The Outer Hebrides – A Bongo on Harris and Lewis pt2

by backpackingbongos

When I stuck my head out of the van door the cyclist, motorcyclists and campervan had gone. Peace and solitude had been restored to my wild camp spot. I was disappointed to see that low cloud hung over the peaks I had planned to climb, the day when it was actually meant to be sunny had not materialised. Time for a second breakfast before slinging my pack over my shoulder and setting off with Reuben.

Laibheal a Tuath – 505 metres, Naideabhal a-Muigh – 452 meters, Griomabhal – 497 metres

The names of the hills that I was climbing do not exactly slip off the tongue. The mass of contours on the map are equally indecipherable. Noticing cattle and fencing on the nearby small hill of Taireabhal we walked along the road for a bit before launching directly up rough slopes. The aim was to gain the wide western ridge of Laibheal a Tuath, this would then give a straightforward ascent to the summit. The going was indeed easy until we were swallowed by the clouds. It was then that one boulder strewn bit of hillside began to look remarkably like the next. I’m not ashamed to say that I pulled out my Satmap GPS at the summit cairn just to double check that it was actually the summit. Thankfully it was.

It was a case of counting the lochans to the minor summit of Laibheal a Deas. Distances and slopes being distorted in the mist. Suddenly patches of blue appeared overhead, sun lightening the swirling mist. The clouds were torn apart teasing me with a view for a few seconds before enveloping us again. They finally dissolved leaving a few wispy tendrils above and below, revealing a spectacular landscape.

It was a land of rock and sparse vegetation, slow progress when picking your way through boulders and small crags. I misjudged one step and turned my ankle, the pain making me gasp. I had horrible thoughts about how I would get down with a broken ankle. Luckily this was not the case, although it was painful to walk on for a few days and still twinges now.

These are amongst the most spectacular hills I have walked and remarkably undiscovered. They deserve to be teeming with folk but I’m glad that they are not.

As we reached Griomabhal, the final summit of the day, I noticed that low cloud was creeping along the coast to the north west. Banks of cloud were also beginning to engulf some of the lower hills in the wild hinterland directly to the north. It looked like there could have been the possibility of an impressive inversion later that evening. However with a grumbling stomach and the real possibility of just being engulfed in cloud we made our way slowly down the rocky west ridge and back to the Bongo.

Later that evening I realised that I had made a good call when cloud engulfed the summits and slowly crept its way down to just above sea level. The gloom was atmospheric and I was lucky to have such a wild and beautiful place all to myself that night.

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The following morning the cloud was resolutely hanging low in the sky, barely above the roof of the van. Ruling out exploring the hills we returned to the great expanse of beach at Traigh Uige where Reuben indulged in chasing a ball and killing seaweed. I treated myself to a hot shower, the best pound I spent all week.

There is a community shop that sells fuel at the nearby village of Timsgearraidh. It is surprisingly well stocked and puts my local Co-op to shame. Even the diesel was only a couple of pence more expensive than on the mainland. What I enjoyed the most however was the dourness of the woman behind the till. I don’t think she could have been anymore unfriendly. It was like being in a surreal comedy sketch as she scanned each item with an incredible slowness. I felt like I had told an inappropriate joke about a dead relative. I was tempted to ask if they sold tofu and the Guardian but thought better of it.

Driving back along the lengthy cul-de-sac road I spotted what I thought was someone tied to a telegraph pole. Thankfully this was not the case, instead a rather quirky scene which invited you to ‘join the band’, if the weather had been kinder I would have spent time encouraging Reuben to do so.

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One of the areas which I was most keen to visit was the peninsular called Pairc. This is the wildest and remotest part of Lewis, appearing almost as an island on the map. There are some very remote hills and coastline, really only accessible by the backpacker or boat. It has one of the highest densities of eagles in Europe. Sadly this little known area has come into the spotlight due to the 33 turbine Muaitheabhal wind farm and the 6 turbine extension that have been consented for the area. Although they have yet to be built. There is now another 20 plus turbine extension to the south being planned. All in a vast swathe of wild land. I wanted to have a look at the area before it is lost.

The single track road there is in very poor condition with few passing places. I was constantly hoping that I did not meet anyone coming the other way. The plan was to climb the 327 metre high Feiriosbhal where most of the turbines will be located. Sadly the weather was not playing ball. The cloud base remained below one hundred metres for the whole day. There was no point in trudging across rough moorland in the mist.

There was however a spectacular moment when a golden eagle soared a few metres above the Bongo, a memorable sight. This on the other hand was tinged with sadness as I could make out several wind monitoring masts nearby, their tops lost in the clouds. I personally don’t understand the rationale of putting 150 metre turbines where there are so many eagles.

The night was spent a few miles away on the road high above Reinigeadal, with the hope of great views along the coast. Instead I was treated by low cloud, strong winds and heavy rain. It was a noisy night as the Bongo took on another Hebridean battering.

Huisinis, Isle of Harris 

A couple of good friends just happened to be visiting the Outer Hebrides at the same time as myself and Reuben. They had sailed to South Uist from Oban and were working their way up to Harris. We agreed to meet one evening at Huisinis and spend a couple of days together.

Huisinis is located at the end of a long single track road on the North Harris Estate. The scenery along the way is a perfect mixture of mountains and coast as the road snakes up and down the toes of the hills as they dip into the sea. I frequently pulled over the Bongo to sit and stare at the scenery, I did not actually get out of the van as the weather was truly dreadful. Reuben was dead set on enjoying the scenery from the comfort of the passenger seat. Declining to even contemplate going outside I did worry about the strength of his bladder as he had earlier refused a morning toilet trip.

The beach at Huisinis is small but perfectly formed. A crescent of sand with water that would put many tropical paradises to shame. The car park however is also tiny and was filled with camper vans. I noticed a sandy track leading to the north and the jetty that overlooks the Island of Scarp. It turned out to be a peaceful spot but also unsheltered from the very brisk and rather cold north wind that blew for the next couple of days. Thankfully that afternoon the rain finally stopped and we got to explore the headland and the small hill of Cnoc Mor.

Graham and Rae appeared in the evening, pitching their tent above a small sandy bay just to the west of the main Huisinis beach. Attempts to be sociable were soon thwarted by the weather, showers once again rattling in on a cold wind.

The plan the following day had been to walk north around the coast to Loch a Ghlinne and then take to the surrounding hills. The strong wind made that a less than pleasant prospect, so we settled on a few hours slowly exploring the coastline. The surrounding area has some of the best beaches you are likely to find anywhere, even under cloudy skies the waters are a bright turquoise. I’m going to have to return with a tent and spend a few days camping on some of that short-cropped machair right by the waters edge.

We did have a successful evening sitting at Graham and Rae’s ‘private’ beach. Even so the cold wind made it a down jacket affair even though it was the end of May. A good price to pay as it also kept the midges at bay.

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18 Comments to “The Outer Hebrides – A Bongo on Harris and Lewis pt2”

  1. After pressing the ‘leave a comment’ link, I’m actually quite lost for words – what an incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring landscape! Sadly, I’m unlikely to visit the Outer Hebrides anytime soon, so thank you for virtually taking me there.
    I would spend hours trying to get my dogs to wistfully gaze out to sea long enough to take a snap. Either Reuben is extremely obedient or he really does love those views!

    • Thanks Jim. The landscape there really is something else. Worth a trip up there. Reuben has a combination of obedience and really does like a good view!

  2. Excellent report James. We had a great time there but you and Rueben did more walking than us. We need to go back and travel through the Uists. I’d also love to cycle the length of the Oute Hebs.

    • Hi Geoff. We did get out and about a lot, its just a shame that we could not get onto the mountains as much as I would have liked. All the more reason to return.

      The Uists are next on my agenda. You will have lots of company cycling the length of the Hebs, there were loads of tourers whilst we were there.

  3. Enjoyed reading that and looking at the pictures. Such a shame that so many places are going to be desecrated by wind farms. Total madness.

  4. Great report James, it looks a wonderful area. I really fancy a trip there but if some of it is going to be desecrated with wind turbines I will probably not bother.

    Having seen vids such as this one of a turbine killing a bird of prey, I don’t think they are any better than the scum that poison birds of prey on grouse moors.

    Personaly I would rather have my electricty use rationed and rely on roof based solar power than see any more destruction.
    David

    • David it really is a fantastic area, get yourself up there soon before this wind farm is built (or just go to Harris rather than Lewis).

      That video is pretty shocking, not seen anything like that before.

  5. A great set of photos again James.

  6. So many great beaches, so much fantastic walking, so many wonderful wild camping spots and a landscape that’s just amazing. Can’t wait to go back……..

  7. The photos are extraordinary considering the weather conditions, and a superb landscape. It’s unlikely we’ll get there before the windfarm blight comes, but maybe other wild islands.

    • The weather was honestly much worse than appears in the photos Geoff, much of the time the camera was in my rucksack. Turbulent skies do make good photos though.

      The best wild island you could go to for backpacking is Jura, nothing like it.

  8. Had to check make sure I wasn’t looking at photos of the Far East with that turquoise water. Some stunning coastline and mountains and those beachside grassy spots look just sublime for a spot wild camping

    • So many wild camp spots, so little time Andy! The water is turquoise even when it is cloudy, but when the sun comes out it simply shines!

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