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Machair/ Mhachaire

Machair or Mhachaire is a Gaelic word meaning a low lying grassy plain. It's come to refer to a landscape that is unique to much of the west of the Outer Hebrides, and small parts of the western mainland of Scotland and Ireland. In these areas shell sand gets blown across low lying peat and mixes to form fertile land.

Machair, Baghasdail (Boisdale), South Uist

Machair on Berneray

It's the most fertile land around and is covered in a carpet of flowers during spring and summer. While a lot of machair is very flat and low lying the strength of the winds means that some sand has blown to quite a height, so many of the lower hills on the west coasts are meadows also.

Machair on Eriskay

Machair on Vatersay

Machair at Hornais, North Uist

Machair is pronounced a bit like Macca (as in Paul McCartney) but with a soft "ch" as in "loch". People outside Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and the Middle East can have real problems with this sound. It's a similar sound to that in Farquhar and Urquhart, which may confuse many English people even more.

Machair on Berneray

Similar view of machair on Berneray, but 'closer'

Crofters have rights to graze animals on them. Where there's livestock the grass is kept short. Where it's cultivated it can look incongruous, as much is left fallow between crop gorwing years.

Machair on Berneray, again

Machair on Barra

Machair on Berneray

It has other uses too.

Not sure this strictly counts as machair as it's quite high land, but it makes good golf courses,
but a fence is needed to keep the cattle off the greens.

Graveyards are often on machair as it's easier to dig than most other Hebridean land.

It's good for wildlife - a short eared owl on Benbecula.

Roads cross it.

Eriskay pony at Luskentyre, South Harris

... and people are encouraged to walk along it


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© Gordon Stokes, 2011-15