by Paul Gallagher Published 01/12/2009
My intention was to begin at Barra and Vatersay and then head north through South Uist, across to Benbecular and onwards to North Uist and Berneray. Next I would take the ferry to Harris and finish my Hebredian travels on Lewis and return to the mainland at Ullapool, via the ferry from Stornoway. If I was to provide a detailed account of the day-to-day experiences of these islands then I could easily write a book about my wanderings and the images I made during the journey. The travelling hardship is worth it, and since that first visit, I have returned five times with camera in hand. The islands differ mainly in size and topography which is, in turn, split between north and south, with the south islands being largely flat, long-narrow land masses and the north islands being larger and including mountain ranges. All of the islands have coastlines of outstanding natural beauty.
The Road to Scalpay
I began my exploration on Barra and the Uists, which instantly reminded me of photographs I had seen of the flat-lands of North and South Dakota.
Much of Barra and the Uists are quite barren, flat and peppered with small lochans and blanket mire. Although this sounds rather bland, it is not.
The road that travels north through the Uists is the A865 which generally hugs the easterly coast. When I visited these islands for the first time I was blessed with superb days of sunlight, little rain and calm winds, but is worth bearing in mind that, in winter, this island group is often subjected to ferocious, Atlantic storms, when only the bravest venture out. It is not just the flatness of the south islands that reminds me of the Dakotas but the element of desertion, particularly the farming crofts. When driving along the A865 you pass many tiny, one-track roads that lead towards to coast. Many of the crofts on the Hebrides were segregated strips of land which ended at the sea or loch shore. Today many are abandoned and in differing states of decay. When you see these old dwellings they seem to be preserved in a fixed state in time. This is because when folk left these shores in more recent times, they only took what they needed, so old cars and farm machinery and even old buses are left as they were, which makes for a fascinating wealth of photographic opportunities!
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