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 L. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On return from a trip to town, I was told barely civilly to pack myself out of the hostel there and then. The ungrateful whats-its. Offered them my expertise or experience in community buy-out, which they've got on-going in Park. So, I just retreated to Stornoway and went to mrs B’ B&B, very unhappy.