While I was living on the Outer Hebrides whilst in the Army, I was much too lazy to walk anywhere, especially not up the hills. It was only when I came back on holiday every year and had become interested in mountains that I decided it was time to do some of the ones on the Uists after having lived amongst them for so long and ignored them!
The one hill everyone walked, even the lazy Army folks on the islands, was Eaval (1,100ft) on North Uist. I decided to redo this hill along with a cute little strangely shaped one next to it called Burrival which is just short of 500 feet but quite a fierce little hill!
The first time I did Eaval was with an RAF pal at the time and we walked it in wellies – probably the correct attire for hillwalking on the islands!
To access these hills you need to take the Loch Euphort (Loch Eport if you have an old anglicised map) road and drive right to the roadend where there is space for a few cars to park. At the roadend there is a small crofthouse and a loch and path heads between them straight towards the mountains. What you will see is this and you need to head along the track, keeping left of a larger loch and head straight for Burrival.
There are no tracks going up the hills on the Uists, it’s just a case of look for the best line/whichever line you fancy and head up it through the deep heather. In my case, I thought the very front of Burrival, which has a steep ramp of heather going straight up to the square summit, was the quickest and best route. After a very quick ascent I was standing on the summit (no cairn) and looking at the view to Eaval before choosing a route left down to a slight col and then straight down into a corrie at the back. The route was very steep and had a surprising amount of gneiss crag and even some buttresses! Gneiss however is superb to walk on as it is completely solid and there is no loose rock or scree anywhere. It is also very grippy in the dry, although not that good in the wet.
From the corrie I headed south around to the large loch at the back of the hill and headed south over a slight escarpment to see the cave. A friend of mine lived rough there sometimes while he studied an archaeological find he had made. Warning to anyone doing this route and casually scrambling up into the cave: it’s very easy to get up into but the very devil to get down out of! For a while there was a rope down the rock below the grass tongue under the cave (the rock is about 12-15 feet) but that made it an even more awkward descent as you really need both hands and swinging about on a rope doesn’t help! I suppose if you know how to abseil it helps but I don’t...
I then headed south across a neck of land between 2 larger lochs to start up Eaval. At this point, having no food or drink with me and it being a hot day, I decided I was thirsty. I wasn’t sure whether the loch in front of Eaval was a sea-loch or not. It didn’t look to be connected to the sea (and looking at the map back home, it isn’t) but it had a little salty-looking beach. There was no seaweed however so I decided to chance it and have a little drink... big mistake! It was really salty and horrid and of course made me even thirstier!
A word of warning about walking in the Uists, especially this area of North Uist... You really do need a map due to the very many lochs en-route to anywhere. If you pick the wrong way round a loch, it is said you can walk 50 miles out of your way! I personally am sure that’s a huge exaggeration but I have just roughly measured this loch on my map and if you hadn’t headed for Burrival first and had headed the wrong way round the loch, it would take you more than 10 miles out of your way trying to get round it! With the land being so flat, you can’t see the shortest route round a loch from the ground and there are inlets everywhere. Navigating between the lochs, especially when there is no path, is definitely the most challenging part of walking on Uist.
From the loch’s beach, you can see a clear route up Eaval keeping just to the left of the craggy northern wall. This is quite a steep climb of about a mile and takes quite a while to get up but when you reach the summit, the views are superb in all directions. You can easily see the Cuillin on a reasonable day, you can see the mountains of Harris, and the patchwork of loch-speckled land to the north, west and south. It’s really interesting, even when you know the islands well, to try to work out what is where from up there – it’s just so complicated!
It isn’t possible to descend to the north or west from the summit and the best route unfortunately is back the way you came. It’s about a 5 mile walk each way from the roadend. I was lucky on the way back and a herd of around 50 red deer were playing hide and seek with me up and down the hummocks.
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