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North Uist is an island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.
North Uist is the tenth largest Scottish island and the thirteenth largest island surrounding Great Britain. It has an area of 117 square miles (303 km2), slightly smaller than South Uist. North Uist is connected by causeways to Benbecula via Grimsay, to Berneray, and to Baleshare. With the exception of the south east, the island is very flat, and covered with a patchwork of peat bogs, low hills and lochans, with more than half the land being covered by water. Some of the lochs contain a mixture of fresh and tidal salt water, giving rise to some complex and unusual habitats. Loch Sgadabhagh, about which it has been said "there is probably no other loch in Britain which approaches Loch Scadavay in irregularity and complexity of outline", is the largest loch by area on North Uist although Loch Obisary has about twice the volume of water.
The main settlement on the island is Lochmaddy, a fishing port and home to a museum, an arts centre and a camera obscura. Caledonian MacBrayne ferries sail from the village to Uig on Skye, as well as from the island of Berneray (which is connected to North Uist by road causeway), to Leverburgh in Harris. Lochmaddy also has Taigh Chearsabhagh - a museum and arts centre with a cafe, small shop and post office service. Nearby is the Uist Outdoor Centre.
The island's main villages are Sollas, Hosta, Tigharry, Hougharry, Paible, Grimsay and Cladach Kirkibost. Other settlements include Clachan Carinish, Knockquien, Port nan Long, Greinetobht and Scolpaig, home to the nineteenth century Scolpaig Tower folly. According to the 2001 census North Uist had a population of 1,271, (1,320 including Baleshare).
North Uist has many prehistoric structures, including the Barpa Langass chambered cairn, the Pobull Fhinn stone circle, the Fir Bhreige standing stones, the islet of Eilean D˛mhnuill (which may be the earliest crannog site in Scotland), and the Baile Sear roundhouses, which were exposed by storms in January, 2005.
The island is known for its birdlife, including corncrakes, arctic terns, gannets, corn buntings and Manx shearwaters. The RSPB has a nature reserve at Balranald. Despite limited facilities, the island's athletics club (North Uist Amateur Athletics Club) has performed well at local, regional and national athletics competitions.
In Sir Donald Munro's A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland Called Hybrides of 1549, North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist are described as one island of Ywst (Uist). Starting in the south of this 'island', he described the division between South Uist and Benbecula where "the end heirof the sea enters, and cuts the countrey be ebbing and flowing through it". Further north of Benbecula he described North Uist as "this countrey is called Kenehnache of Ywst, that is in Englishe, the north head of Ywst".
Some have given the etymology of Uist from Old Norse meaning "west", much like Westray in the Orkney Islands. Another speculated derivation from Old Norse is Ivist, derived from vist meaning "an abode, dwelling, domicile". "═vist" was the name used for Uist in the Old Norse sagas. A Gaelic etymology is also possible, with I-fheirste meaning "Crossings-island" or "Fords-island", derived from I meaning "island" and fearsad meaning "estuary, sand-bank, passage across at ebb-tide". Other place-names derived from fearsad include Fersit, and Belfast.
In a paper of 1988, Richard Coates compares the placename Uist with the Balearic island name Ibiza.
In the eighteenth century the total population of the combined Uists rose dramatically, before the population crash of the Highland Clearances. In 1755, there was an estimated combined population on the Uists, of 4,118; by 1794 it rose to 6,668; and in 1821 to 11,009.
The pre-clearance population of North Uist was about 5,000 and it has dwindled to about 1,300 people in 2001.