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.