A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland

The following is from A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland by Martin Martin:

The Island of Benbecula

THE island of Benbecula lies directly to the south of North-Uist, from which it is two miles distant; the ground being all plain and sandy between them, having two little rivers or channels no higher than oneís knee at a tide of ebb: this passage is overflowed by the sea at every tide of flood, nor is it navigable except by boats. There are several small islands on the east side of this channel. This island is three miles in length from south to north, and three from east to west, and ten miles in compass. The east side is covered with heath; it hath a bay called Uiskway, in which small vessels do sometimes harbour, and now and then herrings are taken in it.

The mountain Benbecula, from which the isle hath its name, lies in the middle of it; the eastern part of this island is all arable, but the soil sandy, the mould is the same with that of North-Uist, and affords the same corn, fish, cattle, amphibia &c. There is no venomous creature here. It hath several freshwater lakes well stocked with fish and fowl. There are some ruins of old forts to be seen in the small islands, in the lakes, and on the plain.

There are also some small chapels here, one of them at Bael-nin-Killach, id est. Nunís-town, for there were nunneries here in time of popery. The natives have lately discovered a stone vault on the east side of the town, in which there are abundance of small bones, which have occasioned many uncertain conjectures; some said they were the bones of birds, others judged them rather to be the bones of pigmies. The proprietor of the town, enquiring Sir Norman Macleodís opinion concerning them, he told him that the matter was plain, as he supposed, and that they must be the bones of infants born by the nuns there. This was very disagreeable to the Roman Catholic inhabitants, who laughed it over. But in the meantime the natives out of zeal took care to shut up the vault that no access can be had to it since; so that it would seem they believe what Sir Norman said, or else feared that it might gain credit by such as afterwards had occasion to see them. This island belongs properly to Ranald Macdonald of Benbecula, who, with all the inhabitants, are Roman Catholics; and I remember I have seen an old lay Capuchin here, called in the language Brahir-brocht, that is, poor brother, which is literally true, for he answers this character, having nothing but what is given him. He holds himself fully satisfied with food and raiment, and lives in as great simplicity as any of his order; his diet is very mean, and he drinks only fair water; his habit is no less mortifying than that of his brethren elsewhere; he wears a short coat, which comes no further than his middle, with narrow sleeves like a waistcoat; he wears a plaid above it girt about the middle, which reaches to his knee; the plaid is fastened on his breast with a wooden pin, his neck bare, and his feet often so too; he wears a hat for ornament, and the string about it is a bit of fisherís line made of horse hair. This plaid he wears instead of a gown worn by those of his order in other countries. I told him he wanted the flaxen girdle that men of his order usually wear. He answered me that he wore a leather one, which was the same thing. Upon the matter if he is spoken to when at meat, he answers again: which is contrary to the custom of his order. This poor man frequently diverts himself with angling of trouts. He lies upon straw; and had no bell (as others have) to call him to his devotion, but only his conscience, as he told me.

The speckled salmons, described in North-Uist, are very plentiful on the west side of this island.

The Island of South Uist


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