Is it possible to do a North Uist day trip from Lewis and Harris, or vice versa? It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot, and my answer is always “Of course!”
While I would obviously recommend longer than a day in North Uist (like the time my parents and I went on a spring road trip through Uist and Barra), if you’re tight on time, a day trip can be the perfect opportunity to have a little local adventure – as my family and I found out on our very own North Uist day trip…
The ferry journey
In the summer, it’s always a bit of a gamble as to whether you’ll get a spot on the ferry between Harris and Berneray (ferry capacity in the summer is a hot topic in the islands, but that’s a story for another time). After breakfast from the famous Butty Bus in Leverburgh (Mr. Stories My Suitcase Could Tell was very impressed with the breakfast roll), we drove onto the ferry and made our way across the Sound of Harris, birds wheeling in the air ahead of the boat and sunshine fighting its way through the clouds.
The drive south
After arriving in Berneray, our plan was to make it across the causeway and down to North Uist Distillery before lunch. This meant we could take our time time on the drive down the west coast of North Uist, stopping as we felt like it: to watch oyster catchers chattering in fields; to snap a photo of a traditional thatched house; or to simply admire the scenery.
A hidden harbour
Although the high tide put most of the famous beaches off limits for the morning, we drove down one single track road that led us to an old abandoned farmhouse by the sea, and a pier packed with the detritus of fishing expeditions (not to mention a very friendly, loud little dog that seemed intent on following us all the way south!). I did wonder if anyone was coming back for the cup of tea that had been left balanced on a pallet…
Scolpaig and St Kilda
Further south again we passed Scolpaig Tower, a Georgian folly built on the site of an Iron Age Broch. From there, we drove to the St Kilda viewpoint at Clettreval Hill. While the “islands at the edge of the world” weren’t visible that afternoon, the panorama across the whole west of the island, and south towards Benbecula, more than made up for it.
A break at Balranald
Balranald meant three things: beaches, birds, and baking! Realizing it had been a while since those breakfast rolls, we snagged a spot at one of the picnic tables and enjoyed tea, coffee, and home baking from The Dunes Cabin, before strolling over the machair. Balranald is home to an RSPB Nature Reserve, taking in beaches, marshes, and sand dunes that are home to a wide range of birds like corncrakes and turnstones. In other words, it was the perfect place to enjoy a quiet walk on the beach before we made our way to North Uist Distillery nearby.
Behind the scenes at North Uist Distillery
North Uist Distillery, run by Master Distiller Jonny Ingledew and Creative Director Kate Macdonald, had only been open for five weeks at this point, but we were lucky to get a wee look behind the scenes and hear the story of the distillery as they were busy packing up and labelling mini bottles of their new spirit, Downpour Gin.
Lunch at Kallin Harbour
After our visit to North Uist Distillery, we headed for Kallin Harbour on the recommendation of Jonny and Kate, where we sat by the window of a small cafe-come-shop, and feasted on scallops, bacon, and chips with a view of the water.
Back to Berneray
Because we had taken our time making our way south along the west coast of North Uist, we started the return journey after lunch, planning on spending our last hour exploring Berneray, popping into the Coralbox Gift Shop and maybe getting a coffee from the Berneray Bistro. The sun had really come out by this point, and the waters glistening off Berneray made the beaches we had missed earlier in the day look very inviting.
Alas! The queue for the ferry had already begun – almost two hours early – and so we had to wait (im)patiently on the pier until it arrived, at which point the CalMac staff expertly guided all but one vehicle onto the car deck like they were completing a complicated game of Tetris. The moral of the story: always try and book ahead on the ferry if you can!
So is it possible to visit North Uist for just a day? Absolutely.
A day trip to North Uist from Lewis and Harris might be a long one – we were out of the house for more than 12 hours – but it’s most definitely worth the effort!
NEED TO KNOW
How do I get there? For a North Uist day trip, the ferry from Leverburgh to Berneray takes around 80 minutes and sails multiple times a day; from Berneray, you can then drive to North Uist and as far south as Eriskay via the inter-island causeways. If you prefer, you can take the plane from Stornoway to Benbecula and use a hire car to drive north (or south if you prefer!) – but this is definitely a more expensive option.
Where can I find more information? For ferry timetables and general tourist information, visit the CalMac website or the Visit Outer Hebrides site, and for a look at island life on North Uist, I can personally recommend the North Uist Distillery weekly newsletter, filled with photos and stories from the island!