Benbecula - West
The West Side of Benbecula offers visitors a range of attractions covering everything from the aesthetic, to the intellectual to the energetic.
Here important historical sites stand against the beautiful coastal backdrop of endless sea and spectacular skyscapes – reminding us of the ever present link between the nature and culture of these isolated isles.
Home to the island’s principle settlement at Balivanich, the West Side of Benbecula has proved popular with settlers for centuries.
It was here that the monk St Toranan is reputed to have come ashore in the 6th Century – carrying Christianity to the Western Isles in a move that would forever shape the identity of the Outer Hebridean islanders and giving the settlement its name, which translates to “the town of the monk”.
Today’s visitors can see the ruins of the monastic chapel dedicated to St Columba that was established to the south of the World War II airfield that went on to become the control centre for the Hebrides Rocket Range at the height of the Cold War – bringing even more settlers as military personal were posted to the area, with the Ministry of Defence maintaining a presence to this day.
Other settlers across the ages included the Clan MacDonald of Clanranald whose now ruined 14th Century castle at Borve was occupied for around 300 years. The remaining stones of this medieval tower house are now a scheduled monument which you are welcome to visit.
Other historical attractions include Nunton House – one of the oldest buildings on Benbecula, which provided shelter to a fugitive Bonnie Prince Charlie as he made good his escape after the battle of Culloden. It was here that the Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald prepared his disguise as Betty Burke before the pair famously fled “over the sea to Skye”.
Seas and skies, of course, are something that the area has in abundance – providing habitats for a host of Hebridean wildlife. Visit the west coast beaches with their rich machair grasses (on foot or even horseback courtesy of the Uist Riding School) and keep an eye and ear open for the elusive corncrake – visitors needing wheelchair access should head for Cula Bay where the car park and picnic area have been adapted to accommodate.
Facilities on the West Side of the island can be found at villages of Lionacleit and Balivanich. In the former the school serves as a community centre with swimming pool, cafe, sports facilities, museum and library (with internet access) while the latter is home to the tourist information office in Macgillvray gift shop – the perfect place to find mementos of your West Benbecula travels.
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