Explore Benbecula in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides
Located between the islands of South Uist and North Uist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, the island of Benbecula is an interesting option for travelers who enjoy exploring off-the-beaten-track destinations. It has been suggested that the name of the island means “little mountain of the ford”, and although the highest elevation on the island is measured at only 124 meters, making the “mountain” part of the name a bit of a mystery, the reason for the “ford” reference is immediately apparent. While in days gone by crossing the fords between Benbecula and either of its neighbours was a somewhat risky endeavor, today there are sturdy causeways linking the islands.
The history of the island goes back to the establishment of a monastery in the 6th century. After 500 years of dominance by the MacDonalds of Clanranald, Benbecula’s residents were forced to emigrate during the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th century. Benbecula has served an important role in more modern military history, with an airfield being built during World War II. During the Cold War era, the airport became the Hebrides rocket range control centre, and is currently a small commercial airport. The small army base established on Benbecula in 1958 reportedly remains in operation.
The eastern side of the island features a host of fresh water lochs and sea lochs, interspersed with moorland and bog. The western side of Benbecula features an area of cultivated land and freshwater lochs. Facing the strong winds off the Atlantic, the coastline consists of machair – low-lying grassy plain – sand dunes and wide, sandy beaches.
The main town on Benbecula is Balivanich, located on the northwest coast of the island. With reference to the 6th century monastery which now lies in ruins to the south of the town, Balivanich means “town of the monks”. It is home to the local council offices, post office, hospital, primary school and a number of shops, as well as the Benbecula Airport which services flights between the island and Stornoway Airport, as well as Barra Airport. Other reminders of Benbecula’s distant past include ruins of an old chapel an Nunton and the remains of Borve Castle.