Thursday, 31 March 2005
Sunday, 27 March 2005
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, 23 March 2005
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.
Wednesday, 16 March 2005
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.
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!!!
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 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.
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
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.
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
Sunday, 13 March 2005
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.
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.
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.
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
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.