Haunted Hebrides

12 01 2015

For five years, when I was in the Army back in the late ’70s, I lived on the Outer Hebrides, specifically the Isles of Benbecula, North and South Uist. The three islands are joined by causeways across the North and South Fords and we lived on Benbecula and worked on South Uist.

I’ve always been fairly susceptible to ‘atmosphere’ in a place and have quite a few times seen various types of unexplainable sightings and apparitions. My mother is the same and we both have a penchant for wandering off alone, me mostly at night – I particularly like misty nights… I always found South Uist particularly ‘atmospheric’ and Benbecula fairly so, depending on the location – sometimes to the point of creepiness.

1Triuirebheinn view

Click on photos for full size/resolution
The islands are full of standing stones, stone circles and ancient burial cairns and the islanders, being mainly crofters, still seem to be pretty much in touch with nature and the natural world. They also have a story-telling tradition and many of the tales are ghost stories so I suppose the islands are good candidates for spooky experiences or feelings.

S Uist Standing stone1

Lewis-Calanais
The famous Calanais (Callanish) with it’s grotesquely-shaped stones

N Uist chambered cairn
Chambered burial cairns Loch Eport road, North Uist)

Of course, all feels mostly fine during the day (except maybe down some of the more deserted glens) but as night falls…

Grimsay old PO sunset

This is a land of much water and very few people – one of the main attractions of the outer islands…

Grimsay Sunset2

Sometimes strange, alien faces can be seen in the rock pools…

S Harris alien face

One particular glen, South Glendale, is quite an uncomfortable place to visit as it is completely surrounded by hills on all sides and no-one lives there any longer.

S Glendale loch

Glendale

Five or six miles down the glen, there is the Bay of Hartabhagh where there is an old shieling which always gave me the creeps. I sometimes detoured over the hills on the return journey – I think to avoid it – but I’ve written about that in my ‘Uneasy Walking to the Tip of South Uist‘ post…

Many times, I’d find somewhere I felt was really spooky and, when I mentioned it to my friends amongst the locals, they would tell me some tale of gruesome mishap or I’d find that the name meant something bad-sounding…

Many gruesome mishaps occurred on the islands over the years. I always used to have a yen to walk the sands right across the North Ford when the tide was out but was warned against it by the folks I stayed with on the islands. A girl did that one night way back and got stuck in the quicksands – they reckon she remained stuck for 8 hours while the tide slowly came in and drowned her – a horrible way to go!

N Uist-N ford sunset
North Ford at Sunset and with the tide in

On one of our days off, my friends and I asked a local boatman to take us to the deserted island of Wiay off Benbecula. It was a lovely island and the three of us had a great day exploring the island – our only worry was whether the fishermen would remember to come back for us at the end of the day! We crossed the island over the single hill as I wanted to climb it and on our way we passed a long loch. To me, it looked a very dark, gloomy-loch, filled with little islands and I kept looking back at it as we ascended as it gave me weird feelings. When I got back I checked the map and found it was called ‘Loch na Beiste’. I asked a local for translation and she said that meant ‘the loch of the Beast’.

Wiay-Loch na Beiste

There were quite a few old, deserted settlements on the west side of the island (nearest to Benbecula) and some even older ones too…

Wiay-old settlement

I used to visit the stone circles quite regularly and my particular favourite was the Langass Stone Circle on North Uist. One murky day I went to visit it and had a yen to kneel in the centre of the circle. I found what I perceived to be the centre and knelt down and was surprised to feel quite a lot of heat apparently emanating up from the ground at that spot. I moved a few feet either side of the spot and the earth was cold and damp as expected but, each time I returned to the ‘centre’, it again felt warm. I looked for an explanation such as the centre being a drier piece of ground but, on closer examination, it didn’t seem so.

Langass Stone Circle
Langass Stone Circle on a sunnier day – Eaval behind

There was also an old track I used to take from the Carnan road on South Uist which eventually continues round the coast to the roadend at East Gerinish. The track continues on past souterrains to Aird Horragay. After crossing the end of a hill and passing a loch it arrives at an old, ruined shieling or croft. Just after that there is a truly weird building with a lot of tiny rooms together within an old wall. One of my friends up there said it was an old school but the rooms were too small. It was quite a spooky spot though with lots of ‘atmosphere’ – well worth a visit on a still day.

E Gerinish

Another spooky area is at the crossroads at Ardmore on South Uist where a road leads between bogs and lochs across a little causeway to Eochar. Apparently, long ago, various travellers would be walking what was then a track through the bogs in the mist and a man would come out of the mist and warn them that they were walking dangerous ground. He would ask them where they were staying and then offer to walk them through the mist to the house. He was as good as his word and walked the stranger to the house door whereupon they would turn to thank him and find no-one there. When they went inside and mentioned this to the house owners, they said “Oh, that’s so-and-so – he’s always doing that. Been dead for years”… I’m sad to say that I’ve never met the man myself unfortunately…

North Uist didn’t seem half as atmospheric as the other islands and I lived on Grimsay for a while which is partway across the North Ford to North Uist. Many a night I used to take myself off away from everyone and go and sit in the hills above a loch either at sunset or late at night. I used to love just sitting there in the silence but it never seemed spooky – just peaceful.

Sunset Boat

But, back on Benbecula there was one pair of lochs I just couldn’t pass at night! Many nights, when I was living on camp, I’d have a spat with someone and storm off in a temper vowing to walk the 26 miles to the South Uist ferry and go home. Luckily for me (otherwise I’d have been AWOL), I never made it past the Market Stance on the island. This is at a deserted crossroads. The whole road to it was deserted but bothered me not one bit until I reached the crossroads and had to turn right… This took me down a dip between the two lochs and across some desolate moorland. The moorland and the lochs had a horrible feel to them at night and I could never get any further along the road.

One of the lochs is called Loch a’ Bhursta and the other appears nameless – I have tried to find the meaning of Bhursta but have not been able to. However, I told one of my local friends of my unease and of not being able to pass between the lochs at night and she told me that two girls had been found, many, many years ago, headless beside one of them. Obviously I have no idea whether that is true or not but, as I said earlier, there are many spooky tales on the islands.

One night, however, I was crossing this moor in a hire car on a very stormy night indeed. The rain was lashing the car and the winds were gusting and howling and it was very dark apart from the beam of the headlights cutting the gloom. As soon as I passed the Griminish War Memorial and headed up onto the high moor, I felt ill at ease.

I kept looking into my mirror and, suddenly, I was horrified to see a pair of red lights shining in the mirror, vey close to the back of the car, and seemingly floating behind me keeping pace with the car. There was also a roaring noise which was getting louder… The two red lights then started to rise up above me as the roaring noise increased. Obviously, by now, I was thinking UFO or suchlike…

Then, at last, all became clear. Somehow, the tailgate of the hire car had come unlatched over a bump and the two red lights I’d seen floating in the mirror were my own as it started rising up. The wind obviously kept the tailgate down for a while but eventually it managed to rise up completely. That incident certainly gave me a fright!

One night, I wasn’t alone when I saw something unexplainable – in fact, it was first pointed out to me by my then boyfriend who was extremely sceptical about anything even vaguely supernatural. We were walking the mile back to camp from a local dance at around one or two in the morning. The road was deserted and my boyfriend mentioned that there were some red lights ahead of us going down the road…

I thought he was trying to scare me and just laughed at him and informed him that I wasn’t afraid. I told him I wasn’t even going to look as I knew he was trying to wind me up. He kept insisting though… Eventually, with a sigh of exasperation, I looked where he was pointing and indeed there were! Two little red lights, a few hundred yards in front of us and receding all the time, were indeed going silently down the road. We both watched and they eventually headed out over the small cliffs down to the sea and winked out as they went over them.

We had no explanation for this at all but, last night, I found the following little quote on a website while googling the incident:

“*An old Austin 1100, without a driver, seen speeding along a bleak cliff-top road at dawn on the Hebridean island of Benbecula which simply vanishes whenever any attempt is made to follow it…”

The Supernatural Earth forum

This is the only section of clifftop road on the island…

Beb-Airport Beach & Eaval
Looking to the Airport Beach just after the clifftop section of roadside

But don’t let any of this scare you off visiting the islands – they are superbly peaceful really… during the day!

Barra Beach

If anyone has any spooky tales to add, just leave a comment 🙂

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28 responses

13 05 2016
Angus Campbell

Hi Carol, My family home is the second last one from the Market stance, heading from Balivanich. I know other stories about that stretch of road and as someone that’s travelled these roads all my life at night time/early morning, i was lucky enough to have only a couple of strange experiences on my travels. I put it down to my constant praying that i seldom got the hebegebe’s. I know my part of Benbecula like the back of my hand and i know there’s places that are “out of bounds” “spooky” and for good reason. I’ve lived it and seen it. If you want to know more about my family’s experiences feel free to ask. It goes back a long ways .x.

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13 05 2016
mountaincoward

I’d be very interested indeed to hear more spooky stories from locals. You can always get me on the details on my ‘contact me’ page if you want to e-mail some…

Very interesting to hear that it wasn’t just me who found places spooky up there.

Did you live anywhere near the guy with the old Matchless motorbike in his wooden shed? that was around there somewhere and some of us in the Army tried to buy it off him but he wasn’t for selling! It was from around the time of the 2nd World War I think and was one of those which had 2 individual bicycle-type saddles…

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16 01 2015
Mark Kelly

Great to read Carol, cheers. I’m planning a trip to Harris and Lewis end of April. I was ‘made’ on Lewis (scottish ma and english pa lived there at one time) but my Mum moved down to the in laws in yorkshire to have me and my twin Bro (Dad was in the Forces so had to stay put) .. so I can’t claim hebridean heritage as such. I’ve wanted to visit for a long time and this is the year I make like a Salmon and return back.. and I’m hoping to see some prehistoric sites, hike some hills and wild camp.. so maybe encounter something spooky, who knows? 🙂

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17 01 2015
mountaincoward

I’ll be interested (and jealous) to hear how your trip goes. I really miss the islands and hope to get back there the year after next if I’ve finished all my Munro Tops.
Carol.

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14 01 2015
fedup

A great selection of pictures Carol, I love the outer Hebrides but haven’t decided which is my favourite island, they are all amazing in there individual way! Ended up other there again on a spur of the moment decision last summer – there was space on the Uig ferry so it seemed a shame not to go!!! Unfortunately the weather turned for the worse (it had been fantastic on the Uists) when I reached Harris & Lewis but it was great to see some of the bits I’d missed the first time. Cheers Simon

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14 01 2015
mountaincoward

The weather is actually worse on Harris than the Uists – I’ve found that each time I’ve gone over there to try to do some of the hills 😦 Not a great place to wander in the mist either with the compass anomalies and suchlike.

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15 01 2015
fedup

I tend not to go up the Scottish hills in the clag, I see enough of that at home in the Lakes, I don’t need to travel 100+ miles! The islands and West coast of Scotland have an interesting coastline, full of interest which I’m gradually getting to know better then her hills!

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15 01 2015
mountaincoward

Yeah, the coastlines are superb

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14 01 2015
bob

Great post. Stunning set of photos Carol. I used to enjoy walking over the Munro ridges at night in winter. Provided there was little wind, a full moon, and firm snow underfoot it made the more rounded ones magical and you could still see for miles in every direction. Funnily enough, when it turned spooky and creepy was always down in the glens and woodlands below, never on the open ridges. I don’t get up to the Hebrides often enough these days.

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14 01 2015
mountaincoward

I think it’s spooky and creepy down in the glens as that’s where all the people used to live. I guess the mountain ridges and summits are fairly sterile that way. I love snowy conditions at night – it is amazing how much you can see and how far 🙂 I usually go sledging around 0100 – quieter and more fun somehow 🙂

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13 01 2015
underswansea

Fantastic post and photos! As I read through your descriptions of the Scottish landscape, some things start to make sense when I think of my mother and grandparents. They were from Scotland and talked about the land and their feelings of place. Thanks for the wonderful pictures and commentary!

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14 01 2015
mountaincoward

‘Feelings of place’ is a superb description of it!

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13 01 2015
chrissiedixie

There’s plenty to go at there, when we finally get round to visiting more of the Outer Hebrides! You know how I like a nice spooky place/story… I particularly love that old Austin one too….

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13 01 2015
mountaincoward

I couldn’t believe it when I found that – I’m sure that’s what we were seeing!

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13 01 2015
smackedpentax

Absolutely riveting post Carol, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed that one. I have heard so many tales about the Hebrides being haunted that it is on my bucket list. I have a very good friend who lives near there and he keeps inviting me up for a tour, so I really must make the time to go. Did you take the pics of Callanish? That is one place I really want to visit – being a megalithic freak! What you were saying about Langass Stone Circle being warmer in the middle doesn’t surprise me one bit. One on Ilkley moor – Backstone – had had temperature readings taken in the centre and the outside several times and the differences have been measured by as much as 10 degrees F. Very weird!

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13 01 2015
mountaincoward

I didn’t know anyone had actually done temperature readings within a stone circle – that is fascinating indeed! So it probably wasn’t my imagination then. Yes, I took the Callanish photo – I only really liked the stone circles and brochs on Lewis. The coastline is good but the middle we found pretty boring. The rest of the islands are great though – Harris particularly.

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13 01 2015
smackedpentax

If you are into creepy stone circles, here is the entry for Backstone in the Northern Antiquarian…

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2014/09/22/backstone-circle/

It does seem a bit strange reading it but I know the author Paul Bennett extremely well and can vouch his integrity. Besides, I have had a couple of strange ‘encounters’ there myself – and know personally 3 or 4 others who have had similar experiences…

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13 01 2015
mountaincoward

Had a read of that – fascinating stuff – I wish I’d been there with them that night they saw the round dance 🙂

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13 01 2015
EchoohcE

Thanks for your report Carol. I have visited the Outer hebrides only in recent years, 2008 and 9. Enchanting and lonely places. Don’t recall any spookiness though but. I thought the Callanish Stones were absolutely superb. We camped on the West coast of Harris a few nights at Horgabost in fair weather and it was beautiful (a photo of the beach is my computer screensaver – I never tire of it). Drove back via North and South Uist to LochBoisdale to get the ferry back to Oban, and spent one night camping by the side of the road in a nature reserve. There were some (Icelandic?) very small ponies wandering about.
I’m trying to remember if I’ve been creeped out anytime when I’ve been on my own bivouacing in the mountains – but not much springs to mind. Though the stags roaring in the mist on Goatfell on Arran in the dark was a bit hair raising, sounded a bit like ‘Jurassic Park’ out there!
Mike

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13 01 2015
mountaincoward

I like to hear the stags roaring – it means I’m not alone out there – but of course, if you were camping, you’d probably be worrying one of them might decide to take out his frustrations on your tent – with you in it!

The Harris beaches have to be the best in the world – they’re certainly the best in the islands…

Interesting comment about the ponies. There are a lot of them on South Uist on the mountains side of the island. They look very like Icelandic ponies but I think they’re probably Shetlands. There is an Eriskay pony breed though I think so maybe they’re those…
Carol.

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13 01 2015
EchoohcE

I was in my bivi bag. To me bivouac means bivi bag (or less), and camping means tent!
I’ve never been attacked in a bivi bag or a tent, but the closest thing to it was when I was camping at the Glen Rosa campsite on Arran one November, when a rat chewed it’s way in through the inner tent to get at some ginger cake that wasn’t properly wrapped! I woke up when it stood on my head to get past (it was a small tent). Ten seconds later I shone my headtorch at it, an armlength away! In half a second it looked upwards, jumped up two feet and out the partially zipped inner tent flap and vanished. It took me a little while to get to sleep again…

I can PM to you a couple of photo’s of the ponies if you like; they are very pretty.
Mike

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13 01 2015
mountaincoward

LOL – that’s hilarious that a rat stood on your head! I bet you had a fit when you realised what it was!

I’ve got a few photos of the ponies on some of my posts on here. They used to stick their heads in the car windows if you had your windows open as I suppose passers-by feed them…

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12 01 2015
stravaigerjohn

Glastonbury Chalice Well is a very peaceful place, though if they could kill the traffic noise from nearby it would be even more magical. Quieter and nearby if the still exist are the trees of Gag and Magog.

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12 01 2015
mountaincoward

I used to go all over Glastonbury’s environs… up Wearyall Hill to see the Thorntree, up the tor several times a day – during the day and then up for midnight when you’d meet all kinds of special people up there. The Well Garden, the ‘new-age’/wicca shops, the health-food cafes and sometimes the Priory. I always slept under the tor in the car (in the parking up there) as did many others. It was a great experience 🙂

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12 01 2015
McEff

I thoroughly enjoyed that, Carol. Different from your usual walks. The Outer Hebrides are beautiful and wild, though I wasn’t aware of all the stone circles, apart from the famous one up at Callanish. I love the story about the Austin 1100. That sent a shiver down my spine.
I think I mentioned once that I hitch-hiked right down through the Outer Hebrides in 1977, so our paths very nearly crossed there. I spent a few days in Loch Maddy, and a couple in Lochboisdale, but I don’t remember much about the stuff in between, which is where you were. I got lots of lifts while hitching, but I don’t recall an Austin 1100, which is just as well.
All the best, Alen

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12 01 2015
mountaincoward

LOL – yeah, definitely just as well that car didn’t stop for you. Funnily enough, one of my RAF friends was found dead at the foot of those cliffs after a party one night – he was extremely drunk though when he left the party. Makes you wonder whether he was running away from an old, ghostly Austin 1100 though!

Did you see a tall, shoulder-length, dark-haired Army gal when you were up there? I was up there from Jan 1975 to Mar 1979!
Carol.

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12 01 2015
McEff

Hey, that wasn’t you I bought expensive drinks for all night then you went off with someone else, was it?
Just kidding. It would have been July-August 1977 when I was there. Got the ferry from Ullapool to Stornaway and spent a couple of weeks on Lewis and Harris; passenger ferry from Leverburgh to North Uist and Loch Maddy. Then I caught the car ferry from Lochboisdale down to Barra, spent a week there, then caught a little passenger ferry back up to South Uist, hitched back up to Loch Maddy and caught another ferry to Uig on Skye. It’s all a bit of a blur now. It’s a great place and I should really go back. It’s just finding the time and the money to do all these things.
Plus, I don’t know how you feel about going back to places, but I find that they’ve always changed and they are never quite how you remembered them. Sometimes it can be disappointing when you return to somewhere you had a good time.

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12 01 2015
mountaincoward

There are quite a few places I’d love to go to again but am worried they’ll have changed too much – Glastonbury Well Garden for one! I used to spend a week every summer dossing around Glastonbury in my Cortina with like-minded souls who frequent the place – not sure they’ll be there now. Or I might have changed anyway!

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