Friday, 24 December 2004

22 and 23 December 2004

Found myself going up and down to Stornoway these two days, rather than being out and about. It's called bad planning, unfortunately. As I've said before, Lewis's main town is not exactly the Venice of the North, but it's looking slightly less drab than normal,due to the Christmas decorations being up. They were lit on December 2nd. Christmas is very close now, so town is very busy indeed with hoards of islanders jostling around in shops, frantically trying to get the shopping done. The driver on the Balallan to Stornoway bus always plays BBC Radio 2, and I'm already fed up with the Xmas songs. The weather has been persistently greyish. And very wild, particularly on the night 22nd to 23rd December. A gale was forecast for evening and early night, and boyo, did it blow. Good god above. The roof was making a racket, I thought at least all the tiles would come off. Rain was swept along the road - seen horizontal rain now. This was a mere force 10, I think. Come morning, the sun was out, and there were a few showers on the horizon. Quite innocent really. But by the time I came out of the library, at 12 o'clock, the clouds had taken over and rain was coming down again. Nonetheless, I went for a little walk, this time heading north out of town, past the Western Isles Hospital, and the hamlets of Lacasdail and Newmarket. In Laxdale, there is a well, which was improved and put in use by King Edward VII in 1902. Went off into the Tolastaidh / Tolsta road. Then climbed over a gate and walked across the saltmarsh to as close to the shoreline as I could get. And walked the same way back, after lunch.

On return to the hostel, somebody had been a bit zealous in the cleaning, in throwing out my old copy of the Stornoway Gazette which contained all the info about bus services in the islands over Christmas. Bit inconvenient.

Wednesday, 22 December 2004

The shortest day - 21/12/04

Started forth at 11 am, under cloudy skies and a blustery wind. Headed southeast out of the village, onto the moors. I thought I was heading south, but when I finally caught sight of the first loch, Loch nam Breac, this assumption turned out to be incorrect. I changed course, heading southwest for Loch Leathan, the Broad Loch, and was met with a strong gust of wind on reaching its eastern shores. There was intermittent rain, but nothing too bothersome. Next heading was due south, Loch Tobhtaichean Amlaidh, the very long loch. On approaching this, I heard a strange sound, which turned out to be thin shoals of ice creaking on the water. This had gathered in a bay by the force of the wind. There were actually small patches of ice and snow still remaining after the weekend's snow, in spite of the relatively high temperatures since then. It's about 6-8C today. Tramped down the eastern shore of Loch T.A., which has a fairly convoluted shoreline. Stopped for lunch at grid ref 354170, which is just off the southern bight in the loch. It was getting steadily more windy, but still mostly dry. Could see Loch nan Eilean a little way to the east. After lunch proceeded to walk around the southern shore of Loch T.A., until reaching the three rocky islets in its southwestern bay. From there on, it was a straight course northwest in the general direction of Roineabhal, until reaching Loch Ealaidh. This was known territory, and the only problem was crossing the fast-flowing and deep stream flowing into the loch at its southern extremity. And the high degree of saturation of the ground. It remained wet right through to the last gate opening up onto the road. Sank up to my ankles into mud at that point, so had to wash my boots in a puddle before returning to the hostel.

Monday, 20 December 2004

Snow and ice - weekend 18/19 December 2004

Forgot to mention that a fall of snow and sleet had left the roads in a treacherous condition on Saturday morning. The little bus could not race at its customary 50mph, and the Harris bus also encountered some problems.

The same applied for Sunday morning, even though there is no busservice on the Sabbath. There was this cat which was sunning itself on a wall at Habost. It did not want to be touched, the old tom was just after some warmth in the cold winds...

Loch Ealaidh and Glen Odhairn - 19/12/04

At the late hour of 12 o'clock I once again made my way towards Loch Ealaidh, which you can reach by clambering over some gates on the boundary between Kershader and Habost. Then it's a bogslog over the hills to the loch. My stones were still lying in the water at the weir. It had snowed (yesterday as well), and there had been a hard frost overnight. The hills in the distance were capped in white, a beautiful sight. Frost makes it easier to walk the moors, all the water is turned to ice. The only downside of this weather is the temperature. Even though the thermometer told me it was +6C, the windchill was significant. Had lunch at the southern end of the loch, then headed southeast. I reckoned that at 1.40 I could reach Gravir before nightfall. The valley I had chosen beautfully led me to the western extremity of the long-named loch, after which I could see Glen Odhairn ahead. As I was 60m up (200ft), I had a good view of the way ahead, but once I had descended to the valley bottom my orienteering was badly fouled. At 3 o'clock, I thought I was heading nicely east, towards Gravir, when I encountered this loch. Now, I headed past 2 of them when still high up on the hillside, so was not expecting anything significant. But this was a big loch. And those mountains looked familiar - they're the ones you can see from Lemreway. Hm. And the sun was half left, not half behind me. I.E., I was going south instead of east. And the loch was Loch Choin Bain. Cut northeast across country and regained the main valley 15 minutes later. It was a bit wet, and the light was beginning to fail. Fortunately, the first houses of Gravir Glen were nearby, so I splotched through the bog and made my way up to the metalled road. Things were straightforward from there. The road down Gravir Glen was not gritted, but the B8060 from Gravir Village was, and then I did not have to worry about the ice I had encountered in the glen. Between Eishal Junction and Caversta, I noticed the snowcapped mountains on Harris being backlit by the clear skies in the east, as stormclouds were approaching from the west. This was at 10 past 4, 35 minutes after sunset. An absolutely gorgeous play of light, well after sunset. Something you cannot capture on camera, because of insufficient light. Not something I'm likely to forget. Returned to Kershader at 5 o'clock, with still some light remaining.

Christmas shoppers - 18/12/04

On Saturday I headed for Stornoway, just for a change, to do my weekend's shop. I was not the only one with that idea. At Balallan the Harris bus was full to the rafters, and the passengers getting on at Balallan and Laxay had difficulty finding seats. The majority of them were teenagers, so it was lively, shall we say. Stornoway town centre was busy, the library's computer system had packed up, so could not update journal then. After a shop at the large Co-op on Macaulay Road, I headed back to Kershader at 2.20, and this time the bus was not as packed, fortunately.

Loch nan Eilean to Loch Ealaidh - 17/12/04

This Friday morning, I set out into the moorlands again. Went down the usual track about half a mile east of Kershader and found myself just off Loch nan Eilean at midday. Where to go from there, I wondered. Well, after much hemming and hawing (and having lunch out of the chilly wind), I decided to go west for a change. Went over the ridge to the west of Loch nan Eilean and tried to find the next big loch, Loch Tobhtaichean Amlaidh, yep a nice mouthful. Went along its northern tip to proceed in the general direction of Loch Ealaidh. And I even found it. Not difficult going by my moorland standards, it was wet, but what do you expect. At first I didn't realise I was at the right loch, as I thought I ought to head for Loch Airigh a'Phuill, the little lochan to the east, but that proved unnecessary. Headed down the glen, killing a bit of time by throwing stones onto the weir at the outflow of the loch. Could not reach the road by a straight route, because of the curse of fencing. I nearly found myself walking through people's backyards! Returned to the hostel at 3 o'clock, well on time.

Stornoway - 16/12/04

Went to town today, in order to pick up my weekly packet of papers. My regular prints include The Press and Journal, the Highland daily newspaper; The West Highland Free Press, a very radical weekly rag that has been close to my heart for the 8 years that I've read it. I do not understand why they support windfarms, when 88% of the Lewisians are opposed to them. And there is the Stornoway Gazette, small town paper, also printed weekly. The things you read in there really my you smile. As I said, it's small town fry. The other day, they asked what a lunar halo was. I obliged by sending them an explanation - which they printed. Yippee, I'm in the paper. Oh, also bought a very nice book with a story about a man going back to his roots, his ancestral blackhouse in Carloway. Only to find a skeleton under the floor.

Thursday, 16 December 2004

Marvig, Calbost and Gravir - 15/12/04

Today's forecast was a lot better than the day before, the day even started sunny. Just after 10 o'clock headed up the road in an easterly direction once more, but this time stayed on it as far as the Caversta turning, beyond Garyvard. The sun was still quite low at 10.30 - just for reader's reference, the sun rises here at 9.10am and sets at 3.35pm. London times (for comparison) are about 8am and 3.50pm. That's the difference that 7 degrees latitude make. Said hello to barking dogs, who promptly shut up, then headed away from the road to make a shortcut across the moors in order to gain the Marvig road junction, about a mile north of the Eishal junction. Weaved my way around some lochans, then got into a seemingly never-ending maze of fencing. At one stage I undid a gate, which promptly fell over flat into the mud. Don't know how I got to the road, but it was a bit difficult. Lots of fences, lots of streams. Walked up the road to the junction for Cromor / Marvig, then headed east through a very rocky landscape. The approach to Marbhig / Marvig is quite pretty, you walk right next to a loch, and you see one house at the other end. Then, when you reach that house, the view opens up right across the village, to the Point district east of Stornoway and Payble. Got this info off a local gent who was mending a fence around his vegetables. Headed further up the road, south, towards Calbost, which is a one-horse town in a pretty valley. There is a strand at the other end of it, but did not go to see it. The weather was closing in at this point, cloud from a weatherfront spilling in from the west. The wind also picked up, a rather cold (8C) westerly. After a quick lunch in the heather, I continued up the hill and was treated to a nice shower at 1.40pm. On reaching Gravir, I saw a dog harassing a sheep. The sheep bowed its head to show the dog its horns. The dog, a young collie, obviously didn't know what to do now, although it had been yapping at the sheep's neck. Not sure if this was play or something serious. Usually dogs get shot if they worry sheep. Gravir is quite a long, strung-out settlement along the shores of Loch Odhairn (Ourn), and it took me the better part of 20 minutes to reach the junction where I found myself yesterday. Marched up the road west, and with one break for tea, gained Kershader at 3.45, just as it got dark.

Gravir - 14/12/04

Monday 13th December

The usual Monday shopping trip to Stornoway, which passed off under a very dark sky. The light in the Town Hall clock tower went on at half past twelve, although sunset is not until 3 hours later. Had to walk back from Balallan to Kershader, the 5 mile jaunt is becoming very familiar.

Tuesday 14th December

It's raining today, but that's no excuse for sitting inside. Headed up the road in an easterly direction, then went south up onto the moors. It's a route I've taken several times now, following the peat-track as far as it goes, then past a small outcrop and up towards Loch nan Eilean. My decision to walk along its eastern bank rather than the western one turned out to be a bit of a mistake. (A) it's longer (B) more difficult. Several larger streams empty into the loch, one of which had a wrecked boat lying across its mouth. One flowed out over rocks, and I went flying when I didn't bother to properly judge the awkward steps. Put my foot in the water on a slippery stone, projected myself forward and ended up face-down on the rocks. Thrust out one arm to prevent real damage. Objective achieved, but sprained my shoulder. Rather painful, and found myself in some degree of pain for the rest of the day. Cursing silently, I went on towards Glen Gravir, which I reached at about 1.30. The glen is just over a mile long, wherupon it reaches a road junction. South goes to Lemreway and Orinsay, east goes to Calbost and north to Stornoway. Headed out of the village, smiling at the Gaelic roadsign Grabhair, which in English could be construed rather unpleasantly. In Gaelic, the 'bh' is a 'v' and the second 'a' is not pronounced. Chatted to a gentleman who was pushing a bicycle up the road in the opposite direction. He told me that he was coming back from Kershader, having bought an icecream. Sure. Reached Kershader shortly before 4pm, just as it got dark.

Monday, 13 December 2004

Ròineabhal and Theastabhal - 11/12/04

I continue to curse the weekend busservice down here, which is not really good. The first bus goes at 7.54, which is too early for walking purposes. It's still dark at that hour. So I went on the 11.39, which didn't leave me a lot of time for walking - 4 hours to be precise. Remember, it gets dark quite early up here - 3.45 is the very latest you can be out and about off the road.

Walked out of Balallan at 11.50, heading west towards Ròineabhal, but not intending to climb the hill. As I knew the terrain, I could maintain quite a good pace and managed to cover the 4km to the valley south of the hill in 1 hour. It is not easy walking country, but I've grown used to it. It's quite a nice walk up to the top of the pass, but after that it gets a wee bit wet. The country opens up once you head west towards Loch Langabhat, and it's a long descent. It's important to know where you want to go, as this is potentially confusing country. Theastabhal is the next hill (do not pronounce the leading 'th'),and it has a hidden outpost. It only becomes clear once you go down the slope. Don't become confused by the vast myriad of lochans to the north of Loch Langabhat. Use it an orienteering tool, rather. What is confusing is the low hill by the lochside. I kept up at quite a high contour, and by 2 o'clock went round the southern side of Theastabhal to head out towards Airidh a'Bhruaich, southeast of there. Once on the other side of the hill, things became very boggy and difficult, but I decided not to head into the village, but instead steer an easterly course for Balallan, visible in the distance. There are two lochans along the way (sorry haven't got the map with me), and then you hit the fences again. I nearly had a grouse dinner - a lame one was sitting in the heather, but I couldn't bring myself to wring its neck. By 2.45 it started to drizzle, and it became steadily more gloomy. Having negotiated a couple of awkward fences, I finally came out onto the main road at the eastern end of Airidh a'Bhruaich at 3.15. Walked up that road to Balallan, only to stumble across a party of stalkers who were blasting off at something in the moors. Finally got into Balallan by 4pm, when it was quite dark already. After the drink at the Claitair Hotel, it was 4.40 and fully dark. The rain was belting down and it was not a very nice 75 minutes to Kershader. Particularly not if you get wisecracks offering you lifts in the opposite direction. What's the use of that, eh?

Stornoway - 10/12/04

Decided on a slightly longer than normal trip to town, as a couple of things needed doing. The bulb in my torch blew the other night, which is not desirable. I need a torch when walking along the roads after dark, if only to let cars know I'm there. So a new torch was duly acquired. Also got the weekly lot of papers, and found that the Stornoway Gazette even printed my explanation of the lunar halo that somebody saw a week ago from the east of the island. Nipped into the museum for a bit to look at the distant and not so distant history of Lewis, which was quite interesting. Finally a trip to the Co-op, which had not bothered to stock up since the day before, so I was stuck for potatoes and quite a few other bits and pieces. I had to make do with a different type of potato for the weekend, growl. Returned to Kershader on the bus, and this time I didn't have to walk the 5 miles - the 14.20 from S'way has a connecting service into South Lochs as it happens.

Friday, 10 December 2004

Cromor - 9/12/04

Was woken in the night by ferocious winds juddering the windows and doors. When I looked out of the window at 9pm, it was blowing a full gale. The sheep nearly blew out of their woollies, the grass lay flat and Loch Erisort had white riders on the water. Walked out at 10 o'clock, just after the bus had left, and headed east along the road. The wind made walking difficult at times, and also tried to wrest my mapcase from me. No such luck. A dog came out to greet me, I said hello, and it went on its way again. Passed through Gearraidh Bhaird / Garyvard, and turned left at the Cabharstadh / Caverstay turning. Reached the road end at 11 o'clock, and was left to my own devices to find a way onto the moors. Bit tricky; there are lots of fences about, and no gates. The first opening left me being buffeted on the edge of a precipice, and having to negotiate some loose wires. Not advisable. So, I backtracked and managed to get into a field with very friendly sheep. My mapcase looks to those animals like a bag of feed, one of them even came right up to me to nuzzle the case. Nah, no luck love. Better go to your ram, he's right behind you... Squeezed through a very narrow opening beside a broken gate and gained the moors. The wind is a hindrance, which makes it force 8. As it is forced up over the hills, it will finally go down towards the loch below at quite a speed. On one of the summits I was nearly blown over, which means it's force 10. Force 9 just makes it impossible to walk. Headed through the hills, at first close to the coastline until the lochan at 371205, then in an eastsoutheasterly direction to a small lochan at 384197. The distance is a little under a mile, but it took me nearly an hour. After that, I finally reached a metalled road at Torasdaidh at 12.15. Wasn't quite sure which way to go, but turning right was the right decision, as this got me onto the road to Cromor - stress the last syllable. Headed northeast battling with the wind. Cromor has streetlights, powered by solar power. The road leads along the inlet of Loch Thorasdaidh, which you'll see on both sides. I headed west at the phonebox, intending to go to Crobeag. Someone let some plastic bags fly out of his hands, they ended up in the sea. Had quite some bother climbing over gates, as the wind was determined to blow me off. Reached the end of the road at Crobeag, and followed the track down to the shore. At low tide, this provides a causeway across to Eilean Chaluim Chille / Columba'sIsland. The tide was in, so I couldn't go across. Found a sheltered spot for some lunch. Whilst sitting there, I noticed that the wind was blowing the crests off the waves, a sure sign that it is approaching stormforce 10. At 1.30, I recommenced my battle with the elements, as I found myself heading straight into the teeth of the gale. For 2½ miles, up to Eishal Junction, I was walking with great difficulty. There is a walkway across to Marbhig / Marvaig, but I wanted to leave that until a day with less wind. Finally reached the junction at 2.45, and the remaining 3½ miles were a lot easier. Reached Kershader at 4pm, just as it got dark. Yep, the sun had set at 3.35. No, didn't do a lot after that. The total distance was about 15 miles, but the wind had made it just that little bit harder!

Stornoway - 8/12/04

My alternate day off to town, which cannot be described as the navel of the universe, not even by me. OK, Stornoway has its nice corners, but please don't walk too fast - you're out of it before you can say fork. The weather is the usual drizzle plus strong wind. Nonetheless, that does not bother me, and after updating this journal I went for a walk along Newton / Einicleit, then up Island Road as far as the school. Island Road turns into Smith Avenue after the industrial estate. Went into Smithfield Drive, which is closed to traffic. The primary reason is the big school along it, the secondary one being the huge flood. Took the 12.30 bus down to Balallan, and regular readers will be aware that there is no connecting service into South Lochs at 1pm. So off I trudged into the rain. Couldn't even wait at the Claitair Hotel, as that is closed on a Tuesday. Fortunately, a lady with a small child in the backseat pulled up alongside and offered me a lift. She had the heating turned up at full blast, so I sat perspiring as she drove me the remaining 4 miles to Kershader. Had a bit of a chat about current developments in the area, like the proposed buy-out. Next time something happens on that front will be in May or June 2005. Returned to the hostel at 1.30, and I was too bl**dy lazy to do anything else for the rest of the afternoon. Shame, shame.

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

Loch Langabhat - 7/12/04

Took the southbound bus as far south as Ath-Linn. opposite Seaforth Island. I had to tell the driver where it was. Grid reference 197120. There is this track that leads northnorthwest towards Loch Langabhat. It goes up at a punishing gradient, getting up to an altitude of 270m, 900ft in 2 miles. The view back is stunning, as you look straight down Loch Seaforth towards the sea. It looks like a fjord, and is only one of a few sealochs in Scotland to actually bear that semblance. The other ones being Lochs Nevis and Hourn, north of Mallaig. They are surrounded by mountains close on 4,000 feet high. Loch Seaforth's mountains aren't that high, but none the less dramatic. Once you crest the summit, Loch Langabhat comes into view. I've mentioned this loch last week, when I could see its length from Roineabhal, west of Balallan. The distance is not that great, about 6 miles. Back to the trip. Was overtaken by a couple of guys in green in a landrover, who said they were going stalking. Well, they went to the end of the road by the lochside and came straight back. I didn't see any deer either, to be honest. To the left of the track the cliffs of Liuthad (492m) rear up, a pretty dramatic aspect. Loch Langabhat stretches out for many miles, effectively blocking any links between east and west on the Long Island. Morsgail is only 5-6 miles away to the northwest, but requires an impossibly long detour through Leurbost and Garynahine - I think it totals 40-50 miles to reach there from here. On arriving at the shore, there were two rowing boats. One had a big hole in the side, the other was full of water, and consequently too heavy to shift. I wouldn't have minded going for a row on the water... Unfortunately, this would have landed me in all sorts of trouble on account of the wind. The strong southerly wind would have blown me right out of my way. Walked up the shoreline for half a mile, then turned back. I knew the return trip to Ath Linn would take me an hour, and it did. I only had a few minutes to spare before the bus turned up, and it duly deposited me at Balallan, for the change to the South Lochs bus. Was back at Kershader at 3pm, only to find that I didn't quite have enough dosh to pay for more than one night. And I also needed food. The shop does not have a massive variety of food, this is actually alarmingly restricted. Bread only comes in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Nearest shop of any description - Stornoway, 22 miles away. In other words, another tripin order tomorrow.

Monday, 6 December 2004

Weekend 4/5 December 2004

Saturday 4th December

Saturday was not noteworthy, really. The bustimetables have changed, and not for the better. The first bus doesn't go until 11.39, and it leaves Stornoway again at 14.20, so you have precious little time to do what you have to do on a Saturday. Return to Kershader at 3pm, which leaves precisely 1 hour of daylight. I'll have to stop watching this much telly... Oh, the weather, before I forget about it. Atrocious! It was blowing a gale and the rain was horizontal. Fortunately, this usually means that it is mild, and 12C is mild.

Sunday 5th December

Went out for a bit of walk at 11 o'clock in the morning. After a night of rattling windows, doors and what have you, it was a perfect morning. Not a breath of wind, quite acceptable temperature (10C). Went on to the moors, first across to Gravir Glen. Oh, the Gaelic name of that township may make some of you smile. Grabhair. The 'bh' is pronounced as a 'v', and the 'ai' as a short 'ee'. It was the usual bogslog, but I am familiar with the walk, and managed to avoid the deep water at the southern end of Loch nan Eilean by going down right to the shoreline of the loch before crossing that treacherous little stream. Reached Gravir Glen at 12.30, and crossed the valley. Climbed onto the hills on its southern side for some lunch, then continued south, with the aim of reaching Orinsay. The going was quite difficult, lots of bogs and tussocks. The orientation was quite tricky as well. The lie of the land, the hills and valleys, makes you divert off the southerly course. You're forever tempted to head southwest, but that is wrong. You'll end up in all sorts of bother by a major loch system a bit further west, and you might even find yourself in the Eishken Estate. Getting onto the road at Orinsay is simple, once you have crossed that blinking stream, that decides to go meandering at that point. Do NOT go right, as you'll run into an unmountable fence. Reached the road at 2.30. The weather was changing gradually but inexorably all the way through the hike. First the sun went. I did not really mind that. It is very low in the sky, only 8 degrees at noon, so it is right in the eyes. Then the wind started to pick up. Walked up the road again, which passes right on the northern edge of Lemreway, and proceeded back towards the centre of Gravir (only a small village, but very strung out). Once out of Gravir, at 3.45, the rain came. The roadsign at Eishal Junction quotes an incorrect roadnumber: B8066, which should be B8060. I was offered a lift about 3 miles east of Kershader, which I did not decline. The light had virtually gone. There was no traffic on the road for the 2 hours I walked along it. Returned to the hostel at 4.20. The gale came back, as did the rain.

Saturday, 4 December 2004

Moorland walk - 03/12/04

After a brief trip to S'way for shopping purposes, I took the 12.30 bus back to Balallan and disappeared onto the moors behind the township. It's basically down the track towards Ròineabhal, and then straight ahead. Following the track down onto the moors gets you into some pretty dodgy terrain. The ground moves as you walk along, and there are some pretty horrendous bogs. There is a gate, where the farmer has left some pallets on the ground. They are slowly sinking into the bog. If you step on them, you do stay afloat, but there is a horrendous smell. The hill in front is Treallabhal, which you cannot reach. There is a very big loch in front, Loch Treallabhal, which stretches for miles in either direction. On return to Balallan, I was exactly in time for the bus back to Kershader. Chatted briefly to the driver, who told me that he had once sunk into a bog up to his armpits, and he had to be hauled out by two others. He would never have managed by himself.

Friday, 3 December 2004

Late news - 03/12/04

There is a down-side to being on the fringes of Europe - news is very late in coming to me. This morning, I found a news item that the Prince Bernhard, prince consort to Holland's previous Queen (Juliana) died on December 1st of the complications of cancer. He was 93, and had been ill for quite some time. End of an era.

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Ròineabhal - 02/12/04

This morning started very cold, with rime on the pavements and ice on the puddles. Took the bus to Balallan, in order to climb Ròineabhal, a hill of 281m / 940 ft altitude. The name is pronounced Roynyaval. The altitude quoted is not very high, when compared to the giants I climbed around Fort William in October and November, But it should afford quite a nice view over Lewis. Walked down the track that actually starts at the busstop in Balallan, and had to branch off left at a fork. Took the left hand track, as this appeared to lead straight towards Ròineabhal. Found myself at a ford, and I was about to cross it when a mighty splashing in the water stopped me. The stream is only a couple of inches deep, and this fish was jumping through the ford. When I approached the point where it was resting, it splashed down the stream, the Abhainn Mhòr, out towards Loch Erisort. When I spoke to local people later in the day, they told me it was very late for salmon. I kicked myself, because with some adroit handwork I could have picked it. Fat chance, I can hear some readers say. Anyway, the track ran out shortly after the stream and I was left to my own devices to cross the moor and reach Ròineabhal. I merrily did so, having to cross only one fence and this one not crowned by barbed wire. The moor undulated around me, and I could see Loch Stranndabhat to the south, where it stretched out towards the A859. By 11.15 I was starting on the foothills of Ròineabhal itself, and the more serious business of gaining altitude began. I had already hugged upper contours on the way in, and now I started up its southern ridge. Not too complicated, until I reached the second escarpment. If you check the map at gridreference NB230210 to 237210, you'll see several of these escarpments, and it would have required a very uncomfortable 15 foot scramble onto rocks. And I'm not into that. So I wandered along, looking for a more amenable gap, which I duly found. Still not straightforward, and I kept looking back to make sure I would be able to find the way back. Reached the summit shortly before 12. Fantastic view, you see the interior of Lewis from there, which you would normally never see from the road. Just quoting from the map: Lochs Langabhat and Trealabhal. These are not ordinary lakes, but intricate mazes of water, bound together by narrower or wider channels, stretching out the entire distance between the hills of Harris in the south and southwest and the Barvas Hills to the north. One could wander for days in there. There is actually a fantastic walking route, which I hope to do when the days are longer. It starts at Morsgail Lodge and leads right through the wilderness to the Huisnish Road in Harris. Distance as the crow flies about 15 miles, but probably nearer 20 on the ground. As there are effectively only 8 hours of daylight (the sun is above the horizon for only 7 hours right now), this is impossible. In the wilderness, you average 2km/hour (1¼ mph) on foot. There is an alternative start at Ard a Mhulainn, on the Tarbert Road, where you go straight west towards Stuabhal, then turn abruptly south. A tent might by a solution, but bearing in mind current temperatures (8C by day, 0C at night), not for a novice like me. The east coast was fairly clear as well, Loch Odhairn (Gravir) and the inlet by Lemreway to the southeast, leading through to the Eye Peninsula (east of Stornoway) right up to Tolsta. I forgot to mention it was blowing hard (force 7) on the summit of Ròineabhal, and the temperature was a mere 5C, compared to 8C at the foot of the hill. This is sheer windchill. Had lunch in the shelter of a small stone circle that crowns the summit of the hill, then went down again. Not via the same route, I should add. I wanted to get out of the wind as soon as possible, so headed east rather than south. I did find a way down, but quite tricky and slippery. Had to stop one slide by putting my mitt into a bog. Nice. Returned to the busstop in time for the 2.50 to Kershader.

Later on, a helicopter flew up and down Loch Erisort, with a searchlight trained on the water. Wonder what that was all about

Shopping trip - 01/12/04

The alternate day is here again, so it's up to Steornabhagh / Stornoway on the usual 10am bus. Can by now make a Bayeux tapestry of the landscape along the route, but it remains quite scenic. What does bother me is that from my current location, Kershader, you could cross Loch Erisort in a boat and land at Lacasaidh / Laxay on the main road to Stornoway. This saves 10 miles out of the 22 that separate Kershader and Stornoway. Pity that there is no ferry. Apparently, until the road into South Lochs got upgraded, the mails for the area were transferred by boat from Crosbost (North Lochs) to Cromor (stress the second syllable). But now that there is this super highway, also known as the B8060, this is no longer the case. Having done the necessary, I returned to base on the 12.30, which necessitates me to walk the 5 miles from Balallan to Kershader. The driver on the Harris bus got off to speak to the operators of MacDonald coaches, but there is no connecting busservice at 1pm. Well known to me, but not to him. It doesn't matter too much to me, I'll don't mind the 90 minute walk, as I've indicated before. Having had my lunch off the road, in the hills, I returned to the hostel just before 3. Was overtaken by the 2.50 bus, and the driver got off to speak to me about the missing connection. Wow. Spent the evening watching blinking telly. There is currently a spelling competition on BBC1 and ITV1 are running "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here". Not riveting, but it does fill the dark hours.

Wednesday, 1 December 2004

Return to Kershader - 30/11/04

The weather today was quite bright, but the instability was plain to see. A magnificent anvil, topping a showercloud, was visible at around 1pm, and a real downpour turned up just as the bus back north was about to leave Tarbert at 3.45. The driver decided that he'd better not risk the long journey through derilict wilderness back to Stornoway (all of 37 miles / 60 km) on a half-empty tank, so he stopped off at Ardhasaig, just outside Tarbert to fill up. God. As we crossed the mountains, darkness began to fall. Lights of other vehicles coming south along the A859 blinked, as did the warning lights of the workmen who are busy doubling the single-track road. Would you believe that there is still a total of 2.5 miles of single-track road on this main road? Oh, it's good fun. Reached Balallan at 4.30, in time for the connecting bus into South Lochs. The southbound bus turned up a few minutes later, disgorging loads of secondary school kids from Stornoway, all heading for home in South Lochs. Checked out the local news at 6.30, to get more background info on the community buy-out in this area. Currently, the land is owned by a private individual who doesn't do a lot apparently. Under new legislation, approved just this June, a community can mount a hostile buy-out, i.e. buy the land from the owner without his consent. Very controversial. Pairc Trust now has 6 months to submit a proposal to the Scottish Executive (this is the devolved Scottish government) who can then approve. They have to prove that they can do better than the landowner. Not difficult, if the present one does nought. I wish them luck.

Tuesday, 30 November 2004

Scalpay and Tarbert - 30/11/04

Last day of the month, and the weather this morning is bright and fairly sunny. It was lashing down with rain overnight, but it looks pretty cheerful out there. A bit nippy in the wind, but 10C is not bad. Noticed yesterday that the sun rises at 8.50am and sets at 3.40pm. The busdriver was so overwhelmed by my changed destination (Tarbert) that he let me do the run to Balallan for free. Had to wait there for 20 minutes for the Tarbert bus. Glorious journey that, can not get enough of it. At Tarbert, another wait until the little Scalpay bus materialized. Got to the island, via its new bridge, at 11.45, which gave me just over an hour until I'd have to get the bus back in order to maintain my northbound connection. Scalpay is a fishing community, with all the houses strung out along the one main road (which does have some branches). Quite cute really. The road to Scalpay leads past the start of the walks along Loch Lacasdail and to Rhenigidale. Until recently, the latter settlement could only be reached on foot. It's a 3 mile hike across the hills. Returned to Tarbert at 1.15, where I just nipped into the library to update this journal.

If anything noteworthy happens after I leave the library, I'll put in a separate entry.

Shopping - 29/11/04

Jumped on the bus at 10 o'clock, as I had no food left in the house. Or the hostel more accurately. The weather today is decidedly dreich, in other words grey and threatening with rain. Stornoway was it usual cheerful self. Thought I'd lost my woolly hat, but that turned up in my rucksack. Found something useful in Woolworths, in the shape of a small carrier for the portable CD-player. Returned to South Lochs on the 12.30 bus, and just as I got off at Balallan it started to rain. And it never stopped during the 90 minute walk to Kershader. The farmer who owns the sheep in the field next to the hostel was busy ferrying the ewes across the road to the field with the rams. For obvious reasons, I have explained before. Managed to do the laundry without losing too much money in the timer (sigh).

Monday, 29 November 2004

Weekend - 27/28 November 2004

Saturday 27th November

After the usual Saturday visit to Stornoway, the weather was quite interesting. A very bright rainbow over the Lochs area on the approach to Laxay (Lacasaidh), with showers all around. At a monument just before Balallan a minister of the church was conducting a service. Quite a few people in attendance. After dropping the shopping off in the hostel, went for a brief walk. Up the road, then through the moors to the Kershader waterbutt on the top of a hill. Coming down into the village proper was greeted by a very friendly sheepdog. He wanted me to come inside, but I politely declined, telling him to go to his boss. Which he did.

Sunday 28th November

Left at 10.30 with the half-formed idea of going to Roineaval, the high hill (281m) about 2½ miles west of Balallan. However, this involves a 5 mile road walk to the aforementioned village, which I really didn't fancy. So I diverted onto the moors and reset my aim for today to: Airidh a Bhruaich. This village is located about 2 miles southwest of Balallan along the main road to Tarbert. Left the B8060 South Lochs road at Habost, 1 mile west of Kershader, and proceeded onto the moors. Orientation is always of prime importance, and I have been warned repeatedly about the dangers of the moors. Apparently, you should avoid walking onto any green patches in the middle of the heather, as these are sinkholes. You'd disappear without trace - only to reappear as green growth on top of the bog. Not nice. Headed west southwest along the northern shores of Lochs Chragoil and Loch na Ciste. Then on to the very northern tip of Loch Sgiobacleit. There were fences about, but that did not prove too much of a problem, as I always seemed to turn up at a gate, somehow. Headed uphill from that point onwards, right to the summit of Mullach Breac Mhalasgair, grid ref 301166, at an altitude of 172m, 570ft. This is one of the highest hills in the vicinity, leaving the much higher Eishken hills (up to 572 metres) to one side. The view was quite spectacular. The west side of Lewis was visible, as was the east coast beyond Stornoway. The bays behind Gravir and Lemreway could be made out, as could the high hills of Eishken. At 1 o'clock, after lunch, I proceeded on a beeline almost exactly due west towards the road, which I reached half an hour later. At the point where this veers north, I went downhill towards a house which stands on the shore and headed west towards Airidh a Bhruaich. The going was a bit awkward at times, as the route led along the shore of Loch Seaforth. This is tidal. A lot of flotsam is washed up on the shore. At about 2.30, I reached a ruined house and a little further on the first of dozens of fences. The village is strung out along 1½ miles of shoreline, and each house has a strip of land leading down to the water. Fenced off, obviously. Turned north, still having to negotiate the fences, up to the point where I could rejoin the A859 northeast to Balallan. Road walking is no great hobby of mine, but about a mile before Balallan I could rejoin the old road. Met a pleasant lady walking her dog there, and we had a little chat. She went into her house at the beginning of the village, and I proceeded down the South Lochs Road. Nipped into the Claithair bar for a drink. Two gentlemen were having a game of pool. The barman was building a stack, or rather a wall of 2p coins around a bottle of whisky, and it was nearly 1 foot high. He glued them together by using - coke! The sugar stuck them together, which is better than glue. The sugar can be dissolved easily, the glue can not. The poolplayers gave me a lift to Kershader, whilst swigging beer. Drinking beer whilst driving a car? Oh help.

Saturday, 27 November 2004

Wilderness Walk - 26/11/04

This morning dawned brighter than the day before, and I merrily set off at around 9.50 for a hike across the moors. Went over the fence at the Abhainn Ealaidh, on the boundary with Habost, and tried to head southwest. Bit of a problem with the fences, but managed to reach the open moor eventually. I had left my compass in the hostel, so had to play very carefully with the map and the sun. Skirting three large lochans at a distance, I veered in a quarter-circle to Loch na Cartach, just off Loch Sgiobacleit. Then headed south towards the eastern end of the latter loch. It was very wet indeed on the moors, and at times I felt I needed a boat rather than waterproof boots. Reached the little footbridge across the inflow of L. Sgiobacleit (gridref 320160) at around 12 noon, and proceeded along the loch's southern bank. Took my lunch on a small promontory. Noticed an eagle gliding over the hills to the south of me. At 12.50, I reached Seaforth Head and decided to head due south into the wilderness. This was wetter than wet. Several times I slid on the slimey ground, but managed the one mile to Loch Airigh Thormoid. That name actually means Lake of Norman's Summer Meadow (I think). It was 13.30, and although I contemplated going further south, theneast towards Eishken, the lack of remaining daylight hours (only 2½) meant that this was not possible. Returned by the same route, and the same bogslog. Was glad to reach the road at 2.30. This time a buzzard hovered overhead, mewing intermittently. The difference between an eagle and a buzzard is the sheer size of the eagle and the rounded wingtips of the buzzard. Am wondering if it is possible to reach Airidh a Bhruaich from here. It means a 4 mile walk along the northern bank of Loch Seaforth. There were no problems during the 90 minutes it took me to come to the Landraiders' Monument at Balallan. Although I had planned to take the bus at 4.30, a family in a car very kindly offered me a lift to Kershader, so I reached there at 4.30, nice and on time.

Thanksgiving - 25/11/04

Came into town this morning and noticed that several of the shops displayed notices that they would be open today, as if that was something unusual for a Thursday. Well, it is if that Thursday is Thanksgiving. Something that I am hardly familiar with, but the strictly religious Lewisians observe by taking a bank holiday. Found myself nearly kicked out of a bookshop at 1.30. There were loads of people on the buses, even young children at 10 in the morning. They'd normally be in the school, I should think. The weather today was grey and very dark. Just after 1.30, it started to rain and when I reported to the busstation for the journey back to Balallan and Kershader, the light in the town hall clock was on. This was at 1.55! Several large carparks were lit up. On the bus back, people were carrying huge amounts of shopping - it seems the Christmas season has finally arrived. In the evening, I said farewell to the other hosteller, he is off to Findhorn to sort their computer problems. Findhorn was on the television the other night, it is a spiritual community east of Inverness. Not quite my piece of cake. I might feel more comfortable in Iona.

Thursday, 25 November 2004

Eishken - 24/11/04

Wednesday dawned wet and windy. Nonetheless, I am not fuddled by the weather, so I jumped on the 10 o'clock bus and headed west for Balallan. The driver did not have change for my 20 pound note, so he said he'd bring some on the way back. Walked down the A859 towards Tarbert for just under a mile, where there is a large memorial for the Pairc raiders. This was a group of men who, in 1887, trespassed on the Pairc estate and feasted on venison. It was a protest against the then landowner, whose name eludes me. Pairc is a large area; on the map, it stretches from Loch Erisort all the way down, past Loch Sealg / Loch Shell. Nowadays it is virtually derilict south of Lemreway / Eishken. After reading the riot act to the trespassers, they decided that they had made their point and left. Seven were prosecuted in court, but were acquitted of all charges. I headed down the Eishken road at 10.20, in horizontal rain. There was a westerly wind, force 5-6, and although there were breaks in the higher clouds, the rain never stopped. It is 7½ miles (12km) to Eishken, and they were long miles. The first 4½ were familiar from last Friday, although the track across the mountains at Seaforth Head was not visible. Visibility is very poor at any rate, and I'm not going off-road today. Past the large loch, then headed south for 3 miles until I reached Eishken Lodge. Had a wander round, then turned back. Sat munching soggy sandwiches (eugh) in the rain, then set off despondently at 1.30. Fortunately, a local fisherman pulled up and offered me a lift. Thank you; I am absolutely dripping wet. We chatted a bit about local history and life in this part of the world. It's hard. I cannot remember the man's name, but he fishes for prawns and langoustines off Loch Sealg. It's either that or going out on the rigs. Not much else to do round here. At 1.50, he dropped me off at the South Lochs turn, where I trod the road to the Claithair Hotel. Having waited for 10 minutes at the bar, I was finally supplied with a bowl of soup, which gave me time to warm up and wait for the bus. This turned up at 2.50, and I could finally pay the driver his £1.60 fare. Noticed that there is going to be a vote on the community buy-out in Pairc on Monday 29th November.

Another shopping trip - 23/11/04

Seems my days are alternating between shopping trips to 'town' and walks on the moors. Tuesday was another jaunt to Stornoway, and I was done that quickly that I could even catch the 12.30 bus back to Balallan. The only downside of that bus is that there is no connection to Kershader, in other words, I had to walk the remaining five miles to the village. It was a blustery day, but not cold, so while munching my BLT sandwich I happily trod the tarmac, until I was nearly there. Then my fellow hosteller turned up and offered me a lift the rest of the way. Not that far at any rate. I decided to take another chance with the washing machine, bunged 11 coins through and only 1 registered. Fantastic. Had to drag the lady out of the shop to rectify things, and dried everything over the radiators.

Tuesday, 23 November 2004

Loch Ealaidh to Loch Leathann - 22/11/04

Forgot to mention my troubles with the washing machine from yesterday, which threw a spanner into the works. The washing machine works on a coin operated timer. You have to insert 20p coins, which give you 9 minutes washing time each. Unfortunately (yes, read on), the coins don't always register. Sometimes, you put in 10 of the blighters and they don't register. I seemed to go fine, until the final coin. This would not register, so the machine stopped in the middle of its spin cycle, and I couldn't open the door. This was 3pm on Sunday. In case of problems, you have to go to the village shop next door, which was obviously closed, it being Sunday. On Monday morning I had to wait until 10 o'clock for the manager to turn up. She comes off the bus, so I was missing that as well (next one due at 4pm :-\). This good lady opened the money box and bunged in another 20p. Yippee, it worked. The machine spun for a massive 1½ minutes - and that was all. Inwardly boiling, I transferred the laundry to the dryer and had that working on it for nearly half an hour.

A little miffed, I decided to make the most of the day and headed out at 11.30. Down to road to Tabost and up the moor towards Loch Ealaidh, about 1½ miles south of the road. First marker is the chimney stack, the only item standing from an otherwise disappeared house. Cross the wires there, then hug the contours down the glen to the loch. Continue to hug the contours, taking care not to fall into the lochan. Cross the fencing via the stile (incredible, a stile), cross the stream and head east for a small lochan. It is necessary to circle this along its southern bank, cross two streams then head northeast for Loch Leathann. You need to climb up a 'hill' (50m), then traverse some very wet terrain, sometimes dangerously wet. Jumping between tussocks is a better description. Finally, you end up on high ground (60m), and other lochans come into sight, which I recognised from my first foray into this area. I duly followed the markers on the ground and ended up on a peat road, leading back to the B8060 main road. Sat beside a lochan for a while, enjoying the still weather. It is about 11C today, not much wind and not very cold at all. The clouds are very low, barely above 400 ft. The dead, and by now decomposing, sheep was still lying in the track. Returned to the hostel by about 3.30, in time for a visit to the shop for some groceries.

Change in weather - 21/11/04

Today dawned with most of the snow gone and horizontal rain. In spite of this, I ventured out, heading east with the faint idea of walking round to Cromor and Gravir. Decided against that in view of the very strong easterly I found myself battling into. Diverted onto the moors, initially near the Caverstay junction, then from Garyvard (Gearraidh Bhaird). From the latter village, there is a long road right onto the moors. It was up there that I noticed that something had changed. The wind came from the WEST and the temperature had jumped from +6 to +11C. Strange. The rain was still pouring down, and I did not feel like gallivanting across the moors in that sort of weather. Returned to Kershader early to dry out.

There is one other gentleman staying at the hostel, who has recently returned from Canada after having a divorce. He has some tales to tell. Otherwise, there is the TV to watch. Don't forget, it's dark up here after 4.15.

Return from Stornoway - 20/11/04

No problems with the bustickets, as I said, people know my face, and know I'm getting off at 'Ravens'. On return to the hostel decided to go for a little jaunt up the road as far as the Caverstay turn. Passed the time by tossing rocks into a frozen lochan. Makes a funny noise; the ice is but thin. On the way back, the light once again failed before I reached the hostel. Temperatures still very low, barely above freezing. It is still beautiful though...

Saturday, 20 November 2004

Trip to Stornoway - 20/11/04

Another shopping jaunt to 'town', which didn't start too well. The minibus was a minute late, but thanks to an observant passenger, we didn't need to wait for the connection at Balallan. He had noticed the Hebridean Transport bus sailing through the village about 5 mintues before we arrived. So he took us right through into Stornoway. Didn't give me ticket though, said the driver would take my word for it. We shall see.

Walk in the snow - 19/11/04

Friday dawned with a coating of snow over the area. The hills were white, and it was very cold indeed - around freezing. Frequent snow showers swept South Lochs before 10 o'clock, and the wind made it even colder. People taking their kids to the playgroup next door were bent against the wind in one of those squalls. At 10 am, I decided that sitting inside never did anyone any good, so ventured out. The last shower had disappeared to the south, and it all looked quite attractive. I set off along the road in a westerly direction. About 1 mile further on, I located the Abhainn Ealaidh coming down from the hills. Having negotiated a gate, I found myself walking in the snow. It obscured some of the tell-tale features on the ground, such as vegetation, which I use to determine whether it is safe to walk there. But the frost had frozen up some of the bogs and watercourses, so it was not too difficult after a while. Headed up the glen as far as Loch Ealaidh, which I skirted on its eastern shore. It was nice and sunny at this point, with the thermometer going up to 5C. Had to do something tricky with a fence, but fortunately there was a gate overhanging the water. Continued south along the loch shore below two hills, then up another glen to a longer loch. Hugging the contours, i.e. staying at the same height, I went on. It was only about 2C, and had already had one snow shower coming through. But by the time I reached the southern extremity of that lake, at 11.30, it had brightened up. Climbed over a fence, but found I should have stayed on the original (western) side. Finally reached Gleann Ouird, which is traversed by a small river only 7 ft wide. Walked right along this all the way to the large loch at the end, frantically scanning for a point to jump it. Oh, there was a footbridge near the loch, as it turned out. Five deer crossed my path, easily jumping the fences. Sat down at 1pm for lunch, but sitting down straight on the snow gives one a very cold behind. Not long after that, I reached the Eishken Road, which I'd have to follow for some 5 miles up to Balallan. Had a distant hope of catching the 2.50 bus to Kershader. The weather deteriorated again after reaching the end of Loch Seaforth. This is actually connected to the sea, but reaches inland for 22 tortuous miles. The road continued to climb, passing the grand total of 3 houses. About a mile before the junction with the A859, I decided I had time for one final shortcut at 2.40. I went east-northeast across the moors, past a hill and past the northern extremity of a lochan. There was a dodgy piece of fencing here, but I could actually creep through a hole in it. Reached the main road at 4pm, and after a break set off for the final 4 miles to Kershader. Fortunately, someone kindly pulled up to offer me a lift, which I gratefully accepted. Chatted to the lady driver for the duration of the journey, amongst other things about the proposed windturbines. These 140m high monstrosities have sails with a diameter of 100m, would you believe. About 400 of them are proposed, spread over the areas of Pairc, Eishken and Barvas Moor. Thinly populated, but 88% of people are against them going up.

Shopping in Stornoway - 18/11/04

Well, not that much happened on the shopping trip, except I had to reduce the 4 bags of shopping to just 1. Weather wasn't too bad,  a hazy sun trying to poke through the high cloud. Returned to Kershader at 3pm, and decided to go for a wee walk in the general direction of Garyvard, go through the obligatory bogs on the south side of the road, and heading back when light started to fail at 4.15. Thought I'd attend a meeting of the Pairc Trust in Cavarsta, so jumped on the bus at 6.40. Unfortunately, it was pitch black in Cavarsta, it started to snow with a vengeance and I could not find the venue. It was only later that evening that I found out the meeting took place - right next door to the hostel. Groan.

Thursday, 18 November 2004

Cold snap - 18/11/04

Woke up this morning to snow on the hills of Harris and very low temperatures. Oh, went on the bus to Stornoway, from where I'm typing this. Bus driver gave me a handwritten slip of paper, 1 cm wide, saying I had a return Kershader - Stornoway. That's the islands for you.

Further updates may take a while.

Gravir and Lemreway - 17/11/04

In the entry for 16/11/04 I mentioned a picture. Found that the settings in Stornoway library didn't allow me to transfer the scanned image to the journal. Grrr.

Set off on walk at 10am this morning, walking up the hill towards Garyvard. On the top, an inviting looking track went south, into the moors. As I dislike road walking, I jumped over the gate and headed off. The weather is pretty awful today, frequent showers and a strong westerly wind. The track deteriorated gradually as I encountered lochan after lochan, finally expiring at the southern arm of Loch nan Caor. So I took out the old compass and set a southerly course for Glen Gravir. The ground was wet, but not excessively so, and I made reasonable progress over the moors. Had to take bearings on surrounding hills, but by 11.30 I stood above Loch nan Eilean, a lake of just under a mile long with various promontories and islets in it. Wound my way along its western shore, not literally by the water's edge, but at a little distance. Had lunch at midday by the southern shore, only to run into severe problems on setting off at 12.20. Headed off due south and into long grass and into deep water which sloshed over the tops of my boots. Straight back. Overlooked the outflow of a tiny lochan a little further up, it turned out. With very cold feet proceeded south and finally achieved Glen Gravir at 1.10. I even managed to find the road in the glen, and came to Gravir junction some 10 minutes later. The weather was still changeable, although it seemed to be brightening up a little. Temperatures not very high, 5-8C. Headed up the road towards Lemreway / Leumrabhagh, and when I crested the moor, that was the point where the gale really struck. Had difficulty walking in a straight line, no not because of drink. From the hill above Lemreway, you can see the island off its harbour, Eilean Liubhaird, the Shiant Islands and the Isle of Skye 20 miles to the south. Very pretty, but not in current weather conditions. Walked around the village for about an hour, in that gale. Was actually waiting for a bus - which never turned up. Turns out you have to phone 2 hours in advance, which I didn't know about. Set off north at 3.30, just before sunset. It began to get dark by the time I reached Gravir again, at 4.10. The remaining miles were covered in increasing darkness, and I made my presence knownwith my torch. Didn't see much after the Cromor turning, except the dazzling main-beam headlights of on-coming cars. The moon rose behind me, as I battled against the gale, the extremely painful hailshowers and the bl**dy cars. Finally reached the hostel at 5.45, some 10 miles and 2 h 15 after leaving Lemreway. Dear me. Nothing on the telly, dinner wasn't much to speak of either.


Tuesday, 16 November 2004


From November 16, 2004, I stayed on in Lewis.
Further entries are in the main Northern Trip diary.

The entries from 11 August 2004 until 16 November 2004 were entered into a journal "Northern Trip - The Start", but later merged with the main Northern Trip journal [September 2010]

Cearsiadar - 16/11/04

Woke up to a guy shouting abuse in his sleep, and someone else shooshing him. The two American ladies collected their car at 8.30, declining my overzealous offer of being their guide. I set off downtown sunny Stornoway / Steornabhagh. First to the library for a full hour's worth of Internet use. Had about 40 emails waiting. Then to various bookshops, one of which stocked Soil and Soul, a landmark work by Alistair McIntosh. He is not well known outside this region, but is a staunch campaigner for community ownership. He supported the community buy-out of the Isle of Eigg in 1996/7, and managed to stop the development of the Lingerabay superquarry. This would have seen the demolition of an entire mountain for the sake of acquiring aggregates for the building of houses and roads in the UK and beyond. I also unearthed a compilation CD by Capercaillie, my favourite folk / fusion group from these parts. Went to a gig by them, as some know, back in January. Didn't walk back to my digs, no danced home. Just as well it was 11.30pm. It's no use having a CD without the means of listening to it, so I also acquired a portable CD-player. Then there was the matter of my 3 disposable cameras, all used up, which needed to be developed and printed. I would have preferred the images to be on CD-ROM, but that means you have to wait for 3-4 days, and I don't work that far in advance with regards to planning. One shop could develop & print in 2 hours, but not the CD-ROM. Sod it, I went for the prints. The most important one is attached to this journal entry. Then I went on a walk down the harbourfront as far as the old powerstation. Sat down on the seawall and was duly joined by a nice tortoiseshell cat, a neutered tom. He rubbed against me as I sat nibbling my sandwiches, wanted to be scratched on the head and a general fuss. After that, he went down the steps to the shore, only to bolt back up them a minute later and disappear into the estate behind me. Strange animal. My bus left town at 2.20pm, heading down the road towards Tarbert. I got off at Balallan (Baile Ailean), to join the little bus into South Lochs. Recognized the driver from years ago. A ten minute journey brought me to Cearsiadar - just say KerSHAder. The hostel is part of a community building also encompassing a shop and a cafe. The volunteers in the shop also run the hostel, which is simple but comfortable. Oh, the only uncomfortable thing about the hostel is the chairs. Eugh. After a longish chat, I went inside. A run-down of things not to do:

- don't close the kitchendoor, the handle is broken

- don't switch off the light in the stairwell

- don't use the shower upstairs

- don't use the third bedroom

- don't leave the central heating on if you don't need it

Ah, it's all a laugh, really. There are only two people in the hostel now, a guy called Joe and myself. He is going round the island looking for a job and a place to live. Exchanged some stories over dinner. Joe cooked onions and potatoes with mince and shandy to drink. The television provided some entertainment, but that was about it for the night.

Monday, 15 November 2004

Through Berneray to Stornoway - 15/11/04

At 8.10 this morning, the basket-ball team left for their match at Lionacleit, Benbecula. I had barely time to catch my breath, when a new group of people marched in. Seven folk, about to set off by sea-kayak to the Monach Islands. Heard that before. I left for Lochmaddy at 10 o'clock, and headed north by postbus to Berneray one hour later. Spent about half an hour rattling the keyboard in Tigh na Chearsabhagh, the sound of which drove one person mad. Not me! Some of you may be aware I'm a fast typist (70 wpm), and it is quite a noise when I'm in my stride. The postbus lady very kindly dropped me off at the road-end in Berneray, where you can go down to the Burnside B&B (prop. Mrs McKillop) where I stayed in 1995. Memories of being asked to join in the fun at the Berneray week, in which I was nearly drowned in the Knockout. And Mrs McKillop horrified that it was her new guest, all bedraggled, asking for a cup of soup afterwards. Now there was nothing in that field. Only a selection of rams. It's that time of the year when the rams are put to the ewes. Yep, necessary, else you don't get those cute little lambs in spring. The rams have a block of waxy dye bound to their chest. When the ram does his job, the dye rubs on to the ewe's shoulder, and thus the farmer knows that she has been served. The sheep on Berneray do not have horns, they have large black floppy ears, which gives them a funny look. It was quite chilly out there in the field, so I quickly hobbled back to the ferry terminal and waited for the MV Loch Portain to turn up at 1.20 to take me to Leverburgh. There was a fair queue of traffic waiting to go, including a fuel tanker. This led to a complete ban on smoking on board. You are normally allowed to smoke on the outer deck. The ferry made a tortuous and at times slow journey across the Sound of Harris, circumventing reefs and other underwater dangers. It took an hour, arriving at Leverburgh at 2.20. Had to wait for 40 minutes for the bus to depart north to Stornoway. Forgot to mention that at 1pm the sun came out, and it made the crossing quite beautiful. When the bus finally departed it was a picture postcard journey, with the beaches and views of West Harris in a hazy late autumn light. The sands were yellow, not white, due to the light. Arrived in Tarbert at 3.40, left there a few minutes later. The trip through the mountains was quite familiar, from my earlier journey in August of this year. After Balallan darkness began tofall. Arrived in Stornoway at 4.50. There were only a few other people on the bus. The route can be very busy in summer, with the driver giving a running commentary on the scenery. Now he greets every local customer by name. Having done the shopping, I headed for my hostel for the night. Fairhaven, on Francis Street. Easily found, but not exactly a model for organisation. Had to wait for 2 hours for the proprietors to turn up to take payment. Went for a very good meal at the Crown Hotel in the meantime. There were two dorms in the place, one being taken up by Polish workers in the local fish factory. The kitchen was a pokey little place, with dry rot up the walls. Yuk. The kettle was filled with brown water, although the tapwater was clear. Yuk again. Went to bed early, Stornoway is not noteworthy for its nightlife. Oh, gave two USA lassies some advice re. a trip around the island by car

Sunday, 14 November 2004

Trumisgarry - Remembrance Sunday 14/11/04

Remembrance Sunday dawned wet and windy. A force 5-7 wind, with gusts up to 8 was blowing drizzle across the island. I would have liked to have gone to a Remembrance Sunday commemoration, but it was being held at Clachan, 8 miles away. I decided to walk down the road towards Berneray, starting at 10.15. Oh, forget to tell there were two house movers in the hostel last night, and a strange character dossing down on the couch. Along the road to Berneray, I noticed an otter lolloping through a saltmarsh near Trumisgarry. Went down the road to some cemeteries and the beach. Walked down the beach, with the wind buffeting me. Sat down amidst the sanddunes and took it easy. For more than an hour. Then, I retraced my steps past the cows and the cemeteries. A sheepdog began to follow me, jumping up at me, quite friendly. He even managed the cattle-grids, but left me at the road junction. Then a black kitten dashed across the road and hid amongst the long grass. I found it and tickled it. It finally shot out again after a minute's play. 100 yards further on, a dead mouse lay in the road. You don't see this sort of thing from a car. Trudged the remaining 7 miles back to Lochmaddy in fitful rain and failing light. On return, at 4.15, I ran into Mairi who told me that a class of schoolkids would be in the hostel tonight. And they duly materialized. No trouble at all, they were due to play an early game of basketball at Lionacleit in Benbecula, to return to the mainland on the ferry at lunchtime. Went to bed at 11.

Saturday, 13 November 2004

Balranald RSPB Reserve - 13/11/04

Back in Taigh Chearsabhag in Lochmaddy to update the journal. On Saturday, I took the postbus out to Balranald, located on the west side of North Uist. This is an area of working crofts, but world famous as a nature reserve. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) manage it. The little postbus rattled out at 11 am, after I had done my weekend shop. The shop here is quite dear, £6 for just a few groceries. On driving round the northern side of the island, the wide sandy beaches spring into view after passing the Berneray road-end. Once you turn the northwestern corner, beyond Sollas, St Kilda hoves into view. This group of islands, with cliffs of over 1,000 ft high, was abandoned in 1930. The inhabitants at the time asked to be taken of because of disease and starvation. Starvation contributed to by neglect by government, allegedly. The isles lie about 45 miles away, but stand out like a set of snaggled teeth on the western horizon. Another notable sight is Scolpaig Tower, set in the middle of a lochan, with a causeway leading up to it. Arrived at Balranald at midday. It was quite empty, but the day is bright. A nature trail leads up to the coastline. Not many birds about, just some swans and some starlings. Sat on the rocky foreshore with my back to the strong northerly wind and my face in the warm sun. Bliss. Temperature 12C. Spent an hour of lounging about, watching showers pass by into Benbecula and observing the tall lighthouse on the Monach Isles. The latter was actually found abandoned in 1900. When the light was never extinguished during the daytime, a boat was sent across to investigate. A table was set with plates and food, and lights were still burning. The three men tending the tower were nowhere to be found, and have never been recovered. It is assumed that they had to go out and were swept away by a huge sea. Walked back to the Visitor Centre and the road end to wait for the postbus back. Although this departed at 2.30, it would not return to Lochmaddy much before 4pm. The reason being that it had to go round the houses to deliver mail. The usual spectacle developed of postie (a lady) being splattered with mud by overfriendly dogs, gates having to be opened and mail left just inside the front door. One door was locked, so the mail was left inside a Volkswagen Beatle on the drive. Like you do. We also called at the home of the island's proprietors, the Boulmers (?). And at a farm, near Scolpaig Tower, where a 95-year gent still lived on his own, albeit with home help. Postie was only inside for 2 minutes, a record fast visit. Being the local gossip, he wanted to know all the news. One other gentleman, it transpired, had recently passed away, and the community was saddened by their loss. Returned to Lochmaddy at 4, and spent the rest of the evening in the UOC.

Friday, 12 November 2004

Eriskay - 12/11/04

After breakfast, I decided to dump the gloom and go and make something of the day. Jumped on a bus, which was the first of three to take me down to Eriskay, 3 hours away. First to Clachan, then a McDonalds bus to Lochboisdale, and finally a vehicle to Eriskay. After Clachan there are a number of causeways to take you across to Grimsay and Benbecula (Beinn na Faoghla) and finally South Uist. On South Uist, there is the tracking station for the missiles and two high hills (2000 ft plus) called Beinn Mhor and Hekla. You can't miss them. Lochboisdale is an unsightly little place, where the Oban ferry calls. Eriskay is very nice, got there at 12.45. Linked to South Uist by causeway for a few years, the islanders love it. The weather was awful though. Galeforce northwesterly, frequent showers and 9C. The windchill made it feel more like minus 1C. Struggled to Haunn, where the old ferry terminal was, blocked by a huge sandbar. Back to Balla (Village), where I had a cup of soup in the pub Am Politician, named after the famous whisky boat which was wrecked off Eriskay in 1941, leaving it for the islanders to help themselves to the booze. Read "Whisky Galore" by Compton McKenzie. Incidentally, the word galore is of Gaelic origin, gu leoir meaning plenty. Had a walk down towards the Barra ferry terminal, along a stretch of very pretty beach. Pity about the gale though. Ferry to Ard Mhor had been cancelled for the day, as had many other ferries as it turned out later. Hobbled back through a very painful hailshower to the shop, then jumped on the bus. This took me all the way up to Clachan, but with some bloody long stops along the way. One gentleman joined me who would have gone on the Oban ferry, but this had been cancelled. He would go to Lochmaddy, but was worried about where to stay. I showed him to the hostel, once we got there at 6.10. He was quite grateful. We stopped also at the school at Linnacleit on Benbecula, where we could have a cuppa. Next to the swimming pool. Felt like a dip!

Thursday, 11 November 2004

Berneray and Lochmaddy - 11/11/04

After a huge breakfast at 8.30 I went to Taigh Chearsabhagh, the local museum and arts centre. Had a cuppa and dabbled on the internet there, but didn't have time to update journal. Jumped on the 11.05 postbus to Berneray, with the half-formed idea of moving into the hostel there. Not a good idea, as I found out on arrival there. The hostel was quite basic and lacked a toilet. Otherwise a nice, rustic little place. But I'm not prepared to bare my all to the elements on the rocks of the foreshore thank you. Berneray holds some happy memories for me from my 1995 visit, when I was dragged into the "It's a Knockout" competition, which nearly drowned me. No-one about this time, it's cold and wet today. Went for a walk towards the northern end of the island, but turned back in order not to miss the 3pm bus back. Sheltered in the hostel until bus-time, chatted to an old farmer along the way by the way. Left a pound for day-use and jumped on the Grenitote bus to Sollas. The driver, a pleasant lady called Catherine, also did the schoolrun. Five primary school kids jumped on board at the school, and were dropped off at various points. One in Lochmaddy. A man was offered a lift, with the question: "to the shop or to your mum?". He needed the shop. At Sollas was transferred to another bus which dropped me at the Outdoor Centre. Now it was occupied - by the proprietors .They told me the door was never locked. Sure. Anyway, got a roof over my head. The only thing is the lack of adequate heating. The computer doesn't give access to secure sites (like AOL), so I'm very restricted. Some readers may have had email from me on a Yahoo! username; feel free to reply on that. Not terribly impressed, but you can't have it all. Am alone tonight, which suits me fine. Foul mood today.

Wednesday, 10 November 2004

Location, location, location - 10/11/04

Woke up to a bright and sunny morning, a complete contrast to yesterday's wintery situation. Today I'm relocating - to Lochmaddy, North Uist, Western Isles. Walked to Fort William at 9 o'clock, leaving Glen Nevis for the final time on this visit. The bus to Uig left at 10.15 and took me on a wonder tour through the wild west of Scotland. It was fantastic. The sun was out and put everything in a beautiful autumn hue. The Great Glen, Loch Garry, from the viewpoint on the A87 beyond Invergarry, Cluanie, Glen Shiel and Skye. Sgurr nan Gillean cast a shadow at 1pm which almost reached the road. The sun was that low. Reached Uig at 1.45, and had to wait for the Lochmaddy ferry for about half an hour. Not many were going that afternoon. At 2.15 footpassengers were transferred to the Hebrides in a minibus. Once the ferry had docked, the walkway was hoisted up and we could go on board. The crossing was totally unremarkable, hardly any swell. Arrived into Lochmaddy at dusk at 4.40. Walked to the Uist Outdoor Centre, where things went pearshape. The door was locked, the building was in darkness and nobody about. Rather disgruntled I withdrew to the nearest phonebooth and rang the proprietors, or tried to. Neither phonenumber was answered .Oh. So I relocated to the Lochmaddy Hotel for the night, and determined to sort this stupid problem out the next day. Waitress at the hotel snatched plate from under me nose before I had finished it, and you cannot remonstrate with a full mouth, can you now. Bad end to the day.

Tuesday, 9 November 2004

Winter in the hills - 09/11/04

Today was allocated to serious hillwalking. At 8.20, I left the hostel for an attempt to climb Stob Ban, a 999m high mountain to the south of Glen Nevis. The weather forecast looked rather dire; showers, as snow above 2,000 ft. Not to be daunted, I ambled the 40 mins down the Glen Nevis road to Mamore Grazings by the Lower Falls, where I turned onto the path leading towards Stob Ban. At 9.05, I started the climb, and got the first of many showers. The path was very wet, boggy and waterlogged. Had fun and games traversing some of the streams, and nearly ended up in one of them. Wobbly boulder. Just after 10 o'clock, there was another shower, and I looked around what was going on. There was a funny noise on my hood, it didn't sound like a raindrop. No. It was snowflakes. They settled on my mapcase, the rucksack, everything. Temperature had dropped to 5C. Staggered at the presence of the snow, I nonetheless carried on. The fact that it was still above freezing meant that the snow would not settle. Wound my way up the hillside and got seriously high. At 11 o'clock, just under two hours after starting the climb proper, I reached the pass at altitude 750 m (2,500 ft). Fantastic views. Stob Ban reared up high to my right, only to immediately disappear into a snow-shower. Another Munro loomed to the left. And the paths did NOT conform to their location on the map. To the south I saw Loch Leven and the Lairig from Kinlochleven to Lundavra. Absolutely breathtaking. Sat out the snowshower, which I did NOT enjoy. It's very cold now (+3C), particularly in the wind. Once the shower had passed, I started the climb towards the peak, which initially was a steep but simple and straightforward ascent. At altitude 850m (2850 ft) things got a little more complicated. The grass disappeared and the path went into a hillside covered by boulders, white stone as it happened. I got an increasing feeling of exposure, due to the steep slopes falling away on either side. Having taken stock of my position, the time (11.30) I decided to carry on into the scrambly bits. However, by this time, wisps of cloud began to rise from the hillside to the south. Those wisps blew up in size and obliterated the view. That was the point where I thought to myself: "Not happy with that". I still had about 100m to climb, in (for me) difficult terrain. If one of those clouds came over and obliterated the view again, it could take a long time to clear. I'd seen the peak wreathed in mist for a considerable period of time. So I took the decision at 11.40 to retrace my steps. I went back to the cairn at the crossing of paths where I'd come up from Glen Nevis, then proceeded onwards to the little lochan a few hundred yards east. An inviting path wound its way up a hillside to the next Munro, 1,001m high, but then the third snowshower commenced. It meant business. Temperature dropped to +2 at my location (800m) and the snow settled just above my height. Lunch was freezing cold on the edge of the lochan, I've never felt so cold on a walk. Not enjoyable at all. IT WAS SO COLD. I went down towards Glen Nevis again, and found the temperature rising as I went down. Was overtaken by a very fast walker at 2pm, and two not so fast ones at 2.30. Got down to the road at 3pm, after a very wearying slog downhill. Reported my safe return at 3.50 in the hostel, then went into town for the shopping. Returned to a virtually empty Glen Nevis YH at 5.45. Met a lady from Taiwan who was quite rude about the staff in the Tourist Office in Fort William. She wanted to stay on a working farm. Yep. In November, oh please, get real. They'll be out with their sheepdogs, sure! Small wonder the TIC couldn't help. I made a few suggestions, but to no avail, I think. A farm at Invergarry, she was looking at (30 miles from here) or Spean Bridge (12 miles). And she wanted to know at what time breakfast was served. Only to groups. Get some cereals from reception. Sorry, I'm not normally that rude about fellow hostellers, but this lady just did not realize she had come at the wrong time of year.

Check the below link for pictures of Glen Nevis

Monday, 8 November 2004

Cow Hill - 08/11/04

This morning, my erstwhile companion of Orkney days (September) took herself off and away to Glencoe. To my surprise. Even more so when she told me that initially it had been her intention to climb the Ben. OK, go with the wind, that's the spirit of the true traveller. I wished her well.

I whisked myself off to downtown Fort William for the Monday shopping. Found some very useful mending tape for a tear in my waterproofs. Should teach me to sit on sharp rocks. It's the second that's happened. At around midday, I tootled off to Cow Hill, because the weather today is absolutely brilliant. In comparison to previous days, that is. The sun is out and it is not too bad. Just some wisps of cloud around the highest slopes of Ben Nevis and some fishhook cirrus at the 30,000 ft mark. As time wore on, the wisps of cloud at 4,000 ft sank to about 3,000 and thickened to a typical cumulostratus layer with holes. On arrival on Cow Hill, 287 m, I had a fantastic view all around. Saw far up Glen Albyn (the Great Glen). It presented an image that I always associate with the Misty Mountains in Tolkien's books. Row upon row of valley marching away in the far distance. Could clearly see Corpach and Caol, Inverlochy and a bird's eye view of Fort William. Cow Hill stands literally on the doorstep of the town. To the south, Loch Linnhe stretched away; Loch Eil was partially obscured by the Ardgour hills on the other side of the water. Magnificent. Slowly trudged down the hill and turned left to go down into Glen Nevis. Took my bonny time doing it, although the descent into the Glen was viciously steep. Mind your step! Returned to the hostel as night fell, having made some detours up the forestry roads. Hostel is very quiet as yet. Over the weekend it was quite full. On Saturday evening, people had to be turned away. To be fair, several rooms are out of use because the bunkbeds need to be replaced.

Sunday, 7 November 2004

Glen Nevis - 07/11/04

Walked up to an Iron Age fort off the West Highland Way. It is located on top of a hill 350m high, and a commanding position. Then worked my way down through the forest below, which was well-nigh impossible. Walked along the forestry road to the Lower Falls, which were in spectacular spate. A walk along the south bank of the River Nevis was once again a soppy affair. By 4pm, I had reached the end of the Glen Nevis road. Bats and long-tailed tits were flying about in the gathering dusk. I left at 4.20 for the hostel. Thanks to some kind-hearted folk I reached it at 5.20, whereas without the lift it would have been nearer 6pm. The weather: low cloud over the hills, temperature 13-14C and little wind. There was some drizzle.

Saturday, 6 November 2004

Cow Hill and Glen Finnan - 06/11/04

This morning dawned a little grey, with clouds down very low. I decided to go to Fort William for a bit of shopping, but not to take the usual route down Glen Nevis. Instead, I took a route I discovered yesterday, being the West Highland Way northbound, and at the junction of paths 1 miles west of the Ben Nevis Visitor Centre turn up the hill towards Cow Hill. This path is very steep, and it is half an hour of stiff climbing. Almost as steep as the path to Ben Nevis, but not as long. On reaching the top, the transmitter masts on the top of Cow Hill (287m) were shrouded in clouds. Therefore I didn't feel there was any point going there - you wouldn't be able to see a thing. Instead, I continued to follow the path, until within sight of the Lundavra Road. Had a cup of tea there and looked out just underneath the cloud cover. At 10.35 carried on towards Upper Achintore, the little estate just before town. Reached Fort William some 20 minutes later and bought a belt, a compass and a little thermometer. It was 12C outside, and remained that temperature all day. The train to Glen Finnan left at 12.05 and reached there at 12.30. At Glenfinnan Station, about half a mile west of the famous viaduct, there are two old railway carriages. One doubles as a restaurant, the other as a hostel. Quite cramped, according to stories I heard later. Hobbled down the road and came across a war-memorial, which had the inscription on the reverse side, not underneath the figure of the soldier. Then walked down towards, well, a settlement actually called Slatach. It has a dinky little post office and a pier for cruises on Loch Shiel. And the Glen Aladale Hotel. And a Visitor Centre that's closed till Easter 2005. Not to forget the monument for the Highlander, with a pompous inscription about Bonnie Prince Charlie, where I went "tut, tut". BPC was an overrated fool, absolutely not universally supported across the Highlands. At 2pm, having seen all there was to see in the area, I set off north up Glen Finnan. The weather was dreich, a steady drizzle falling as I went north. The clouds, as stated before, were well down, so any views were completely obscured. Reached Glen Finnan Lodge about 40 minutes after setting off, and the little bothy. One with electricity would you believe. Popped inside for a minute and boiled some water for a cuppa. A bothy is spartan. There is no running water, no toilet (yep, do it in the rushes and bury any waste), no fire (do it yourself) and no beds. Just a space a little up from the floor. There is this hole under the door of this one, to give access for bloody rats. Two guys came in a minute after me to spend a few days bonding. Good God. One chopped up some firewood and started quite an acceptable fire. I left at 3.15, in order not to miss my train. Oh well, it wasn't due to leave till 5, but it's dark at five. Sat about in the hills just before the viaduct, then proceeded to the station. Spoke to a man, a ghillie, who was waiting for his sons. One to come off the Mallaig train, the other to come off the Fort William train. Both trains cross over at Glenfinnan. The hostel carriage was full tonight. Returned to Fort William in good time at 5.30, and did the shopping in Safeways, just next to the station actually. The walk to the hostel took place in darkness, but got back there unscathed at 6.50. I keep cursing the drivers who put their foglights on, which will illuminate the road, but they badly dazzle me. One very kindly put his down for a second.

Friday, 5 November 2004

Glen Nevis - Guy Fawkes' Day - 05/11/04

Left the hostel this morning with the intention of going down the glen and perhaps going up a hill. Walked up the first few hundred yards of the West Highland Way, then branched off down a forestry trail. This brought me down to the Lower Falls, 4 miles. Prefer the forest, as it means not having to duck into the verge for cars or having to avoid rampaging sheep. Then, I went up the hill towards Stob Ban, 999m. It would have been an excellent day, if the weather had been amenable. But it wasn't. Drizzle, rain and low cloud spoiled it unfortunately. I made a slow ascent up the valley, until I hit a very precarious river crossing - fluted rocks, covered with moss. Oh my. Didn't fancy slipping on that and ending up 100 feet down, no thanks. So I turned back, also because of the weather. Having made a lazy afternoon, I finally set off for Fort William, again along the forestry track, at 2.45. Got into town at about 4.25, as it was getting dark. The return trip, between 4.50 and 5.40 took place in darkness, and I did NOT carry a torch, so I was practically blind. Very scary. The fireworks were starting off just as I went back.

Thursday, 4 November 2004

Wet Highlands Way (Kinlochleven - Glen Nevis) - 04/11/04

Blast from the past last night as I found a hosteller I met in Kirkwall returning to haunt me here in Glen Nevis. Left at 9.30 in decidedly iffy weather to go to town to catch the 10.45 bus to Kinlochleven. The shopping came first, then followed the 50 minute drive to Kinlochleven through some atrocious weather. Bus 44 goes through South Ballachulish and Glencoe Village, before heading east along the southern shore of Loch Leven. Roadworkers had invented a system to protect themselves from racing traffic: only allowing it through behind a works-van, in convoy. Arrived in Kinlochleven at 11.40, only to leave the town straightaway on the West Highlands Way, WHW. The second stream posed a problem for me and another walker, as it was too deep and wide to cross. So we teamed up and walked along the road to the access road for the Mamores Hotel. When we reached the junction with the WHW, she gave up due to lack of puff, and I carried on up the hill. It was quite some climb, leveling out at 900 ft (270m) altitude. From there on, the path was more or less level. There were nice views back to Kinlochleven, between the showers. One of those, which nearly washed my lunch away at 1pm, contained sleet. Slivers of ice sat on my waterproofs. I marched off at a pace down the track towards the Lairig, passing two ruinous buildings. At 3pm, after an innumerable sequence of streams and fords, I returned to Lundavra. A brief respite and a brilliant rainbow, and I was off again. I'm in such a crashing hurry due to restricted daylight hours. At 5pm it'll be dark. Went through the forestry plantations, and as I came out above Glen Nevis, the light started to fail. Cars headlights could be seen heading down the Glen and lights came on in houses. As I returned to Glen Nevis YH, it turned dark.

Wednesday, 3 November 2004

Glen Nevis - 03/11/04

Today I was asked to move my stuff to a different room within the hostel, after which I set forth on today's outing. The weather was poor, drizzle at 8.45, which increased in intensity all the while. In other words, it was sogging wet. I headed south into Glen Nevis. There was this gaggle of sheep stampeding down the road again. I decided to take an alternative route after the Lower Falls. There is this path on the southern bank of Water of Nevis. It is being improved, and looks very nice to start with. After a few hundred yards though, it reverts to a boggy affair, and after the wooden bridge half way to the car park, it turns into a hit and miss affair. At one point, I sank into a bog and the mud got right into my boot. I had hoped to cut through to the Steall Falls, but the going got outright impossible. Bogs, trees, steep hills. And after the fencing started to march straight up the hill, everything got rather vertical. I decided to be more cautious and turned back. Played about with a rivulet of rainwater, then crossed the river and went on to the carpark. After that, I proceeded along the path and came out by the cable-bridge. This was being used by a group; you won't get me on that for any money. The river is very deep underneath and fast flowing. Had my lunch there, then decided to turn back. I still have to do my shopping. On the way to the carpark met somebody who was definitely taking the wrong turn. Climbed from the carpark a little way up the path along the waterfall. There is a chipped police notice with dire warnings about it. All justified incidentally. The path is a pig, and you cannot afford to go wrong there. Noticed a crag-bound sheep very high up a hill. At 2.45, I went on my way. Met some girls in a car who were looking for Ben Nevis. Not visible from the road, sent them on to Corpach for a view, if there is any. The Lower Falls were spectacularly in spate. Headed up the road, past the hostel at 4.10 and into Fort William, which I reached at dusk at 4.55. Did the shopping in Safeways, then went back along a very dark Glen Nevis road, to return to the hostel at 6pm. The spagetti bolognese was a burned disaster.

Oh, my illegal action yesterday. Grin. I walked along the railway track for a mile or so. The path running parallel was practically unusable. If caught, I would have incurred a £200 fine. Lots of people walk along the track between Corrour and Tulloch, which you can do with relative impunity. Provided you observe the traintime, beware of any goodstrains and get the hell off the tracks if you hear a train coming. There was a trackworkers hut, which had been wrecked in a gale.

On a naturalistic note, the autumn colours are spectacular, even if the leaves have started to fall now. The lorks are shedding their needles, and the birches their leaves. The air was full of them, as were the rivers. There are spectacular lichens on the trees, demonstrative of very clean air. Similar growths were conspicuous on Rum last week. Bracken is red/brown and dead. Blackberries, which were very good in October are now nearly gone. In this area, there are hardly any broadleaf trees, it's nearly all sitka spruce, lork, birch and alder. Saw quite a few buzzards, there are also kestrels about. Rabbits do not live in Glen Nevis, but have seen them ad nauseam in the islands.

Tuesday, 2 November 2004

Caol and Corrour - All Saints (2nd November) 2004

Not quite sure what to do first thing this morning, as I need to go shopping first of all. It was foggy, but that just turned out to be a lazy cloud, sitting on the ground. Headed into town by about 9, and did the shopping in Tesco's. After a bout on the Internet in the library headed off along the Great Glen Way towards Banavie and Corpach. Not a very inspiring start, along a dirty stretch of water, derelict land and dreary housing estates. Then you've got to cross several large rivers, the Lochy and the Nevis. Finally, you come to beat the streets of Caol. I did not misspell that, it is Caol. Caol means narrows. Ended up on Banavie station at 11.23, with a southbound train due in at 11.43. A free ride into Fort William, then £8.90 return to Corrour. On arrival there, at 12.50, I first of all head off down the road towards Loch Ossian, and am pleasantly surprised at the alterations at the Youth Hostel. On my last visit, you had to go to the toilet into a bucket, and a standing invitation to pee on the grass for the gents. Nowadays, there is a compost toilet, which does require the doors of the privy, next to the warden's cottage, to be open at all times bar when occupied. It's all double glazed now. The hostel itself is shut, but it appears to have been done up magnificently. The old Aga has been thrown out and superseded by a gasfired appliance. Loch Ossian YH closed just two days ago, so I've missed a chance. Briefly spoke to the warden on the way in, he lives there all the time. On return to the station, it was only 2pm, so I decided on a walk. Or so I thought. It was so impossibly boggy, that it took me 10 minutes to cover 100 yards. Noticed a guy walking the railway tracks, who had walked in from Glen Nevis YH. He had started at 6.10am, aiming to do a Munro on the way. Decided to carry on instead. As I've been up Glen Nevis yesterday, I recognized all the peaks from the distance. Incredible. I did something quite illegal, but on return to the station I chatted to the intrepid walker for a bit whilst waiting for the 3.37 to Fort William. There was a glorious sunset. Return to the Fort at 4.22.

Monday, 1 November 2004

Glen Nevis - All Saints (1st November) 2004

Try this for the third time, AOL keep losing me 15 minutes worth of typing. Grrrr.

So, left the hostel at 8.25 to go as far down Glen Nevis as time allows. Weather fine, but low cloud over the hills. Reached carpark at 9.40, only a campervan there. Plenty of notices to say that this is a fatally dangerous area. Only if you don't exercise common sense. You've got to be careful on the section down the gorge, rocks and wet. But after that, just enjoy the scenery. There is this secluded house only approachable by cable-bridge. Quite near the Steall Falls. Ben Nevis and Aonach Beag slowly materialise. Binnein Beag (conical) and Mor turn up later on. Came across a gaggle of young Dutchmen at the Steall ruins about to climb Aonach Mor. Which, funnily enough, is 40ft lower than Beag. Stopped for lunch, and turning point, between Aonach Beag and Binnein Mor. Sat there roasting in the sunshine between 12 and 1.30, and found the return journey easier as I found drier paths. At the house, found two elderly folks wading across Water of Nevis. Reached the carpark at 3.15, and had a cup of tea. Finally returned to the hostel at 4.40. On the way back, I had to slow a car down, to prevent it careering into a herd of sheep which was stampeding across the road. Supper tonight? Baked beans, had courgettes with tomatoes and rice last night.

Sunday, 31 October 2004

Lundavra - 31/10/04

The morning after the day before. Aching muscles. Dragged myself out of bed just after 7, and set off on a walk just after 8.30. Headed up the hill, slowly, along the West Highland Way (WHW). The way is along a forestry track, with gentle inclines which unfortunately did tax the muscles in a painful reminder of yesterday's exertions. After about 1 km, you double back on yourself and the track runs out. A steep hill is climbed to lead onto a path through the forest, i.e. a good deal more narrow. It is a very dark forest, consisting of lork and pine. The lorks are losing their needles, as they do in the autumn. From a distance, the woods are mottled yellow in green. Very pretty. The WHW weaves in and out of forestry plantations, some of which are being felled. Had a break at 9.45 on a very large boulder near a stream. When heading off again was confronted by a golden labrador which decided to bark at me from the top of a flight of steps. Its owners were not far away. At just past 11 o'clock, I reached the road to Lundavra. I left the WHW to go south and east across Laimrig Mhor towards Kinlochleven. I had another break, then walked towards the loch at Lundavra, which is actually quite pretty. Sort of hovered around there for a few hours, then headed back to Fort William along 5 miles of road. Not particularly spectacular, but a pleasant glen. You finally top out at a viewpoint overlooking Fort William from the south, an unusual aspect. Town remains ugly LOL. Walked through its main street, then nipped into Nevisport for a Ben Nevis achievement certificate which I was left to fill out myself. Nice one. Also a visit to Tesco's to get supplies in for tomorrow's jaunt. More details tomorrow! Back to the hostel, but noticed on the way that the restaurant in Glen Nevis is now closed for winter. As is practically everything else. Encountered the two Danish lads, who had raced up and down Ben Nevis in just over 6 hours. Well, my total time on the hoof was 6h25, but I spent 45 minutes on the summit. The weather today was cloudy, with the cloudbase at 900m and the cloudroof at 1300m. I.e., the summit of Ben Nevis was reported to be in the clear. Curious.


Saturday, 30 October 2004


Woke up at 7.30, when it was still dark. Had breakfast with the morning star winking at me through the trees. Marched out the door at 8.30, it being fully light by that time. Quite a few people were heading out by that hour, and I left a route card at reception. My destination today:

BEN NEVIS 1,344m - 4,406 ft

Anticipated time of return: 6pm. Set out across the road, across the bridge and on to the track. This was innocently flat at first, but then started to climb. And never stopped climbing. Walked with one other hosteller. It was a demanding, exacting exercise. The ascent was continuous, and rapid. But it took its toll on legs, particularly the upper leg muscles. Speed is a killer in this sort of situation, so it was a case of proceeding slowly but persistently. You wind up the hillside to the junction with the path from the Visitor Centre, then climb up northeast until you reach the valley which leads to the Ben itself. You climb out of the corrie, until you crest out near Loch Meall an t-Suidhe, altitude 570m, 1,900ft. Things don't stop there, obviously. At a large wall, the tourist path from Fort William comes in, and it veers east again. The climb continues, across a stream and then into boulder land. At altitude 1,150m, 3,800ft, a patch of snow appeared along the trail. These quickly spread and multiplied, and eventually, near the summit, spread onto the path. It is very dangerous to walk on the snow without crampons on. It is not soft, fluffy snow; it is hard, frost-glazed and you'll slip if you're not careful. Follow the cairns up, and finally, by 11.40, the summit cairn and associated ruins hove into view. There are some truly hairraising precipices along the way, and one of them is topped by a cornice. Again, in poor visibility, if you stray onto those you fall a mere

600 metres - 2,000 ft

Similar cliffs and hazards abound round the summit area. Fantastic views, all along the view. There was a great atmosphere of camaraderie on the summit plateau; the most moving thing was the cairn, which was surrounded by dozens of memorial plaques, devoted to those who never came off the mountain. Some of them had teddies placed alongside; the most recent dated back to this July. There was the ruin of the old hotel, which existed here in the early 1900s. There is a shelter at the summit, and the summit trig point, placed about20 feet above the actual summit. Snows can be deep up here in winter. Chatting to a few fellow walkers, one of whom had done the walk in 2h36; I had covered it in 3h15. He intended to do the Three Peaks Challenge - Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours. Had a cup of soup and a roll on the summit, as well as some tea. Then the weather began to change. Cloud rolled in, a bank overtopping the summit by about 200m, 700 ft, wreathing everything in mist. Decided to start the descent at 12.30. Got into trouble immediately, because of the mist. Didn't see the bloody route, set out as it is in stone and snow. Waited till I heard voices coming up the mountain, and followed their route. Go wrong on the summit, and you'll fall deep. Met loads of people coming up. I walked out of the mist at about 1pm, then merrily walked on through the empire of stone. Greeted all oncomers and advised some of them on distance yet to be covered. They were all covered in sweat, as I myself had been. Drank some water out of streams, which you shouldn't really do. Returned to the lochan at about 2.30, and met my final oncomer below that at 2.40. She walked very slowly, and rested every 50-100 yards. The lady would not make it to the summit and back before nightfall; at time of typing I'm still worried, but nothing I can do. A gruelling hour descending the path to the hostel brought me back there at 3.40, 3 hours and 10 minutes after leaving the top. Oh dear, how knackered can you be. And how much good a shower can do LOL.

Entry updated to 5pm

Supper consisted of my old standby "carrots & tatties", after I had washed all the sweaty togs I'd worn going up the hill. Caught up with a few friends on-line; those I spoke to know who it was. Too knackered to go to the Hallowe'en party down the road.