list of birds seen from the house was insane including Golden Eagle,Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl,Merlin (while I was washing up!!) Wheatear,Stonechat,Skylark,Curlew,Whimbrel,Redshank,Oystercatcher,Lapwing and Arctic Skua!!. When the Wi-Fi is back up and running it will be perfect(it probably is by now)
The Uists and Benbecula are a fantastic place great scenery and awesome birds, Eagles and Harriers are majestic and the Twite were superb, the soundtrack is fantastic mix of Skylark, Corn Bunting, Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher calls and song, Sea watching was a bit pants, one of the reason we decided to book our holiday here and this time of year were the reports of huge numbers of Poms and Long-tailed Skuas going through,Not to be,the weather that gave us the blue skies and sunshine unfortunately gave North to East winds when for big Skua action you need a howling storm blowing in from the Atlantic, still you canít have it all!!
The remoteness is one of the attractions and although there are few places ,cafes,restaurant and a couple of pubs , with 4 or 5 shops itís mainly the scenery and wildlife that attracts, I spent too much money in the Hebridean Smokehouse although the smoked sliced Scallops were lovely .Strangely difficult to find Hebridean Lamb considering the islands are crawling in sheep, and of course there was very little Organic food in the few shops, we made a commitment after last yearís walk for wildlife to where possible only eat organic food, so we had to suspend that for the duration ,although we did take a bit with us.
For me the Uists seem to be at a bit of a crossroads, with the people maybe not fully appreciating the wildlife or it's potential for tourism, there seemed a lot development around with new house being built pretty much on any bit of land vaguely above sea level, there were a lot cars, vans, lorries and even buses seemingly abandoned in fields, a lot of the beaches had a lot of rubbish at the tide line mainly fishing tackle, pots, ropes etc all of which spoilt the aesthetic somewhat.
Although there are longer walks for the serious walkers, there seemed fewer of the shorter circular type walks for normal tourists and birders, RSPB Balranald and Druidibeg and a reserve at Loch Eynort seemed about it although there was good access to the Machair and the Beaches.
Probably the most depressing thing was the number of cats we saw wandering about, one of the most important places in the country for Ground Nesting Birds, the last refuge for the Corncrake and rare wading birds and yet there seemed no control at all, thousands of pounds has been spent removing introduced hedgehogs from the islands to protect the birds which seems pointless with the onslaught from cats, the lady who rented us the cottage told us the Corncrakes in her garden had been predated by cats and we even saw one at the entrance to Balranald. As I understand it the modernisation of farming practises also seems to be having a negative effect on the wildlife, Be interesting to go back in ten years and see how the wildlife has fared. Hopefully the local government will act to try and stop the loss of the things that make the Islands unique and special before they are gone. Doing a bit of reading I think there are projects to encourage the crofters to go back to traditional methods although I think it's a hard life to make a living at,hopefully grants will be given to encourage wildlife friendly farming going forward.
The above are small quibbles for me the Islands are superb for bird watching, especially in the spring and the scenery is fantastic especially as Iím a big fan of big skies and wide open spaces, the beaches, even the smelly ones are fantastic , and itís lovely to have a whole one to yourself!! Will we return? Almost certainly, although having not visited Mull, Islay or the Shetlands yet it may not be for a few years maybe next time I will finally hit the Skua passage right!!
A great holiday with some memorable encounters with wildlife, a place to feel really relaxed and happy. Heartily recommend the Uists and Benbecula to everyone.