Uist, South

Uist, South
   UIST, SOUTH, an island and parish, in the county of Inverness: containing, with the islands of Benbecula, Eriskay, and Flodda, 7333 inhabitants, of whom 5093 are in the island of South Uist. This place, of which the name is supposed to be of Danish origin, is not distinguished by any events of historical importance. The parish is bounded on the north by a sound two miles in breadth, which separates it from the island of North Uist; on the east, by the channel of the Minch, which divides it from the Isle of Skye; and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. Including the islands of Benbecula and Eriskay, it is about thirty-eight miles in length, varying from six to eight miles in breadth, and comprising an area of 80,500 acres, of which 19,000 are arable and in cultivation, and the remainder mountain, moorland, and waste. The island of South Uist is twenty-seven miles in length and seven miles in average breadth; the island of Benbecula, about eight miles long and eight miles in breadth; and the island of Eriskay, which is separated from South Uist by a channel two miles in width, three miles and a half in length and a mile and a half broad.
   The surface on the west side of the parish is low and flat, but on the east side hilly and mountainous. The highest of the mountains is Heacle, or Hecla, in the island of South Uist, which has an elevation of 2500 feet above the level of the sea; it consists of three distinct summits, of which the central is the lowest, the whole rising from a continued range of several miles in length, and affording good pasturage for sheep. The ranges of hills to the north and south of Hecla vary from 1200 to 1300 feet in height, and, during the summer, are clothed with tender grass, forming excellent pasture for black-cattle, sheep, and horses. From the bases of the mountains and hills extend large tracts of peat-moss, providing abundance of fuel, which, when dried and stacked, becomes impervious to the rain without any covering. There are numerous inland lakes, from several of which issue small rivulets that flow through some parts of the parish; but there are no rivers properly so called. The largest of these lakes is Loch Bee, about three miles in length and one mile in breadth, into which the sea flows at spring-tides, and which consequently abounds with trout, flounders, and mullet. Loch Druidibeg, to the north of Hecla, is little inferior to Loch Bee in dimensions, and contains many islets, frequented by gulls and other aquatic fowl, and formerly well stocked with deer. Of the smaller lakes, those on the moors abound with black trout, though of very inferior quality; and in two of the streams that issue from the lochs into the sea, salmon are found, but not in any great quantity.
   The coast is indented on the east side with numerous sea lochs, forming commodious bays. The principal are, Loch Skiport on the north, Loch Eynort in the centre, and Loch Boisdale in the south; the two first penetrate nearly to the western boundary of the parish, and the last for more than four miles into the interior. All these bays constitute excellent harbours; and on their rocky shores are accumulated vast quantities of sea-weed, used for manure, and for the manufacture of kelp, of which, previously to the reduction of the price, about 1100 tons were annually produced. There are many caves, excavated in the rocks by the action of the waves. The most remarkable is at Corodale, on the eastern coast, between Loch Skiport and Loch Eynort: this is called the Prince's Cave, from its having afforded concealment to Prince Charles Edward from the pursuit of his enemies, in 1746. Among the headlands are, Oronsay, opposite to the small island of that name; Ard-Vula; Ard-Michael; and Ard-Ivachar: the only headland on the eastern coast is Ushinish, which projects for nearly a mile and a half into the channel of the Minch. The several harbours are under the jurisdiction of the port of Stornoway. The larger of them are frequented by vessels carrying cattle and agricultural produce to the Isle of Skye and the main land; and the smaller, of which the principal are Lochs Charnan, Shelliva, and Uisgava, by fishing-boats. Vast shoals of herrings are found off the western coast; and on the eastern, cod, ling, and other white-fish are plentiful; but except at Boisdale, few persons are engaged in the fisheries, which, since the withdrawal of the government bounty, have greatly decreased. Cockles are taken in great quantities on the sands between the island of Benbecula and North and South Uist; and limpets, muscles, periwinkles, lobsters, and crabs are also abundant. Oysters are taken only on the shores of Loch Skiport.
   The soil is generally light and sandy, but in some places a black loam, and in others moss: on the western coast the lands are subject to drifts of sand, which have been remedied by the sowing of bent-grass. The crops are, barley, bear, oats, rye, potatoes, and turnips. The system of husbandry has been of late gradually improving, and considerable portions of moss have been brought into cultivation: but very little progress has been made in inclosing the lands. The cattle, of which about 5000 are annually reared in the parish, are of the Highland black-breed; and the sheep, of which 7000 are fed, chiefly of the small native breed. Some few, however, of the Cheviot and black-faced have been introduced on the larger farms. About 2100 horses are also bred yearly, of diminutive stature, but of great strength and symmetry, and capable of enduring much fatigue. Though formerly abounding with wood, as appears from the number of trunks and branches of trees discovered under the mosses while digging for peat, there are at present no plantations in the parish, and scarcely a tree of any kind is to be seen. The prevailing rocks are of the primitive formation; there are also rocks of gneiss, coarse granite, and hornblende, and some mica-slate in a few places. There are neither villages nor hamlets deserving of notice. The rateable annual value of South Uist is £5863; and the principal landed proprietor is Colonel Gordon, of Cluny, who possesses four-fifths of the parish, by recent purchase from Macdonald of Clanranald.
   The ecclesiastical affairs are under the superintendence of the presbytery of Uist and synod of Glenelg. The minister's stipend is £281, with an allowance of £50 in lieu of manse and glebe; patron, the Crown. The old church has been in ruins from the time of the Reformation; and a private house, fitted up with 200 sittings, was for many years appropriated to the performance of divine service, till the erection of the present church, a neat structure containing about 500 sittings. There are two missionary stations in connexion with the Established Church; one at Benbecula, where is a chapel containing 270, and one at Boisdale, where is a chapel containing 230, sittings. The minister of Benbecula has a stipend of £80, and the minister of Boisdale a stipend of £70; of each of which sums, £60 are paid from the Royal Bounty, and the remainder by the heritors. There are also three chapels under the superintendence of a Roman Catholic bishop, who resides in Glasgow. The parochial school is well conducted; the master has a salary of £26. 8. 8., with an allowance of £8 in lieu of house and garden, and the fees average £5 per annum. On the island of Benbecula are some remains of the castle of Borve, the ancient residence of the lords of Benbecula. There was also a nunnery, of which the remains were removed, and the stones used in the erection of the mansion of Clanranald; and on a small islet in a lake are still some remains of an old monastery. In Loch Druidibeg is a rocky islet, on which are the ruins of an ancient fortress, apparently erected as a place of refuge in times of danger; and on an island in a lake almost in the centre of the parish is, still nearly entire, a square tower to which the lords of Clanranald with their families retired when apprehensive of invasion.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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