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NORTH UIST AND BERNERAY

Berneray is an island and community in the Sound of Harris, Scotland. It is one of fifteen inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides. It is famed for its rich and colorful history which has attracted much tourism.

The island is scattered with ancient sacred sites, stone circles, signs of Viking inhabitation and historical buildings, and some several centuries old.

Etymology:

The name “Berneray” is from the Old Norse Bjarnar-øy and means either “Bjorn’s island” or possibly “bear island“. Traditionally this island was known by Gaelic speakers as Beàrnaraigh na Hearadh, meaning “Berneray of Harris. More recently Gaelic speakers have also used Beàrnaraigh Uibhist, i.e. “Berneray of Uist” to refer to the northern Berneray.

Demographics:

In common with most islands in the Outer Hebrides, the population declined during the 19th and 20th centuries. However, the past few years has seen stabilization. The island’s population was 138 as recorded by the 2011 census a small rise since 2001 when there were 136 usual residents. During the same period Scottish island populations as a whole grew by 4% to 103,702.

Most people on Berneray speak Scottish Gaelic, many as a first language. It is known as the birthplace of the giant Angus MacAskill and for its sandy beaches with sand dunes. The west beach, a three-mile stretch of wide, clean and often deserted sand, is widely acclaimed.

Commerce and transport:

The main industries are fishing, crofting (small-scale individual farming), media/IT and tourism. Broadband internet provision became available in January 2006.

A key feature of Berneray is its machair. The machair is a coastal plain made up of windblown shell sand. Traditional crofting practice, which involves summer agriculture using seaweed together with dung from winter grazing animals as natural fertilizer, has, over time, bound together and stabilized the land. The machair is ploughed in rotation, giving a patchwork of crops and fallow of different ages which supports a wide range of flowers. Berneray has a particularly fine machair, a result of careful husbandry by the island’s crofters, helped by the absence of rabbits.

The youth hostel on Berneray.

The youth hostel on Berneray is part of the Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust. The hostel consists of two restored black houses and is located at a magnificent setting overlooking the sound of Harris.

Media and the arts

A television programme entitled Shepherds of Berneray was aired in 1981.Berneray was in world news in 1987 when it was found that Charles, Prince of Wales had visited the island to live a normal Berneray life as a crofter. He lived and worked with a crofter for one week and his visit spawned the later television documentary, A Prince among Islands in 1991.