Uist’s burial grounds stretch over ancient sites, raised up on green mounds with long horizons out to sea.
The kirks at Kilmuir and Clachan Sands that once shared the space are in ruins now, or gone completely, and it’s been a long time since a new grave was dug.
There are no names or inscriptions on many of the stones; no maudlin sentiment. They’re just rough field rocks entwined in shrubby grey lichen.
Their simplicity is their charm; that, and the mystery of the long gone lives they mark.
Hill lochans, peat bogs and wild flower machair stretch out behind me; I’m on the white shell sand at the edge of the Atlantic, gazing out at hazy St Kilda, forty miles away. Beyond that it’s Canada.
I’m just the latest to stare out from the western shore of North Uist across thousands of miles of sea to wonder about friends or family on the “other side”. Hundreds left from here in the early 1800s, bound in the main for Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Desperation drove them on perilous one way journeys because they couldn’t afford to pay high rents on their small crofts and there was no mercy from the landowners who effectively “cleared” them from their land.
Maybe that’s why this feels such a fragile, poignant place; it’s haunted by the memories and the longing of families who’ve gazed for two centuries from either side of the ocean. You hear ancient whispers in the western wind and sense a long sorrow for the loss of homeland.