The stone ruins whisper the stories of the hardy islanders who relied on the land and sea to survive.

Evelyn Coull MacLeod explores the  ‘lost’ villages of Uist, Barra and Vatersay for a new Alba documentary where she meets Scots with strong connections to long abandoned settlements.

The stories of hardship are told with a compassion that can only come with a connection to the people and an understanding of the places.

The Herald:

Her first stop is Sunamal, a small island on Benbecula, which is a ten-minute walk across the sand when the tide is out.

She meets local historian Alasdair MacEachan whose great grandfather ran a successful  ferry service between North and South Uist before the causeway was built. 

The Herald:

It is also where his mother was born - at that time they were the only family living on the island.

“The family were very self-sufficient,” he said. “They didn’t need to bring  much food onto the island. 

“They would catch fish, they had their own sheep and cows and they were therefore able to make their own butter and cheese.”

He recalls how visitors would stop at the croft house for “countless cups of tea".

READ MORE: The strange tale of Lamb island 

The presenter later travels by boat to the deserted village of Bàgh Hartabhagh  in South Uist, with Donald Anthony and Donald Ruaridh Campbell whose two uncles were given land to graze sheep as a “reward” for serving in the first world war. 

However, at one point at least 12 families lives there, with often nine or ten people sharing a croft house with just two rooms.

The Herald:

“When they arrived there was nothing, the land wasn’t good. It took them a long time to prepare the land so they could grow potatoes,” said Donald Anthony.

“There were stone pillars like a wall, which went across the island from the shoreline. The wall was about four to five feet high, so when the tide came in, it brought in fish.

“They used to salt the fish to preserve it and keep it in barrels and that would sustain them during the winter.”

“I’ve no idea how they managed to get salt here,” added his brother. “It’s very hard for us to understand how they survived there.”Families were eventually cleared to make way for sheep.

READ MORE: Wildlife tragedy as bird flu devastates island colony 

In 1924 the Nunton settlement on Benbecula was divided into seven crofts including Meanish, where Flora MacDonald’s family were the only inhabitants. 

She last visited the island in 1973 for her father’s funeral but makes the journey again for a poignant walk around the ruins of her childhood home.

“I was seven before I went to school,” she recalled.

The Herald:

“We learned how to milk cows, to look after the house, to bake with my mother.

“We didn’t have a school so we had to build one. They said they would put my father in prison if he didn’t ensure we were given a proper education.

READ MORE: Bridge or tunnel plan between Scots islands to replace troubled ferry routes 

“So we got a school - it arrived in corrugated iron sections.  A joiner from North Uist joined my father and they built it in a week.”

The family were eventually forced to leave because they couldn’t secure the services of a full-time teacher and the children were taught by trainees during the school holidays.

The focus then shifts to the village of Buaile nam Bodach, on Barra, where islanders were moved after they had been evicted from other areas.

She visits the house of one family who were all killed by Typhoid, apart from one girl who had to place all her relatives in coffins that had been tarred in efforts to prevent the spread of the disease.

Families were eventually evicted from the village and many went to London in 1851 before emigrating to Canada.

The presenter later travels to the old village of Eorisdale, on Vatersay, by the sea, where she meets Mary MacLean, whose grandfather was the last inhabitant.

There were eight families living there at one time.

“It’s a beautiful place, I think people would have stayed if it had been more accessible,” said Mrs MacLean.

“My grandfather didn’t want to leave even if he had been the last person left,” she said.

“He lived there until 1962, when he passed away. He was 82."

Trusadh: Beatha air an Oir airs on BBC Alba on Monday August 22 at 9pm and is available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after.