Archive for June 24th, 2014

June 24, 2014

The Outer Hebrides – A Bongo on Harris and Lewis pt3

by backpackingbongos

As I drove past the car park at Huisinis it was rather comical seeing all the campervans lined up with barely enough room for them to open their doors. It’s not exactly getting away from it all when you can hear your neighbour snore.

We stopped off at Tarbert, the capital of the Isle of Harris, which to call a one horse town would be unfair to towns with one horse. It’s a dreary sort of place only enlivened by the fact that there is a tap outside the tourist information centre. I did however contribute to the local economy by handing over my credit card in the Harris Tweed shop. A birthday present for my wife procured with some relief with only a few days to spare.

The plan for the day was to do a circuit of South Harris in the Bongo, visit a cafe and climb a hill. The Temple Cafe at Northton is worth a visit, a contrast to the bleakness of the island. Nice hippy type vibes, great views and some real food to set me up for the day. My wallet was considerably lighter when leaving though.

I had planned to climb the 368 metre Ceapabhal after lunch but from the cafe it looked like a long, dull and steep plod up to its summit. I’m sure that the views would be exceptional though, along with the walk around the surrounding coastline. Instead we headed for a rocky beast just outside the village of Leverburgh.

Roineabhal – 460 metres

I just about managed to squeeze the Bongo off the narrow single track road a kilometre north of Rodel. It was then just a case of bashing through the heather, bog and rocky outcrops to pick up the wide southern ridge. We then found ourselves in a totally surreal and barren lunar landscape, almost devoid of vegetation. It really was an exceptional ascent, made all the better by the surrounding seascapes that were gradually being revealed.

Being a relatively small hill the summit was reached in less than an hour, even with dawdling. The view to the north took my breath away, a landscape of lochans, low hills and rock. Lots and lots of rock. I think that I should let some photos do the talking.

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Safely back at the van we headed north on the narrow and twisting road along the east coast of Harris. I kept my eye out on suitable places to spend the night in the van but options were limited. The only good spot already being occupied by another retiree tour bus. The interior of south Harris is somewhere to head as a backpacker to seek out some truly wild spots. However I’m not sure if there would be any suitable pitches that are not rock, water or bog.

Late in the evening we ended back on North Harris at the mouth of Gleann Mhiabhaig, only a few miles short of Huisinis where we had started the day. Once again the Bongo received another Hebridean battering that night, the hills that I planned to climb the following day hidden under a blanket of dark cloud.

Stulabhal – 579 metres, Teileasbhal – 697 metres, Uisgneabhal Mor – 729 metres

I woke to another world of murk so went back to sleep. The forecast was for slowly improving conditions with a bright sun symbol for early evening. We finally set off on a thirteen mile walk after midday, the surrounding hills yet to shake off their morning blanket of cloud.

The day started off easily enough, following a landrover track north, deep into the wilds of the North Harris hills. We passed the eagle observatory and several people who had failed to spot anything due to the low cloud. I was to see six later that day.

The track finished at a fishing hut at Loch Bhoisimid and we took to a well engineered stalking path. Crossing a stream and stopping to fill my water bottle I made an unpleasant discovery. My Pacerpoles were strapped to my pack as I had been walking Reuben on his lead up to that point. Somehow the bottom two sections of one had escaped since leaving the van. I was annoyed that I had not tightened them up properly, but to return perhaps all the way back to the Bongo would have put an end to a day in the hills. I decided to continue.

The security of the stalkers path was soon left to climb very steep and rough ground up the north-west ridge of Stuabhal and into the ever shifting clouds. The base would rise and fall like the sea, giving either zero visibility or uplifting views.

The scenery as we curved round and over Teileasbhal and Uisgneabhal Mor was outstanding, the swirling cloud and shafts of sunshine adding to the atmosphere. There was a sublime moment on the summit of Uisgneabhal Mor when a golden eagle loomed out of the mist, flying a few metres overhead, silently being swallowed by the cloud. I was grinning from ear to ear.

It was on the final long descent of the day when something truly special happened. The cloud started to break up properly, patches of blue sky appearing before being engulfed again. Often it would be clear on one side of the ridge whilst the glen on the other would be full of cloud. Several times I saw a perfect Brocken spectre, a halo of light with rainbow colours and my huge shadow in the middle. It would last a couple of seconds before the clouds were snatched away, returning for the briefest of moments. Sadly I was not quick enough with the camera.

Finally the cloud dissipated leaving clear blue skies. I lingered and took my time descending back to the van, the weather had finally played ball for a last day on the hills. It was a very tired man and dog that got back to the Bongo at past 10.00pm.

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Reuben was a broken dog the following morning, he would have preferred to stay in his bed rather than getting up for the loo and food. It was probably a good thing that we were getting the ferry back to Skye and starting the drive home that afternoon. I don’t think he would have been very happy being taken up another mountain.

Typically the day started warm and sunny, even the cold wind of the past week had dropped. The weather always seems to turn for the better just before a long drive home from Scotland. I thought that with a few hours to spare before the ferry it would be nice to visit Luskentyre, often listed in the world’s top ten beaches.

Although I did not go right to the end of the road where the beach is meant to be at its best, I found a spectacular spot to hang out for a couple of hours. Once presented with all that empty sand Reuben forgot he was tired and raced around as fast as he could.

I will be back to the Outer Hebrides sooner rather than later.

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