Clanranald’s inland Uist waterway
fact or fiction?
Lochs, Toponymy, Digital Terrain Models (DTMs), Aerial imagery, Loch systems, Canals
South Uist, Benbecula, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK
The well-known local tradition that the lochs of South Uist and Benbecula were navigable prior to their drainage is reviewed using a combination of published sources, place-names, modern Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) and aerial imagery. Reconstructions of lochs to likely pre-drainage surface levels via DTMs identified extensive navigable loch systems in western Benbecula and in four main loch basins in South Uist, one of which stretched 40% of the length of the island. Connections between the South Uist basins were also examined and it was concluded that while such past connections are theoretically possible, such evidence as is available suggests that they were not linked. Though the possibility of a continuous navigable link between Baghasdal in South Uist and the north end of Benbecula cannot be ruled out, the evidence suggests that it is unlikely to have existed, though several portages would be all that was required to establish a functional transport link from Baghasdal to Balivanich via the loch networks. The conclusions inform a fundamental knowledge gap in the medieval history of Uist that has important implications for studies of past land management, as well as the impact of future climate change.