Angus and Kathryn were raised on the Outer Hebrides islands, with the native Gaelic language being Angus’s first language. Crofting and fishing have been a main part of island culture for hundreds of years and certainly had an impact on their childhood. Growing up here you are naturally connected to the seasons, the weather, the land, the ocean and the tides, the environment and the wildlife.
Photography credits: Uist Forest Retreat
When Angus’s family business took a change of direction, they looked at ways they could diversify a part of the forest to provide a sustainable income; and there began the story of Uist Forest Retreat. The location here is truly special, a sheltered forest environment protected from Hebridean gales, overlooking a vast tidal bay with beaches, islands and the hills of Harris in the distance.
Stunning sunset skies travel through the short summer nights lighting up the horizon meaning it doesn’t get dark. The aspect of the cabins is perfect for viewing the Northern Lights during the winter months. The area is really rich in wildlife. Located beside one of the most popular spots of the RSPB Outer Hebrides Bird of Prey Trail, where you have a chance of seeing every breeding kind of raptor in the Outer Hebrides.
The forest is home to one of the healthiest populations of Hen Harrier in the UK. There are also white-tailed eagles that roost and nest in the trees and often make an appearance for the guests as they relax in their accommodation. “It is an extreme contrast to urban life and we aimed to make a stay here very comfortable, restorative and relaxing, whilst ensuring guests can feel as connected to the natural environment as possible”.
There’s nothing more grounding than being in nature, the changing seasons and weather mean you are always spotting something different each day and learning something new. It’s what makes the islands what they are. With the Atlantic gales comes the windblown beach sand reaching out over the west coast of the islands.
It’s this calcium rich sand that has built the fertile machair or grassy plain that, alongside traditional crofting practices, has resulted in the rare, rich and colourful habitat of much of the west coast of the islands. Much of the machair on North Uist is so special it is a designated Special Area of Conservation, as well as a National Scenic Area and Marine Protection area.
Eagles. Otters. Owls. Dolphins. Gin. Shellfish. Not always in that order! Guests are usually aware of the resident eagles and are very keen to see them or know how to spot them. There is a hunger out there to experience and immerse themselves in a wild and natural landscape and escape to see wildlife doing as nature intended.
“I think this is becoming so important for our environment and planet and also for well being, so we make sure our guests know all the best spots to visit and hopefully catch sightings of wildlife in action. We also make sure they know how to find our incredible local shellfish and of course exceptionally fantastic local North Uist gin!”
“As nature tourism providers, we are so fortunate to be able to experience life the way we do. Particularly in recent times where a previously unheard of lockdown has taken place right across the world. We all have a part to play in making the best decisions we can for the good of nature, the health or our planet and for our own well being. This also helps us support our projects with white-tailed eagles and to slowly bring more native diversity back to the forest plantation where we live”.
They are fortunate here on North Uist that as yet, there have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19. Due to the limitations of NHS facilities (including no Intensive Care Unit) and a relatively high proportion of residents here who are vulnerable to Covid-19, very sadly they feel they can only plan to not be in a position to welcome guests this summer.
There are additional complications surrounding the capacity of small and vital services, such as shops, that are already struggling with resident capacity whilst operating under the new guidelines for social distancing.
This of course comes with real challenges for the business that they are still trying to work through.
“We are focussing on using our time as best we can. Angus is working on mending and replacing sections of the deer fencing and in-between website improvements and planning for next year I’m focussing on our veg garden to stay and eat well during these strange times”.
Hopefully things will look more settled soon and we can start planning ahead with confidence.
“We’ve had such kind and supportive emails from our guests that we have sadly had to cancel and refund. I think welcoming our first guests when it’s safe to open again will be as exciting as welcoming our very first guests when we opened in 2018, only this time we won’t have only just finished the build and fit out just moments before they arrive!”.
Kathryn and Angus were born and raised on the islands and have a genuine passion for the truly stunning local area, amazing variety of wildlife and wealth of outdoor activities. Kathryn spent as much of her childhood as she could hanging out with her native Highland ponies, playing with the sheepdog and chasing hens on the family ran croft, a type of smallholding unique to Scotland.
Angus grew up addicted to the water and pioneered some of the best surf spots around the islands at a time when very few locals surfed or visitors knew to come all the way to the Outer Hebrides. North Uist is rich in Gaelic language, music and culture. Gaelic is Angus's first language and you are very likely to hear the language being spoken in the local area.
Kathryn and Angus set about looking at a sustainable way of life within the forest. Recognising how special North Uist is and the rich offering for travellers looking to escape, get back to nature and enjoy the wilderness, Uist Forest Retreat was created to offer the highest standard of accommodation in an exceptional location that comes complete with forest and sea views.
'Angus and I are blessed to call this our home. We both share a desire to eat local and Uist has some of the best fresh produce from either the croft, the wilderness, the ocean or even accessible from the shore. Cockles can be found when the tide goes out and are delicious eaten in the traditional way when fried up in garlic and oatmeal!'
'When I’m walking along and a pair of white-tailed eagle circle over my head or an otter tucks in to his catch on the shore, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to be here. We want to share the best the area has to offer with people who want to explore and appreciate the spectacular wildlife and environment here, all our guests say how they wished they had planned to stay for longer!'
Kathryn & Angus