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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19 Responses to “The Outer Hebrides – A Bongo on Harris and Lewis pt3”

  1. Amazing amount of rock on some of those summits. Bit of a bugger to lose part of your pacer poles!

    • I have never seen such rock covered hills before Mark. The stuff is really rough as well, a nearly new pair of boots looked old and knackered by the end of the week.

      Still kicking myself after the Pacer pole loss 😦

  2. Magical. Such a wonderful place.
    Alen McF

  3. The landscape on the east side of south Harris is sometimes described as having a Lunar quality, it is quite easy to see why. Fine walk on your last day James, we walked only as far as the loch after the observatory on a rather grey day last year, must get back to climb a few more of the hills.

    • I think that dull grey days are pretty common up there Paul, it was nice to finally get some sun and get into the high hills. Harris is stunning.

  4. Awesome James, totally awesome. Amazing photos too, you really capture the essence of the area. Re Pacer poles,I have a pair not being used..

    • Cheers Dawn. It’s somewhere that I think you would love to visit. Thank you for the offer of the Pacer Poles. I do have a second newer alloy pair so I think it would be greedy to take yours off you as well!

  5. Did you know that road on the east coast of South Harris is called ‘The Golden Road’, on account of how much it cost to build it? We spent a night along there – it was probably in that spot you said someone else was in, as we didn’t see any other good spots. The landscape there is truly amazing. Apparently this part of Harris was used by Stanley Kubrick in the film ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’, to represent the surface of Jupiter.

    And Reuben does a lovely curl-up.

    • I think that there is another Golden road on Harris Chrissie, there is a newer one that also cost a fortune to build. You can see why! Yes the other van was in the spot that you stayed, a shame as it did look good. There was a nearby campsite for vans that was sadly full that night, looked a great place to stay.

      Reuben does enjoy a mid walk snooze………

  6. Those last few photos from mountains are absolutely stunning, but I have to say the one of Reuben is a cracker. The colors are just perfect. Handsome fellow (Reuben not you!)

    You really do get a sense of remoteness from the photos like there isn’t so much as a farmhouse or croft for hundreds of miles. A camp by one of those wild mountain tarns would be amazing if you could find a rock/heather/bog free patch to put a tent on. Cracking series of posts to make me jealous 🙂

  7. aaah. stop it. I’ve got to go back…

  8. Very well written & excellent pics, looks wonderful. Notes being taken for a visit one day. Have a fear of losing carbon Pacer parts so feel a nagging need to constantly check. Have you found much difference with the carbons compared to the aluminium?

    • Thanks for that. I will be constantly checking my poles from now on, I’m glad I was not using them to pitch a shelter later that night! The Carbons are much lighter in the pack but when using there is not much in it.

  9. I enjoyed all the posts on this trip James. Looked so good there. I can see why so many want to go back.

  10. James, your adventures and writings are so prolific, I have trouble keeping up. The contrasts in the scenery encourage me to add it to the long list of I would like to visit .. And of course Reuben is the star, maybe you could get him to take a few photos of you ; ) Once again well done on the excellent photos, I am now off to read you last Sweden trip report as I prepare to head north. Enjoy your time in Sarek.

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