Thursday, 31 March 2005

Guide to Lewis II - 25/03/05

Second day out with the Germans, and more stones on the menu. It's foggy to start with, but the fog lifts as if on cue by 10 am. The day turns out to be bright but cloudy. Showers are seen in the Harris hills. We set off by car down the Pentland Road, which is actually not signposted off the A859. You need the sign for the Bennadrove Refuse Tip. Then it's Carlabhagh / Breascleit and the 4 miles to the junction under the Barvas Hills. Hedwig and Frederick have an 'aha' experience upon beholding the masts of the Achamor transmitters, and stop to see rams and the gorge of the Creed River. At Achmore, we ask for the stone circle, which is only ¼ mile east down the road towards Liurbost. It's an indistinct circle, from which the Uig hills look like a sleeping beauty - a pregnant beauty. If you can see the hills in the first place of course. Showers are in the way today. Nice view south over Lochs. We continue down the A858 to Garynahine, the Tourist Booth there and to Calanis. Frederick loves to talk politics and alleged corruption in Germany. We switch back and forth between English and German. Frederick's English is passable, but Hedwig struggles. My German is worse than their English. We pull up sharp outside Callanish III, the 3rd stone circle to view that. The archeology is less of an interest than the geology. However, on the latter subject, all the stones are basically the same: quartzite, silicate and a metal-based crystal. Callanish III has two concentric stone circles. After that, we head for the main circle, where we have lunch in the Visitor Centre. I don't bother with the exhibition, which I've already seen. On the way to the stones I observe a lamb being born. Sheep looks at its rear end as if to say 'what the blazes has just fallen out of my butt?'. The lamb is coloured yellow. I've seen the stones a few days ago. Then we carry on to Carloway Broch. We wind our way through Tolstachaolais. No, you can't park in a passing place. I'll explain the layout of the typical Lewis blackhouse later. At Carloway Broch, the visitor centre is officially closed as yet, but two ladies are setting up for the season and let us in. Curious exhibition about life in the broch, which is actually a dwelling house, not a fort. Some brochs were up to 13 m (43 ft) high. The sounds in the exhibition are activated by your passage. Continue to Gearrannan, and the black house village. More time is actually spent on the beach. This is whiffy. No wonder, with a dead seal and a dead sheep. The roofs of the blackhouses at Garenin are held down by stones, suspended on ropes. We carry on east, following the 5 o'clock bus out to Siabost, where I showed them the Norse Mill and Kiln. Discover the millrace there. Finally, it's off to Bragar, where we briefly admire the whalebone arch, and Arnol, with its blackhouse. Unfortunately, it was closed for the day. We arrived there at 5.30, and in the winterperiod it closes at 4.30. I did explain the workings of the blackhouse to F&H, as well as the difference with a 'white' house. Went for dinner at HS1 in Stornoway. Again, my supper was paid for. Had a whisky at the Crown (I'll be an alcoholic if I'm not careful) and an elderflower lemonade at mrs B's. Talking two foreign languages, and the stress of sharing a car with Frederick does take it out on you. Frederick is a nervous driver, who is startled by traffic appearing from behind a blind summit, by wide vehicles coming the other way. He tends to jerk the wheel and visit the kerbs. Disconcerting.

Sunday, 27 March 2005

Guide to Lewis I - 24/03/05

For the next few days, my routine of recent times is going out of the window, as I’ve decided to offer my services as a reasonable connaisseur of Lewis to the two Germans currently staying with mrs B. They are called Hedwig (that’s the lady) and Frederick (officially he is called Friedrich). Today, Hedwig is 65 and Frederick has set up a veritable German birthday table. Her name spelled out in wooden letters, with candles. Happy birthday in German and of course presents. These two are not married, nor in an official relationship. Suffice to say they are close friends. Yesterday, Hedwig obtained a stack of material from the library about geology in Lewis, which is interesting. Rocks are on the surface here which are 3,000 million years old! We set off for the Butt of Lewis first of all. We aim to seek out every standing stone in the island, by the sound of it. Frederick has trouble with the right-hand drive car, winding down the window when he wants to change gear, and changing gear when he wants to open the window. And putting the thing in reverse. The weather is not very nice to start with. It’s overcast and wet, and positively tipping down by the time we jump out at the first port of call, Ballantrushal. The villagers there could clear away all the disused machinery on the way to the stone, it doesn’t look very pretty. Lambs popping out all over the place now. We continue north, and finally head for the Butt of Lewis via Port Nìs and Cnocard. The weather starts to brighten up here. The Germans are absolutely flabbergasted by the fact that people still use peat for heating. They see the peatstacks, the peatbanks on the moors. Before we reach the Butt, I show them Port Stò. We park by the lighthouse, and I get an object lesson in geology. There are some interesting rock formations on the islets off the lighthouse. Folding strata of rock – see for yourself. They have also brought a geology hammer to extract (we’re talking an orthodontist here) samples of rock. Not by any means the first ever to come here for that purpose. By 1 o’clock, the question of lunch pops up. There are no restaurants or pubs about that I can think of. The Ness FC Social Club is a booze hole. So I offer them my bread. First though, the car is parked at Eoropie beach [Traigh Shanndaigh], and we walk to the sea. It’s warm and sunny now, so boots and socks can come off and we walk through the stream to the beach. Have lunch in the dunes, then walk back. Nearly lose Hedwig in the quicksand. Next port of call: Port Nìs. We look at some rocks at the roadend, admire the little port, use the toilets then go on to the next attraction: Cuidhsiadar. That was an evil suggestion of me, and I am getting my just deserts for it. I direct Frederick, who is driving, to the Skigersta roadend and he is willing to venture out on to the moors. It is 3½ km of dodging puddles and potholes. We finally park before the bridge at Cuidhsiadar, which is actually the Ness shielings. The remaining mile to Filiscleitir is completely unsuitable for a hirecar. Oh, whilst the vehicle is reversing I am directing the driver. The wheels spin in the mud, leaving me with a fair spattering all over. Again. After 1 km of walking, we veer off to a green house (set amongst a number of ruins) and a blue house. Two ruinous houses stand on the edge of a cliff, 50 metres (170 ft) high. A magnificent double rock arch can be seen at sealevel. Farthest is the ruin of a chapel, which used to serve the entire moor area, from Dibidail northwards to Ness. It’s a gloriously warm day now, blue sky and the mountains on the mainland marching dimly on the eastern horizon, 40 miles away. Everything is set off sharp against the northern sunlight. We bogslog back to the car and carefully drive back to Skigersta and then Cross. Final point of call is an obscure stone circle at Steinacleit, just outside Shader. It appeared out of the peat after about 5 feet of it was removed. Introduced the Germans to the phenomenon of the kissing gate J. Return to SY just after 6. Hedwig and Frederick take me and mrs B out for dinner to the Crown. We all have a great time, good food and of course a whisky. The Germans insist on having as peaty a whisky as possible, so a 1½ litre bottle of Islay Mist is brought out. I burn my mouth on a Glenfiddich. Oh, got nicely sunburned today

Muirneag - 23/03/05

At breakfast I give the German guests as much info as I can about Lewis, suggesting that they start their 8 day quest for geology on Rubha Robhanais [Butt of Lewis]. He is an orthodontist, she an homeopathic doctor. Oh dear, clashing views. Set out on the 10.45 bus to Tolsta with a view to walk to Muirneag, a hill of 248 m height. On the bus was a lady tourist, who asked whether it was Skye she could see on the right on the way through Back. Well, no, that’s Point, dear. And from the terminus at New Tolsta, you just walk down the road to Traigh Mòr and Traigh Gearraidh. I branch off down a farmtrack, which leads through low hills. Meet a man with his lurcher dog going the other way. After that, I will not meet another living soul for 5 hours.

At the end of the track, I veer left along the southern bank of Loch Diridean. Slight problem in the shape of two barbed wire fences on locations not marked on the map. At the end of the loch, Muirneag looms up due west. The terrain is rough going with peatbanks up to 5 feet high, and boggy ground in between. Strike out across the moor, on a course of 270°, i.e. due west. The terrain is wet, interspersed with frequent water courses. Some are barely filled with water, others are wide and deep. But nothing that a slight diversion or a quick jump cannot resolve. Pass south of Loch na Cloich, then a little north of west to slowly rise from 100 to 130 m over a distance of 2 km. Pass a little south of Loch NicDhomhaill and start the ascent of the actual hill at 1pm from the southeast. The sky clouds over, and when I finally struggle to the summit at 248 m by 13.30, a shower starts.

It severely restricts the view, and I can only make out dimly distant hills. Tolsta can be discerned to the left of Tolsta Head. The trig point on Muirneag is surrounded by a low wall. Others have been here before me, on quad-bikes, and have left their lunch wrappers behind. The route I had envisaged from Gress would have been very long, about 13 miles. This trip today will be about 6 miles long. West of the main summit of Muirneag is a slightly lower hill. On the way in, the hill of Muirneag is an easy point of reference. The return journey is slightly tricky. Have to take a compass bearing due east (90°), at the bottom of the hill. It’s all very well aiming for Tolsta Head &c, but if you cannot see it, it’s no use, is it. Loch Diridean’s valley is visible as a dark scar about 3 miles away. My return journey is uneventful, only I hit Loch na Cloiche, which means I’m about 200 metres out. And I lose my apple. Return via the northern bank of Loch Diridean, to avoid the barbed wire fencing. It is slightly rockier than the southern shore. Have a teabreak against a hillock on the loch’s eastern end. The sun shines pleasantly, and the wind has dropped. I return to New Tolsta at 4 pm, which leaves me 45 minutes until bustime. So I go down to the nearby Traigh Mor and dream away on the sand. Bus leaves on time and takes me back to town in 40 minutes. Today, Mrs B cooks dinner for me: goulash and rice with a glass of wine.

Carloway to Callanish (West Side VIII) - 22/03/05


Today is very mild. Jump on the 12.45 bus to Dun Carloway with David at the wheel. Walk past the Broch at 13.30, with the visitor center still closed. Walk down the street of Dun Carloway and can see men at work on the moor, gathering up sheep for lambing. I do not want to interfere with their work, so I choose a route from the roadend behind Loch an Dùin that avoids the relevant section of moor. I trudge my way upto and past Loch Thonagro. On the far side, a man is lifting a sheep bodily off the ground, but then leaves it behind. It’s dead. On my side of the water, I find another carcass. Not pleasant. Veer slightly south southeast on seeing Loch Chulain, to reach the Shader end of Tolsta a’Chaolais [Tolstachaolais]. Nice views over the northend of Bernera to the islands off its northern tip. Have some trouble with the fencing (again) and have a scare when a dog starts to bark madly at me when I materialize from behind the PO. Walk down the village main road to Loch a’Bhaile [village loch]. Then I start my cross country jaunt towards Breascleit. A stream cascades down from the hill, but I can cross it – very close to the sea. A watermill used to stand there, if the finding of a grindstone is any indication of one. It’s quite warm today, about 16C. In the sun it’s even warmer. When I am finally forced to the road, there is a brief spell of rain. Spend the next 1¼ hour along the road to Calanish. Things of note: 2 live lambs (yeah!) with a very excited flock of sheep. A stone circle on the Breascleit / Calanish border. Hear more lambs at Calanish, but do not see them. Go to the Standing Stones, where the visitor center is as yet closed till Wednesday. Return to SY at 5.10. Passanger enquires where he (that’s me, the woman thumbs at me) usually gets on and off. How rude. German guests have arrived at mrs B’s B&B.

North Lochs - 21/03/05


And yes, it’s raining this morning, and we’re back to a chilly 10C. It was nice while it lasted, our brief summery spell. Head out of town fairly late. Had lunch in the library coffee shop first. Leave for Ranish, North Lochs. Busroute turns off at Liurbost, and winds its way through the townships. A lady joins the bus at Liurbost with her young boy (age 2-3), just for a spin. It’s raning moderately. Route passes through Crosbost (which has a watertower), followed by a brief excursion to Druim an Aoil, a small estate up the hill. Then it’s on to Ranish. This village is situated on an isthmus of ¼-½ mile wide between Loch Grimshader and Loch Liurbost. My walk, starting at the local phone booth, takes me up the road northeast along Loch Griomsiadar. At the end of the metalled road, sits a house with a number of rooftiles missing. Follows a classic Lochs bogslog. Make my way east to Port a’Ghlinne Muigh, a nice inlet. Then inland heading southeast to Linne a’Ghlinne, a part-time loch. At the moment it holds a fair amount of water, but the map has it marked out as a marsh. Circle that and proceed south southeast towards the highest point on Aird Raernish, Beinn Mhor (104 m). Bearing in mind the steadily worsening conditions (can barely see the coastline beyond Loch Erisort to the south), I decide to return west. This turns out to be a confusing and tricky operation. The ground is rocky, steep, or just plain waterlogged. I gingerly pick my way through this nightmare. Have precious little to go on for orientation, as I can only discern the water towers of Ranish and Crosbost. Get in all sorts of trouble around Loch na Mointich, with its marshes on its southern shore, and Loch Colla. I end up going in a circle, and wanting to restart the walk at the house with the tiles missing off its roof. Only the fact that the telephone wires END at that place makes me think that I’d be better off going the other way. Very confusing, on account of heavy rain, poor visibility and no compass. Trudge down the road again, had planned to hit the other road actually. That was a frightening piece of disorientation. Further fun ensues when I’m waiting at the busstop for the 5.40 bus to Stornoway, which just does not turn up. I arrive at the halt at 5.23, but by 5.50 nothing has materialized. I walk up the road to Crosbost, and see the bus heading up to Druim an Aoil. Patiently wait in the teeming rain for the bus to return. It turns out that the driver got stuck behind a van which had left the road at Liurbost. Consequence: he was half an hour late. Return to SY at 6.30. It’s very dark, grey and foggy, and p’ing down with rain. Not a very good day at all.

Arnish - 20/03/05

Today dawns bright and sunny, with wisps of fog over the Arnish Moor. This lifts at 9.30, leaving a gorgeous morning. A maximum of 17C is forecast for today. Set off at 12.40 for Arnish. A lady was sitting outside her front door in the sun on Newton Road. Passed through the town, which is at Sunday rest, up to the Bridge and into the Castle Grounds. Followed the Shore Road, past Cuddy Point and Sober Island. Everybody is out and about for a walk. Just before the Creed River, I have a spot of lunch looking out over the harbour. Continue half an hour later after saying hi to half a dozen people who come traipsing past my seat. Don’t know why, you practically break your neck going down the other side. Carry on along the Creed River to the bridge at the Iron Fountain, then to the Arnish Road. It feels quite warm in the sun, but in the shadow or in the breeze it’s still chilly. Thermometer shows 16C / 61F. Branch off just after the generator station towards the memorial for that royal fool Bonny Prince Charlie. He had landed in Lochs on May 4th 1746, walked all day to Arnish (oh, the poor sod) and arrived there the next day. Was regaled on May 6th by the lady of the manor. He subsequently went south again, staying on Eilean Iubhair, Loch Shell to stay there until May 10th, after which he buggered off to Skye. Standing by the monument, I noticed that I was closed to the inlet of Tòb Leireabhat. A river flows into it, which bars my progress across the Arnish Moor to Grimshader. However, it appears that there might be a bridge after all, although the map says there is not. I make my way across heather and rock. Find a stile across the fence (and a rubbish bin). And yes, there is a bridge across the river, part of a dam. The dam at the mouth of Loch Buaile Bhig is not shown on the map either. I cross to the eastern side of the loch, balance over a steep hillside. I manage to avoid having to use the lifebelt and settle down against a sunsoaked rockface for 30 minutes. Cut back to the first dam across another steep hillside and cross the dam. Return to the road by Loch Arnish at 4pm, and make my way back towards the Castle Grounds. Take a different route back through the woods, and find lots and lots of fallen trees. One path is still blocked, and it’s clear that much work remains to be done there. Return to Newton at 5.25. Nice views over the town though. Sunset at 6.40, but in a red blaze. Have a good old natter to mrs B over supper, which was a takeaway from the Balti House.

Back & Gress - 19/03/05

Today dawned grey and overcast. Jumped on the bus to Tolsta at 12.15, with a view to explore around Gress and Back. Bus is full of Saturday shoppers, some of whom carry so much that they need a hand when getting off. I alight at the southern access road to Griais / Gress and discover a little picnic area by a beach. Comes in very handy. At 1pm, someone “up there” decides to pull up the blinds, the cloud rolls back and summer is here. The temperature rockets to 17C / 63F, something not seen since September 9th, that hot day on Shapinsay, Orkney. I get very warm very quick. Set out along the beach, south to the Gress River. The water there is pretty deep. A man, his son and their dog are playing in the fast-flowing water. Have a wee crack, then cross the roadbridge to the Landraiders’ Monument. This consists of 3 columns, the middle one depicting Lord Leverhulme trying to split the crofting community. When the Leodhsach came back from WW1, they needed land. Leverhulme however had wanted to give them jobs in the industries he intended to establish in the Long Island (Lewis & Harris). The men insisted on land, and occupied his landholdings in Back. In 1921, Leverhulme gave up and sold Lewis and Harris. The parish of Stornoway, which includes the Back district, he gifted to the community. The Stornoway Trust now looks after it. I continue inland, along the Gress River. The sheep are pleased to see me, but I can’t stop to bleat. Have great difficulty negotiating the Allt Cearagol, a mere stream. Its banks are obscured by spaghnum moss, and it’s supremely boggy. After some more squelching, I have to double back along a road to Back New Street. Chat to a saturnine old man, then go down the track. Follow a lady with her dog as far as a set of masts, past some wrecked cars. She goes left, I turn right towards the river. Want to see the rock pools there. I lounge in the moors until just after 3pm, with a coastguard helicopter overhead. I retrace my steps to New Street and cross the river via a footbridge. As I walk down the road in Gress, I have to jump into the verge to avoid a van coming the other way. I manage to trip over a hidden wire in the grass and find myself falling flat on my face in the sodden grass. Just as well it was soft and wet, or else I would have suffered considerable damage to my face. Wipe the mud off with my bonnet (don’t need that, it’s quite warm this afternoon) and wash the worst off on the beach near the bridge. Dog jumps around me and wants to play. I just have to throw that stick at him. Bus takes me back to SY at 4.15. It looks quite summery in the town.

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

West Side VII + Mod - 18/03/05


Took myself off to the West Side once more, this time to Arnol. Fair few people with shopping on the midday bus. Alighted at the phonebox and hobbled up the road to the famous Arnol Black House. You’ve got to pay £4.00 as entrance fee, a wee bit on the steep side. Central in those old blackhouses was the peatfire, which was glowing away in a firepit on the floor. It kept the room at that side of the building quite warm. But, there is no chimney, so it gets extremely smokey. On the other side of the building was the byre, where the cattle would be kept. Cows do also contribute towards keeping the place warm, they give off a tremendous amount of heat. Across the house was a ‘white house’ [taigh geal], which looks more like a conventional house. It has walls of only one layer of bricks (modern houses have two walls with a space, usually filled with insulating material). The ‘white house’ suffers great damp problems, as can be seen on the blotched and crinkled wallpaper. Next door to that is a roofless ‘tigh dubh’ [blackhouse]. Had a bit of a natter with the mannie in the visitor center. At about 1.30, I set off across the moors towards Bru. Initially, I was fairly close to the coast, but had to veer south of Loch na Muilne. It was pretty wet underfoot. After passing the Loch, I finally came across a swift stream draining off the moors into Loch Èirearaigh. Circled around a fenced-off area, then flopped down at 2.45 for a rather late lunch near the footbridge to Bru. A gentleman comes pottering over to enquire whether I’d had any luck. Luck? In catching fish, he meant. He thought I was fishing. At the Bru road end, I strike out east onto the machair and shinglebank. Pass the ruins of Tolm and find that the bridge to Barvas is no longer cut off by floodwater. The levels in Loch Mòr Barabhais have dropped by about 2 feet since my last visit here, so I can cross the bridge. Slowly, I walk down Lower Barvas and arrive at the busstop at 4pm. The 16.20 bus takes me into town.

Mrs B advises me that the local Mòd is on. At 7.10, I head off to the new Sports Centre off Sandwick Road. The hall is filled with a few hundred youngsters from schools all over Lewis, and a banner hangs over the podium proclaiming Mòd Ionadail Leòdhais 2005. This gives a hint of problems to come. A Mòd is a competition in Gaelic culture. Not just music, but also spoken word. And I have hardly a word of Gaelic to show for myself. It is all I can do to actually follow the program, but I do not understand what is being said. The participants are school children varying in age between 6 and 15. This concert is performed by the prize winners, the competitions in 43 categories has taken place over the past 3 days. We started with precenting or lining out. This is a typical Gaelic way of Psalm singing. The precentor sings out a line, and the congregation picks up in a peculiar way; they are not on tone, but rise up to it through about half an octave. Once the end of the line comes in sight, the precentor starts the next line, even though the congregation has not yet finished singing the previous one. It gives a plaintive, haunting sound. Some people stand outside churches on Sundays to hear it. Other items on the agenda were keyboard playing, single or choir voices, declamation, mini sketches. Schools sweeping the board with prizes are the Nicholson Institute (SY), Bun Sgoil a’Bhac (Back Primary), Sgoil Lional (Lionel School, Ness), Bun Sgoil Lacasdail (Laxdale Primary, SY) and Bun Sgoil Breascleit (Breasclate Primary, West Side, near Callanish). One lad hirpled onto the stage on crutches; he was the sole representative of Sgoil Siabost (Shawbost School). Shawbost and Lional Schools do not just cater for primary school age children, but also have a senior section with secondary school pupils up to age 15. I am amazed at the quality of the performances, and the unfazedness of the youngsters involved. Pity I do not have any more Gaelic – requires learning! It all finished at 10.30, so I went down to Engebret’s Filling station on the Sandwick Road to buy crisps and coke. We also have a Norwegian guest in, who is fast asleep, snoring his head off in front of a TV that’s on quite loud. He is doing a whistlestop tour of Scotland, with a particular interest in whisky. Went to bed at half past midnight. The weather today – mild (13C) but cloudy. Rain came on at 2.30, and it only got worse after that.

Molinginish - 17/03/05

And as yesterday was such a complete waste of time, I’m heading off for Harris today with the sole aim of finding Molinginish, which means shingle beach by the heathery headland. It requires a bustrip to Tarbert. Two folk get off at Balallan, one person alights at the Huisinis roadend. The cloud is low today, and rain is forecast. Driver stops to take fuel at the Ardhasaig services and drops me off in Tarbert at 11.10. I set off to Urgha, along the Scalpay road, with birds singing and daffodils blooming. It feels quite mild, at 13C. The Scalpay bus overtakes me just short of the Lacasdale Lochs, so that would not have saved me an awful lot of time. One gentleman in a car offers me a lift further up the road, but I’m due to turn off it only ¼ mile further on. He says it will clear up later. Sure! Go up the path towards Reinigeadal, towards the pass at 950 feet. This I find wreathed in fog at 12.15, as the cloud has decided to lower itself. The view disappears as I step up to the cairn, visibility down to about 150m. Three hundred metres along (400 steps), a little cairn sits at a junction of paths, with the Molinginish path branching off to the right. It’s not very distinct, but a compass bearing of 110° confirms that it goes in the right direction. I follow it down, and I emerge from under the cloud and the drizzle. A fence marks the township boundary, and a hand-scratched sign welcomes the walker into Molinginish. Nobody lives there. The path is markedly wetter after the stile, but there are no great problems. Three houses still have a red, corrugated-iron roof, one has no doors or glass windows. A number of miserable looking sheep scurry about. Two of the usable houses are located near the shore. One looks quite prim inside, from what I can see through a window. It has a marine signal lamp, two notebooks + pens, a stove, oil lamps and a bunkbed. A minute little garden, 2 m2, with fencing that is higher than the garden is long. The other house is a building site with a wheelbarrow with a flat tyre sitting inside. Both buildings are locked. There are remains of 5 or 6 other houses, only walls still jutting out of the grass. Wall height 1 to 5 feet. A seal pops out of the water to look what is going on. Sacks of household coal from a Stornoway coal merchant lie on the shingle above the floodline. It’s quite a secluded spot. View goes right out to the Shiants, which are wreathed in sealevel fog. A sheep nibbles away at grass, perilously close to the shoreline slabs, but I hear no splash. I leave Molinginish at 1.15, about half an hour after arrival. The rain starts as well. Discover a little bench above the hamlet, with a very nice viewpoint. The fog is now right down, as is the visibility. Struggle down to the main road across some very slippery stones, but make it to Lacasdale Lochs at 2.30. Brief cuppa on the bench there, in the pouring rain. Then along to Tarbert. Warm up in the waiting room by the busstation. There is this slightly annoying chap who keeps suggesting I go to Leverburgh, although I repeatedly tell him that I’m heading for SY (local code for Stornoway). Bus arrives at 3.45, and the driver is in a right foul mood. On board is also the lady who alighted at the Huisinis road end this morning. She was going walking, but the weather closed in. On passing a lorry in the roadworks above Ardhasaig, the bus driver opens his window and mutters to the lorry driver “I’ll be so [expletive] glad when this is done”, referring to the roadworks. Return to Stornoway at 4.50, to pop into the library to look up Molinginish. It’s only mentioned under the SYHA and Gatliff Hostels sites, people’s holiday plans, a genealogy site and a site about Gaelic names. Nonetheless, a pretty little place, that has stolen my heart. Like so many places in the Hebrides do.

Wed 16/3/05

Once more woken up to heavy rain and strong winds. Arnish light is still on at 9.30, but then the rain is replaced by heavy showers. Decide to have a lazy day, although the sun does come out later. The wind appears at the same time as the sun, a howling gale blows down Newton Street at 3pm.

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

Langabhat - 15/03/05

Weather today dawns wet, but otherwise not too bad. Jump on the Harris bus, with a grumpy driver at the wheel. It takes me a quarter of a mile before he understands that I want off at Aline. The rain comes down steadily as I go up the track to Langabhat. As I gain altitude, snow becomes more and more prominent. The adjacent hill to the south (492 m) has a scattered covering. Eventually, towards the summit of the track, large drifts cover it in places. Some drifts are 20 cm deep. I gain the loch shore at 11.55, 70 minutes after setting off from Aline. When I sit down by the water’s edge, I am greeted by countless winged fiends.


Already. I don’t believe it. Eat my rolls, slap the midges, but they disappear by about 12.30. Reason? The wind has picked up, to force 6 from the east. Temperature has risen from +8 to +11, the rain has intensified as has the rate of snowmelt. Streams are going into spate. Absolutely no weather to be off the beaten track. I battle uphill against wind and rain, through the deeper drifts of snow, which are melting rapidly. I return to the main road just before 2 pm. I’m deeply disappointed in my boots, which leave me sopping. The bus comes at 2.10, at long last, and delivers me back in town at 3pm. Have a haircut and a stint at the library computer. Then return to Mrs. B.

Shawbost - 14/03/05

 At 10.30, I go into town for a few bits and pieces before setting out on the midday bus to Shawbost. Passenger tells the story of a ewe that had given birth last night, but the lamb was dead this morning. Halfway across the Barvas Moor, a lorry has skidded on black ice and has ended up in the ditch. When you’re in the ditch on this island, you are stuck in mud. Up to the wheel arches. A tractor is on the scene, preparing to pull the lorry out. I jump off in New Shawbost, outside the home of the busdriver. He is stopping for his lunch. Like you do on a scheduled service. An elderly gent hails me from his gate and asks where am I going today. I point to Beinn Bhragair, 2 miles away. He advises me to climb it from the side (west) not the north (full on). There is a metalled track all the way to the pumping station that sits directly underneath the mountain. Once beyond that, things get progressively more complicated. There is snow on the ground at higher levels, some of which melts and slips off steep ledges with a soppy thud. It gets very warm, although the thermometer says it’s only 8C. The insects are out as well. There are a few steep sections, but at the end of the day, the easiest ascent is from the south, the reverse end of the hill. There is a cairn, and a little way further north a trig-point. The view is phenomenal. There are light showers about over the West Side, and heavier ones further south and west, where the hills are higher. The Harris mountains loom up far away, wreathed in white. The Lochs and Pairc hills stand out, including the ones I recognize as standing near Loch Sgiobacleit. Ròineabhal, Èitsal are also visible, as is one of the Shiants. Mùirneag and the Barvas Hills stand to the north. On account of the showers, I can only dimly discern the beaches at Ness. The townships from Shader westwards, right up to Carloway by its loch, Great Bernera, Gallan Head (Uig) and 35 miles away in the Atlantic: the Flannan Isles. I leave at 2.45, after a 1 hour break for lunch. How to get down? Well, I walk in the direction of the coast and descend as far as possible. Then I discover a useful shute. Quite steep, but the wetness of the ground combined with patches of snow make it ideal for a slide on the bum. Once below, it’s a case of walking off the foothills onto the moors beyond and hoping to encounter a decent track. I was unable to ascertain where exactly I was, but I hada faint idea. I ended up about half a mile east of my starting point. I slowly walk the length of Shawbost in the rain. Meet a young lady with her young child. Have a look at the school museum (closed). What cannot be locked is the public loo, even when in use. The bus turns up nice and on time at 5.08. The driver is in no hurry at all, and he even waits at Arnol for the clock to turn to 5.17. But it already is that time… He is a pleasant chap, but he does not look forward to the immanent tourist season and its associated crushes. Last year, the season didn’t stop until mid November. Returned to Stornoway at 5.40. Sunset today at 6.27, so we’ve gained 3 hours since Christmas!

Sunday 13/03/05

By far the coldest day of the winter, even though we’re just a week from the spring equinox. A layer of 2.5 cm of snow has fallen in the night, and shows no sign of melting right through the day. The sun shines at times, and where it reaches the snow, it does melt. I set out for a walk at 3.30. There are no papers in the filling station. Walk along Sandwick Road and Newton Road to the Battery Point RNR Gun Emplacement. A plaque commemorates the fact that a rescue mission was launched from there on New Year’s Night 1919, to aid the stricken Iolaire, stranded just over a mile away on the Beasts of Holm at the entrance to Stornoway Harbour. I walk round to Lower Sandwick, and back again along the shore. It’s quite cold, particularly in the wind. Being plied with cake and pancakes by mrs B and her 9-year old granddaughter. The girl is keen on music, and she tells me all about those girls at school she likes and those she hates. As I play the keyboard, her hands are twitching musically. Some talent there?

Achamor - 12/03/05

It’s even colder than yesterday, with regular falls of snow. It settles on the higher hills. At 12.45 I jump on the Carloway bus, to alight at Achamor. Quite a few villages in Lewis only have one street, but as mentioned in yesterday’s entry, it can be a very long street. Balallan in Lochs stretches for 3 miles, and holds the record. At Achamor, the driver cast me a dark look when I didn’t get off the bus until the Èitsal transmitters. Walked up the access road all the way to the summit at 223 metres. A nice layer of about 2 inches of snow lay there. Views are very nice, across to Lochs and Uig, but in a shower, that all changes. Temperature drops from +4 to +1, visibility down to zero. On account of the latter phenomenon, I decide against a 4 miles moor traverse to the Pentland Road. Furthermore, the snow obscures features on the ground that would warn me of bogs &c. I set off down the A858. The north wind blows very cold down the 5½ miles to the junction with the Pentland Road. After a few miles, the view extends to Stornoway, but a long way off yet. Forests on the map turn out to be fenced off areas of moorland gracing the odd stunted pine tree. Shielings are ruinous or at best dilapidated buildings, comparable to those found south of Ness. I don’t follow the Pentland Road into Stornoway, but a trackway that runs parallel to that road. It’s boggy and wet. But the stench that greets me at the Bennadrove rubbish tip is beyond description. Eugh. Another few heavy snowshowers pass me through Marybank. I conclude the walk by passing through the Castle grounds to the town center at 4.45.

Carloway - 11/03/05

 It’s getting colder and colder. There is a bitterly cold north wind today, which carries snowshowers. I nonetheless venture out to Carloway Broch, where I arrive at 1.30. I sit against a wall, in the sun but out of the wind. The broch is very interesting, having two circular walls inside each other, with walking platforms in between. It’s 2,100-2,200 years old. The visitor’s center is closed, so I don’t have much more info. The broch has a commanding position, overlooking a large area from an elevated location. I walk to Carloway and onto Garenin. Hail- and sleetshowers clatter down at regular intervals, the wind is bitingly cold on my face – it’s only 5C. Arrive in Garenin at 3pm, and have my cuppa on the beach shingle. I walk back at 3.30 to meet the schoolbus coming out of Carloway. The driver drops each child off by his/her frontdoor. We gather a new lot of smelly, sweaty youngsters at Shawbost school. There are two lots here, primary and lower secondary pupils. The driver growls at them to sit down properly. One little boy stutters his way through a message to the busdriver, overawed by the importance. He is not getting off at Carnan, but at Barvas. “Where in Barvas?”, the driver needs to know. That village stretches for 2½ miles! Well, our dapper youngster stands by the driver and directs him to the end of Loch Street in Barvas. It’s always a laugh, traveling on the schoolbus. We go all the way through to Upper Barvas (on the Ness road), to return to Stornoway at 4.50. The boots fit well.

Reinigeadal - 10/03/05


Another Harris day, and this time it’s down to Reinigeadal. The bus drops me off at the Màraig junction, from where the branch road to Reinigeadal plummets down 137 m in 1000 m. From the bridge across the burn, the road runs along the shore of the loch for about a mile, passing a few houses from the township. Then, an equally savage ascent starts, at a rate of 12½%, towards a pass below Toddum (528m). The views across Loch Seaforth are spectacular, but inland it’s an empire of stone. Two sharp bends bring me up to altitude 160m, below the flanks of Toddum. That hill is not for the faint of heart. It’s a cold, cloudy and windy day, the wind being from the west. The road passes a number of lochs before starting on a downward slant towards Loch Trollamaraig. Descent again 12½%. I am unable to make out a route to Molinginish, so will have to leave that out of proceedings. It’s very bleak out here, in spite of the views. On reaching Reinigeadal, one sees the tidal islet that lies off the township. The Shiant Isles to the east and the headlands of South Pairc in front, sheltering Lochs Seaforth and Claidh. I reach Reinigeadal at 12.15, the first house in the village is still being built. A septic tank lies ready for installation. The township is not much, about a dozen houses including a youth hostel. I chat to a local about routes before leaving the village for Tarbert. That requires the use of the footpath. This is one of the more difficult routes I’ve done so far, it goes up and down and is quite boggy and worn out in places. And that’s just the section to Loch Trollamaraig. I hardly have time to enjoy the scenery from the footbridge – Toddum looks imposing from this angle. On this particular route, my eyes need to be on the ground all the time. I arrive at the footbridge at 1 o’clock, and sit down for a brief lunch. Then I go up that incredibly steep path, rising 180 m over 400 m horizontal, and after that another 105 m over 800 m. The descent is less arduous. Initially, you see Tarbert as well as Urgha. The wind is a strong westerly, feeling cold. Technical problems have put paid to today’s Calmac sailings out of Uig (Skye) to Lochmaddy and Tarbert. I reach Laxdale Lochs at 2.20, where a helicopter is ferrying stuff in and out. I make short shrift of the run into Tarbert, where I arrive at 2.50. I potter about the place, buying the usual Thursday papers (Stornoway Gazette, West Highland Free Press) and a cloth about the Western Isles. The busdriver has a chat with me before we leave for Stornoway at 3.45. The wind buffets the bus on the way through the mountains, but we arrive safely in town at 4.50. My boots arrive at mrs B’s at 5.50!!!

Morsgail - 09/03/05

 Today I’ll be heading for an infamous part of the island: the Morsgail Estate. This is a shooting estate, until recently off-limits to all but the owners and guests. One crofter remains on estate land, his house is on the other side of the bridge at the end of the public road off the B8011. He claims that his family has worked the land for more than 80 years. Successive owners on Morsgail have been trying to evict him, by all means fair and foul. I’d recommend the website supporting the crofter Be aware that landownership is a politically sensitive subject in Lewis (and the entire west and north of Scotland). Finlay MacDonald claimed harassment at the hands of the previous owner, who died after falling off a ladder at the end of 2004. The aforementioned website was closed down out of respect for the bereaved family, but reopened when the new owner took up where the previous one had left off.

Today’s weather is not very nice, at midday it’s peeing down with rain as the postbus leaves Stornoway. After Scaliscro Lodge, Morsgail is the next port of call. The rain has subsided by then, and I merrily walk down the estate road. At 1.15, I am overtaken by a genial man in a Landrover. He says that I do not need to avoid the Lodge at all costs, in contradiction of information given to me by locals on the postbus. So, I head straight for the Lodge on the western shore of the loch. The area is not very spectacular, the hills are low. Morsgail Loch is pretty in its own way. The yellow painted house sits amongst trees on the shore. The wrought iron gate depicts a man aiming a gun with a dog at foot; underneath, a fish and a deer feature. I climb over the stile and quickly walk past, on to the loch shore. The route is a bit tricky, and remains so once I reach Abhainn Loin. I manage to miss the bridge over this river, and continue up its western bank. This route is boggy and waterlogged, at times under inches of water. An absolute pain, with its stepping stones, some of which are submerged. The second bridge over the river, at GR 133212, has been washed away. I retrace my steps to the outflow of the river into the loch, and do find the first bridge. This one is intact and the track beyond it is relatively good. The boggiest parts are reinforced with old tyres sunk into the ground. My aim of today’s trip was to find beehive dwellings at GR 131200, on the shore of a small stream. One of the beehive dwellings is still intact, and it’s possible to go inside. It’s built like an igloo, but stones are used instead of blocks of ice. It has two entrances, about 2 feet high, facing west and south. Pity I don’t have a working torch, it would have been nice to have taken a peep inside. Two bridges span the stream, to provide passage for vehicles heading for Kinloch Resort (3 miles to the south) and the Harris border area north of Glen Miavaig and west of Stuabhal and Loch Langabhat. This southwestern corner of Lewis is a derelict area, where virtually nobody lives. Due to time constraints I cannot proceed further, and I must return to the main road before 5pm. The weather is clearing up, and a fantastic vista opens up to the west. Six miles away, the Uig hills loom up. According to my map, a track leads from Carinish (near Mangurstadh) down to Loch Tamnabhaigh, 8 miles. A major expedition of 14 miles in total. Requires an early start, one that is only possible if based in Uig. I slog through the bog that constitutes a track along the eastern shore of Loch Morsgail and presently return to the metalled road. At 4.40, I am back on the B8011 and slowly amble down to the bridge at Kinlochroag. A little way up the hill from the bridge, the sun shines brightly, and I soak up its warmth, even this late in the day. I can see cars coming at Enaclete, 3 miles away to the northwest. I am waiting for a black people carrier (the Uig bus J) which turns up at 5.35. The mannie lets me off at Leurbost, to change onto the Ranish bus. Return to town at 6pm.

Harris Wilderness III - 08/03/05


Harris day again, but it’s not a very nice day. Overcast and occasional rain. A spell of rain is visible over Lochs and it looks very ominous over Harris. I alight at the Huisinis road-end, after a bit of a struggle through the second set of roadworks. I walk west for just under a mile to the hamlet of Bun Abhainn Eadarra. There I turn off the main road and onto a gravel track. This appears to end at a house, and as I stand taking my bearings a woman calls out to me. “Are you going on a hike?” Yep. “You’ll want the red gate”. I duly proceed through that gate and immediately I found myself confronted by the Harris moonscape, the Empire of Stone. Finding and keeping the path is tricky, particularly with the mist and rain. And the little stream Abhainn Glaic a’Choin-Duinn also gets in the way for the half mile I have to follow it. Then I turn north. It is actually not difficult to set the course: just head north, you cannot leave the valley. There are mountains of more than 2,000 feet on either side. With a spot of bother I cross a larger stream, the Abhainn Eadarra, after which I really have reached the wilderness. I keep a north northwesterly direction, but by the look of things at a rather high contour: 200 m, 700 ft. I come across some very tricky slabs of rock, but do make good progress. I’m abreast of Loch a’Sgail at 1pm. Have lunch due east of Teileasbhal half an hour later. Snow crowns the top at 697m; this mountain presents a forbidding wall. I finally leave this remote valley at 2 o’clock and struggle northeast through some extremely boggy and wet terrain. I even have to go right down to the Langadale River, but then rise again. The view back is stupendous, Teileasbhal, Stulabhal, Stuabhal. I hit the southern vehicle track at 2.40, and grant myself a 5 minute teabreak. I then have to press on as the bus back goes at 4.05 from Vigadale. The snow has gone now, and it’s plain wet. As I wait for the bus, about 250m west of the road, a sharp jolt shakes the ground, followed a few seconds later by a rumble of falling rock. This is not sound carried through the air, but through the very earth on which I sit. Not an earthquake, but blasting at the Ardhasaig Quarry several miles away. John drives the bus back to town, and Sally joins me on board at Balallan.

Walk to Carloway - 07/03/05


Head into town at 11, to use the library and buy a few bits and pieces. I have a bowl of soup and a piece of bread in the library coffeeshop, and at midday I head out for today’s walk. The route starts through the Castle grounds, where a man lets his dog out of his car. The animal makes a beeline for my legs as I walk past him at my usual speed of 4mph. He crouches low, growls and I can feel his teeth against my legs. I yell at the owner to call the b***** animal off as he is biting me. Jayz. Continue, unhurt, towards Marybank and the Pentland Road. After a few hundred yards, I leave Stornoway behind and head out onto the moors. The road runs parallel to the track I walked on February 27th, and I can see the quarry, the radio transmitter and the Bennadrove rubbish tip behind Loch Airigh na Lic. Arrive at the junction for Achamor at 1.15, and head into the island’s interior, along the old Pentland Road. This was intended as the trackbed for a railway linking the harbours of Carloway and Stornoway. Catches landed at Carloway were to be transferred to the sheltered harbour at Stornoway by rail. Like so many of Lord Leverhulme’s projects, this one never came to fruition. Another example is the road linking (or more to the point not linking) Tolsta and Ness. It now stops just behind the bridge by Garry Beach. The Pentland Road is level, hugging contours and going up or down only mild gradients. The Barvas Hills loom up to the north, but after half an hour they recede behind me as I cross the bridge of the Creed River. The radiomasts at Èitsal stand tall 3½ miles to the south. The journey continues west, past a succession of low hills, with lochans glinting to the right in the moors. The hills of Uig tower up ahead, Great Bernera in front. Reach another junction at 14.55: it’s left to Breascleit or ahead to Carloway. I go full steam ahead towards Carlabhagh. I get told off by a passing motorist for tossing bottles into the verge of the road. There are literally thousands of the things knocking about. Have to reach Carloway before 5pm, but I’m doing fine. Kids jumping on a trampoline outside a house on the Pentland Road in Carloway itself, which I reach after 4. Follow the road as far as the bridge in the village center. Once there I only have to wait 25 minutes for the return bus to Stornoway, leaving at 4.55. There are actually twobuses: one goes back through Callanish, the other takes the route through Shawbost and Barvas. I choose the latter, like it better, and I return to town at 5.45.

Tuesday, 15 March 2005

Sunday 6/3/05

The day started with a powercut at 8.45, which I didn't really notice until mrs B brought it to my attention. The auxiliary powerstation kicked in. The roar of the generators is audible at Newton. When I go out for a walk, the clock in the town hall tower has stopped at 8.45, and the traffic lights are out. The ones on Bayhead are still functioning, so I'm a bit puzzled. I go on a walk through the Castle grounds, almost as far as Marybank, but double back along the Creed River to the Iron Fountain. There, I head north to Gallows Hill, alt. 66m. This offers a very nice view over the whole of Stornoway and outlying areas. Sit there for a wee while, watching a shower of drizzle blur the outline of the houses as it passes over the town. The view extends west to Achmore, a distant hill in Uig, the Barvas hills (4 summits) and North Bay. The sun comes out again, causing the temperature to rise. I walk down to the shoreline and flop down in the grass at Sober Point. A yappy little dog takes a dislike against me, but I ignore it. A group of youngster prance around as well, but then they all go. I follow a little later, back to my B&B. Have a take away from the Indian; I usually have micro-wave meals which mrs B allows me to heat up in her kitchen.

Ness shielings - 5/3/05

Headed up to Ness at lunchtime, to do what I initially intended to do on Monday. Bus had to stop at Barvas, as one of the passengers was travelsick. He left his breakfast on the pavement. Got off at Skigersta, the start of the trail to Tolsta. As it is already 1pm, I cannot walk all the way there, it'll take me about 5 hours. I head down the trail, which gets ever worse. Have another look round the minihouses at Cuidhsiadar. People from Ness come here in the summer to tend to some cattle. Nobody here today, except an old van on which no roadtax had been paid since December 2003. I proceed further south to the next group of houses at Filiscleitir, within sight of the ruined chapel on the promontory. Further south, the long valley stretches out towards Dibidail. Two miles of bog, I happen to know. I return north to Skigersta at 3.30, after a few breaks off the trail. The bus comes at 3.52, to bring me back to town in just under an hour. The evenings draw out nicely now, sunset after 6pm.

Tolsta - 4/3/05

Headed out for an afternoon's trip to Tolsta at 11.45, arriving at New Tolsta at 12.25. As per usual, when I go to Tolsta, it's cold, windy but bright. I head across to Garry Beach to have lunch on one of the picnic benches. One car is parked at the public lavatory. When I return at 1.30, the car has left and the beach is empty. Traigh Mor is as beautiful as ever. My attempt to climb one of the grassy slopes at its southern end is aborted, after I get stuck on an uncomfortably steep section. I have great trouble getting back down to the beach, as the rucksack is in the way. Return to Tolsta as per previous visit, through a field and past a dead sheep. Pick up the bus after waiting in a windshaken busshelter. Still no time to go on to Tolsta Head. The return trip through all the villages brings me back to Stornoway at 4.40pm. Weather remains chilly.

Wilderness Harris II - 03/03/05

Another Harris day, and once more I head down to Vigadale. There are extensive roadworks between Aline and Scaladale, which are intended to double the single-track road. Takes 12 months, from the start in October 2004. In pouring rain, I jump off the bus and head west up the glen. The snow is down to low levels, about 600 ft. Towards the top of the pass, 190m, the snowcover is closed, and it's a bit slushy. Ice covers the puddles. I head down to the riverbank, but even after half a mile of trudging upstream I cannot see a way across, save wading. It's too cold for that, so I make for a gap in the hills, immediately south of Mullach an Langa. This turns out to be a dangerous undertaking. I trap myself in the narrow gorge of a river, having to negotiate some very awkward moves, and the snowcover increasing as I ascend. The pass broadens out at altitude 290m, in the snow. I now head southeast, into Glen Scaladale. I encounter a herd of deer on the high levels. My view is restricted due to low cloud, but Clisham should be out there prominently. My policy not to want to lose height nearly proves disastrous at Creag Mo. At 2pm, I get this fantastic view east over Glen Scaladale and Loch Seaforth. A bit too fantastic really. I was aware of Creag Mo, and had noticed the start of rocky outcrops to my right. Also the massive rockface below the Clisham with the little lochans below. As views continue to improve, the ground begins to tilt down....... no further progress possible horizontally. I retrace my steps to the start of the rocks, then head southeast along the edge of the escarpment. It's pissing down with rain, which makes the ground very slippery. The descent towards the valley bottom is slow and arduous as I have to go from 200 to 70 metres altitude across 250 m horizontally. As I make my way east, the face of Creag Mo rears up above me. Shock horror. The thing is a vertical cliff face of 150 to 200 m in height. I stood at the edge of a 150 m (500 ft) drop... shit. Trembling, I proceed down the valley, still in pouring rain and along and through running water. At 3pm, I reach the roadbridge. Being cold and miserable, I have a cup of tea under the bridge, then head up to Creag Chaise, waiting for the bus by the start of the old postroad to Tarbert. The busdriver is not pleased, because I initially purchased a return to Bogha Glas, and I'm 2 miles south of there. Once again, Sally joins me at Balallan, and we chat away into town.

Valtos / Uig - 2/3/05

On another bitterly cold day, strong northerly winds blast in off the Arctic. I head off at midday on the postbus towards Uig. It takes the usual route, with a lengthy diversion to Scaliscro. I get off at Miavaig at 1.25, to commence a walk round the Valtos peninsula. It's very pleasant when the sun is out, but soon the showers move across and it gets very nippy. Wind is biting cold on the face. Continue through a rocky landscape to Reef. There, the road veers sharply north towards the beach, which faces due north. Very nice views of Pabay Mor, with a sandy beach on that islet. Here, the main beach is easily reached, and the freezing winds blast in straight from the north pole. Nice beach. Have to leave it at an unfordable stream, which can only be crossed via the road. Bridge located next to a public toilet. This is used in summertime by campers. But even now there are 2 caravans. The road winds on through Kneep and slightly confusingly through Valtos. I decide on the shortcut, rather than go around through the village. The shortcut is a very poor road. Come out high above Valtos beach and finally to Cliff / Cliobh. Not much there, just the odd house. Finally, the road leads along Loch Sgailleir back to Miavaig. The carpark by the church is full, and just as I pass, a coffin is carried out to a hearse. Oh dear. Quickly on to the Timsgarry road through Glen Valtos. The cliffs surrounding this narrow, steep-sided valley are 70 m high at the eastern end, dropping down to nil at Timsgarry. Here I chat to the shopkeeper who even allows me to drink a cuppa in the empty shop, rather than outside in the rain. Driven to Leurbost by the schoolbus driver at 5 pm; the Ranish bus takes me back to town at 5.50.

Monday, 14 March 2005

Wilderness Harris I - 01/03/05

Harris day today, so go on the 10 o’clock bus down to Bogha Glas on the border with Harris. Driver raises his eyebrows when I ask to be dropped off opposite Aline Lodge [Ath Linne]. Trudge up the path towards Langabhat, and am overtaken by a snowshower on the pass, at 235 m. Oh, met my friend from Balallan Westend on the bus, she is going to the area around Toddum. Just beyond the pass, I leave the stalker’s track and veer off towards the vertical buttress of Creag na Clibhe. It’s a bogslog, but I finally reach the foothills before 12. I keep close to the rockface, well above Loch na Clibhe. Then it goes southwest to Cleit Earscleit, still keeping above the water of Loch Langabhat. Creag na Lubaig rears up above the southern bank of the loch, with Stuabhal above. Have lunch a little way south of the inflow of the Langadale River. There is an inlet off the river. Continue upstream, with a stunning mountain vista unfolding to the south. Right under Stuabhal (579m) the track from Kinloch Resort comes over the mountains. Unfortunately, the bridge has been washed away, so a crossing is out of the question. Shame. I head up the path towards Glen Vigadale, with Mulloch an Langa towering up above. Just before the summit, a cairn is found to be at the junction of two paths; one of them curves down towards the valley bottom. As I have loads and loads of time before the bus comes, I dawdle down the glen. It’s cold today, and as I take a break between 3 and 4, I am pelted with hail. The bus turns up at 4.05, in the middle of the roadworks. Sally and her companion are also on board, and I chat to them on the way back to Stornoway and Balallan.

Wilderness Harris I - 01/03/05

Harris day today, so go on the 10 o’clock bus down to Bogha Glas on the border with Harris. Driver raises his eyebrows when I ask to be dropped off opposite Aline Lodge [Ath Linne]. Trudge up the path towards Langabhat, and am overtaken by a snowshower on the pass, at 235 m. Oh, met my friend from Balallan Westend on the bus, she is going to the area around Toddum. Just beyond the pass, I leave the stalker’s track and veer off towards the vertical buttress of Creag na Clibhe. It’s a bogslog, but I finally reach the foothills before 12. I keep close to the rockface, well above Loch na Clibhe. Then it goes southwest to Cleit Earscleit, still keeping above the water of Loch Langabhat. Creag na Lubaig rears up above the southern bank of the loch, with Stuabhal above. Have lunch a little way south of the inflow of the Langadale River. There is an inlet off the river. Continue upstream, with a stunning mountain vista unfolding to the south. Right under Stuabhal (579m) the track from Kinloch Resort comes over the mountains. Unfortunately, the bridge has been washed away, so a crossing is out of the question. Shame. I head up the path towards Glen Vigadale, with Mulloch an Langa towering up above. Just before the summit, a cairn is found to be at the junction of two paths; one of them curves down towards the valley bottom. As I have loads and loads of time before the bus comes, I dawdle down the glen. It’s cold today, and as I take a break between 3 and 4, I am pelted with hail. The bus turns up at 4.05, in the middle of the roadworks. Sally and her companion are also on board, and I chat to them on the way back to Stornoway and Balallan.

Sunday, 13 March 2005

Ness - 28/02/05

Today dawned nice and bright. At the breakfast table, I look out over the harbour, Goat Island and the derelict yard at Arnish, with the lighthouse to the left. If it’s late in the morning, the freight ferry Muirneag will come sailing past. Had lunch in the town, sitting on a bench under a bare tree. Starlings were chattering in my ears whilst I gobbled up my pizza. I had this notion to go to Ness today, so I jumped on the bus at 1pm with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. Spirits sank as soon as I crossed the Barvas Moor, because the cloud increased rapidly and the rain began. On arrival at Rubha Robhanais, it was chucking it down. Tried to cut across immediately behind the village fencing, but this was too wet. So, I had to walk along the coastline there. This requires caution, because the cliffs are fairly high: up to 100 feet. Crossed a bridge to the small island reserve of Dun Eistean, dire warnings regarding arctic terns, which nest on this islet in the summer. Hobbled down the track to Port of Ness. Went down the village street to the harbour. Children have constructed a wooden lighthouse and there is an art gallery, which, surprisingly, is open today. From the beach, fulmars (a type of gull) can be seen sitting in pairs on the grassy cliffs above, occasionally diving down on me. Rain and wind make it a miserable and cold afternoon, so I jump on the schoolbus at 3.30, rather than wait for 3 hours for the later bus.

Sunday 27/02/05

 I set off at 2.30, nice and late, for a jaunt around town. As I pass the busstation, two loud bangs make me jump. Turns out to be emergency flares, let off by a yacht in distress off Goat Island; it has run aground. The tide is very low. As I pass the Lifeboat Station on Cromwell Street, the strip says “ALB launched at 14.33”; the time now is 14.45. I go up through the Castle grounds, past Lews Castle College and the Sawmill Centre to Marybank. There, I turn right along the A859, and a little way down it’s left. This is actually the A858, but the signage only points to the refuse tip at Beinn na Drobh (Market Hill). A little further down a side road is signposted as leading to Carlabhagh and Breascleit along the Pentland Road. I go straight on and presently find myself walking along Loch Airigh na Lic. A gate to the right is the entrance to the radio transmitters on the top of the hill – anyone who wants to open the gate will need to open 10 padlocks! Proceed past the quarry and up to the masts. Gate to the site is wide open, but I go up past and onto the moor. Not much further on, I catch sight of livestock pens and some sheep by a road. This goes back into Newvalley and, after a slent right, into Laxdale. This place has a bunkhouse and a campsite, obviously not used at the moment due to the cold winter weather. I return to Newton at 5pm.

West Side VI - 26/02/05

In order to complete the westcoast walk link, I am returning to Dail Mor, just outside Carloway, and walk east to Dalbeg and Shawbost. Unfortunately, the first bus on Saturday doesn’t go until 12.45, so I’ve got very little time. It’s the long way round via Garynahine in partially cloudy weather. At the Carloway bridge, a bunch of teenage boys take so long to get on board, that the driver snaps “what’s keeping yous?” I get off at the top of the Dalmore road. A number of cars leave the village as I approach it. The blinded sheep has been removed from the field, and a flock has been put in. A campervan has been parked near the public loos at Dalmore beach, where I have lunch at the picnic bench. The I hit the trail and walk the mile or so across the hills to Dalbeg. Have a spot of bother with fences and stiles, or more to the point: lack of them. Go up the hill behind Dalbeg and follow the waymarkers as far as the wall that doesn’t have a stile to aid crossing. Get a shower or two. At the wall, I head due east, abandoning the line of markers, and make for Loch na Muilne, rather than northeast. It’s a bit boggy in places, but once I cross the stream leading into the loch, I can make for the track into South Shawbost. Walk to the main A858, just over a mile away, and go back west to visit the Norse mill and kiln, situated by a stream. This used to be the village mill. Then I return to the A858 to wait for the bus, which appears during a shower.

Great Bernera - 25/02/05

A very nice, sunny day, so I set off on the 12.45 bus towards Garynahine, with the intention of visiting Great Bernera. One elderly gentleman bursts into song between Leurbost and Achamor, but I am advised that he is probably a bit tipsy. At Garynahine, a minibus is waiting for Great Bernera passengers. There is some good humoured banter between the driver and his regulars. We set off just after 1.15 down the B8011 and the B8059 to Bernera. One person is dropped off just before the bridge; another at Kirkibost on the southeastern side of the island. I am left on the western side, 2 miles west of the central village of Breascleit, at the settlement of Bhalasaigh / Valasay. A footbridge leads across an inlet to a house. A path is signposted north to Tobson, but the poles lead me nowhere; I have to find my own route. It’s a gloriously sunny day, but not warm at 7C. There is no wind, so that makes it feel very warm. I am tempted to take off scarf and coat. I take the wrong side of Loch Veiribhat, but nonetheless end up in Tobson, a small village off a small bay. The path, rising steeply out of the township, heads high over the rocky hilltops. After a dogleg, it plummets down to Loch a’Sgaill by a wall. There is a gate, but this requires clambering skills. A broad valley leads north to Bostadh. Bostadh is famous for an Iron Age dwelling, but I cannot inspect its interior, as this is locked. Furthermore, it is affected by flooding, 4 inches of water inside. The beach is breathtaking, with great views north / northwest to offshore islets. The road takes me back to Breascleit in just over an hour. There is ice on shadowed lochs. The bus goes back to Garynahine at 4.45. Three cats are sunning themselves outside a derelict house. The same Dutch couple are on the Galson bus from Garynahine that were on on the way in. They were heading for Callanish, but now jump off at Leurbost for a southbound connecting bus. Return to Stornoway at 5.45.

Point - 24/02/05

Went out to look for new waterproof trousers, but I didn’t much like what the Fishermen’s Coop had to offer. Bit on the heavy side. The weather is iffy, and I get my bus timetables muddled up. Nonetheless, at 12.15 I’m on the bus heading out to Point (Eye Peninsula or An Rubha). Bus goes round Goat Hill, Plasterfield, Sandwick and Melbost before heading across the Braighe. The route diverts off the main road (A866) at Garrabost and Sheshader, but we nicely arrive at Portnaguran at 12.55. I walk up the road from the pier to the track at the end, then head east across the moors to Tiumpan Head. Sit above the lighthouse for lunch, then discover that there is actually a proper road which goes to the lighthouse out of Port Mholair. Information plaques in this area have been removed. Go round Tiumpan Loch and down the A866 to Aird. It’s nice and sunny now, albeit with a chilly wind. Halfway down the sideroad, a track branches off into fields. The fish van moves out as I approach. The track goes past trees onto moors beyond, and it’s not very clear where you have to turn off for the village of Sheshader. At the end of the road through the village, a track once more leads into the moors. A herd of sheep follow me closely and scurry off briefly when I try to shoo them off. They’re quite playful, but at an invisible line they stop and bleat after me. I was getting nightmares of the beasts following me all the way onto the bus &c. Cross the heathery moorland, always coming out by stiles inadvertently. Head round the westside of Loch an t-Sidhein, still in glorious sunshine. At 1.30 I reach the road outside Pabail Uarach, and I walk the length of the village. There is an incredibly steep hill into Pabail Iarach; the sun shines horizontally down the incline, and I can’t see a thing. On leaving Eagleton, I go badly astray on taking a wrong turning. When I take a compass bearing on my surroundings, I find myself due east of Loch an Duin. I drage myself west-northwest through bogs and ditches. The moor is littered with wrecked cars. After a fence, I take a bearing on a building in Cnoc and steadfastly head for that across the moor. I even manage to gain the main road, with half an hour to spare before sunset (5.45). Walk to the A866 and down to Aiginish. I have a minute or two to view the Landraiders’ Monument on the edge of the Braighe. In 1888, severalmen occupied land from which people had been evicted in the past. It required police deployment to evict them, but it is all part of the land struggle in Lewis. Other monuments stand at Back and Balallan. The bus nearly knocks me down as it pulls over to pick me up.

Tolsta to Ness - 23/02/05

 Today is a bright sunny day, so it’s off north: to Tolsta for the hike to Ness. It’s not busy on the bus, and it’s empty by the time I reach New Tolsta. One road is blocked by a digger, so we double back along a different, parallel road. It’s a day with a cold wind, particularly when exposed to it. A coastguard helicopter hovers overhead right up to Garry Beach. Bit annoying if all you want is peace and quiet. The track peters out beyond Abhainn na Cloich and now it’s a case of following the green and yellow markers again. The terrain is undulating and boggy at times, and the markers are several hundred yards apart. Tolsta can be discerned on the southern horizon, the Muirneag Hills loom up in the west, and lochs glimmer in the moors at regular intervals. I find a pair of purple nylon gloves. At 1pm I take a lunchbreak at Loch Sgeireach na Creige Bist, at grid reference NB 547534. Half a mile north of that, the path drops down steeply from 100 to 10 metres above sealevel at Dibidail. It’s a knee-wrenching experience, and the markers carry a red top here. A little house sits above the valley and within sight of the yellow cliffs. The track quickly rises again to an altitude of 115 metres, only to start a very gradual descent towards Filiscleitir. Again, a number of small, brightly coloured houses dot the landscape. I nearly come to grief at GR 554567 when I step off a bank and into a bog. I sink in up to my knees before I arrest my downward slide by falling back onto the bank behind me and gaining purchase with my back to extract the legs. Oops. Continue down the valley to a derelict house, a former chapel serving the moors, at Dun Filiscleitir 560577. I lose the markers here, but common sense (follow the coast round) brings me back to the track. A motorcycle is parked at the start of the metalled track. I follow this track north, past a clutter of sheiling houses at Cuidhasiadar and onto Skigersta. I reach the end of the public road here at 4pm. The bus doesn’t leave until 6.20pm, so I have plenty of time. Carry on down the road into the village and beyond to Eorodale, Lional (shop closed due to flu) and up the B8013 to Eoropaidh. I’m not  going to the lighthouse again. Instead, I retreat to the beach and ensconse myself out of the wind and in the setting sun at 5.10pm. One couple slowly walks down the beach to the farend and back. The sun slowly sinks towards the horizon. A cloud obscures the final touch, but at 5.41 the sun has disappeared from sight. A bright, red glow flares up above the spot, and fades gradually. I leave the beach and take up position at the road junction, to wait for the 6.09 bus. I’m getting worried when it does not turn up, so I walk down the road I’m expecting it to come down from. At 6.25, four lights materialize in front of me and yes it is the Galson bus. The driver goes round Ness, then brings me back to Stornoway in darkness at 7.10. Broad Bay looks great in the light of the full moon. I’ve not seen it in the dark very much, and it makes for a bleak journey.

West Side V - 22/02/05

Resumed today where I left the coast walk yesterday: outside Bragar Cemetery. The weather was bright in Stornoway, but overcast on the Westside. I am told that it is common for west and east Lewis to have completely different weather patterns. A shower looms up on the western horizon, but moves so slowly that I have ample time (half an hour) to eat lunch at the same picnic benches where I had tea yesterday afternoon. Very pretty spot. I can even update the written diary until 1.35. The rain then commences and I am on my way. Just north of the cemetery I come across a broken stile, and I have to go right onto the coastal cliffs to negotiate the fence. I nicely arrive at Loch Arnol, and walk onto its shingle bank. The outflow, once reached at 2.10, proves to be impassable. It’s deep and it’s fast. I cannot cross it, not even at sealevel. Swearing sulphurously, I find that I have to double back all the way to the main road 1 mile inland. And I have to put up with bogs (8 inches deep), a sewerage outfall pipe (yuk) and all sorts of horrors through Cargol and Leicanish. Walk along the river to the road, then head up into Arnol on the far side of the Bragar River. Just before the busshelter and past the geese, a farmtrack leads me back to the outflow of Loch Arnol, opposite the point where I had been unable to cross. Seventy-five minutes after leaving the outflow on its western bank, I have reached the eastern side. Five feet in 1¼ hour, tut tut. I turn my back and resume the eastward trek to Bru. This is only 2 miles and I make short shrift of it. Coastal scenery is once again impressive, but it requires a head for heights. The moors rises gradually and obscures the 100 to 200 foot high drops down to sealevel up to the very last minute. Today is definitely not my day, as I tear my waterproofs on a barbed-wire fence, which I later find out I didn’t have to cross in the first place. I circle Loch Eirearaigh to the footbridge, up the hill and into Bru at its northern end at 4pm. The village stretches for 1½ miles. Contemplate checking the traverse into Barvas, but whilst walking down the road through Bru, I can see that the bridge is still marooned in water. Have to wait for the bus in temperatures barely above zero. Chilly

West Side IV - 21/02/05

At 12 noon I jumped on the Galson bus to Dalbeg, to resume where I left off last week. Admittedly, the section from Dalmore to Dalbeg is still to be done. Arrived at Dalbeg at 12.53. It is a beautiful day, sunny and crisp although not warm. Chat to a family from Point who have just walked in from Shawbost / Siabost, a few miles to the east. Dalbeg is a tiny hamlet, but it has a nice loch with reeds and a great beach. I have lunch above the sands, then set off, up a very steep hill. The way is once again marked with brown poles with yellow beads, and the stiles are made of red/brown painted wood. The route heads northeast, and gets a bit tricky when there is a stile over a wire fence. The wall beyond it has no stile over it, and this requires some climbing. I have to be careful not to bring the whole structure down, but manage to negotiate it without damage. A man with a dog is going in the opposite direction, but we’re too far apart to exchange a word. From the wall onwards, it’s a case of following the poles. At times it is difficult to spot the next pole once another pole is reached, but the general direction is along the coastal cliffs. After 2 miles I pass the northern fencing of Siabost bho Dheas (South Shawbost). Fantastic scenery! Have to head south along Loch Shiabost to the shinglebank across Loch a’Bhaile (Village Loch). Come across a man calling his dog, which comes lolloping from ¼ mile away across the sands. Walk through North Shawbost to Carnan Mor, a rather boggy affair. Continue along the coast to Fibhig and outside Labost, until the coastline forces me south. Loch Ordais has an outflow to the sea which I can just about cross by hopping from one stone to the next. A track across machair leads me to a picknick area by Bragar Cemetery, yep another churchyard. It’s nearly 4pm now, and my bus goes in just over an hour. I contemplate heading further east along the coast, and returning to Stornoway at 6.45, but decide against that. Just as well – when I do the continuation a few days later, there were all sorts of troubles. So, for now I head into South Bragar and walk along the ‘street’, past the famous whalebone arch, then out of the village along the A858 to Arnol. The business premises of Arnol Motors are surrounded by literally dozens of CCTV cameras of various sizes. I walk up to the second road into the village and take up position in the busshelter. Am shortly joined by a handful of kids who are going to music classes in town. The bus leaves nice and on time at 5.17.

New entries

Once more, I'm catching with the diary. I should point out that the entries for dates February 16th to 20th are NOT new to regular readers, I originally entered those on February 19th and 22nd. I've placed them in chronological order. An addition was made to February 20th, which has NOT come through in the journal update alerts that some of you receive. Hope you enjoy.

Melbost - 20/02/05

Today is Sunday, i.e. no public transport. This means I'm restricted to flapping about around town. Walked out of Island Road towards the filling station at the top. Had been told that they served frozen food, but it was snacks only. Then up Sandwick Road for half a mile and into the road towards Steinish. After crossing the road towards Melbost into the dead-end for Steinish. This is only a small village on the edge of Broadbay. No-one ever ventures out onto the sands of Broad Bay, because of the dangers of 'sinking sand' and strong tidal currents. I walked right along the shoreline, to the other side of the village. Returned to the cattle market and headed out on a farm road, which ended just outside Sandwick's North Street. It was possible to carry straight ahead, but it quickly turned into wading through mud. Not too much of a drag. Things got a bit confusing at the end of the road, where there was a gate saying "Emergency vehicles access - keep clear". The gate was locked, but nothing to say I couldn't walk through, which I did. Found myself outside the airport's fuel-bunkers, which were well cordoned off by high fences. The road did carry on for nearly half a mile, until it stopped. Fifty yards from the airport runway. And nothing to stop me venturing onto it. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! So much for improved security post 9/11, for god's sake! Entering an airport runway is obviously a) madness, b) suicidal and c) illegal, so I kept off. Cut through a field onto the Braighe Road towards Point. At Melbost, crossed the road after letting that bike past at 110 mph and went to the 20ft high shingle banks which line the shore. Proceeded down the shoreline in a westerly direction, until I reached the proximity of a jetty. The weather today is a lot better than yesterday, little wind if still quite cold and fairly bright if cloudy. Can see right down the coast towards Kebock Head, the Shiants and the snowy Cuillins - 50 miles away to the south. Fantastic. After dabbling about near the jetty and a nearby peninsula proceeded further west, sometimes right on the floodline and on boulders. At the Iolaire memorial at 5.10, but still quite light. Cut through some fields towards Lower Sandwick and to Newton along the community footpath. And, young guys on pushbikes: that excludes bicycles. Returned to B&B in Newton at 5.45, just as the streetlights came on

Barvas - 19/02/05

My intention was to walk west from Barvas, but, as you'll see, that got thwarted. Anyway, the weather today is pretty unpleasant. That is, temperatures are low (5C), with intermittent show- and hailshowers and a strong northwesterly wind. This puts a biting edge on the conditions. Nonetheless, I jumped on the bus to Barvas at 1pm, which was full of shoppers returning to the west side, general direction of Shawbost. It made an uncustomary diversion up Benside, south of the main A857. Nice views over Broad Bay and towards Point. One person needed to get off on that loop. It's a request-only service. At 1.25, we reached Barvas Junction, whereupon the bus turned into Loch Street. This is a side-road along Loch Mor Barabhas towards the coast. Jumped off at the very end of the road, and encountered a very cold NW wind. One lady directed me towards the shore, but things went belly up on encountering the bridge across the outflow of the loch. The water was so high in the loch, that it was impossible to approach the footbridge - under feet of water. The sluice was up, but it stood marooned. The outflow was feet deep, again, and a raging torrent. Impossible to cross safely, I would have been swept out to sea in that. So, there I was. Walked along the shingle bank, and through the dunes to have lunch on the shooting butt. Then proceeded north at a leasurely pace, through the dunes and along the cliffs. A couple of teenagers were climbing the cliffs - idiots. Kept my mouth shut. Then headed inland, and found myself by the cemetery after a little while. Plenty of cemeteries along the shorelines here. Cut south through the dunes, but finally ran into the river which could not be crossed, except by a bridge half a mile north near the shore. Basically back where I started. After a teabreak went south back down Loch Street, to wait for the Ness bus back to Stornoway. Frequent hailshowers and the strong NW wind made it actually fairly unpleasant. Glad to be back in town.

West Side III - 18/02/05

Yes, this is the third trip in succession to the Western seaboard of the island. Started out on the 10.30 bus this morning, and managed to get off in the wrong village, Galson / Gabhsainn. I had already passed through this on trip II, yesterday, so the return trip to Borve/Melbost - Buirgh Aird/Mealabost was a bit of an unnecessary addition. The weather conditions today are difficult. There is an on-shore force 7 wind, which increases to force 8 on the top of the shoreline cliffs. This is the result of the wind being forced upwards by the cliffs. There is also the phenomenon of the hail showers which come clattering by every 40 minutes or so. Went down the lane through South Galson, past Galson Farm, which also boasts a hostel. Useful to know. Once out on the shoreline, I found the way just as difficult, as the wind is buffeting me from the right, from the sea. The clifftop is badly eroded as a result of the January hurricane, and requires frequent detours. Either to shorelevel or inland. After 75 minutes, I'm back where I ended yesterday: Borve Melbost. A hop and a step across the stepping stones, then to the gate which forms the road end. Beyond this gate is a deep lake, so an exercise in gymnastics is required. Finally make it onto the foreshore again, where I have lunch in the gale. A plastic bag is whooshed away and ends up in a fence 200 yards away. Pass by the village of Shader and carry on towards Ballintrushal. Come across a gentleman who is also battling with the elements, but it is very difficult to conduct an intelligent conversation. He directs me to the Ballintrushal Stone : riveting. A 20 feet high stone. Oh. Strike out across the moors, along the clifftops. These are actually quite high, but I am beginning to think of the time. My return bus leaves Barvas at 4.20, and I'm having to start veering southeast to head towards the road. The moor is virtually featureless, and very wet. The intermittent dykes and ditches make for difficult conditions, but the submerged remains of a wrecked car enable me to hop across one bog. Finally I clamber over a barbed wire fence and find myself on the road from Barvas Cemetery to the main A857, which I reach just after 4. A 10 minute walk brings me to the northern outskirts of this village, and the bus comes by just as I take up position. Perfect timing.

West Side II - 17/02/05

Headed north on the Ness bus at 10.30, and got off at South Dell, where I had terminated last Friday's walk. Headed through the township, following a garbage truck which was collecting the week's rubbish. At the western end of the village, I passed through a gate and came out on to the moor. It is a bright morning with sunny intervals. At the first cove, I am met with an unpleasant surprise: a dead dolphin or small whale (one with teeth) spread across the mouth of a river. There is a lot of foam on the sea, and it smells mildly fishy out there. Hop over the river and carry on down the shore. It is very pleasant and easy walking, up and down past various conspicuous cliff features. There is a tremendous swell from the ocean, although there is not that much wind - a force 4 at the most. As time progresses, the cloud increases and the ubiquitous showers commence. Problems start just after 1 pm, when I find that I have to cross river between North and South Galson. Which is not possible. Turning inland for the nearest footbridge isn't an option either, because of barbed wire fencing, the curse of any cross country walker. So, it's off with the boots and off with the socks and into the water. It's not that cold, the sharp edged stones are a lot more bothersome. I allow the feet to dry in the wind, which is starting to pick up, and have some lunch. Then I continue up the coast, still battling with coastal erosion, having to perform dangerous gymnastics to circumvent collapses and boulders. A bit hairy, really. Finally get myself to Borve River just before 3, and decide it's time to start thinking about the 4.10 bus. So I endeavour to go inland, which only succeeds after a lot of hemming and hawing. And I promptly go the wrong way, as I was not anticipating this turn right. A quick glance at the map showed me I had headed straight east instead of south, and as a matter of consequence was now in Melbost Borve instead of High Borve. I'm very popular with the sheep, just like yesterday: you say baa once, and the entire flock comes running, baaing themselves. A great laugh. Back on the main road, I spent the time in pleasant conversation with a lady who proudly announces she is 82 years of age. The bus takes me back to Stornoway at 10 past 4, to arrive there half an hour later. Had a microwave meal tonight, can't be bothered with the restaurants tonight.

West Side I - 16/02/05

Today, I headed out on the bus to Carloway at 12.45. The people on the bus were having a right old laugh about the presenters on Isles FM, who have some difficulty with the English. Saying incinerate whilst meaning insinuate. Got off at the Carloway cross roads at 1.30, and started off by heading down towards the pier to view the weatherglass. A barometer and thermometer, bought for the island fishermen by their womenfolk many years ago. Then across to Garenin, for a look at the Blackhouse Village. Had lunch their, of some extremely old buns. The buildings were all closed, it being well out of season. Only the loo is open :). Headed across the moors towards Dalmore, following yellow sticks, set to indicate the way. Bit difficult to track them all, but it is a very scenic trek, and well worth the while in better conditions. Finally ended up at Dalmore at 4pm, after a very hairy trek across a hillside which sported a 45° angle. Nice. The Fibhig inlet had the remains of a house. Children were playing in the surf at Dalmore beach. You descend through a landscape of sanddunes towards a huge cemetery. After a cup of tea in the admittedly cold wind, I went south along the road. The sheep followed me, after I had baa'd pleasantly. Far less pleasant was the poor sheep at the south end of the village, which had been unable to get up and which had had its eyes pecked out by the hooded crows. Ghastly sight. Returned to the Dalmore Road end at 5 o'clock, in time for the Stornoway bus. It's a very nice trip through Shawbost and Arnol.

Tue 15/02/05


Jumped on the 12.30 Harris bus to go to Balallan. The driver thought I was going to Kershader, but that era is over. Arrived in Balallan at 1pm, and took myself into the moors. Follow the track round to Loch Ibheir. It was tricky, as this area (grid references NB264210 to NB261219) is properly boggy, wet and slippery underfoot. Managed to get round to an outcrop by the latter G.R. to have lunch at 13.45. The weather today is cold and tending to showers. Work my way west towards Roineabhal through a maze of moorland and outcrops to NB249218, which is at altitude 110 m. It offers a nice viewpoint over Loch Trealabhal and its northern extensions all the way to the Uig road, 6 miles away. Impossible to traverse, due to various streams, rivers and other obstacles. After a wee break I head south, parallel to Loch an Sgath, then east towards Loch an Tomain. Ground underfoot is absolutely sodden. Sit on a hillock overlooking the loch until 16.15, when it really is time to head for the busstop. My friend from Balallan Westend (I now know she’s called Sally) is on board and we chat until Laxay, when she’s joined by other friends.

Mon 14/02/05


Tonight I’m having a free night at the B&B at the request of proprietrix Mrs Burns. In the meantime, I’m off to the West Side, Uig to be precise. For those associating Uig with Skye: no, this is a different one. Going on the postbus at 12 noon in the company of David, the other guest at the B&B. It’s £4.70 return. We set off at a good pace down the road to Leurbost. The van is packed with items of mail, even a bunch of flowers. At Leurbost, we branch off to Garynahine, and from there it is down the B8011 towards Timsgearraidh / Timsgarry. We cross the Grimersta River, which carries the waters of Loch Langabhat, the large body of water in the south of the island. We pass the Great Bernera junction and turn off for Scaliscro Lodge. Deliveries of mail start here. The route approaches Loch Roag, to terminate by a shooting lodge. Doubling back the same way, the journey continues southwest to Kinloch Roag, where the track to Morsgail Lodge commences. We stop for a couple of minutes, while the postlady engages in a social duty at a house. On to Gisla, which has a small electricity generator station, and Enaclete along Little Loch Roag. Mail is delivered into all sorts of receptacles, some homemade, some disused items of household goods. Microwave ovens feature. None of these boxes are locked. We stop at the Geshader junction to offload some mail into another postcar. Carrying on to Carishader and Miavaig, we leave the loch behind. Then pass through Glen Valtos on the way to Timsgarry. It is a winding valley, a bit bleak. Finally down the road to Uig Community shop at 1.30. The shop is located on a large, sloping plain, going down towards the distant Uig Sands. The next full hour is taken up with deliveries to Timsgarry, Crowlista and Aird Uig. The latter township is the ugliest village in the Western Isles. It is a former RAF base on Gallan Head, comparable to Balnakiel Craft Village outside Durness, Sutherland. Many of the buildings here are in a poor state or just plain falling down. Hideous! The coastal scenery only compensates partially. We leave Dave to tar his lungs, whilst the postie completes her deliveries. We finish the run at 14.30 at Timsgarry. A people carrier will return the two of us to Stornoway at 17.00. After buying some currant buns, I set off down the road towards Brenish. This is 8 miles away, and I won’t get there. I had asked to go there, but time will not allow. Dodging showers, I proceed towards Ardroil, quite a scenic walk really. I stomp down the road and turn off towards the beach through a former campsite. Once on the sands, you head for the nearest outcrop on the right, which should lead me to a bridge across the river which flows across the beach. The bridge, sitting in the middle of the beach, ends on some tricky rocks and finally the moorland. Return to Timsgarry at 4.15. The weather has improved nicely, quite sunny for the duration of the walk. A dark showercloud approaches ominously from the north. Dave was aghast that the postbus took 2½ hours from S’way – didn’t he read the timetable? The driver of the schoolbus hops into the peoplecarrier and takes us back to Stornoway.

Friday, 11 March 2005

Sun 13/02/05

There is no public transport here on Sundays, so I'm chained to the town. Walked up to the Bridge at Bayhead; a few folk were about in the town. Through the castle grounds along the foreshore. Saw some waterfowl, ducks, divers, herons. Went as far as the river Creed, and followed that upstream. There are quite a few people walking the paths in the Castle grounds. Went across the Creed River at the Iron Fountain. This is coloured bright red / brown due to the high iron content. If you drink it you may get a bad stomach upset.

This is the point where I had to start a new notepad... read on:

Reached the Arnish road and went along it to the generator station and the lighthouse. Before the lighthouse you pass the derelict Fabrication Yard, where they intend to build the towers for the wind turbines, if ever they come to Lewis. Don't start me off on wind turbines. Following the road along the perimeter fence brings you to the lighthouse buildings; a wallow through muck brings one to the lighthouse itself and Arnish Point. Nice view over to the town and down the harbour. Returned from there at 2pm, only to be given a lift to Marybank, on the northern side of Stornoway. Very nice of those folk, but I ended up further away than need be. Had to double back across the golf course (flooded bunkers). And I left my mapcase in the car. How stupid.

Sat 12/02/05

On a cold and cloudy morning, I went on the 9.45 bus to Lochs. Nobody is about in town. Recognized Dave the busdriver, who had all his kids in the bus. Arguing all the way to Balallan, they were. On arrival in Kershader, I walked around the moors for a bit, then to the shop at 11. They had no more messages for me, I was told coldly. Back to Stornoway at 11.09, to return there at 12.30. Went off for a walk through Newton, even found a shortcut to Sandwick. Found a gun emplacement behind the powerstation, but the street was a dead end. At the end of a residential street, a footpath led along the shoreline, through a 20 cm layer of shingle. The January gales probably dumped that there, although the pebbles had been swept off the path. The wind is strong and cold. The path led under the walls of the cemetery, then a dogleg to South Street in Lower Sandwick. At the end of the road, a gate gave access to scrubland with gorse, but it was a job to keep the feet dry; a bog was right underneath the gate. Taking a bearing on a radio relay mast brought me back on the road. But not after I had seen fit to wallow through a slurry dump. Fortunately, a bath had been abandoned by the roadside, and as it was full, I could at least bathe my boots. A little way up the hill, a memorial stone announced that the site of the "Iolaire" disaster was near. The force 7 winds buffeted me mercilessly along the gravel path. A short section was flooded, only fordable through the adjacent patch of grass. On New Year's Day 1919, HMY Iolaire went down on the rocks only yards from the shore. She was carrying Lewis servicemen, returning from WW 1. 187 drowned. It happened within sight of the town. It deeply affected all on the island, to this day, and it's not discussed in public.Coastline is quite pretty, offering views right down to Kebock Head and east to Knock in Point. After lunch, taken out of the wind, I made for the nearby farm. Then back along the road to Sandwick and by footpath to Newton.