Thursday, 28 April 2005

Huisinis - 26/04/05

Heading for Huisinis today, and meet my Swiss companions from yesterday on the Harris bus. The 3 dead sheep still lie around at the Grimshader turning. Cannot understand how people can sleep through that gorgeous section between Balallan and Tarbert. Change buses at Tarbert, and say goodbye to Dieter and Conny. They are going to Molinginish and Reinigeadal and on into the general Harris wilderness to camp. Not my scene. After a cuppa in Firstfruits, I joined the yellow CnES bus to Huisinis. Driver dumps an old wheel outside Bunavoneadar, near the old whaling station. Another of Lord Leverhulme's failed projects, like the Ness to Tolsta road which never came about. Nice views from the winding B887, of Mulla bho Thuath & Dheas, as well as Teileasbhal and Uisgneabhal. Further up, Sron Scourst towers above Glen Miavaig. A big bag of potatoes is delivered to Cliasmol School, which sits about a mile outside the village. Arriver at Huisinis at 12.40, a few minutes early. Not got much time there, about an hour and a half. Need to be back at the Gobhaig turning at 3.20, in order to make my connections into Stornoway. Go across the machair to the northern side and look over to Scarp. Then it's up the steep hillside of Huiseabhal Beag, where Scarp is more clearly visible. The houses in Breanais, Uig, are just about discernible from there. Also close by is the magnificent beach of Traigh Mheilen. Have to go back after only half a mile, due to time constraints. Arrive at the Gobhaig roadend at 2.40, after shaking off another fanclub (sheep). Just before the CnES bus returns to Ardhasaig, smoke can be seen rising from Glen Skeaudale. Library is about to close in Tarbert, but I can just about check my emails. Back in SY at 5.45, after changing buses at Balallan. Cloud came rolling in at 2 o'clock, but it stayed dry. It was very mild, 16C.

Tolsta to Ness - 25/04/05

Today's exploits were to be centered around Tolsta, so I went on the 10.45 bus there. This was packed with locals returning from their shopping trips as well as a few tourists. Parts of the route are done on request only, so we omitted the Gress Loop and did go down Camach Park in North Tolsta. On alighting at New Tolsta, further north, I met two Swiss tourists, Dieter and Conny, who were going to walk to Ness. Suffice to say that I also ended up there. It was a brilliantly sunny day, with a gentle southeasterly breeze. Proceeded to Garry Beach, then over the Bridge to Nowhere into the 5 mile stretch across the moors. Showed my companions the knacks of reading the ground in terms of bogginess. Had a look at the massive stack of Dun Othail, a mere 90 m (300 ft) high. Crossed the deep valley at Dibidil, where you have to go down from 110 m to nil and right back up again to 118 m. Had lunch outside the shieling hut. At 2.30 we continued proceedings by continuing over increasingly broken ground to a very long valley and finally the ruins of Filiscleitir. The coastal landscape remains impressive round there. The chapel and the houses (all ruinous now) stand 50 m (170 ft) above the sea. Carried on towards the track and the shielings of Cuidhsiadar. Just after that a T-break and a P-break were held. We reached the Sgiogarstadh roadend at 5 pm, about 1 hour behind schedule for a solo hike. The moors were easier to traverse because it was a lot drier than back in February. Led my fellow walkers through Eorodal to Port Nis, where we concluded the trek. Dieter and Conny had previously walked in Patagonia. He flies Airbuses, she did something in commerce. Between them they spoke "Schwitzertutsch", Swiss German, a dialect I find practically impossible to follow. Bus arrived at 6.15, gradually filling up with locals. Returned to SY at 7.10. The Swiss returned to their B&B at Hal'o the Wynd, I went a little further up Newton Street to my digs.

Sunday 24/04/05

Slightly disturbed night followed by a day of sunshine, although it all starts a bit hazy. Dinner once more courtesy of Mrs B. Spent the day in idle sloth.

Sunday, 24 April 2005

Mullach an Langa - 23/04/05


Sunny day to start with. Went south on the Harris bus at 10.20. Just before the Grimshader turn, 3 dead sheep lay in the verge of the road. Somebody is guilty of mass slaughter. Met Sally at Balallan; she is going down to Seilebost to walk the dog on the beach there. I got off at Vigadale Glen, and it felt stifling. Walked as far as the cairn, then a little way on the southwestern branch. From there, I traversed along the higher reaches of Glen Langadale, until I gained the pass at the head of Glen Scaladale. There is no wind today, and it’s quite warm in the sun. Reach the pass at 12.30, and commence the ascent of Mullach an Langa, a hill of 614 m (2,014 ft). This proves to be a slightly tricky proposition. It’s steep and littered with rocks and bogs. Have to zigzag my way up, but that’s no problem. Problems start on the higher slopes. Mullach an Langa has a rockstrewn crown, and I have to do some scrambling over rocks and boulders. The ascent is done from the northeast; the northfacing slope is precipitous; the western slope plunges down into the valley between Mullach and Teileasbhal. Reach the summit cairn at 1.15. Views are hazy but still good. Loch Langabhat, Rapaire and Stuabhal to the west. Teileasbhal and Uisgneabhal to the southwest. To the south, the beaches at Losgaintir, Seilebost and Northton; Ceapabhal and Pabbay beside the latter. Further on south and east: Mullach fo-Thuath and Dheas, An t-Isean and of course piece de resistance: An Clisham. Toddum is visible through a gap in the hills. The ridge to Clisham is beyond me. I could conceivably gain Mulla fo-Thuath, but I’d have considerable trouble with rocks and a sense of exposure. Climbing Clisham this way is a major expedition, requiring (a) an early start (b) stamina (c) scrambling skills (d) head for heights (e) settled weather. The oppressive feel to the weather is born out by a very weak weatherfront obscuring the sun after 2pm. I teeter my way down that hill again, reaching the valley at 3 o’clock. See a herd of deer below Mo Bhigadale, and I am to encounter all 14 of them a few times on my way east. I keep an altitude of 1,000 feet to enjoy the mountain scenery. A coastguard helicopter circles the Clisham. The frontal clouds touch the summit not long after. This mountain is ‘only’ 799 m high, but deserves the respect of a major Munro. I go sharply downhill just before Mo Creag, in order NOT to fall down this 500 ft escarpment. The lochan of Loch Misteach is the warning marker across the valley. Once at the very bottom of the valley, a path will materialize to sort of take you back to the main road. “Sort of” because the path is boggy and ill-defined. At any rate, I return to the A859 at the Scaladale bridge and walk the 1½ miles to Bogha Glas. It’s not good road walking, because this is the section with the road works on it. No work is being carried out today though. Pass Scaladale Outdoor Centre and Aird a’Mhulain castle. Mo Creag rears up in the west. Return to Bogha Glas, past some Highland cattle, at 4.55. While I wait for the 5.05 bus, a few drops of rain fall out of a grey sky. A woman is on there with her kids. They’ve been on the go since 6.30 a.m., probably out of Glasgow. From Balallan, the South Lochs service takes over. The driver kicks his kids unceremoniously off in the village. The woman nearly falls through the window on the Co-op roundabout in Stornoway, only my knee against her thigh prevents a disaster. Return to town at 5.50.

Friday 22/04/05


Not as sunny today as earlier in the week. Mrs B is going out for the day to Leverburgh, her first outing in many moons. The bus will take nearly 2 hours to get there. I am going to the afternoon ceilidh at the Royal British Legion building opposite the busstation. It’s part of the Feis nan Coisir, the regional feis. I turn up way too early, and others don’t turn up until after the formal starting time of 1.30 pm. Performers include some creditable (some less so) singers, instrumentalists, including the girlgroup Istibh is Eistibh (seen at the local Mod last month). One gentleman tried to sing Breisleach, but completely fluffed his lines. He compensated by launching into a favourite local song, which the audience joined in. Not me; no Gaelic. The MC (master of ceremonies) had this story about the olden days, when harvest workers would wear a skirt if suffering from diarrhoea. The MC kindly shared the intimation that he’d been going from both ends last night. Yes, that’s everything we’ve ever wanted to know, Tom, cheers man.

Ness - 21/04/05

Another bright and sunny day, albeit with a cold easterly wind. Go to library, to scan the photos into Yahoo. This goes handsomely quick, but then the library is on broadband. At 1 pm, I jump on the Ness bus and 50 minutes later I commence the tour on Eoropaidh beach. Have rolls with sand and flies in addition to the more conventional jam and cheese. A young couple cavort on the tideline; others actually swim in the sea, but they are in wetsuits. I proceed north across the machair, past Eoropaidh village. A group of people are standing on a hillock. Coastal scenery is quite beautiful. Arrive at the lighthouse just as a coach pulls away. Head towards Port Stodh. Two grown men are trying to coax a beach puddle into draining into the sea by digging a channel. I continue east across the machair and along the cliffs. Lots of fulmars on the rocks, the distant sounds of sheep and lambs. At Eisdean I have a teabreak as I watch a cargo ship sail past the Butt. Then I head inland. Past a foul-smelling field full of cute lambs and their mums. Have to go to the little shop in Lional for batteries. Man in the shop finally digs out a pack of the requisite size and power from the back, thanks. Return to Port Nis and the harbour, then take the Callicvol shortcut towards Eorodale. Admire the huge peatstacks by some of the houses. At Eorodale, a lamb has managed to squeeze itself out of a field and is now bleating furiously; the rest of the flock in the field itself is baaing in response, quite a racket. Farmer tells me not to worry! Continue down the road to Skigersta where I wait for the bus. Thought I could see the big bus coming, but it’s a smaller vehicle that’ll ultimately take me back to town. It waits for the Shawbost bus outside the Galson garage in Barvas, then delivers me into Stornoway at 7.10 pm.

Eishken - 20/04/05


Another gorgeous sunny day, but with a force 5 easterly wind today. Feeling a bit chilly in that wind. Start off by handing the camera in for developing and printing the snaps – results disappointing. Mrs B’s son lends me a digital camera to try out, it’s a bit bulky. Results stunning. Am given a lift down to Eishken at 11, and arrive at Ceann Shiphoirt at 11.30. I toddle off south through that waterlogged valley of Gearraidh Sgeirabhat to Loch Airigh Thormoid. There are 4WD tracks, but it’s very tricky walking – it almost feels as if you’re about to sink into the abyss below. Pass across the isthmus between Loch Airigh Thormoid and Clàr Loch and am greeted by the surprising prospect of a walkway, paved with gravel! Not on the map, but then this edition of Explorer 457 is a bit inaccurate. The way terminates about ½ mile away on the slopes of Mor Monadh, and heads east along the valley of Gleann Cheothadail. It’s about 3 feet wide, and makes the walk a lot easier. Pass Loch Fath at some distance, then carry on to Loch na Beirighe and Loch Feoir. On the other side of the valley, Creag na h-Uamha rises up in front of Muaitheabhal. I’m in the middle of the area where they want to build a 133-turbine windfarm, each turbine being 140 m high. That’s about ¼ the height of the highest hill here, Beinn Mhor 520 m. The path passes through a deergate and terminates abruptly on the shore of Loch Eisgean. Have to cross a very rickety bridge to the south bank of the loch. Follows a traverse of the moor to the road, a right old nightmare. And once at the gates of Eishken Lodge, I find that I’m no longer allowed through the grounds of the lodge. The gates are electronically (read: wireless) operated. Spoilsports. There is this track along the shores of Loch Shell. I clamber over the moors, resist the temptation to wee into Eishken Lodge’s reservoir and find that I can circumvent their bl**dy gate that way. Have to turn back though, my bus to Stornoway leaves Balallan at 5.20, and it’s 3 pm. Follows a forced march over 7½ miles, in blazing sun but with a cool wind. Come across horses, then to the familiar shores of Loch Sgiobacleit and Loch Seaforth. Just beyond the head of the latter loch, I catch sight of a sheep lying on its side on the ground. Its feet pedal round weakly – this looks horribly familiar, and yep: it’s eyes have been pecked out. The lamb stands by innocently, and tries to suckle. Then it looks at me wide eyed, as if to say “what’s wrong with my mum?”. I cannot help, so march off again. Tugging a horn elicited no response, the animal is practically dead. Various cars coming the other way. Arrive at the Balallan busshelter at 5.18, and the South Lochs bus is hard on my heels – arrives at 5.20. A young girl on the bus heard me tell the driver that I’d walked 7½ miles in 2 hours 20 minutes, and she proceeded to tell me she wants me to go to bed with her. Yikes. Return to town at 5.55.

Teileasbhal - 19/04/05

Nice start to the day weatherwise, and jump on the Harris bus to Bogha Glas. Thought busdriver knew where I want off, he has dropped off by the Bardon site office before. No, he had to be told. Went up the track to Glen Langadale and branched left at the cairn, to go down to the upstream ford. Bit soggy underfoot going downhill. Have a camera with me, so I’m snapping away. Found the mapcase lying where I left it accidentally on Saturday, none the worse for its 3 nights and days in the open. Tackle that messy ascent towards the pass between Stuabhal and Stulabhal between 12 and 12.45. I take a different route every time, but it remains steep and soggy. Once on the pass, I continue uphill to Creag Stulabhal, a fairly straightforward climb up a grassy incline. Once up there, I follow the edge of the crag at a safe distance – it plummets down 300 m (1,000 ft) over just 100 m. There is one very eerie viewpoint down to Loch Stuladail. The view continues to expand upon reaching the highest point of the Creag at 513 m (1680 ft). It’s a bright sunny day with a fresh wind, and temperature at a very pleasant 15C (60 F). From the Creag, the shoulder falls away to Sron Ard, southeast of Loch Bhoisimid. Can look all the way to Kinloch Resort, Morsgail and Great Bernera. In a flurry of confidence, I decide to tackle the next summit, Teileasbhal. This is a fair walk of about 1½ miles and 184 m ascent (600 ft). It’s easy going round Coire Sgurra –breac, but boulders and stone slabs start to pop up. The grass is flattened down in places, as if there has been recent snow. The way is easy to find and there is room to divert around the nastier outcrops. Meanwhile, the altitude gained begins to dwarf everything around. I stop my ascent of the mountain some 100 yards short (about 15 m vertically) of the summit, which is at 697 m (2,290 ft). Proceeding further would have meant an uncomfortable sense of exposure. This is an acute awareness of your height, and the precipitous drops nearby. Furthermore, the actual summit is very rocky. It’s 13.45, and I’m in serious mountain terrain now. The drop into the adjacent valley, to the east, is 470 m (1,540 ft); I’m well above Mullach an Langa (614 m = 2,014 ft) across the valley. To the southwest, an even higher summit can be reached by traversing a very exposed looking ridge to Uisgneabhal Mor (729 m = 2,390 ft). This is the southeastern end of a nasty-looking ridge toSron Scourst, which towers 491 m (1,600 ft) above the valley leading north from Miabhaig. Only a few places are higher than me now; Uisgneabhal Mor, Mulla fo-Thuath (720 m = 2,362 ft), Mulla fo-Dheas (743 m = 2437 ft) and Clisham (799 m = 2,620 ft), the highest peak in the Outer Hebrides. These four peaks look forbiddingly precipitous, and I’d be very ill at ease on them. The view is unforgettable, virtually 360°. South: Taransay, Ceapabhal and Sodhaigh Beag + Mor, as well as the hills on North Uist and Benbecula. Loch Resort pops up in several places. In the bright sunshine, the house at Kinloch Resort stands out clearly, as does Morsgail Lodge. Can see Loch Roag and Bearnaraigh Beag; hazy on the northern horizon stands Muirneag near Tolsta, more than 25 miles away, and can discern the vague outline of the Barvas Hills. Can see the ferry leaving Stornoway Harbour at 1.45. Close by, Glen Langadale next to Stuabhal; Loch Langabhat curves northeast towards a very diminutive looking Roineabhal. Across the hills to the east of the loch, Loch Seaforth and Seaforth Island stand out in the sun. The mountains on the mainland march on the eastern horizon, 50 miles and more away. Skye is visible to the southeast. A view to put in your pocket and take home. Just before 2 pm, I start my descent. Have a little bother with some of the slabs, but again, I have room for a diversion or two. Walk round the corrie towards Stulabhal, then down the hill to the pass and down that horrible stretch by Gil Slipir. I dislike that boggy, slippery, stoney and steep bit. OK, return to Langadale River at 3.30. It’s so warm, incredible. Wade across the river, then go a little way up the path barefoot. Not bad, except I sink ankledeep into all the bogs. Wash the feet in a stream, then press myself hard to the road. No lunch today, incidentally, but did treat myself to marsbars and apples. Bus arrives at 5.05 to take me back to Balallan. From there, the South Lochs bus continues to Stornoway. Hear that a new pope has been elected, we now have Pope Benedict XVI. Am well sunburned, and have taken off the waterproof overtrousers. This naturally results in my trousers getting very dirty indeed.

Ceapabhal - 18/04/05

Decided on a trip down to South Harris today. Bus goes at 10 o’clock, and it’s the long haul down to Northton. Weather is iffy, low clouds and occasional drizzle. Cloudlevel is down to 1,000 feet. Drive is uneventful, and I’m dropped off at the far end of Northton at 11.45. Head off across the machair, surrounded by sheep with their lambs, lapwings, oystercatchers, terns and much more wildlife. Proceed to the sheeppens immediately below Ceapabhal. Have to go right through the complex of pens in order to gain the open moorland. From there on, it’s a relatively straightforward if steep ascent of the hill. The route is actually along a stream, which has carved a gully in the hillside. At first, it’s by the water’s edge (stream is a few inches wide), then through the heather. It’s very steep. Found one dead sheep. Once on a grassy shelf at the top, the summit of Ceapabhal is gained by walking up the slopes to the left. The low clouds drift at 1,000 feet, they are called pannus, and are associated with rainfall. Ceapabhal incidentally is 1,210 feet high. During my climb, the pannus retreats from the hill, but when I reach the summit at 1 pm, it begins to gather at the lower top, to the north. Rain starts to fall and the view closes. Just before that, the North Harris hills could be seen right up to and beyond Huisinis. Scarp is clear, as is a very distant Breanais. Taransay is laid out beautifully, 5 miles to the northeast. The beaches on the West Side stand out, right up to Losgaintir. The road from Leverburgh to Finsbay is visible against the moors. Northton Beach lies below; the south coast of Harris with Northton, Leverburgh, Borrisdale to Renish Point. Ensay, Killegray as well as Berneray to the south. To the west Sollay and Pabbay. The Monach Isles are just about visible to the west of North Uist, but St Kilda is shrouded in the mist. Skye can be made out to the southeast, behind Renish Point. After the rain commences, I descend. Oh, don’t be fooled by that nice, clear path to the trig point on Ceapabhal proper. The trig point sits in the middle of a bog, yes, on the very highest point of the hill. The path leaves you stranded on the west side of the peninsula, uncomfortably high on the top of a cliff. I am a wee bit worried about the time I’ve got until the bus goes (at 2.45), so I hare down the hillside. Have to veer left around the hill to avoid the escarpments on the west side. Nice view down to the shoreline, but I’m never too happy looking down a 1,000 ft drop. Circle to the sheeppens and head for the roadend. The route goes through dunes, past sheep with lambs. Pass a gent pushing a barrow with a length of fencing wire on it. Meet the Leverburgh bound bus in Northton village, but let it go past. Ceapabhal by now crowned with cloud. Bus returns at 2.45, to take me to Tarbert. Lorry blocks the road through that village, but we can squeeze past if he tucks in his mirrors. After a visit to the library, I return to the bus which has meanwhile filled up with tourists that have come off the Skye ferry. Return to Stornoway at 5.10. The weather is set to remain dreich, as already indicated by that Norton resident.

Sunday 17/04/05


Started the day by watching the London Marathon. Weather down there is bright and sunny, in contrast to the miserably wet conditions here. One of the athletes in the women’s race had a call of nature, which she couldn’t ignore: she knelt down to pee in full view of the spectators, 6 million TV viewers in the UK and a handful more all over the world. When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. Found I left my mapcase somewhere on the hills, so had a spot of bother writing up the notes for Saturday.

Sunday, 17 April 2005

Stuabhal retry - 16/04/05

Going to tackle Stuabhal again today, but this time from the south. There is a saddle between Stuabhal and StuLabhal (sic). Had some fun on the bus south, where a man's onions rolled all over the bus. Even the driver got one by the time we reached Balallan, where he changed for South Lochs. Swans bobbed on a lochan near Keose. Alighted at Bowglass at 10.55 and reached the fork in the path by the cairn at 11.30. Here one can branch south, to reach the Langadale River 1 mile south of the crossing point I've been using up to now. Found a disposable camera in the mud on the road. It was no longer working, but I'll take it back to have the pictures developed. You never know who might be missing his piccies. Crossed the river, which was an easier crossing than downstream. It is as deep and as cold though. The bottom is sandy or pebbly. Headed uphill, after going upstream for a few hundred yards. Path was difficult to find, and it disappeared fairly shortly afterwards. Had to struggle my own way to the pass, at 354m, by 12.45. Noticed people on the summit of Mullach an Langa. Nice view west, down to Loch Stuladail, and south to the pass between Theileasbhal and Mullach an Langa. Stuladal is a lower peak, 513 m, south of Stuabhal. I went on to climb towards the summit of Stuabhal, but the increasing sense of exposure, fly on the wall feeling, got the better of me. I really wasn't happy crawling up a 45° incline, knowing what lay below. So, I went back. Down to the valley bottom along Gil Slipir, the little stream that tumbles down into Glen Langadale. Lazed by the river crossing for half an hour or so, admiring the scenery. Then took it easy going across to the main road, the bus doesn't go until 5.05. This was full of feisty youngsters from Tarbert or Scalpay, heading for a do in SY. Had to change buses at Balallan, and the little South Lochs bus was fully packed. Returned to town at 5.50.

Around Stuabhal - 15/04/05

Had this idea to walk from Bowglass to either Morsgail or up Stuabhal. Went on the 10 a.m. bus, and jumped off at the usual spot. Noticed yesterday that the first few yards of the Bhoisimid track had been dug up for the road widening scheme that's in progress there. So, I had to divert through the Bardon Aggregates site office. Progressed well up the path, and crossed the Langadale River at 11.45. The fording was less problematic than earlier in the week, as the water levels had gone down. After a wee break, proceeded uphill at a reasonable rate, and diverted off the main track after the summit. Struck a course northwest along the southern flank of Rapaire, but found myself making a pitiful amount of progress. After 20 minutes I hadn't come anywhere near Loch a'Chleistir, so cut across country to the main path. Had a bit of lunch, then at 1.40 I decided to chance my luck up the hill to Stuabhal. The slopes turned steeper, steeper and ever steeper. Found myself aiming for a certain buttress, but grew increasingly uneasy about the rate of incline. The weather began to threaten showers with low cloudlevels, and my bus back goes at 4.20. Stopped to admire the view to Loch Resort and Loch Langabhat. Mulla fo Thuath was visible. The return to the path was a bit difficult at first due to the steepness of the terrain. Once back on the track down, I encountered soft hail, as opposed to the hard, painful hail of earlier in the week. Temp +5, but +9 outside showers. Wind northeast, force 4-5. Returned across the Langadale River, timing my break to allow a timely return to the main road to catch the bus. At the top of the pass, the man with the hammer struck, so had to rest for a bit - oh dear. Bus was 10 minutes late at any rate, and delivered me in town at 5.10. Spoke to the Swedish couple after their return from dinner, about their and our hurricane in January, as well as the impact of the Boxing Day tsunami on Swedes on holiday in Kao Lak, Thailand.

Thursday, 14 April 2005

Luskentyre - 14/04/05

Bit of a wet morning to start the day, as I set out to Luskentyre at 10 o’clock. Had initially planned to climb Mullach an Langa, but this is out of the question with the cloudlevel at 1,000 feet. Mullach is 2,000 feet high! Frequent showers accompany me to Tarbert. Also on the bus was a lady I met on the machair off the Butt of Lewis. On arrival at Tarbert, I have about 25 minutes till the bus continues on its way south, so I pop into Firstfruits for a coffee and apple pie + custard. When I returned to the bus, a gentleman came on board who was very much the worse for wear. Smelling of drink, professing to feeling rough and admitting to having been ‘pissed’ last night, he was a sight. I politely but firmly declined an offer of a ‘dram’; not this time of the morning, no thank you. He says he is going to Uist, but god knows where he’ll end up. Probably in a ditch half way between Berneray and Lochmaddy. Get dropped off at the Luskentyre roadend at 1147, and promptly set off for Luskentyre village. First house is a so-called ‘pod’, a self contained unit, which originates on Taransay. These environmentally-friendly pods (including compost loos) were the living quarters for the 36 participants in the Castaway 2000 project in the year 2000. They were supposed to make a community, well **** to that. Locals never stopped laughing. Anyway, go all the way up the road to the beach, arriving there at 12.40. Greeted by two old dogs, one with a blind eye and the other too decrepit to walk very far. Have lunch in the dunes above the beach, and look out over West Loch Tarbert to the mountains in the north, stretching from Sron Scourst in the east to Amhuinnsuidhe in the west. To the west lies Taransay. Nice beaches over there. Have to leave the beach at Luskentyre at 1pm. It’s quite beautiful and quiet, and would have liked to have explored the dunes. However, the last bus of the day goes at 2 pm, so I have to hoof it back to the busshelter. The sun shone brightly all the way back to town, wish it had been like that all day. Returned to Newton at 4.45. Was disappointed to read about the ‘private road’ sign at Morsgail. I was welcome to walk wherever I wanted on March 9th. Two Swedish guests have arrived in the B&B tonight.

Pentland Road II - 13/04/05

Went out for a reprise of Monday’s ill-fated trip to the Barvas Hills. This time round I started at 11 a.m.. Weather is still not looking promising; there is this bank of grey cloud moving up from the west. At 12.15, I commence my battle through the moors, and manage to reach the point where I had lunch on Monday afternoon. I press on past the hillock over the should of Beinn Thulabaigh. I am confronted by Loch nan Caorann, which I circle to its eastern point. From there, I head northwest. Initially over the shoulder of Meannan, then on to Beinn Mholach. It’s rough going, but up to the top of the latter hill, which I reach at 1.10; it’s not too horrendous. The view from the summit includes Muirneag, the villages of Back strung out along the coast of Broad Bay, and Point. To the west, Stacaiseal looms up behind a clutter of lochans; Beinn Bragar stands in the distant northwest. And over the hills of Uig, curtains of rain march inexorably east. By 2 o’clock, they reach me. I descend towards Beinn Chaileim around Airigh Lite. I keep to altitude, but end up in a horrifying maze of broken peat. Walls up to 4 feet high, with bogs at the bottom. I have a lot of trouble with it, and when the rain starts I cannot be bothered to toil further. I turn back, going due south from Beinn Mholach, passing Loch Beag na Caorann across its eastern outflow. I reach the road a bit further west, in pouring rain. Returned to SY at 4.45, after a dreary 75 minutes. The sun shines again in the evening.


Anyone who gets confused with all the Gaelic names in entries and doesn't know where to find them on a map: consult

Select Get-a-map and put in as search reference (e.g.): NB140140. This will bring up a large scale (i.e. very detailed) map of the area I walked in on April 12th. Zooming out will bring up maps of a larger area, but with fewer details. Putting in any of the placenames quoted in the entry will not yield a result. Play around with this website, it should give a rough idea where I have been.

Good luck

Rapaire - 12/04/05

Today being Tuesday, I have about 6 hours' walking time at Bowglass - Bogha Ghlas, which means Grey Cow. It's actually a narrow strip of land between Loch Seaforth and the main A859 road from Stornoway to Tarbert. At the moment, there are major roadworks right through that area. The single-track (that is: one car's width) road is being doubled in width. I jump off at the Glen Vigadale bridge. The weather this morning is not very nice, but doable. Heavy showers of rain, hail and sleet sweep across the island, spurred on by a strong to galeforce southwesterly wind. The first shower hits me about half an hour into the walk, and it lashes me with hailstones of about 6 mm in diameter. THEY HURT! Although I don't need the map, I use it to shield my face from the hail. One shower leaves a thin covering of snow on Mullach an Langa and Theileasbhal, above 1,900 ft. The showers are very localised, outside their spread the sun shines brightly. Finally arrive on the banks of the Langadale River at 11.45, and have a job finding a decent crossing place. Following the rainfall of the last few days, the waterlevel in the river has gone up by 20 to 30 cms (8-12 inches). Get boots and socks off and venture across. The stones are slippery, and at one stage I get in over my knees. The water is not cold when you're in, but it does hit when you come out again. Aaaaagh! Dry off in the sun, wonder why my toe bleeds and gon on my way. I am worried about the return trip though. I proceed up a very soggy path under the frowning crags of Stuabhal. At 12.40, forty minutes after crossing the Langadale River, I reach the Braigh Iaclachain, the pass under Stuabhal, at 328 m. Here I branch off to the north, to climb to the summit of the adjacent hill Rapaire. It's wet and boggy, and the showers keep coming. Far worse is the wind, it's a full gale howling along the southern slopes of the hill. It forces me to divert southeast, but I have to go up the southeastern spur of Rapaire at any rate. 25 minutes of bogslogging and relentless climbing bring me to the broad summit, at 453 m (1,500 ft). It's a breathtaking view. However, it's 3 degrees colder up there than in the valley, where the temperature was +9C. The gale has strengthened to force 9, which makes it very, very cold. I snuggle down to the lee of the summit cairn and have lunch. Stuabhal looms up to the south, still another 126 m higher than my current position. The coastal hills march on to the southwest, where I can see a corner of Scarp, just above the mouth of Loch Resort. Of the latter loch, I can only see a corner of its headwaters, 3 miles away. The lochs to its north are more clearly visible, from west to east: Bodabhat, Beinisbhal, Leatha. They are crowned by the distant Uig hills. Going further east, a smattering of lochans up to Scalabhal. I don't believe my eyes when the sun comes out and lights up Morsgail Lodge beside its loch. Glancing beyond, I can see Little Loch Roag, Great Bernera and the sea spray flying off the skerries to the north. The view to the far distance is impeded on account of the frequent showers that pass along the western seaboard. I can discern the villages of Calanais and Breascleit. The Barvas Hills are distant. Although I cannot see Eitsal, I do have a strong signal on the mobile. Looking northeast, Loch Langabhat stretches all the way to Roineabhal, looking very diminutive, in spite of its 281 m height. The array of hills up the eastern shores of Loch Langabhat all the way down to Cleit Faobh and Creag na Clibhe directly across. I'm 410 metres above Loch Langabhat. Far beyond I can see the sea, but conditions do not permit me to pinpoint where exactly. I can see Toddum to the southwest, Clisham, Mullach an Langa, Mulla Fo Thuath and Mulla Fo Dheas. They are both about 720 m high, i.e. 2,400 ft. Those 4 peaks look very daunting to climb. Rapaire stretches for about 1 km northeast to crags at Eun Toman, which tower 1,000 feet above Loch Langabhat. It's an easy amble, if slightly longer than the view suggests. Views there are just as breathtaking, and my day is made when a mountain hare lollops away over the hillside. It's still in winterfurs, but is moulting into summer brown. I do not approach the crags themselves, that's too high for me. The severe gale force winds are capable of blowing me off. In order to return to civilisation, I have to hug a contour well below summit height of Rapaire, also to avoid the worst of the winds. The fun starts again when I have to descend to the path. The wind unbalances me, it's rocky and boggy. Nonetheless, I reach the little lochan by the pass at 2.20, and make my way down to the river in 40 minutes. Water in the river is still high, but at least the airtemperature down here is +10C. Enjoy the sunshine till 3.45, after a little hailshower which passed just after I'd made my way across the river. Hail on bare flesh hurts... Walked to the main road in just over 1 hour, including the odd break or two. The HTminibus came along at 5.05, and dumped me outside the Balallan busshelter in the middle of a downpour. Driver could have waited a minute or two, he was early. Nice. South Lochs bus took me up to town at 5.45. Had a nice evening with Mrs B's son + grandchildren.

Pentland Road - 11/04/05

Day dawns breezy but bright. Set off at midday, heading for the Barvas Hills. Forecast isn't good, but I'll see how it goes. Start off by going up through the Castle Grounds to Marybank. From there, it's a straight-on walk along the A858 to the Pentland Road. The only problem is the very strong wind, force 7 to 8 from the southwest, which makes for a 4 mile struggle, right up to the junction for Achamor. Arrive there at 1.20, and after a few hundred yards on the actual Pentland Road, I head off north, straight through the moors. There is a grey mass of cloud in the southwest, which is steadily gathering itself. At 2.10, it duly starts to rain. By that time I've flopped down on a low hillock, back to the wind to have lunch. It's raining and blowing hard when I decide to abandon today's aim of the Barvas Hills in view of the conditions. My return to the road sees me wallowing through a marsh, finally ending up on hands and knees, with two very wet feet. Ha ha bloody ha. Sop back to town, past that dead sheep by a cattlegrid. Return to Newton at 4.10. The wind playfully blows over signs outside the supermarket. Meet up with some of Mrs B's relatives. She goes out later that evening to a Labour Party meeting, with local MP (officially: Parliamentary Candidate for the Labour Party) Calum MacDonald.

Monday, 11 April 2005

Sunday 10/04/05

As per normal now, I didn't do much on Sunday. The weather isn't all that fantastic, rain and wind. The sun did come out a few times. Mrs B once more made me supper, and who am I to decline an offer of steak + veg, accompanied by some cider.

Tolsta Head - 09/04/05

Today there is a royal wedding. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles are tying the knot in Windsor. Not universally supported, this happy union, as the couple involved have been courting for 34 year, right through Charles' marriage to Diana. I go out at 11, do some typing in the library and head for Tolsta on the 12.15 bus. Weather is not great, it rains. And it rains right through my picnic off Traigh Mhor. The inlet is flooded. Walk down the beach, then up to the moors via a small river. The fun starts on the top, where I have to cross a number of very boggy dykes. The cape rises about 75 m (250 ft) above the sea. Visibility is rather poor, can just about make out Point and Cellar Head. Once back towards the village, I run into barbed-wire fencing. Trying to circumvent those by going down to Traigh Ghioradail is no option, as I'd have to jump down 10 metres to get on that beach. Find a gate and sop back into Tolsta proper. Still loads of time before the bus goes back at 4, so go back down to Traigh Mhor via the cemetery. It's an absolute mess outside the perimeter fence, rubbish flying around, cards from graves and a broken headstone. The busshelter shakes in the force 6 to 7 wind, and the bus is a minute or two late, but finally brings me back into town at 4.40. The royal wedding went off without a hitch, but the bride was nearly sick with nerves. Probably due to the negative publicity and the icy treatment from HM.

Langadale revisited - 08/04/05

Well, winter has returned. Woke up to a white, snow-covered scene. The north or northwesterly wind is still here, and there are frequent snow showers. Visibility goes right down during those; when the sun is out, it melts the snow, it is April after all. Ferry announcement eagerly awaited by 3 of the guests. Why the newsreaders on Isles FM cannot get through a news bulletin without fluffing it beats me. I shouldn't slam them too hard though, they did do a good job during last January's hurricane. The ferry will sail at 1.45. I jump on the bus at 12.30 to experience the return of winter at Vigadale. The wind is still cold, but not as bad as yesterday, strangely enough. The sun comes out every now and again, perfectly timed incidentally with my lunch at 1.15. After that, things go downhill, whilst I go uphill. On creasting Bealach na h-Uamha, the northerwesterly wind hits me full on. Briefly divert on the path heading southwest, but return to the main trail after a minute or two. The snow up here is denser than down in the glen, where it had virtually disappeared. Stuabhal and the mountains to the south stand out in snow-dappled splendour. Provided I can see them of course, the snow showers limit visibility to 1 mile. Temperature sinks to +3C, and the iwnd picks up. Can nonetheless not get enough of the view in Langadale. I go as far as the river crossing, and quietly survey my surroundings. The snowshower presently disappears over An Clisham. Mullach an Langa, Teileasbhal, Stulabhal and Stuabhal tower over Langadale. Loch Langabhat stretches away to the north. The track over the shoulder of Stuabhal stands out. At 3.15 I do have to start going back, it takes me 60 minutes to reach the main road from here. After crossing the bealach, the sun comes out. It feels quite benign, but it is not. Temperature of +5 is still no great shakes. Pass two dead sheep. Another stands defaecating, popping out its rectum in the process. The 4.25 bus arrives at 4.33. Sally joins me at Balallan, and we compare notes on the way into town. The application for the windfarm on Barvas Moor comes under fire from an increasing list of organisations. Greenpeace as well as the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency SEPA. Good.

Saturday, 9 April 2005

Great Bernera - 07/04/05

Today dawns cold, very windy and wet. Over breakfast I cannot believe my eyes when the ferry comes back in, having left 90 minutes earlier. Conditions were so atrocious in the northwesterly gale, that the crew decided to turn back. The Muirneag has not come in at all. The guest that had left on the early ferry returns to Mrs B's bleary-eyed at 1030. This man, Brendan, had attended a meeting with protest group Moorland Without Turbines, who are opposed to the proposed windfarm on the Barvas Moor. If there is no lunchtime ferry, he may nip up to the Butt of Lewis. By midday, the sun comes out in bits and pieces. Well, there are no sailings until tomorrow lunchtime. I disappear to Great Bernera at 1245, first by Galson bus to Garynahine, then by minibus up to Bosta. The latter vehicle I have to myself. Was dropped off at Bosta at 13.45, in a bitingly cold northerly gale. Went down to the beach, very nice seascape with the spray flying over the outlying islets. Looked round the Iron Age house. This is still inaccessible due to flooding. Cannot stand that wind on my face for very long, so after a little while I turn south. Up the glen to Loch a'Sgail. Have to pass through a gate, a new one entangled with a rusty, old one. Hole in waterproofs, thank you. Up the hill and over a very stony hillside towards Tobson. Go completely wrong, ending up scrabbling down a 20 foot cliff, nearly becoming cragbound in the process. Also end up in somebody's backgarden, but this gent fortunately allows me out. What a laugh. Go down to the beach, then retrace my steps to the little sideroad. The path is waymarked from there, if a little tricky to follow. Last time round I made my own way - now I'm being directed right down to the tidemark. The weather remains downright unpleasant with that freezing northerly gale and frequent wintry showers. Thermometer is less than credible, it says it's 7C. Sure! Quite a few domestic fuel tanks washed up on the shore here. Can see the big beach at Reef, Uig across the water. Cross the bridge to Bhalasaigh and return to the Community Centre at Breacleit to wait for the bus. The auxiliary fire engine is moved out, but it stops half way down the access road. Bus comes in at 4.50, to drop me off at Garynahine at 5.05. Have to wait for 15 minutes in freezing conditions for the Galson coach. Driver is in no hurry at all, he explains to a German tourist that Achmore is not in sight of the sea and that the village is surrounded by 30 - 40 freshwater lochs. Return to SY at 5.45

Scalpay - 06/04/05

Return south once more today, but this time it's destination Scalpay. So it's off at 10 am on the HT coach with only a handful of people on board. Reach Tarbert at 1105. Still snow on the very highest peaks. There is a misprint in the timetable W14; the 1130 bus doesn't go until 1150. This gives me time to have a coffee and apple pie & custard at Firstfruits. Set off down the main road in Scalpay right to the last house, then on to the moors. Nice views over to Waterstein Head and Trotternish in Skye, as well as Eaval on North Uist. Can see the wreck of a ship on one of the skerries west of Meall Chalabost. Having a bit of a struggle with the extremely boggy terrain. It's muddier than ever. It also turns out to be a longer and more difficult walk than anticipated. It's not good to hurry in terrain like this, and I feel I have barely enough time to make it round for the 3.20 bus. Reach the lighthouse at Rubh'an Eorna at 1.15. Quite a pretty spot. Getting out of the enclosure is a problem. I try to climb the 1.4m high perimeter wall (find a dead ram), but nearly come to grief on it. A gate offers a simple solution. Nice view north to Reinigeadal and east to the Shiants. Earlier, Tarbert was clearly visible. Pass two lochs, then head up Beinn Scorabhaigh, at 104m the highest point in the island. The route leads across some small rocky outcrops and escarpments above Loch Cuilceach. Then it heads to the north of Loch an Duin. It's all a bit of a mad dash, and I can't say I'm fully appreciating the scenery. Have about 20 minutes to spare on return to the main road off the bridge. Hobble back to the shop to buy a late lunch (yep, it's 3.15). Sing the island's praises to the lady shopkeeper, then jump on the bus to Tarbert. I'm very cold at that point. However, the waiting room is taken up by local teenagers, so I eat the tasteless tuna & pasta in the busshelter. The youngsters play football in the carpark, until the police pull in. The bus leaves at 4.10. At Ardhasaig, the mountains come into view again, and there is a thin covering of snow from 1,000 ft upwards on the range south from Theileasbhal. Return to Stornoway at 5.05.

Stuabhal - 05/04/05

Set off this morning for a walk just across the border in Harris. At 10 o'clock, the HT bus left town, to drop me off at Vigadale at 1040. The weather is changeable, and it's chucking it down, just as I leave the bus. Fortunately, it dries up not long after, and I merrily make my way up the valley. It's wet underfoot, but otherwise not too bad. At 1145, I arrive at the Langadale River, and this time I make my way across. Barefoot that is, wading. The river is about 6 metres wide (20 ft), and on average 20 cm deep. It's not flowing fast, but it is absolutely freezing. There is snow on the surrounding hills, above 2,000 feet. Theileasbhal, further south, has a smidgen of snow just below its summit. After warming up in the sun again, I head west, up the northern slopes of Stuabhal. The views open out to the north, and at length Roineabhal hoves into view, as does the path from Aline to Langabhat and Creag na Clibhe. Rapaire, the hill immediately to the north of the path, finally blocks off the view. Reach the pass at altitude 328 m (1,080 ft) by 12.15. A whole new vista opens up to the west (the sea) and north. The rockface of Stuabhal towers 900 ft above me to the south. The track veers west, towards Loch Chleistir. A line of low hills marches to the north, partially screening a body of water. I cannot be sure which loch this is - either Loch Resort, but more likely Loch Beinisdale. The path veers across the outliers of Creage Chleistir, and StuLabhal, the lower summit to the southeast, appears. Loch Bhoisimid in the valley from Miavaig is visible, as is the line of hills to the west of the valley. My enjoyment is spoiled by a group of mountainbikers who come swishing down the hill. They plough up the path, if anything. A little bit p'd off, I proceed to the little bridge, only just short of the loch. The big triangular hump of Sron Scourst towers up to the south. It'll be a puzzle to carry on to Loch Resort from here. For a start, there's a big river in the way and no bridges charted. A little way on, the trail will join the track down to Miavaig (7 km), and from there it's another 6 km to the main road at Ardhasaig. After lunch, I decide to retrace my steps to Vigadale. By Loch Chleistir, a shower comes down. Once across the pass, a mouse flits across the path. I find it hiding from the rain in amongst the grass, it even allows me to stroke it, would you believe. Ninety minutes after departure from Glen Miavaig, I return to the Langadale River, in the rain. Have to cross by wading again, and it's not terribly pleasant in the conditions. It's raining at that moment, and I just have to put socks and boots straight on again and plod up that hill. Reach the end of the path by the site office at 4.30, so have plenty of time before the bus turns up at 5.05. It's not your average Hebridean Transport coach, but a minibus. It nearly slips by, but I recognise the logo. This time, my wet clothing is no problem for the driver, and we amble up to Balallan. First picking up a female passenger at Airidh a'Bhruaich. At Balallan, we have to change into a MacDonalds Coaches bus, driven by the man that's normally on the South Lochs run. Return to town at 5.45.

Friday, 8 April 2005

East Harris - 04/04/05

The day didn’t get off to a very good start on local radio this morning. One of the presenters on Isles FM decided to fart on air. Ominous silence, followed by the well-known noise. That station is going down the pan. Outside, it’s a good deal colder than of late. A brisk wind emphasizes the cold. Set off on the Harris bus at 10 am, after paying £6.65 for the trip to Leverburgh. Peter drives the bus to Tarbert; I go to Leverburgh via the east coast, which requires a change at Tarbert. On passing Airigh a’Bhruaich, Clisham hoves into view, and it’s covered in a thin layer of snow. Nearby summits, also have a smattering. The cloudcover needs to shift before I can see these. The snow has settled above 2,000 feet. Proceed over the pass to Tarbert, arriving there at 11.10. Pop in to Firstfruits, the little teashop by the busstation for an applecake and custard. Have a nice chat with the proprietors about the windfarms on Eishken, to which they are opposed. It will drive the tourists away, they reckon. And it’s tourists that the economy here floats on. There will be a meeting at the Harris Hotel tonight about the proposed windfarm on Eishken. Then I pick up a leaflet about St Clements’ Church in Roghadal / Rodel at the Tourist Office, before going on the Bays Bus. Have to get on board, because it’s raining now. Have a bit of a natter with the Hebridean Transport drivers before departure time comes at 12 noon. We set off exactly on time on a high speed dash over the backroads on the eastern side of Harris – it’s the Golden Road. After branching off the main A859 beyond Ceann Dibig, the landscape becomes a confusing jumble of lochs, sea and rocks. At Plocrapol, you can watch wool being spun. In Greosabhagh, we deliver tyres to a garage. At Stocinis, the roadsign proclaiming a Youth Hostel in 150 yards is still up, even though the hostel itself closed down years ago. It is being converted. Stocinis also boasts a minute P.O.. A vague blast from the past as we pass a house called Two Waters, where the trail across the hills to Losgaintir starts. I barely recognize this part of the island from my last visit here in 1995. At times, we nearly run off the butts from the sheep snoozing in the road. We proceed past fallen trees and windgenerators towards Lingarabay. This was to have been the location for a superquarry, where multinational company Lafarge would have blasted the hill Ròineabhal to smithereens in order to dig for aggregates, used in road building. Fierce local opposition thwarted that idea. The hole would have been visible from outer space, and might even have been used for storing nuclear waste. A woman gets on board and states that she is in favour of the windfarms – yes, they’re at the other end of the island and not visible from here. And she was also in favour of the superquarry, because it might bring jobs. What jobs? Arrive outside St Clements at 12.52, exactly on schedule. This church is not in use for worship. It was built in the 1520s. You can go up the tower, but those narrow ladders did not appeal to me. On the exterior of the tower fertility symbols have been placed in the brickwork. Cannot give a description, because it’s a bit, well, risqué. At 1.15, I set out for Leverburgh. The first bit is via a pleasant, grassy path to Borrisdale. The weather decides then to get nasty at me. Sharp showers drift in from the Uists, driven on a strong and cold wind. I pass through Srannda / Strond, and am presently overtaken by an elderly gent. He though I was someone else, but nevertheless offers me a lift. I decline politely, as I am on the road for the sake of doing the walk. Yes, the weather is not very nice. Young lambs jump about on all fours, rather than walk. Look out over the Sound of Harris, and the islands between here and Uist. It’s all very grey now. Hail is included in one shower, so we’re back to winter. Arrive in Leverburgh at 2.15, just in time for one quick bowl of soup at the Anchorage restaurant, right on the pier. The bus to S’way arrives at the same time as the Loch Portain, the ferry to Berneray. When I get on board the bus, the driver snaps at me that I’m going to make the seats wet. It’s pissing down with rain at that point, and even the brief walk from the restaurant has made my waterproofs wet. Can’t he see?! Some people… He is ever so nice to the young couple from his old hometown, Sheffield, that he left 5 years back. The couple were officially on the Calmac tour, but the weather is rather poor. On the slope down into Northton though, it begins to brighten up, sufficiently to allow a 15 minute stop off Horgabost beach. The young folk are planning to set up home in Harrapol, Broadford, Isle of Skye. Good luck. Arrive in Tarbert at 3.40, at the same time as the Uig ferry. I set off for the library, but this is closed for the Easter hols until April 18th. The ferry has discharged minibuses with feisty youngsters on board. The local youths have taken over the waiting room at the busstation. On the 16.10 bus to S’way are two Chinese ladies, who are going to Fairhaven Hostel on Francis Street in town. I promise them a beautiful journey to Stornoway, but the weather is still not playing ball. It rains, then it hails, then it snows / sleets. Appalling weather below Clisham, very strong winds whipping the precipitation along. It’s very gloomy all the way to Aline. Two chaps heading for the Scaladale Centre jump off half a mile further along at Vigadale to make a call from the phonebox. You can get coverage on the mobile here… Arrive in Stornoway at 5.05. I show the Chinese girls to Fairhaven and carry on to my own digs in Newton. Find out that the pope will be buried on Friday, the very day that Prince Charles and Camille Parker-Bowles were planning to get hitched. As he had to be in Rome for the funeral, the wedding had to be postponed. There are evil rumours that he took that in rather ill grace. That wedding is just plain cursed.

Sunday 03/04/05

Today dawned wet and misty. Radio and TV full of reports after the death of Pope John Paul II. Have a quiet day, updating the journal and catching up with reading. A clearance develops towards evening, when mrs B makes me supper; prawns in mayo for appetizer, chicken plus vegetables and potatoes as a main course, and apple pie with ice cream after. Have a long chat with my landlady until 10 pm. Not shown my face out of doors at all today, I should be ashamed of myself.

Sunday, 3 April 2005

Keose - 02/04/05

After breakfast, the weather changes markedly. At first it was still, misty with low cloud at 200 feet. At 10 o’clock it turns bright but quite windy. Little waves ride in the harbour and white horses prance out in the Minch. Mr & Mrs Legge return home today on the ferry, and they should be in their element. They like a bit of a bounce on the boat. I set off for Keose on the 14.20 bus. This is a small village just north of Laxay. On the bus there, I encounter some familiar faces from my days in South Lochs. The Gravir couple were still friendly, others will remain unmentioned. One girl on board was unwell, scoffing Strepsils. Peter drove the bus, dropping me off outside the Keose schoolhouse at 2.40. A man and his son offered me a lift into the village, but I declined, as I’m only out for a walk. There are two lochs on the way into Keose. The first, Loch Chnoc Iain Dubh stretches for nearly a mile from the A859. Second is the southern extremity of Loch nan Ritheanan. Had familiar views across Loch Erisort to Tabost and Cearsiadar. Further along the road, you reach a little harbour, then it turns into Keose Glebe. The view shifts to Gearraidh Bhaird and Cabharstadh. Beyond the roadend, peattracks lead north. The good peattracks finally peter out, and a moorland trek commences. Veer towards Loch Cheòis, and make an awkward descent through dead bracken. A veritable swathe covers the bank of the loch. Then pass a few dead trees and ascend Beinn Tuirc. Although not very high (about 65 metres), it does offer some nice views of the area. Liurbost can be seen along its full 2 miles’ length. Moves on to Crosbost and Ranish, with Arnish in the far background. To the southeast lies Cromor. It’s a bright and sunny day, with a force 5-6 wind. Lenticularis builds up, sometimes in triple layers due to the influence of the West Lewis and Harris hills. It’s very mild, 15 to 17C. Start the return journey at 4pm, to return to the roadend an hour later. I head into the moors for a little way upto Loch Nabhar. I notice willow catkins, wild roses sprouting green leaves and reeds turning green. Bright green mosses, and all sorts of things sprout. Dave on the South Lochs bus turns up at 5.28 to take me back to SY. Later that evening, BBC News 24 announces the death of the pope, at 20.37.

Piping Competition - 01/04/05

April Foolsday 2005

 Today dawns wet and windy, a gale has sprung up overnight. A little drizzle falls as I make my way to the Caberfeidh Hotel, just off the Manor roundabout. It’s here that the Donald MacLeod Memorial Competition 2005 will be taking place. Donald MacLeod was a prolific composer of piping music. Eight world class pipers will be taking part. I have been warned that each piper has to play a pibroch, a piece of classical piping music, also referred to as Ceòl Mòr. It can last up to 30 minutes. It is basically a theme with variations. First of all, the pipes have to be tuned up, for which 7 minutes are allowed. A system of ‘traffic lights’ indicates to the player how much time he has left. Without transition, the player launches into the piece. This takes up the morning session, from 11 to 1.30 pm. The afternoon consists of lighter music, march, strathspey and reel. This is Ceòl Beag. A total of 6 pieces, 2 of each sort have to be played. Proceedings close with a hornpipe and jig. I arrive at 11.00 sharp and find mr & mrs Legge already ensconsed at the back of the hall for reasons of noise. The ‘fear an tighe’ (man of the house) introduces each player and his piece. One piece catches my imagination, the Lament of the Rowan Tree. When a house is built, a rowan tree is planted at the gable end to ward off evil spirits. It is a wise tree, for it is part of the joys (birth, playing of the children) and the sorrows (sickness and death) of the house. The people then leave for a better life elsewhere in the world, and the rowan is left behind to mourn the past. It stands there by the ruin, hoping for the occupants to return. There are 6 other pieces. When a piper appears in the door, he is immediately ushered onto the platform, because the pipes can’t be allowed to cool down. Slightly deafened, I hop out for lunch, and return to the Caberfeidh at 2.30 for the Ceòl Beag. The six pieces all flow into each other seamlessly, are not played in order on the sheet and I keep getting caught out as they finish when I think there is still 3 pieces to go J. Hornpipe and jig concludes proceedings, but one piper walks out in midflow after fluffing a grace note. With the clock at 6pm, the award ceremony follows. One piper is very jolly at that stage, drawling hellowww and having to be steadied as he staggers down the hall. He is well lubricated, shall we say. Proceedings close at 6.15, and I’m totally knackered. I sort of wobble through the town to collapse at mrs B’s. And then I also have yet to go out for food. I forego the ceilidh at 9.15. Normally, I am the first to go to a ceilidh, but not tonight. Mr & Mrs Legge do go, and return at 00.20. Singing not that good, but otherwise the party was ok. Follow the news closely, as the Pope is seriously ill. Wind picks up through the evening. Mrs B has had to save her daffs from being blown down the street.

Crosbost to Stornoway - 31/03/05

F&H leave for Germany today, on a 3-stage journey which will last about 12 hours. Stops at Glasgow, Manchester, London and finally on to Dusseldorf. From there, they then have to drive about 50 miles west to their homes in Aachen, on the Dutch border. They set off at 7.20. I left rather later, after a spot of shopping and Internet access at the library. The bus to North Lochs departed at 1.10 pm. The driver recognized me as the feller who did not return on the 4.45 on Monday of last week, when the weather was rather wet. Not to worry, I did catch the later bus. Friendly bunch of Liurbost  and Crosbost people on board. Jumped off at Crosbost and walked north to the school, then across the moors to Cnoc Rainich. That came out above Loch Griomsiadar, but I knew that this was a trick in the topography. You have to circle round Loch Beag, a small inlet, in order to be able to reach the village of Griomsiadar. Over the last couple of days, moorburning has been taking place in this area, and I crossed a few blackened and smelly stretches of moor. Descended the steep slope to cross the little river, then headed up the other side of the valley to the houses in Griomsiadar. After a few hundred yards, I branched off on a peatroad, heading east to Loch Capull. Kept going due east beyond that, as they were starting moor fires to the north. Had to veer right round, also to keep the southeasterly wind behind me. Passsed the southern end of Lochan nan Cneamh, having left Griomsiadar village in its deep glen behind. Now veered northeast at 2.45, hoping that the moor burning is not extending right up to the coastline. This is not the case, and I’m safe if a little worried. At 3.30, the flames are clearly visible to my left, only 400 yards away. They are in a semi circle, slowly advancing north, parallel to my course. I’m unhappy to sit within sight of those flames, so I hare off north and soon leave the fire behind me. Huge columns of smoke billow up behind me and spread out across the center of the island. Reach Loch Buaile Bhig at 4.20, in a very thirsty state. Didn’t take enough water with me, so end up drinking out of the loch. Proceed to the dam and downstream to Tòb Leireabhat. From there, I cross to Arnish which I reach at 5 pm. Then it’s just over an hour to Stornoway town center. It’s cloudy but mild (14C) today. Later thatevening, a couple arrive, mr & mrs Legge, who are going to a piping competition at the Caberfeidh Hotel tomorrow morning. They attend piping competitions nationwide; they live at Montrose on the east coast. Frank Burns’ wife Linda is here to receive them, as Barbara has gone out for a family dinner.

Balallan to Aline - 30/03/05

Having picked up gloves and hat at the busstation, I am given a lift to Balallan by Frederick and Hedwig. Arrive there at 10.40, and give F&H directions for Great Bernera, their destination today. I head west across the moors towards the saddle south of Ròineabhal. After an hour, I reach there, and strike southwest towards Loch Langabhat. Route takes me past Theistabhal, and on, parallel to the eastern shore of the loch. The easterly wind is still blowing, but not as strong as in recent days. In the shelter of the hills, temperature rises to 15C. Bearings have to be taken on various inlets, bays and islands for orientation. Lochs on the far shore also help. Larks sing above Langabhat, otherwise, it’s completely silent. Finally flop down for lunch on the slopes of Cleit Faobh at 1.15. It’s warm there, and the insects are a nuisance, I don’t like “insect roll”. Across the water a lonely hut stands on the bank. Can see the hills of Uig far away, and the Morsgail hills closer by. As I resume the journey, a couple of hoodies object to my presence and mob me. I am too high up at any rate, right underneath a rocky escarpment. Once I’m down from there, the bogslog resumes and I slowly pass the long valley that leads east towards Airigh a’Bhruaich. Reach the stalkers’ track at Langabhat at 2.40. Sun myself for about 20 minutes, enjoying the views here. At 3 o’clock sharp, I set off for the 7 km hike to Aline. Up on the pass, the easterly wind is quite keen, but the view down Loch Seaforth compensates. Reach the road at 4.15, but have to wait 15 minutes for the bus to appear. It’s slightly late. Return to SY at 5.05. F&H take mrs B and myself out for dinner, out of gratitude for our joined hospitality.

Mealista to Uig - 29/03/05

Today I am heading for Uig. F&H offer to drive me all the way to Mealista, the very end of the road. From there, I shall walk back to Timsgarry, a distance of about 9 miles. F&H will make their own route back to Stornoway in the car. Hedwig drives today, but nearly collides with a Galson Motors bus outside the Manor Filling Station. Before that, they dropped off a film for processing at Kenny Froggatt’s. I direct Hedwig down the A859 to Cameron Terrace, rather than via the Pentland Road. After Garynahine, things get decidedly interesting. Two sheep fight out an argument in the middle of the road at the Grimersta bridge by headbutting each other. Quite funny. The banging jumpers. A car races out of the Bernera road and disappears into the distance. A police car, lights flashing, follows in hot pursuit. The single track road after the Morsgail roadend proves to be quite a challenge to poor Hedwig. She makes repeated visits to verges and drives a little too fast. Glen Valtos captures their attention, as does Traigh Uige at Timsgarry. Things get nailbiting again after Carnish. Coastal scenery is good, but we gingerly feel our way down the road to Islibhig and Breanais. The latter village sports a brand new wooden house. Nothing moves, and even less so on the last mile and a half to Mealista. The mountain scenery here is quite spectacular, very rough and rocky. Mealista is a derelict township, with just a few old concrete structures and ruins. The road ends at a slipway. Next roadend is at Huisinis, just 7 miles away across the sea, but (again) 70 miles by road. Mealista Island, Scarp and the coastline to Loch Tamnabhaigh are clearly visible. The coast looks walkable, but is very remote. I leave F&H to climb a nearby low ridge at 11.55, and start on the long road back to Timsgarry. Reach Breanais again at 12.30 which has Loch Greabhat to its north. The occasional ugly concrete building rears up on the way out to Islibhig. Finally sit down for lunch at 1pm, 4 miles north of Mealista, at Rubh’an Taroin. Coastline looks very eroded. Facing west, the cold easterly wind doesn’t bother me. F&H come past at 1.45, just before I set off myself. I go down to Mangurstadh beach, and walk up an inlet, covered in sand. Some of it shifts. Climb up the hillside to the road and carry on past Loch Scaslabhat. At about 2.40, I head out south on the moor along the track to Loch Tamnabhaig, only for a kilometer or so. It’s 13 km from here (just outside Carnish) to Tamnabhaig. After a teabreak, I return to the main road to the Carnish bridge. There, I take a shortcut along the beach. Route by road is 3 miles to Timsgarry, but along Traigh Uige it’s two. Head north at first, then northeast. Take bearing on a succession of headlands. Cradhlastadh [Crowlista] stands out to the north, as does Carnish Machair. The masts on Gallan Head are another reference point. Sink into the sand (about an inch) initially, but it firms up further up the beach. At length, I catch sight of the beach bridge, and head straight for it. Once there at 4pm, it’s fairly easy along the shore and up to the road. The bus come after a 40 minute wait at 5 o’clock. On arrival in SY, I forget to take my bonnet and gloves out, so have to phone the driver. He promises to leave them at the busstation for me to collect tomorrow. It was cloudy and cold today, with a piercing easterly wind. Not many new lambs, but oystercatchers and other waterfowl can be heard. F&H returned quite late, having attended a meeting on environmental issues at the Woodlands Centre, in the Castle grounds.

South Harris - 28/03/05

Easter Monday

Joined F&H in the car for the journey to South Harris. We first do some shopping, I buy this 3rd notebook. We leave town at 11 o’clock. The clock in the town hall tower has not been put forward on Sunday, when summertime came in. It’s sunny and warm, but to the south a bank of cirrus cloud looms. It disperses into altocumulus lenticularis (lens-shaped clouds) as the morning progresses. The drive along the westside of Harris is as spectacular as ever. Arrive at the Seallam Centre at Northton at 12.30. Browse through the exhibition, then set off for a walk through the village. The wind has picked up to force 7, with gusts up to 8. The day is brilliantly sunny, and the sands light up. If only that wind were not so freezing cold. I finally take a lunchbreak on the slopes of Ceapaval, looking out over the Sound of Harris and all the islands. From Pabbay in the west to Berneray in the south, and the Skye Cuillins far in the southeast. As I eat my rolls, I find out that my bus back to SY leaves Northton at around 2.40. It’s 1.45 now, and it has taken me half an hour to get here. Which means I have to hurry up. Can do nothing else hereabouts, not go up Ceapaval nor walk on the sands. Bother. Struggle back through Northton against the wind. As I wait for the bus, the shelter shakes in the force of the gusts. Bus arrives at 2.45, with a familiar driver and a lady I encountered outside Tolsta last week. She is staying with relatives in Liurbost. We also pick up a photographer outside Scarista, and it all developes into a convivial natter. We chat about Taransay, and the fact that one of the environmentally friendly pods now sits outside Losgaintir, on the far side of the beach. Reach Tarbert at 3.20, where there will be a 50 minute break. Which I fill by going to the library. Leave there just as the school goes out. A fleet of buses is waiting, but my bus goes after they have all disappeared. Return to town at 5.05, where mrs B gives me some supper.

Easter Sunday - 27/03/05

Notebook III was commenced at this point

Today, I have done precious little, apart from catching up with the papers and diary. I do go out for a walk to Goat Island, across the bay from Mrs B’s. Have a look at the yards there, and at the little green island. Then return across the causeway to the Coastguard station and go behind it to Battery Point. F&H have gone to Scalpay today, but return on time for Sunday dinner at 6 o’clock. Appetizer: hot smoked and cold smoked salmon, scallops, monkfish tail. Rosé fizzy wine. Main course: lamb with mint sauce, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli, gravy to taste. Raspberry or blackberry cream tarts for afters. Mrs B joined us for supper, and it took 2½ hours to finish it all, with a whisky. F&H went to bed at half past nine, I played the keyboard for a little while. The weather today: warm and sunny

Guide to Lewis & Harris III - 26/03/05

At 10 o’clock, we set off for Harris. First of all, I want to show them the views from the Aline to Langabhat track. At Airigh a’Bhruaich, two cyclists come the other way. As we arrive at Ath Linne at 10.45, two walkers prepare to go to the hill. With intermittent stops for stones, we slowly toil uphill. Nice view down Loch Seaforth and ahead to Creag na Clibhe, which overlooks Loch Langabhat and Morsgail. Can actually see a loop of road towards the northwest, which could be the B8011 Uig road. F&H sample the run-off from a peatbank, which I find to be bitter. They relish it! Picked up Frederick’s stone, left behind on the way up, marked by a tissue. Two gullies contain the remains of several sheep. Peat can be seen to have a depth of 1 to 10 feet. Return to the car at 12.15, and proceed through the Aird a’Mhulainn roadworks to Scaladale. Wouldn’t like to be staying at the center there, now with those roadworks right outside the frontdoor. The we go up the hill to Màraig. I show F&H what the road to Reinigeadal looks like from a picnic bench on the main road. They are fine with the 13% gradients (that’s 1 in 8). We do not have lunch there, because of a chilly wind. We plummet down 137 metres to sealevel at Màraig, then up again just over a mile further along. Lunch is taken on the viewpoint on the entry to Reinigeadal. A local resident has left a comments book + pens in a jamjar there. The view stands to be restricted by the house under construction below the viewpoint. Can discern Molinginish’s little bay, but not the houses there. The footpath from Urgha can be seen snaking down from the pass. We inspect the exposed layer of rock, which was blasted out in building the road. Bits and pieces fall out of it. Can see the Shiants from here, but like the rest of the higher summits, their tops are obscured by cloud. This is at a level of 1,000 to 1,500 feet, judging by some reference points. The clouds roll over the top of Toddun, the 528 m high mountain behind Reinigeadal. On descent, the clouds dissipate. This is called the föhn-effect, after the dry wind in the Alps. We look inside Reinigeadal Youth Hostel, a simple but cosy affair. A tad run-down, but nice and warm. Leave a pound for the use of facilities. By now, it’s nearly 2 o’clock, so in order to be back in SY at 6, we have to go straight to Huisinis. This precludes lunch in Tarbert, but we’ve already had lunch. South of the mountains, the sun is out with a vengeance, and the islands to the south bathe in an almost Mediterranean glow. Taransay, Ciapaval and the Sound of Harris islands. To the north, the Harris mountains loom up, cloud rolling down the southern slope, but again dissipating as they do. Glen Miavaig is spectacular. A little way outside Cliasmol, the local school sits in the middle of nowhere. Spectacular is also a good description of the road. Sharp corners, blind summits, switchbacks, you name it. We approach Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, 9 miles down the road, when Frederick begins to panic and tries to generate moral support from me, as I’m sitting in the front passenger seat. Unfortunately, when on a difficult road I shut up in order not to break concentration. We drive through the gardens, past the front door and out the gate, which is the route of the road. Only half a mile beyond the castle is there a safe opportunity for a short break. After a drink of water and some soothing words from Hedwig, our driver is fit for duty once more, although still shaky. Arrive at Huisinis at 3.30, 45 minutes after setting out from the main road at Ardhasaig. It’s absolutely fantastic out there, if very cold in the northerly wind. Huisinis consists of a few houses lumped together on an isthmus. To the south is a lovely sandy beach. F&H cull limpets off the rock and proceed to eat them raw. Aargh! Have a look on the northern side of the isthmus and can see the (derelict) houses on Scarp. Nine miles to the north, in the face of that keen, cold wind we have today, the houses of Brenish can be discerned. Unfortunately, the mouths of Lochs Resort and Tamnavaigh stand in the way of a roadlink, so the distance by road is a staggering 70 (yes seventy) miles. On foot it’s 25-30 miles. You need to hire a boat to reach Scarp. On the way back to the car, Hedwig is hugged by a weatherbeaten old lady who tells her she’s lived at Huisinis all her life and has been married for 61 years. One other lady was out with her young daughter, playing in the sands with the dog. Another visitor was sunning herself at the carpark. The postman came along to deliver the mail. Commenced the return journey at 4pm, and saw a herd of 5 deer along the way. Frederick was talked down the road by Hedwig. It later turned out that the B887 is one of the most challenging roads in Scotland! Some sections of the road don’t have road markings, making it even more difficult in the dark. Reached Ardhasaig at 4.45 and proceeded north after taking petrol. Clouds have now lowered to 800 feet, and have acquired a bluish tinge. It’s misty on the high pass below the Clisham. Through Balallan, Frederick blissfully blasts along at 50 mph, even though the speed limit is 40. Returned to Mrs B’s at 6pm sharp. F&H are due to go to a concert at 7.30, so dinner at HS1 is a somewhat hurried affair. The fish & chips were good though.