Thursday, 28 April 2005
Sunday, 24 April 2005
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.
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.
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.
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
Thursday, 14 April 2005
Anyone who gets confused with all the Gaelic names in entries and doesn't know where to find them on a map: consult http://www.ordnancesurvey.gov.uk/oswebsite
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.
Monday, 11 April 2005
Saturday, 9 April 2005
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.
Friday, 8 April 2005
Sunday, 3 April 2005
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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