Bornais is a rocky promontory, not quite an island on the west coast of South Uist. The promontory is used by the military for weapons training, but this is infrequent and there were no signs of it today. Literally no signs. I thought at least there would be warning signs advising visitors to heed notices and leave the area if asked, and so on. But there was nothing.
I parked by the church in quite a spacious car park. The church can be found by turning off the main A865 to the left at the signpost for Bornais. After about a mile the road curves to the right. At the curve is a left hand turn leading a short way down to the church.
The church is surrounded by farmland and machair, the sandy land which is a haven for wildflowers, grasses and butterflies. Seventy per cent of the world’s machair is said to be found in the Outer Hebrides and all along South Uist’s twenty-some mile long west coast is a waymarked trail called the Machair Way. This isn’t so much a trail to follow from end-to-end, but more a dip in here, there and wherever takes your fancy sort of trail. There are frequent signposts along the A865 pointing out narrow roads leading down to various access points for the Machair Way along the coast.
Getting out of my van, I chatted to an older man for a few minutes. He’s been coming here for 14 years and loves the scenery, but said he’s never been down to the end of the track to the promontory. Together we watched a herd of cows wander across the fields to the lochan next to the car park. One by one they all waded in and stood around for a few minutes having a drink and seeming to enjoy the refreshing coolness. It reminded me of scenes in Africa, in my mind I was substituting cows for water buffalo. After a few minutes they waded back out and several came over to the car park. They seemed to be real free-range cows just wandering wherever they felt like. I did notice the hayfields were fenced off though, presumably to prevent them from munching their winter feed too early.
I got my boots on and continued down the road, which quickly became a track, towards the promontory. I spent a long time wandering round the promontory and did a full circle. I came across an information board for a broch and a couple of other ancient building remains, but it didn’t say whereabouts they were and neither my walk book or the OS map mentioned them.
As I was midway round my loop of the promontory I came across the broch. It was quite easy to see the entrance and where the inner and outer walls had been. I saw no sign of the other building though. Each time I saw what seemed a likely heap of rocks I wandered over, but if it was an ancient building I was none the wiser and each heap of rocks did seem like nothing more than a heap of rocks even close up.
Leaving the promontory my book instructed me to walk over the dunes backing onto the long white beach. Apparently walking on the side would make it difficult for me to know where exactly to turn inland to see the remains of a castle. The dunes were really tough going however, with no clear path. I was really glad of my poles as I clambered around scaring rabbits left, right and centre. Eventually I came to a fence that extended right over the edge of the dunes and on to the beach. I couldn’t see a way down and so ended up having to climb over. I don’t like climbing over barbed wire fences at the best of times, but this was quite wobbly too. I realised I’d be better climbing over the fence that followed the top of the dunes and met the wobbly fence at a right angle. This was made of firmer wire and there was a gate on the other side which I could step on to, to help get down the other side. Once this was done I went through the gate and continued walking on easier ground on the inside of the dune-topping fence. I’m sure it would have been easier to walk along the beach and keep popping up on to the dunes to check for the nearness of the castle.
Coming to a second fence, I followed this inland to reach the ruin of Caisteal Ormacleit. This was probably the last castle to be built in Scotland. It was built around 1700 and burnt down in 1715. It’s not possible to go inside as the structure is unsafe and also a private house is built on to the side of it. I detoured as close as possible and took a couple of photos.
Then I followed a good path through the hayfields and machair back to the church and my van. The farmers were out in force gathering hay and making silage and I stopped to chat to one for a few minutes. He commented on the good weather that had been here over the past couple of months, unlike the rest of Britain which seems to have been under a constant deluge of rain. He said, if anything, they could do with some rain here now. I have noticed on my walks so far, how dry everywhere is, particularly ground that I’m sure for the most time would usually be very boggy.
This was an enjoyable walk that took me about 3.75 hours despite only being 5 miles. I spent a lot of time on the promontory and it was quite slow going along the top of the dunes. I noticed on the other side of the fence the ground seemed much easier and so if I was to do this walk again I’d stay on that side of the fence.