Myself, TLF and Dougal spent a lot of time on the Outer Hebs and Skye last year, walking routes for a forthcoming guidebook (2015), which may well rejoice in the title The Hebrides, catchy huh? This was truly lovely as nowhere fills my heart with so much joy as the Hebs. At the end of March we had a three week excursion to the Outer Hebs and Skye, starting in Barra then working our way up through the Uists and Berneray to Harris and Lewis before hitting Skye. The weather was unseasonably mild and dry until we hit Skye when a sting in winter’s tail gifted us a wonderland of snow and ice for a few days. I’ll not bother you with a blow-by-blow, so here are the abridged highlights:
We arrived on Barra hot on the heels prolonged period of miserable weather; in fact we were told that that very day Sheabhal, the island’s highest summit, had appeared from beneath a mantle of perma-drizzle for the first time in months – what luck! The next day we went for a long, windy walk on Sheabhal and the other hills forming the island’s watershed,
TLF and Quasimo-dog with friends on windy Sheabhal.
The following day, we headed north by ferry to Eriskay and thence over the causeway to South Uist where we embarked on an epic two day backpack taking in the summits of Hecla, Beinn Corradail and Beinn Mhor on the island’s east by way of the wee bothy at Uisinis. It was a tough walk on some rough and boggy terrain, but the pay-off was a real sense of sublime isolation in a surprisingly wild and remote corner of South Uist only a few miles from the road.
We started our walk from a small parking area by Loch Druidibeag (an RSPB reserve). A long tramp along a single track road was followed by a couple of miles of waymarked path above the shore of Loch Skipport. This faded away, leaving us to forge a muddlesome route between lochans to gain the long ridge that climbs gradually along the tail then up onto the spine of sleeping Hecla – a mountain I can’t but think of as a dragon lying supine by the island’s eastern coast. There followed a slightly tricky descent to the bealach between Hecla and Beinn Corradail – it’s possible to bivvy here, but we preferred to descend through Gleann Uisinis, past the eponymous loch to shelter at the bothy for the night. The bothy was in a bit of a sorry state when we visited, but an MBA work party has since sorted the place out – it’s a fine wee shelter in a sublime spot for those who like that sort of thing. James. Lots of driftwood at the nearby beach.
The route to the bealach was retraced early the next morning before making the ever-steepening climb to the summit of Beinn Corradail. There follwed a slightly tricky descent to the Bealach Heileasdail before the climb to the summit ridge of Beinn Mhor – the walk along the narrow ridge to the summit trig point was excellent and the views from the summit are commanding, taking in much of the Uists and the Cuillin of Skye and Rum to boot. The steady descent from Beinn Mhor was followed by a taxing cross country yomp across boggy, tussocky ground to the road. The return along single track roads was a little dull until we arrived at Howmore where the return along the Machair to Loch Druidibeag put the spring back in our steps.
I’d recommend this route to anyone who likes their wild and remote and can handle the rough and boggy – just so long as your navigation skills are in reasonable order.
From South Uist we headed north to, erm, North Uist. A sinuous route through bogs and lochans took us to the wedge-shaped summit of Eaval and back before we headed to the northern end of the island to Udal and the first in a series of white sand beach-garlanded coastal walks. A greater contrast with the bogs of Eaval would be hard to imagine.
If you plan a trip to the Outer Hebs, it really is worth visiting this lovely peninsula – it’s a beautiful spot with lovely views and traces of the ancient settlement of Veilish for added historical interest. Needless to say that in the five hours we spent walking around the peninsula we saw not a soul.
Next up: we drove over the causeway to Berneray for another white sand beach extravaganza – this one featuring the three mile beach that accounts for virtually the whole of Berneray’s west coast. Our walk took in this splendid beach with it’s views across to Pabbay and the Harris Hills as well as the local high point -the 93-metre summit of Beinn Shleibhe.
Pretty much like paradise, eh? Well, yes, except there was one big fat, greasy bluebottle in the ointment that marred our stay on Berneray. After our walk we camped outside the island’s Gatliff Trust youth hostel; inside the hostel was a total mess with food and grease all over the table and work surfaces, greasy washing up in the sink and detritus scattered about. It seemed the offenders had stayed, trashed the place and then buggered off; but where was the warden who is supposed to check up on the hostel every day? We cleaned the place up and retired to our tent. A gang of builders turned up the next morning, it seems they were staying there while working on a house, which is totally against the ethos of the hostels. I confronted the hairy-arsed Neanderthals and got into a rare old slanging match with them, they tried to intimidate me, but I wasn’t having it as I was pumped up with righteous indignation.
When we left the hostel we tried to speak to the warden, visiting her house twice but she was elusive to say the least. So we spoke to the Gatliff Trust’s chairman on the phone – he seemed concerned and said that he’d check up on Berneray hostel in a few days as he was visiting the area. However, we encountered him a few days later at the Trust’s Reinigadale hostel on Harris and to be frank he didn’t inspire confidence. A sorry state of affairs. Anyway, I digress.
It was a relief to remove ourselves from the orbit of the Neanderthal builders and board the ferry for Harris. On arrival we made for a favourite camping spot at Huisnis on that island’s west coast. A chap out shooting rabbits (which breed like the proverbials here) donated one of his victims to Dougal’s cause. The daft dug seemed very enthusiastic, but when I gave it him he seemed a wee bit perplexed…
Next morning we were up early and setting off on our next tw0-day backpack among the north Harris Hills; the weather continued in its mild, sunny though slightly hazy vein, which was perfectly acceptable for March as far as we were concerned. Our route took us first along Gleann Chliostair from Abhainn Suidhe, thence to the summit of Tiorga Mor (679m) by the most ill-conceived route imaginable. Doh! Great views from the top, mind.
After a brief pause-ette to admire the expansive views – was that St Kilda far to the south-west? – we tottered along the rock-strewn ridge.
It was a mild and hazy old day – a theme for most of the previous week. We continued along the rough and pathless ridge forming the western flank of Gleann Uladail; the walking was quite challenging at times with the descent from Mas a’ Chnoic-Chuairtich proving particularly tricky.
After seven hours walk we reached the southern shore of Loch Reasort – a long, relatively narrow yet impressive sea loch that separates north-west Harris from south-west Lewis. The terrain was too difficult to continue towards the head of the loch along the shore so we picked up the old ‘scholars path’ above Dirascal that led us much of the way to Ceann Loch Reasort over often boggy ground . We were knackered by the time we arrived at the head of the loch after nine hours walk, but we found a great pitch by an abandoned shepherd’s cottage.
After a windy night, the weather had finally turned by morning. Heading south again, we crossed the boggy peat moor and gained the low ridge forming the eastern flank of Gleann Uladail.
The ridge took in a series of minor tops before approaching the impressive summits of Muladal, Ulabhal, Oirebhal and Cleiseabhal, however, the weather was deteriorating and the cloud came down so we took the decision to drop down into Gleann Uladail beneath the mighty buttress of Sron Uladal then walk out to the road along the stalkers’ path.
Muladal, Ulabhal, Oirebhal and Cleiseabhal would have to wait until another visit – October, in fact, when we made us of a fantastic sunny day to take these magnificent hills in. Here’s a few pics from then:
Next up was an aborted attempt at the Clisham Horseshoe; the weather was poor and visibility was pants so we turned tail after gaining the first summit on the ridge, Mullach an Langa.
After a night at Reinigadale hostel we set off for the Lewisian section of our Hebridean Odyssey. TLF dropped myself and Dougal off at Garenin and we set out north along the splendid West Side Coastal Path while she went off to the seething metropolis of Stornoway for supplies.
TLF collected us at the end of our walk and we set of for Uig in the south-west of Lewis. Here we stayed the night in a splendid and dramatically situated bothy, the location of which I’m not at liberty to divulge.
The next morning we packed up and set off on a two-day backpack around the Uig Hills. The weather had improved, which was very useful as much of our route was complex and pathless, taking in the 500m-odd summits of Mealaisbhal, Cracabhal and Laibheal a’ Tuath.
It was a tough old walk, especially carrying full kit, and the effort eventually took its toll on poor Dougie. By the time we’d left the hills and descended to the shore of Loch Tamnabhaigh, he was cream-crackered.
Still as my father-in-law says – to the annoyance of many – ‘to rest is not to conquer’, so we dragged Dougal kicking and screaming around the coast to the head of a small sea loch – Tamana Siar, where we camped for the night.
The Penultimate day of the Outer Hebridean leg of our trip was spent walking out along the west coast of the Uig peninsula, back to the motor, before returning to Harris.
So endeth, this part of writesofway’s spring 2012 Hebridean road trip; a brief account of the Skye leg will appear in due course. Some of you may feel that writesofway is beginning to resemble a number 93 bus…