The Monach Islands
Also known as Heisker, The Monach Islands are a small group of five low-lying Scottish islands lying about 4miles (6km) to the west of North Uist. Originally supporting a population of up to 130 people, the islands have been uninhabited since 1948. A group of five small islands, they lie wild and exposed to the full force of the Atlantic and experience gale-force winds on around 160 days of the year. The highest point ofthe islands is only 19 metres above sea level. Not only do they have stunning white beaches but are home to the most exposed dune system in Britain.
The main islands of Ceann Ear and Ceann Iar and Shivinish are protected from the force of Atlantic storms by little Shillay, the westernmost island. The smaller islands of Stockay and Deasker complete the group. It is thought that the islands may have been attached to the island of North Uist at one time, with the land being washed away sometime in the sixteenth century.
The Monach islands became a National Nature Reserve in 1966 and are home to a large number of nesting seabirds and over 200 flowering plants and grasses. Although over 100 bird species have been recorded on the islands, only 31 are known to have bred. Unusually, the dunes are the chosen nesting site of fulmar, which would normally prefer high rocky ledges, while elsewhere the islands support one of the largest black guillimot (or tystie) in the UK.
Getting to the Monachs
A couple of local boat operators will accept charters in good weather. MV Chalice which sails from Oban often includes the Monach Isles as a stopover on one of their Scottish island cruises.