Today, I'm heading back to Laxay / Lacasaigh, where I left off on Wednesday, to finally attempt the trip across to Achmore. Bus dropped me off outside the Kinloch Historical Society building at 12.50. Headed off down the track leading north, and branch off to the right. This leads steeply up a brae below Meanna Mor, which is 'graced' by a transmitter on its summit. Then down towards Loch nan Breac. The local flock of sheep follow me bleating. Can see traffic moving on the A859, 1 km to the east.
Drop down in the valley and pass through a rusty gate. Notice a sheep lying flat on the ground, but it is still moving. Something is wrong, so I go and have a closer look. Its hindquarters are submerged in a pool, and the legs are stuck in the mud at the bottom. I haul the animal bodily out of the bog and place it on dry land. It senses that it now has full command of all legs, so starts to feed like mad on the surrounding grass.
Once I'm satisfied that the animal is OK, I leave it to sort itself out. I carry on northwest to the old ruin of Eastapair, above the southeastern shore of the loch. Climb out of the valley, towards Loch Dubh Sobhail. From now on it's plain sailing, er... walking along the loch, and its successor, Loch na h-Airigh Uir. Cnoc Mor Shobhail looms up behind both bodies of water
Once both lochs are passed, the long shape of Loch Fada stretches to the southwest. Roineabhal looms up 5 1/2 miles behind. Grianabhal is just over a mile to the west; Steiseal immediately to my right. It's a very easy moorland walk, where you just take a bearing on the Achmore radio transmitter, and you can't go wrong. Neither is it very wet. The new grass has sprung up, and the area looks uncharacteristically green. Finally cross Allt nan Each at 2.30. Loch Cnoc na h-Iolaire nearby and Loch na h-Airigh Uisge in the distance. After a break, the easterly wind is becoming more noticeable - cold. Continue northnorthwest towards the Achmore masts over the gentle westerly slopes of Oidreabhal, past a small round lochan.
Proceed to the inflow into Loch Foid, which presents me with some problems crossing it. Finally reach Loch Acha Mor and go uphill to the main road. Reach the A858 turn-off for Stornoway at 4pm, and have a short break there. Then retrace my steps and head off down the main road towards Liurbost, 2 1/2 miles to the east. Not a very pleasant 50 minutes, just as well the traffic is only light. Arrive just in time to see 2 Hebridean Transport coaches fly past on the A859. Have to wait 20 minutes for the Galson bus. Buy a snack in the Lochs Garage. A man asks me the way to Airigh a'Bhruaich, which I tell him - 10 miles down the road.
The Galson driver looks at my HT ticket askance, but lets me on. Back in town at 5.45. Take Mrs B to the ceilidh in the British Legion building, which is in support of local radio station Isles FM. Music is very, very loud. Good music though. Several local artists, including singer Donald MacRae and dancegroup Bernera Dancers. Mr Isles FM himself sells tickets. He was arrested by the top brass of Stornoway police this morning, for torturing listeners and a breach of the piss. Found Kenny McLeod perfectly capable of normal English, so he's been having us on all that time. Three ladies immediately to my right fail to smile once during the 3 1/2 hours of the ceilidh. It was not fully dark at 11.30, when we walked back.
Awoke to a blustery day, white riders on the caps of the waves in the harbour. This was replaced later on by intermittent rain. Went out on the MacLennan bus at 1.15 to reach the Braighe, the isthmus between Stornoway and Point. Took the bus as far as the road end in Mealabost, near the airport. Terminal building looked the same as the ones in Balivanich and Kirkwall. From the road-end in Mealabost walked 10 minutes along the seafront to the carpark
It was raining steadily. Alice Starmore, the walks leader, was waiting - with bad news. In the rainfall, it was not possible to use the binoculars or telescope, so the walk was off. Mrs S drove me back to town and I went off for a bit of shopping. Found an alternative solution for the problem of breaking bootlaces, which has been plagueing me of late: go to a different shop. Did not do much for the rest of the day.
It was raining steadily. Alice Starmore, the walks leader, was waiting - with bad news. In the rainfall, it was not possible to use the binoculars or telescope, so the walk was off. Mrs S drove me back to town and I went off for a bit of shopping. Found an alternative solution for the problem of breaking bootlaces, which has been plagueing me of late: go to a different shop. Did not do much for the rest of the day.
Not one of my better days. The scanner in the library didn't work to start with. Went down to Balallan at 12.30, and alighted at the east end of the village, for a walk east and north. My original intention was to reach Keose junction or even Cameron Terrace. But like last week, it all went to pot. First of all, my plan to walk via Valtos House in order to gain a footbridge across the Laxay River was fatally flawed, because there was no footbridge at the location indicated on Explorer 457. Not the first error on that mapsheet. After crossing fields and a forestry plantation, I duly arrived at the river, but as indicated, there was no bridge. A dam and a weir might have been used, but I'm not happy hopping across an 8 foot gap over swirling water, onto sloping concrete or rough boulders. When I took a teabreak, my flask had gone walkabout, god knows where to. Don't know what happened. Inconvenient if anything. Retraced my steps all the way back to the main road. Cut across Aird na Ba to Laxay Bridge, then across more rought ground to the kirk and the manse. Walked up the peattrack as far as Loch na Criadhna, then back down to the main road at the Kinloch Historical Society building. In the steady drizzle that had furtively crept up from Harris, I waited for the slightly delayed 4.46 bus to town. Came across a lamb with a curious 6 inch black band around its body. Quite cute watching all those ewes with their lambs, almost like a gaggle of mums with their toddlers. Once back with mrs B, I was thanked for the travel advice. Had a game of Scrabble last thing, and beat the other two competitors by scoring more than their combined totals.
Went off at 10.45 on the bus to Gress to join an RSPB bird watching walk along the beach, the cliffs and the saltings near Gress Bridge. On arrival at 11.05, nobody was about, but the walk was eventually undertaken by 13 people. Plenty of bird- and wildlife along the beach. Blackbacked gulls, fulmars (related to the albatross), eiders, dunlin, oystercatchers, raven (nest on the cliffs) and seals on the offshore skerries. Once on the cliffs, a skua came swooping by. The boiler of a ship, left there 100 years ago, was sitting on the beach. The tide went right out in the hour we were off the beach. At the saltings, we saw a rock pipit, a heron eating an eel, golden and ringed plover, oystercatcher on nest, greylag geese (not well liked) and more. Said good bye at 1.15 and shot off into the moors behind Back Sunhill. Not an inspiring area, plenty of wrecked cars. A man was digging peats. A girl came up the track in a car, with a dog running alongside. Joined the bus at Gress at 4pm for the return to SY, at 4.40. Binoculars proved to be a worthwhile investment.
The morning started sunny and fine in town, so I thought to head for the Harris hills at lunchtime. Well, as per normal, Stornoway has its own weather. The minute I left town, a huge cloud loomed up to the southwest. In Lochs, the sun disappeared and after Airigh a'Bhruaich, it started to pour with rain. Got off at Bogha Glas. Driver very kindly didn't open the door until all following traffic had filed past, thankyou. Headed down the trail towards Langadale. Caught a whiff of putrefaction in amongst the downpour, which turned out to eminate from a decomposing sheep. Again. The rain kept on for about 40 minutes, but started to relent as I crested Bealach na h-Uamha. The sun shone over the northern end of Loch Langabhat (it's not fair!). Went down to the southern ford and lazed on the riverbank. The cloud slowly lifted off Stuabhal, Stulabhal, Teileasbhal and Mullach an Langa, the giants of Langadale. Retraced my steps at 3.15 and returned in warm sunshine to Bogha Glas at 4.25. The bus was its usual 10 minutes late, full of tourists merrily snapping away at the surrounding countryside. Back into town at 5.15, 10 minutes late as we stuck behind a slow campervan until Liurbost. Helped one of the other guests with a staggered bus journey round the West Side tomorrow. You need 4 buses and it takes 9 hours. Leave SY at 10.10 and return at 19.10, leaving stops at Callanish, Carloway Broch, and the Garenin Black House Village. One other guest appeared off the 8pm ferry. Full moon shone low in the south at midnight.
It just didn't get fully dark in the night. Bright and sunny through the day, but darkish cumulus clouds bubble up to the southwest. It does stay dry though. Keep a quiet day in. Chat to a lady from Edinburgh about places to visit in Lewis and show her my pics. After midnight I go out for a walk and see the town backlit by the midnight glimdim. The full moon shines down low to the south, a small fishing boat comes in (where has that been, keeping the Sabbath at sea???) and the Muirneag heads out for Ullapool
The early risers are noisy and take yet another shower at 5.15 a.m.. Leaving eleven towels to be washed. Shaking my head, I depart for Carloway at 12.45. The bus is quite full of tourists. A drunk gets on at Willowglen and promptly loses his footing when the driver pulls away. He is saved from crashing through the windscreen only by a quick grab from one of the passengers, who seizes his t-shirt. Her reward is 20 minutes of pestering. He finally gets off at Loch Ganvich, just after Achmore. One passenger said he was heading for Great Bernera, but doesn't know where. Place is a bit big for that. I usually don't know where I'm gonna end up, but do normally state a definite destination to the busdrivers. Anyway, rest of tourists alight at Callanish and it's locals from then onwards. Tell the driver I want off at the Borrowston Road End, which I reach at 1.45 in blazing sunshine. There is this lively force 5 wind, but it is actually quite mild. Walk all the way through Borghastan, with great views down Loch Carloway, across to Ciribhig and over to Bernera and Uig. The trail peters out on the edge of a precipice, overlooking a green plain. The remains of the settlement at Lamishader are seen below in the valley bottom. Oh, getting down there was very tricky, it required a bit of a scramble down a 20 ft escarpment. It's fairly straight forward across the southern slopes of Ben Lamishader. It gets a bit tricky on the approaches to the lighthouse, be careful on those steep slopes above the sea, particularly if it's windy. On toothlike rock sticks out from the sea. The island off the lighthouse does not feature on Explorer 460, but it turns out to be Craigeam. The return to Gearrannan is a succession of hills, valleys, small cliffs and rocky beaches. Three lochs punctuate progress. End up overlooking the blackhouse village of Gearrannan at 3.40. Have a brief break with a Cornish pasty, then work my way downhill and across that pebbly beach to the lower end of the village. Just as I walk out the other end, I can see a familiar yellow bus moving up from Carloway. That was not my plan, but I might as well board it to head back to town. Driver waits at Shawbost to catch up on his schedule. Even though he only did 30 mph between Dalmore and Shawbost, he was still minutes early. Nonetheless, we still belt across the Barvas Moor at 60 mph. Which is a bit much, particularly if a dog decides to bolt across the carriageway. Return to a very busy Stornoway at 4.45. A Harris Coaches bus sits at the busstation with a board saying Callanish Tour. Carry a new guest's luggage upstairs, ain't I gallant. Cirrus clouds drift across from the south in the early evening, it's raining heavily in Glasgow apparently. Here it's a moonlit night, with the midnight glimdim past midnight.
Set off on the 12.30 Harris bus in the sun, but clouds are gathering in the south. It's gloomy when we reach Laxay, and rain can be seen over the Harris hills. This commences at Airigh a'Bhruaich, and it turns into a downpour. Cyclists are heading north and I pity them. At Bogha Glas, a new section of road has been put into use, parallel to the old one, which is being dug up. Only the stretches that serve the 3 houses in this hamlet are left in situ, for the time being. I alight at the Huisinis road end, and go up Glen Skeaudale. It's absolutely pouring with rain now, and it doesn't make the rough going in the glen any easier. It's actually quite a spectacular valley, with crags rearing up some 300-400 m above the valley. Because of the heavy rain, the Skeaudale River is in spate. As is every tributary coming down the hills. I end up with sopping wet feet. Come across an old homestead, just walls, only inches high. Half an hour into the trip, the rain begins to relent, and when I reach my turning point at 2.30, it's dry. The clouds still shroud the higher reaches of the hills. Some of the summits go up to 531 m (1770 ft). Bealach Garbh / Rough Pass is at the head of Glen Skeaudale, and lies at 400 m (1330 ft). As this is shrouded in cloud, I cannot cross. The other reason being time - bus back goes at 4.20. Return to the A859, this time keeping to the north of the river. When I try to cross further down, this proves to be impossible. So I have to struggle on, right the way through to the junction. Bus turns up at 4.20, and takes me back to town in just under an hour. Cloudbase has lifted to 2,400 ft, and sunlight dapples the mountains and valleys. Chat to Sally on the way back to SY. At mrs B's B&B there is heavy demand for rooms. One couple requires the early ferry and go to bed early. Snoring heavily.
A nice and sunny morning. After breakfast, I go to the library to scan in more pictures, which takes about an hour. Then I do a bit of shopping, a book by a woman who attempted to make a life on the island between 1986 and '96, but it didn't work very well. Also a little book on learning Gaelic. At lunchtime, I slowly amble off into the Castle Grounds. Soak up the sun, watch the ferry leave. Return to town via Gallows Hill. Later in the evening, Mrs B and I have an extensive chat with Flora and Mary, daughter and mother respectively from Baile Sear in North Uist. East Village implies that there is also a West Village, but that was swept into the sea. Heard that before.
Went down to Balallan at lunchtime to try to walk across to Achmore. It's a 7 mile hike which looks doable on the map. So, I arrive at the busshelter in the sunshine and go on the rough track that leads round Gasabhal, the hill behind Balallan West End. Bearing right, I soon come out north of Loch Cuthaig and being winding my way round the lochs. The hill of Trealabhal, just over 110 m in height, is a commanding presence, but not as much as Roineabhal, 3 miles away. Next loch is Loch Cul Airigh a Flod, then Loch Airigh na Ceardaich. Everything goes swimmingly until I reach the causeway at grid reference 281235. This is broken and submerged for about 1/3 of its length. So, I trudge round the southern shore of Loch nam Faoileag in an attempt to cross the outflow of the Abhainn Lacasaigh / Laxay River. This is impossible, as the outflow aperture in the dam is 3 m / 10 ft wide. The stepping stones are no use, so I carry on down the Laxay River. Quite pretty in places, but I can but wave at Achmore, now 4 miles to the north. There are more stepping stones, but they're no use. Too wobbly, river is too deep and too wide at any rate. At Creag Latharbaidh I strike inland, due south for Balallan East End. A man is cutting peats. A trashed car sits by the side of the track, and it won't do any more miles than the 45308 on the clock. Have to wait for about 20 minutes for the return bus. As on the outbound voyage, I chat to Sally. A lad from Carloway is said to have swallowed petrol, and has had to be taken to Yorkhill Hospital in Glasgow. Later that evening the rain starts.
Weather slightly better today. Head out to the Scaliscro road end, along the Uig road, 2 miles east of Morsgail. Set off on walk at 12.45; along the B8011 for a few hundred yards then it's off on an all-terrain vehicle track. This leads along a non-descript valley. The trail is pretty much dried out at the moment, but could well be a veritable bog after heavy rain. The way climbs gradually past Loch Ruadh / Red Loch. The view opens out before me. When I reach the highest point at 90 metres (300 ft), at GR 175232, there is a choice of routes. I can traverse the valley west, and cut along the northern bank of Loch Coire Geurad, head east along the slopes of the hills towards Roineabhal or continue south towards Loch Bruaiche Breibhat and Loch Coire Geurad. I opt for the last route and carry on down the ATV trail. The view is clear along the length of Loch Langabhat. From Roineabhal south, I can see all the hills along the loch's eastern shore, and some of the Eishken hills beyond. The track from Aline can be seen snaking its way down below Creag na Clibhe. The highest summits between Clisham and Stuabhal are wreathed in rainclouds. It almost looks as if there is snow on the summit of Stuabhal, but the temperature (9C) is just too high for that. Coltraiseal Mor blocks off the view due west. I carry on downhill and presently am on the strip of land between Loch Bruaiche Breibhat and Loch Coire Geurad. The ground is broken in places, but there are no major problems with bogs. I lost the trail in place, and blaze my own. Regain the ATV track beside Cul Laimhe Mor. There are a few sandy beaches at the southern end of Loch Coire Geurad. To the east, I can now see Ciorabhal. At about 2.30, I jump over the outflow of the loch and reach the Stornoway Angling Association hut. There are two boats (SAA1 and 2) tied up. The door is triple locked. Just as I finish a late lunch, at 2.45, the rain starts. So I pack up and head west over the hills. After half an hour, I reach Loch Lomhain, a bit further south than I'd hoped. However, it's easy walking on the grassy if bumpy slopes of Ascleit. Now heading northwest along the shore of the loch, then up the hill of Druim Lomhainn. On the far side, Scalabhal Mula rears up to the left, and Coltraiseal Mor faces me broad side on. I aim for a point to the left of Loch Ruidh a Dheas, with Loch Ruidh Meadhanach far right. It's broken ground, but not too horrendous. On reaching the Oscaroe River, I can see straight out to Loch Roag, 2 miles to the north. I decide to cross the river, and pick up the Morsgail trail. It's boggy on the ridge of Liana Ban Mas Scalabhal (that's one name...). Head to the right of Loch Ruadh mas Scalabhal, and to the left of a nameless body of water. After a short teabreak on the ridge, just before 4 pm, I head down to and onto the Morsgail trail, and I reach the road at 4.15. Proceed to the gate by the rundown croft, and decide to take the ¼ mile shortcut to the main road. Find a sheep that has sunk into a bog by its 4 feet. The smell indicates to me that it is dead. It's just standing there with eyes open. Very unpleasant. Traverse a boggy meadow, which sometimes houses sheep. Today, there is not a cow and not a (live) sheep in sight. Except out on the road, but that's another story. Arrive there at 4.50, and wait, and wait, and wait. At 5.35, a dark coloured car comes down from Enaclete and I flag it down - it's not the bus, but the lady driver offers me a lift. We head down all the way to Stornoway in pleasant conversation about walking, life in Uig, her hubby's hip replacement and driving up from Bournemouth in 12 hours. Return to town at 6.15 in time for a tagliatella supper from mrs B. The 10 pm newsbulletin was watched in daylight conditions. Oh, at 1 a.m., there was still a band of vague light on the northern horizon. We're at 58°N here, and the midnight sun does make its presence felt.
A couple were staying last night who were seeking to buy some land at Maraig in order to buy a house and set up a music / CD-recording business. Excellent. Set off in the afternoon for a visit to the Morven Gallery. This is a small exhibition of artwork by local artists or on local subjects. It is very, very cold today with a temperature of 7C, accompanied by a biting northerly wind, force 5-6. It compares unfavourably with the 18C last Saturday or the 22C on Friday. After leaving the gallery, I walk to the machair (grassland in the dunes) behind Barvas Cemetery, and find a sheltered hollow. Thirty minutes later, I wind my way across to the busstop opposite Sraid na Loch / Loch Street. The bus takes me back to SY at 4.20. In the evening, two ladies arrive from North Uist. It's a lady in her 40s with her mum, who's over 80. A number of interesting stories are told about Uist.
Spent today writing up this journal and putting it on the net, as well as completing the version intended for hardcopy. Played a game of Scrabble in the evening, which I won.
Spoke to the other lady in the B&B over breakfast. She was going to cycle ‘somewhere’ on the Westside today, to return to the mainland on Monday. I set out on the Uig postbus at midday, which is packed out. One large chap even took two big planks back with him. And then someone else wanted to come on at Macaulay Road. When I ordered my ticket, another passenger handed his money to the driver. She thought it was my money, but that confusion was easily sorted. We didn’t go down to Scaliscro Lodge, and I was dropped off at Kinloch Roag at 12.45. Headed down to the lodge and spoke to a guy who was doing push-ups in the middle of the road. He must have left that bike at the top of the drive. Crossed the bridge near the Lodge and commenced the 5 mile bogslog to Kinloch Resort. After circling the eastern shore of Loch Morsgail, I had some trouble finding the trail to the Beehive Dwellings under Scalabhal. Reached there at 1.45 and took some pictures, even inside the single intact house. Once across the Abhainn Bheinn na Gille the fun started: there is no visible track. Behind me a mass of cloud at medium to high level moves across the sky. The sun keeps shining warm and bright. I take a course at 45° to the right of the sun, i.e. southwest, and carry on in what I think is the right direction. No it is not. I end up at gridreference 118195, 1 km west of the place where I should be. The terrain is wet and boggy, treacherous. Negotiate one little hillock after another as I go due south. Mountains of North Harris loom up ahead, from Stuabhal to Teileasbhal, Sron Scourst; then Oireabhal, Sron Uladal (very prominent). Loch Leatha runs parallel to the course. As I approach Ceann Loch Rèasort, Loch Resort hoves into view. Cannot see right down its full length, but it’s very pretty country. As I am off course, I end up in a nasty bit of broken country; the normal route approaches Kinloch Resort from the northeast. I arrive there at 3 o’clock, 2 hours and 15 minutes after leaving Morsgail. There is a white house on the far side of the Abhainn Mor Rèasort. The bridge over this water is destroyed; one of the pillars has been turned over by a massive flood. On the near shore is another house, with a rowan tree in front. With the legend in mind, I wonder what tales this tree could tell. The house’s windows and doorways have been blocked up with stones. After half an hour’s break for lunch, I head northeast again. Very lovely spot, but also very sad. Probably because the cloud has now moved across to obscure the sun, and the mountains to the south look very dark. Wisps of cloud flit across some summits. I keep Beinn a Bhoth due right as I resume my bogslog back. Promptly sink into a bog upto over my knee – I thought that patch of ground looked dodgy with sphagnum moss in amongst that dried mud. Continue northeast and find myself off course again, this time to the east. As I’m only 300 metres out this time, and I do have to circle that loch on its western end, this is easily amended. ¾ mile further on, I finally hit the trail at the Beehives, at 4.45. Quench thirst by drinking out of streams, bit risky. As always I have to divert to the eastern shore of Loch Morsgail. Better stick to the western shore of that unnamed loch at 137212 – its eastern shore is very boggy. Ròineabhal peeps through the valleys from the east, from 6 miles away. As my trousers are very soiled, I put my waterproof overtrouses on to obscure my pants from public view on the road. Reach Morsgail Lodge at 5.30. The road end at Kinloch Roag is reached at 6.10. Here is a sign for Beehives, adorned with a leaflet about ‘know the countrycode before you go’, in reaction to a letter in the Gazette from yours truly. Wait in my little meadow on the far side of the loch for 35 minutes until the Uig bus appears 3 miles away. I choose that spot, in order that I can see it coming. The cuckoo calls here, as it did at Balallan yesterday evening. Oh that sheep’s carcass still lies off the road near the Bernera roadend. It’s being pecked apart by gulls. Return to SY at 7.15, where two youngsters alight. They don’t know whether they’ll go back home tonight. Gawd.
Friday the 13th is not an auspicious day, but I nonetheless go out for a major expedition. It’s sunny and warm today. So, I jump on the Uig postbus and alight at Bernera junction, 4 miles west of Garynahine. From there I have to walk 1 km southwest along the main road. A sheep has been knocked down and killed, with its bloody remains adorning the roadside. Yuk. At gridreference 198282, I head south on a track that will take me along the western shore of the string of lochs which drain Loch Langabhat to the sea. First is Loch Faoghail an Tuim. After half a mile, a house appears which is built on a small island. The causeway leading up to it is partially submerged. A green boathouse ¼ mile further up stands at the end of the hard track. There is a fair trail going further south. Loch Faoghail Charrasan accompanies me for the next mile. Only low hills on the far shore, but they hide a veritable maze of lochs and waterways. I find another bothy, all locked up. It’s got bunkbeds inside, but it looks a bit untidy. Who would use these, I wonder. There is a succession of jetties along the western shore; the eastern side is completely derelict. Behind the bothy, I clamber over a low ridge and head west for the second promontory, which juts out to separate Loch an Easa Ghil and Loch Faoghail Chiorabhal. Have to negotiate an area which would be soppy in wet weather. Bearing as far southeast as possible, I reach an awkward succession of stepping stones which I do have to negotiate in order to avoid a massive detour west. Do have to take boots and socks off to take an extra step in the water. Once safely on the far side, I continue to another bothy by a jetty. As I stand there, I look at the churning water in the channel beside me. It whips itself into a swishing, hissing circle and this circle moves inland. A tornado! The heather and grasses flail about in the wind, then the phenomenon dissipates up the hillside. Very strange. It is very warm in the sun, with some cumulus clouds, and the combination of water and turbulence could have created this little vortex. Continue down the track to the far jetty under the shadow of Coirabhal, on the far shore. Small cairns mark the channel. Ròineabhal looms up ahead, as it has done right the way through. A boat lies at the end of the track, completely filled with water. I could have taken it after bailing it out, but that would not have been right. I now disappear into the trackless wilderness along Loch Airighna h-Airde. It’s just over 2 km or 1½ miles to the fords at Eilean Mor. The mountains in North Harris pop up over the ridges of the hills to the southwest, Stuabhal most conspicuous. I follow the shoreline dutifully and presently draw level with Eilean Mhic Fail, a dark hump of an island. Finally, at 3.15, the loch narrows to the western outflow channel of Loch Langabhat. I have to cross this, and it’s a hell of a job. Deep, cold and fast flowing water, stones you cannot stand on as they’re too slippery. After that, I have another ford to negotiate on the far side of the island. Head north of its highest point towards the other channel. The spot marked ford on the map is unsuitable. The water is deep and fast flowing, the rocks are slippery and there are no handle holds. I scout downstream and presently find a more suitable location, shallow water, small stones, not slippery. But cold. On the far bank, I take a 60 minute break from 3.50. I do that because the bus from Balallan leaves at 7.40, and it’ll take me just over 1½ hours to reach that village from this point. It’s pleasantly warm in the sun, up to 22C! Finally I pack up at 4.50 and head east northeast towards Loch Ihagan, then veer southeast in order to avoid Loch Ròineabhal. It’s a bad idea to use Trealabhal as an aiming point; this hill is surrounded by water. Near the shore of Loch Ròineabhal, I aim for a valley just off the hill itself and settle into a long trudge. At the height of the pass, I glance back. Can see a car on the Great Bernera road, 5 miles north. Callanish and Breascleit stand out in the evening sun. Head east from here and make for Balallan. About half an hour away from the village, I take another 60 minute break, again in the blazing sunshine. Although it is quite late now, it’s still pleasant. Watch the traffic on the A859, beyond Loch Stranndabhat. At 7pm, I resume my return to civilization. Encounter some men working cattle. Have to wait until 7.50 for the bus to turn up; the South Lochs bus first has to go to Airigh a’Bhruaich to pick up – nobody. I’m the only passenger on board. Have a natter with Paul, the driver, through Keose and on to Cameron Terrace. Apparently, it’s frowned upon to fish on Sundays. And the income from fares on the South Lochs route has plummeted since I relocated to Stornoway, 3 months ago. Mrs B rings me up at Leurbost, concerned that I hadn’t come back yet. Thought I’d told her it would be 8.30? Change to “Dangerous Dave”’s bus at Cameron Terrace, and head back to SY to arrive there at 8.40. Never come back this late before! Mrs B cooked dinner for me tonight. Had an enjoyable evening with Rob and Els; the other guest declined the invitation.
A late start today, after the usual preliminaries of internet &c. As it’s sunny and warm today, I thought I’d go to Barvas and lounge in the dunes. So, off I went on the Galson coach at 1.50, alighting at the end of Loch Street at 2.10. Weather is still fine, but clouds are gathering out in the Atlantic. Sit down by the shooting butt for a bit, then head west towards Bru. Oystercatchers scurry along the shinglebank; a man is fishing by the outflow. This is actually greatly reduced; the waterlevels in the loch have fallen even further since my last visit here, last month. Water now only leaves the loch through the actual sluicegates. Walk across the machair towards the end of the road outside Bru. A sheep stamps its feet, warning me to stay away from its young lamb. The little creature can only be days old, as it staggers to its feet. I go up to the gate outside Bru – and go straight back. Lots of lapwings oabout. Cross back to the Barvas side and watch the clouds rain over Arnol. By 4 pm, I get a good, long dosing of rainwater, quite heavy actually. Just as I’m nicely ensconsed on the far northern end of the machair. A sheep comes close which has completely lost its fleece. Looks absolutely horrible. So I think I can catch the schoolbus, which normally comes all the way up Loch Street. Not so today. I can see it coming down from Bru, disappear to Upper Barvas, and a few minutes later it shoots up the Stornoway road. This does mean I have some time to kill, and I make my way down to Barvas Park. Don’t bother going there. It’s a repository of wrecked, cannibalized or unwanted cars. The bridge over the river is very wonky, and I’m not trusting myself on it. Hobble back to the junction and wait for the Carloway bus to turn up. This returns me to town at 5.45. Still bright and sunny; the shower that affected me only clipped the one mile inland from the coast. Tonight, we have another Dutch couple in the B&B. They’ve been cycling the Western Isles, all the way up from Castlebay, Barra. They sneaked across the most difficult bit, the Tarbert – Bogha Glas section, by bus. After an easy day in Point tomorrow, they’re heading back to Holland on Saturday. Didn’t like their whisky.
Another hour at the library putting pictures on the net preceded my 12.30 departure for Aline. From there, I was planning to go up the trail towards Langabhat. Met Sally on the bus, again. Got a crick in my neck from turning it round 120° to look at her whilst chatting about various walks we had done. Also encountered one of her friends, whose wife, at 38, required a hip replacements. As she is suffering from a form of arthritis, she’s liable to need another one in 10 year’s time. Only 2 hip replacements are allowed, so from age 60, she’ll be wheelchair bound. Alighted at Aline and proceeded up the track, admiring the views back along Loch Seaforth. Went about ¾ of the way to Langabhat, and looked out on Creag na Clibhe, Stuabhal, Rapaire and the Morsgail Hills. Could just discern Loch Coire na Geurad, a large sidekick of Loch Langabhat. There is a shed on the shinglebank which separate the two lochs. It’s fairly sunny today. Retraced my steps to the main road and took the Hebridean Transport coach back to Stornoway. Once more chatted to Sally on the way back.
After a cuppa with mrs B and a picture session in the library, I disappear to Ness on the 1 pm bus. The weather is quite pleasant if a little chilly in the wind. The Ness bus is pretty full, and as we progress north, up the Westside, not many people alight. Two ladies change into the local minibus at South Dell, but when I get off at Eoropie beach, there are still many left to be distributed round the district. I walk through the dunes to the southern end of the beach, where I flop down in the machair. Spend the time until 3 o’clock plugging rabbit holes. Then I proceed south towards Suainebost. Or more accurately, the cemetery in the dunes. Cross the stream via the footbridge and say hello to two gents who subsequently disappear into the churchyard. On the seaward side, there is a succession of beaches. Not all are (easily) accessible. The problems start at Dell beach, where the easiest course of action is to walk down the lane to the mill and the main road, a mile to the southeast. I however wade across the river and proceed along the coastline. Further progress is impeded at the far end of South Dell by a collapsed stile. I end up stomping across somebody’s croft. The crofter, an elderly man, was very polite and we chatted for a minute before I went on my merry way. The time at 5 pm, I walked through Aird South Dell, and was collared by another local who launched into a religious discussion about the merits of Nicodemus (who was he again?). We all come to meet the Lord, this chap told me. Hm. I crossed the moor and crossed the little stream at 471616, where that whale was still lying decomposing. Good god above, what a hideous stench. I continue along the coast, where that orange float still adorns the hillside. Then I strike due south to cross the moors in the direction of the Galson roadend. It was a slightly boggy but not un-doable traverse. Arrived at the road at 6.20, so didn’t have to wait for too long for the little bus to appear. This had a female passenger on board who had her shoes off. I sat down directly behind her. She took one look at me, and plumped her fat behind against me. She tried to chat to me, but I was not interested really. The driver pulled over and told the woman to resume her previous seat. As we reached Stornoway, the bus developed an awkward screeching noise, which attracted the attention of everyone in the street. The woman alighted at the Clachan Bar, and went in for some more booze. Then, as we went over the Castle Street roadhump, a piece of piping fell off the bus with a ringing sound. Driver tried to pick up, but it was too hot to handle. Typical Galson coach.
After putting some more pictures on the web, I take the 12.45 bus to Callanish. On board are a number of Italians, who are discussing the various sites of interest on the West Side. After Leurbost, I can discern the Harris hills in the distance. Clisham and Mullach bho Thuath are wearing a snowy hairnet today. It’s very cool today, and showers move over southern Lewis and Harris. On arrival at Callanish, at 1.15, I have a bowl of soup and a tuna & cucumber sandwich. Then I set off on foot – back to Steornabhagh. A matter of only about 24 km (15 miles). First through the Standing Stones, then through Callanish Village back to the A858 road. Walk past the church, which has a colossal carpark. In the next village, Breascleit, there is a sideroad leading off to the right at the school. This goes uphill fairly steeply into the main backroad of the village. A man herds his sheep down this road, and I stand aside to let the flock through without upsetting the animals. Then I turn right once more, up the Pentland Road itself. This was to have been the trackbed for a railway, but rather steep at this point. The road strikes out across the moors, rising steeply. A couple of lapwings fly their mating ritual. Sheep follow me in their fields, thinking I’m the farmer bringing them food. A dead animal lies in the verge of the road. A man is cutting peats away on the hill; one peatbank has been worked very recently, the sods are still very wet. This stretch of road is graced by a number of lochs, some are a haven for waterfowl and waders. The birds are very vocal right now. Èitssal moves into view as I approach the Càrlabhagh turnoff at 3.10. Follows the very lonely 7 miles to the Achamor turning, although there are cars about. Pass the outliers of Stacaiseal, but the terrain looks very broken, and I will not be venturing out north of the Pentland Road at this point. Arrive at the first bridge at 4.25, 2¾ hours after leaving Callanish. I joined the road here 5 days ago, after crossing from Èitsal. Have a 20 minute break in the sun, it’s very pleasant in spite of the cool north to northwesterly wind. It’s heartrendingly beautiful in the sunshine, although you could be forgiven for thinking it’s bleak. Stacaiseal now rises up visible to the northwest with Beinn Bragar far behind. The Barvas Hills loom up to the northeast. I trudge on at 4.45, and can glimpse Loch Beag a’Chocair to my left. The traffic on the A859 can be seen far away to the southeast, as they pass the old Halfway Garage. Loch Bhatandip is a familiar companion on the approach to the Achamor turnoff, it stretches for about a mile. As I walk over the junction at 5.25, a cuckoo flies directly overhead, towards the small plantation just north of the road. On the approach to Stornoway, a cyclist comes the other way. And that carcass still adorns the dyke by the cattlegrid
. Return to town via the normal route at 6.45 as planned. Encounter mrs B at Somerfields. Feel absolutely knackered, but well satisfied. At 11.55 pm it’s still light to the north
VE Day, 60 years ago. No outside activity today, but it’s me cooking for mrs B. It’s my Savoy Cabbage Special, consisting of savoy cabbage, potatoes, apples, onions with braised steak. Very filling. A South African couple are staying here, but they keep to themselves. Apparently, they work in Oban Hospital.
Like yesterday, spent an hour in the local library putting pictures into this journal. But did nothing worthy of the name.
Those two whiskies came back to haunt me, what a colossal hangover. Didn’t do a thing today, shame, shame.
Today the UK General Elections take place, and the candidates are out trying to curry favour. They do so by offering voters lifts to the polling stations, or by stating that they have the Word of the Lord. This from the Operation Christian Vote leader, the Reverend Hargreaves. And that’s illegal, my dear chap. But who am I to tell him off in the middle of Kenneth Street. He stands to get sued by the Labour Party candidate, for slander. I spend the morning around town, shopping, then go to Achmore on the bus. Election talk continues on board between driver and passenger. Alight at Achmore at 1.05, and I climb up Èitsal via the access road to the radio transmitter. Very nice view from the summit: includes Loch Ganvich, Loch Trealabhal and Ròineabhal. I descend the hill along its northern slopes, but once at the bottom a shower starts. With visibility restricted, I plod on north (I hope), through some atrociously wet terrain. Continue up and down ridges, and resist the temptation to head straight for the Bennadrove relay mast. I need a boat if I want to go that way. Instead, I go towards Stacaiseal and the Barvas Hills. The sun comes out, warming me up, but it’s not warm. Have to cross 2 small rivers; they’re not wide, but they are in spate. After a difficult traverse of the moor, I finally gain the Pentland Road at the 2nd bridge, 6½ miles west of Stornoway, at 2.55 pm. Twenty minutes later, after taking some pictures, I set forth as the rain starts again. Reach the Achmore junction at 3.55. They’ve been cutting peat further along. Hear the cuckoo in a little pine forest. Discover a nice loch, looking out towards Gallows Hill in the Castle Grounds. And that sheep’s carcass is still lying by that cattle grid, where it has been lying since at least April 11th. Disgusting. In the Castle Grounds, everything is green, leaves on the trees, and green trailers covering the ground under the trees. Return to town at 5pm. Bart the Dutchman had a nice day up in Ness. End the day by watching the coverage of the election results on BBC. The Western Isles have voted out Labour and returned an SNP man. My landlady, ardent Labour supporter, is well displeased.
Today a film is being shot at Dalmore beach, and extras are required. Isles FM has broadcast and appeal, so I’m being decked out smartly and warm by Mrs B. I duly set off at 12.45, in order to offer my services which, on arrival at Dalmore, are not required. They are just finishing filming with the last set of volunteers. I take up a frontrow position on a dune overlooking the beach. I can’t help but smile when I notice that the tide is coming in, steadily narrowing the beach. One person definitely came away with wet feet. At 2.40, I set off for the short walk over the hills to Dalbeg. The weather is turning wet and miserable. The view from the pass between the two hamlets is restricted on account of mist and rain. Loch na Muilne is about as far as it’ll go. Wait for the bus at the top of the road, trying to shelter from the cold westerly wind. The schoolbus turns up at 4 o’clock. It picks up a load of kids from Shawbost school and delivers them around the villages before returning to SY at 5pm. In the evening, a Dutchman comes to stay, so that made for interesting convo, in my native tongue!
After some preliminary shopping in town, I set off on the midday bus to Dalbeg. Can't wax enthusiastic about the drizzle. I head out via Barvas and Shawbost, and reach Dalbeg at 12.45, where the weather shows signs of clearing from the west. It's still raining at that point. On my down through the hamlet, I'm greeted enthusiastically by the local sheep. I carry camera and mapcase in a plastic bag, so the animals think I'm bringing food. The whole flock follows me down the road, lambs and all. No luck guys. I continue right down to the picnic area at the road end. There are only dead reeds in the loch at this time. After snapping about for a bit, I go uphill and head in the general direction of Shawbost over the coastal hills. Scenery still very good, with many steep sided inlets ('geos'). Skirt the outlying houses of Siabost bho Dheas / South Shawbost, around a large geo that has an underground connection to the sea. It becomes very rock as I move round the headland to Loch Shiabost. This is the inlet from the sea, separated from the sweetwater Loch a'Bhail by a shinglebank. In Siabost bho Thuath, the sheep all have one brightly coloured horn. A lamb cries outside the field, where the rest of its flock bleat back. Once again out on the moors beyond Carnan, it's up and down past Fibhig to Labost. The route winds outside this settlement to the coast at Port Mhor Bhragair. Have to squeeze between fence and sea to gain the outflow of Loch Ordais. This requires a tricky balancing and hopping act in order to avoid wet feet. Take a break at 3.30 at the far end of the shinglebank, where the picnic area is covered in daisies. After a little while warming up in the sun, I proceed past the cemetery. The stile at gridreference 289491 is still broken, gawd. Have to climb over the rocks right on the edge of the sea. Beyond it, a sheep and its lamb approach me tentatively. As I stand still, the lamb nuzzles my leg. The ewe is a little bit more cautious, but she almost seems to say "don't you think it's gorgeous?" I carry on after a minute to Loch Arnol. The outflow has shifted round, but is still unfordable. Have to backtrack through that flock of feisty sheep. Further up the road back to Bragar, two lambs are sitting alone in a big field, crying. Another ewe, with a chocolate coloured head, approaches me to show off her lamb. Return to Bragar, and head west through the village. Halfway down, the whalebone arch is clearly visible. A grey tomcat is fussing in the long grass, and gives me a cautious sniffle. It then jumps through a gate to look for mice there. As I sit waiting for the bus outside the busshelter (it has no bench), a couple of kids approach me to ask what I'm doing. Yes, waiting for the bus, sigh. It turns up at 5.10, to return me to SY.
Today is the May Day Bank Holiday, so have to read the timetables very carefully. I leave at lunchtime on the 12.45 bus to Gearrannan near Carloway. It feels quite warm. The 3 dead sheep still adorn the scenery at the Grimshader junction. Calanish seems to be well attended today. Bus waits for a few minutes at Breascleit Pier before continuing its journey. Two ladies get off at the Broch, but that is closed for maintenance until May 20th. Arrive at Gearrannan Black House Village at 1.40. Temperature out here 19C / 66F. Have to pay £2.20 for a guided tour, but it's a lot better value for money than at Arnol where you pay £4 for one house; here there are 9. One is a museum - a black house with a severely sloping floor; one bedroom to the back with alcove beds, a small living room and a byre with a weaving loom. Two orphan lambs spend the night there, and we're asked to contribute towards their feeds. I walk round the village for a bit, pick up a leaflet or two. There is also a youth hostel and several self-catering houses. Pack myself off on the shoreline walk to Dalmore at 2.45. The coastal scenery is familiar, with the islands off Great Bernera and Gallan Head (Uig) to the west. Can just see either the sandy beach at Riof or the beach at Bostadh (Bernera). On the first few hundred yards, the modern village of Gearrannan stretches away towards Carloway. Pass Fivig Bay, across the moors and past some spectacular coves on to Caisteal Aird a'Ghobhann. The latter is an ancient fortification. The stack has a cairn on its summit, but it's inaccessible. The next valley is Seiligeadh, with some broad runrig strips running down to the stream. From there on, the route is not terribly well marked - the marker posts are not easily discernible. I finally descend towards Dalmore at 3.50, and have time for a cuppa by the beach. The weather has slowly deteriorated into short showers, and the temperature is slowly going down to 16C. Still very good though. But not as forecast, grin. Directly behind the coastal reinforcements lie two cemeteries. Several tents are pitched behind the smaller one. I walk through Dalmore village, about ten houses, not in terribly good nick. The bus turns up nice and on time at the top of the road, at 4.50. It returns me to Stornoway one hour later. People pass through Newton, canvassing for the Labour party. Mrs B. is a strong Labour activist, so she has a chat with the canvassers. I've heard all I want to hear about politics and the election, bwugh. Roll on May 5th.
We were promised rain today, but as per normal, it has failed to materialize, at least by 10.30. Beltane is an ancient heathen festival which celebrates the start of summer. The two guests from last night appear at breakfast, they are a motorcycling couple. I don't think they've known each other very long. The lady has only done about 75 miles on the bike, prior to coming all the way up to Ullapool out of North Wales. It's a fair day, with some sunshine, which I spend in idle sloth. Mrs B. serves me dinner.
A bit the worst for wear, after two Glayva's last night, and what not. Finally pull myself together at 1.30 and head out for a walk towards the east. Walk round the coastguard station to Battery Point, then along the shorepath to Lower Sandwick. Two rams baa at me from a field. From a gate at the end of the road, a path leads down to Sandwick Beag, a small pebbly beach blocking off an inland loch. Before that I clambered down to Airdean Beaga, a little cove looking across to Arnish Lighthouse. Proceed uphill, through fields of reeds and gorse to Buaille na Cloiche farmhouse. A youngster is roaring about on a motorised ATB. Two sheep fight by headbutting each other. Make my way across marshland to the start of the path towards the Iolaire monument. Quite a few sheep with lambs here, have also noticed some dead ones. The way round the coast to Tolm is tricky, as it's a sheep path, sometimes high above the shore. Coastal erosion and wear and tear by sheep has rendered it very narrow and well-nigh impassible at time. Finally manage to gain the Tolm roadend and a half mile toil along a pebbly (3 inches) beach concludes this section. It's 3.50 when I reach the airport / Melbost roadend. View south and west is very good today: I can see Skye, the Shiants, Eishken hills, Clisham range and the mountains of South Harris and Uig. Walk up the road towards the airport, then veer right all the way through Mealabost. At the end of the road sits a picnic site above a nice beach, one which stretches for 3/4 miles. The sand is plagued with sandflies, so I stay on the dunes above. At the halfway stage to Aignish, I encounter a man walking his dogs. One of the beasts carries a dead rabbit, which it has obviously killed. Nice. The final stretch leads past the cemetery to the Aignish landraiders' monument. From there, I pick up a bus back to SY at 4.55. This evening, I watched Lord of the Rings 1 on Channel 4, all 200 minutes of it. Two guests turn up off the evening ferry. Sunset incidentally is getting nice and late, about 9.15 pm. It's not even dark at 10 o'clock, and it's going to get even better as the weeks go by.
The wind is still strong, but not as bad as late yesterday. In the morning it is dry. After lunch I take the camera through the town, and into the Castle Grounds. The ferry is late coming in and even later sailing - 2.45 instead of the 1.45 timetabled. The weather deteriorates imperceptibly. At first it's sunny, then there is the odd spot of rain, then a brief shower or two - or three. Not wet enough to necessitate waterproofs. By evening though, we're having downpours. Return from walk at 4.30. Mrs B serves me pasta for dinner.
Today's weather is very wet and windy, so I am not inclined to go out on a walk. Do go out at lunchtime for papers and food, but it's so wet that any thought of walks goes out of the window. As the day progresses, the wind picks up to force 8 or 9. The evening ferry into Stornoway is cancelled, as the gail slings rain onto the island. The wind suddenly drops away at 10pm to a force 6.
Went out late today, after sorting out a few things. Took the 12.30 bus to Balallan, nattering to Sally on the way down. Jumped off at the South Lochs junction, and went down the trail towards Roineabhal. It's very dry underfoot at the moment, not surprising after 8 days of drought. It does look like that is about to come to an end. Traverse the moors towards Roineabhal, but veer northwest towards its eastern face. Finally end up on a boggy crest, northeast of its summit, about 300 feet above the marshlands below. View is extensive, if rather waterlogged. Loch Trealabhal fills the eastern aspect, with the hill of Trealabhal directly to its north. Northeast of my viewpoint lies Loch Fada Gobha, the western outlier of Loch Trealabhal. It in turn links into Loch Roineabhal, directly below. Loch nan Eilean to the north is the farthest extension of the Loch Trealabhal system. Everything from there drains into Loch Erisort, through the Laxay River. Further north lies the low hill of Ciorabhal. To its west lies a large system of lochs that drain Loch Langabhat, currently out of sight, into the sea over a distance of 9 km (6 miles). I now proceed downhill and strike west along a tractor track, away from Loch Roineabhal. It is boggy at times. Loch Ihagan looms up to the right after a while, but progress west is impeded by Tob Cam., the northernmost point of Loch Langabhat. It should be possible to gain the remote northern shores of Loch Langabhat by crossing the two waterways that circle Eilean Mor. This would lead me into a large wilderness area, with Morsgail Lodge and Scaliscro Lodge the nearest habitations, at about 7 miles distant. I strike south along the eastern shore of Loch Langabhat. The position of Stuabhal puzzles me, until I remember that Loch Langabhat turns a corner about 4 miles further south. The position of several familiar hills is now clear. Traversing this wettish area I come across a sheep lying on its back, legs kicking. Three other animals scatter as I approach. A sheep on its back is bad news, as they cannot right themselves, and they usually die a painful death. A crow will peck its eyes out for a start, and they finally perspire hours later. This one is still whole and hearty. It allows me to turn it onto its legs. It ambles away when it gets the message that I'm not going to harm it. I head uphill, towards the pass south of Roineabhal, at 2.45. I end up high under the summit of the hill; normally I come from the east and cross a passabout 300 yards to the south. I strike southeast and regain that valley. Can see all the way across to the Aline woodlands as well as Loch Seaforth and the Eishken Hills. Cloudlevels are down to about 2,000 feet by now. And by 3.45 it starts to rain steadily. There were odd drops of rain right the way through, but I now have to don waterproofs for the first time in over a week. The moors are so dry that a fire start across a 4-5 mile front in the area between Grabhair and the Eishken road. Twenty firefighters had to trudge miles through the moors to put it out. Return to Balallan at 4.25 and wait in the busshelter for the 4.40 bus, which is late in coming. Sally is on it once again, and we once more chat our way into town. Hear all sorts of interesting island news. Return to Stornoway at 5.15.