We’d been to North Uist a couple of times before and whilst we’d come away with one or two nice images, we didn’t feel that we’d captured the true nature of this beautiful, sparse, windswept island.
We first ventured to Uist in July 2015, in search of the machair. This first trip really turned out to be just an exploration, as it took us some time to find our way around and search out the best locations.
However a combination of wanting another opportunity to capture the machair and a desire to return to some of the locations we’d found in 2015, meant we had to try again. We’d spotted a cottage we fancied staying in during our first trip and add in the fact that I managed to arrange a boat ride to St. Kilda from Bernaray, meant we found ourselves back on Uist in July 2017. We’d arrived on the Saturday evening, just giving us time to settle in before I caught the boat to St. Kilda early on Sunday morning and didn’t return until late on Tuesday evening.
This left me with just Wednesday and Thursday to shoot the machair, before the weather closed in on the Friday, so once again, I still felt we’d barely started to get to grips with this island.
Despite being physically close to Harris, Uist has a very different feel and character. It is much more traditional and un-developed and not nearly as touristy. The population appears to be larger than Harris, with houses dotted all over and very few of the houses seem to be abandoned, in fact there is a lot of new building going on. I’m not sure what all these people do for a living, so I’ll have to do some investigating.
Uist does have wide open expanses of beach like on Harris, but they are a little harder to find, though definitely worth the effort. It’s also a pretty low-lying island, with very little shelter, so if you’re not a fan of the wind, then this definitely not the place for you!
Our base in 2017 and 2019 was a little black house, nestled on a hill top overlooking Traigh Vallay. Think Budle Bay on steroids, as the tide recedes over a mile when it goes out. I know because I’ve walked it! Sitting on the hill top overlooking Traigh Vallay as the tide races in is a magical experience, as the swirls of the incoming tide fill the troughs in the sand. However, it all happens so fast, its easy to miss the show.
But if the tide rolling in coincides with some nice light, then it really is truly stunning!
I’m very happy with my “Rowing Boat” image from 2015, as I think it captures the stark simplicity of the island, but it was the contrast between the beautiful bands of colour when the sun shines and the stark, windswept nature that we really wanted to capture.
The tide recedes from Traigh Vallay, leaving a huge expanse of empty beach that was just crying out to be explored. Walking along the side of the bay from our base at Garry Iain, past Malacleit and onto the dunes, ultimately takes you to the vast expanse of windswept dunes at Traigh Iar. Even on the wild, showery day I visited, this is a truly beautiful place and one I’d love to revisit at sunrise one day.
Clachan Sands was another great find and a location we visited several times, with its wide sweeping bay and windswept dunes giving endless photo opportunities.
As photographers, I’m sure we all go with certain images in mind, but you really do have to have an open mind and go with whatever the landscape offers you. We’d hoped to do a lot of work shooting details in the many lochans dotted around the island, but high winds meant we had to concentrate on the endless beaches for abstracts instead.
Though we did mange to capture a few lochan images when the winds abated.
Despite the challenging weather conditions we encountered, we’ve come back feeling much more positive about the images we’ve captured this time. We genuinely feel as though we “get it” and feel ready to explore what this beautiful island has to offer image wise should we venture here again one day.