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Less is more on Magoo82's island odyssey

Less is more on Magoo82's island odyssey


Postby Magoo82 » Sat Jul 21, 2018 4:53 pm

Date walked: 13/07/2018

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Ok, we're all friends here and we can all talk honestly about what got us into hillwalking and where it's taken us. I got into hillwalking about seven years ago and spent most of that time beholden to Sir Hugh Munro's revised list of Scottish peaks 3000ft or higher and i'm willing to bet that i'm not the only one in present company who found the hills that way. It is undoubtedly a great introduction to hiking in Scotland and a structured way of doing something that we all enjoy. However, over the course of the last year I've met a lot of new people from this forum at various Walkhighlands unofficial weekend meets and one of the many benefits of this has been exposure to new ideas and inspiration for hillwalking trips causing me to stray somewhat from the munro trail. When MountainLove announced that the summer meet would be based at Portnalong, Skye I immediately took over a week off work and began to plan a trip to the Western Isles around the meet. What follows is my account of an adventure of discovery around some of Scotland's most beautiful and often unheralded territories. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed doing it :D

The meet was to begin from 4pm on Friday at the hostel. However, i'd wangled Friday off work and the forecast looked good so BorderHugh and I made arrangements to meet bright and early at Sconser ferry terminal for a daytrip to the island of Raasay which sits snugly inbetween Skye and the west coast of the Scottish mainland. The ferry took us to Churchton Bay and we set off up through the woods in search of Dun Caan, the 443m peak which stands as the highest point on the island.

ImageDun Caan by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageDun Caan by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

The slopes through the forest and over the moor are fairly gentle and soon the distinctive natural rocky fortress of Dun Caan comes into view as you contour around the banks of Loch na Mna. And from there, there's nothing else for it but a stiff heave round the back of the hill with views starting to open up of Skye.

ImageDun Caan by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageDun Caan by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

Now, being a chap who is used to climbing munros the summit was reached with some surprise being just a 443m peak. However, the views were like nothing else i've ever seen from the top of a munro. It was a real eye opener to what i've been missing out on by restricting myself to 3000ers for so many years and this is a theme that would continue throughout my trip. On a good day this hill serves as a sensational viewing platform for the Cuillins of Skye. And as if the landscape required any further drama, the RAF were on hand to provide it as two Hawk jets on a training exercise screamed right over out heads :shock:

ImageDun Caan by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageDun Caan by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageDun Caan by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageRaasay by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

We sat there for half an hour our so just taking it all in before tracking the cliffs south and descending the pathless heathery eastern slopes of the island towards Hallaig, an old crofting settlement and one of many forcibly vacated during the Highland Clearances and the subject of the eerie poem by Raasay's native Sorley Maclean, later put to music by Martyn Bennett.

ImageRaasay by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageDun Caan by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

Hallaig is quite a spooky place to wander around with Maclean's haunting words "the dead have been seen alive" playing on loop in your mind, it's quite an experience. The route south to pick up the coastal path took a little bit of trial and error but once we'd scuttled over Hallaig Burn and through the woods the main parth was picked up with glorious views over the beautiful cove of Rubha na Leac before hiking back over the road from North Ferans to Clachan.

ImageDun Caan by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageRaasay by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageDun Caan by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

Soon we were on the ferry back to Skye but Raasay had really taken us both aback. We'd gone over for a wee walk around but had been treated to some fabulous scenery and history. It really is a hidden gem of an island with some excellent walking and views minus the tourist pandemonium of Skye in the height of summer. I'll definitely be going back some day to visit Callum's Road, another interesting saga from Raasay's more modern history. But the realisation was beginning to dawn that sometimes the smallest hills offer the greatest reward.

We made our way to Portnalong for the meet where myself, RMed, Black Panther & Kevin were disappointed but not entirely surprised to hear that our guided ascent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Saturday had been cancelled due to warnings of rain and high winds on the ridge. Don't worry guys, i've not forgotten about the refund - i'll speak to Paddy once I get back to work next week and i'll contact you all next week to arrange the funds transfers. Saturday and Sunday on Skye turned out to be a bit of a washout with the weather although some WHers managed out for a coastal walk whilst others braved Bruach na Frithe.

I chose instead to have a drive through Carbost, Sligachan and Elgol with the dark clouds making for some moody scenery.

ImageSkye by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageSkye by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageSkye by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

Despite the weather, the best was made of the weekend with wonderful people in a lovely setting at the Croft Bunkhouse in Portnalong where a keenly contested quiz was won by Fife Flyer, Dibs, Parminder, Arabgarry, Steve, and myself :D

As many of the others headed home though, I had other plans. I was off to Harris on Sunday afternoon on the Uig to Tarbert ferry and upon arrival at the quirky Am Bothan hostel in Leverburgh I was heartened to learn that the weather was to improve from Monday onwards. It was time to get back into the hiking game 8)

With the weather looking better in the morning, I drove to Luskentyre. It's a place made famous for its vast white beaches but according to the map I could see that there was a small hill of 506m named Beinn Dhubh to the north of the sands and so I set off on a direct route uphill. There are a number of very faint paths but the general idea here I think is to just make a beeline. As it turns out, this hill has some wonderful views of the beach below.

ImageHarris by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageHarris by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageHarris by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageHarris by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageHarris by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageHarris by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

Upon reaching the top, the views from the trig point aren't immediately extensive due to the size of the summit plateau. But if you walk around it in about a 100m radius the views really open up on the Tarbert side with the Clisham, the only Corbett in the Western Isles, just covered in cloud to the north.

ImageHarris by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageHarris by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

And of course the advantage of climbing a hill next to the beach is that you get to cool off your feet in the Atlantic Ocean afterwards! :lol:

ImageHarris by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageHarris by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

The walkhighlands description of this walk takes in the hill's eastern ridge and that looks a finer walk than the way I did it. I was working to a weather window and didn't want to leave myself too far from the car if the heavens opened hence the "straight up and down" approach. Nevertheless this is a superb wee hill with some terrific views of Harris's celebrated beaches. Once again, a hill smaller in stature was admitting no inferiority to its mightier mainland counterparts. A trend was emerging... :D

A second night was spent in Leverburgh before an early rise on Tuesday morning to take the first ferry over to Berneray, a small island linked by a causeway to the tip of North Uist. I didn't have too much planned for Tuesday as Wednesday was to be a big one, but I decided nonetheless to do some exploring around Benbecula. Now at this point I hear you all cyber-exclaiming "but Benbecula is as flat as a two week old pint of Best, there's nothing there for a hillwalker!". Once again though, the perceived conventional wisdom simply does not apply on these islands and there is always beauty in nature if you're prepared to go looking for it. A short stroll up the mere 124m bump of Rueval was followed by a real trip highlight at Flodda where grey seals can be seen in their natural habitat. They're quite difficult to spot, often referred to as "rocks that move" but if you use your ears in the first instance you can plenty hear them aarfing and farting away and you'll know where to look!

ImageBenbecula by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageBenbecula by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageBenbecula by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageBenbecula by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageBenbecula by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

I had enjoyed Benbecula with its multitude of tiny lochans scattered over a vast expanse of flat terrain giving it an other-worldly feeling and its wildlife adding to the charm. However, my destination for Tuesday evening was Howmore on South Uist where I would spent the first of three nights in the Gatliff Hebridean Trust hostel. They don't take bookings so I was expecting the place to be busy but their website says they very rarely turn people away. It's not manned but the warden pops round most nights to collect the £16 per night lodging fee and as it turned out I got a whole dorm to myself.

Wednesday was to be the biggest day of the trip though. The Graham, Beinn Mhor and the two sub-2000ers Beinn Corradail and Hecla along with the ridge that connects them are well seen from anywhere on South Uist as the most prominent peaks on the island and my intention was to traverse the full ridge.

I set off in good spirits crossing the moor towards Beinn Mhor and encountering a swooping Sea Eagle on my way up onto the high ground.

ImageSouth Uist by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageSouth Uist by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageSouth Uist by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

Once the 600m line was attained I could see other folk on the summit including a couple from Perth who I ended up stopping to chat with for a while. The ridge from here to the summit although quite short is an absolute delight with sensational views out to Barra in the south, the Sky Cuillins to the east, and even a very faint outline of St Kilda to the far north-west which you can just about make out from my fuzzy iPhone pic 8)

ImageSouth Uist by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageSouth Uist by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageSouth Uist by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageSt kilda in the distance by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

At this point a decision really needs to be made whether to return or to traverse the full ridge. I'd kept my legs fresh with a very light day on the Tuesday and was feeling good so I decided to go for it. The first thing to say is that there is considerable descent and reascent between these peaks and the going is tough and largely pathless. The hike up Beinn Corradail was something of an unceremonious clamber up bouldery heather but you are repaid tenfold by the views on this walk.

ImageSouth Uist by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

It's a similar tale between Beinn Corradail and Hecla and I think this bealach would be very difficult to negotiate in haar or hill fog as there are lots of very similar humps and bumps and there is a magnetic anomaly in this area which renders a compass about as much use as a potato. Except you can't eat a compass 8)

ImageSouth Uist by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

Once more though, the view from Hecla back along the ridge and out west to sea were just breathtaking.

ImageSouth Uist by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageSouth Uist by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

By this stage I was feeling pretty bushed but the most draining part of the hike was still to come - what seemed like an endless pathless yomp west over the moor to the road. If anything this was probably made easier by this year's dry weather as it would likely be a bogfest in normal conditions. But as with any hillwalk the hardships are soon forgotten once the boots come off. By the time I got back to the hostel though i'd been on the move for nine hours. Make no mistake, this is a tough circuit of hills and whilst the elevation on paper may not look daunting there is still over 1200m of ascent on this round and the terrain is hard going. Don't underestimate the stamina and determination required here, these are as gruelling as any munros i've ever done. But with views like those you'd grit your teeth and bear it wouldn't you? :wink:

Upon arrival back at the hostel a chap in his 40s had just arrived with his two teenage sons cycling the Hebridean way but they'd missed the shop where they had planned to stock up on food and supplies and were understandably the worse for morale on the back of it. However, the frowns were quickly turned upside down when I informed them that my car was outside and i'd gladly drive them the 8 miles north to the Benbecula Co-op and back once we'd all got showered and changed. They happily feasted on Co-op hamburgers and the gloom was lifted :D

Good deed done, I was nearing the end of my journey but not before making a daytrip to Barra by ferry on Thursday. Eaval is the highest point on Barra. At 383m it's not a biggie but as we're learning height is no indication of beauty in this neck of the woods. It can be ascended from Castlebay or from a car park higher up. My legs felt a bit delicate from the previous day's exertions so the high car park was chosen as the start point 8)

The route up is "direct" but the views from the top are unconstrained and very impressive. There were plenty of families with small kids up the hill so it's a hike most able-bodied folks can enjoy.

ImageBarra by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageBarra by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageBarra by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageBarra by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageBarra by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

Hiking complete, I had a wander around Castlebay where there is a very picturesque old Kirk before jumping in the car for a ride out to the gorgeous beaches of Vatersay.

ImageBarra by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageBarra by Ross McGowan, on Flickr


Barra seemed to be quite a busy bustling community with lots of people milling around and i'd like to return and see more of it but i'd a ferry to catch back to South Uist for one last night at the hostel before beginning the journey back to the mainland and home to Dundee on Friday.

Now, despite the In Pinn being kyboshed, I think it's important to say at this point that I was away for seven days and got good weather on five of them which is very good going in this part of the world and I appreciate that the weather can make or break this sort of hiking holiday. But it turned out to be a fabulous week-long journey through places that pique your interest both topographically and culturally.

I've done 171 munros and i'll probably still compleat at some point in the next 5-10 years but there really is so much more to hiking in Scotland than restricting yourself to the big stuff. When it comes to the Hebrides the mantra that "less is more" definitely rings true. The great thing about hiking is that you don't need to be particularly talented to do it, all you need is an able body and most importantly of all an imagination. Talk to other people, get yourself along to a Walkhighlands meet, join a hiking club, anything that allows you to glean little nuggets of inspiration and ideas that you can blend with your own imagination to craft the sort of trip described above. Trust me, you will not regret it :wink:
User avatar
Magoo82
Mountain Walker
 
Posts: 144
Munros:188   Corbetts:5
Grahams:1   Donalds:2
Sub 2000:9   Hewitts:1
Wainwrights:2   Islands:15
Joined: Apr 2, 2011
Location: Coldside, Dundee

Re: Less is more on Magoo82's island odyssey

Postby Sgurr » Sat Jul 21, 2018 6:10 pm

Welcome to the world of the Sub 2000. You are right that the views are often better, as from the summit of a Munro, the view sometimes seems to be flattened out a bit, and you get not much impression of its size. From half way up, you often see some other Munros, but take a step onto the summit of a sub2000 and the views are far better. Sgurr na Stri is a sub 2000, but arguably you get the best views of the Cuillin ridge from it....or as some would claim, the best view in Scotland
User avatar
Sgurr
Munro compleatist
 
Posts: 4183
Munros:282   Corbetts:222
Grahams:219   Donalds:89
Sub 2000:569   Hewitts:139
Wainwrights:160   Islands:58
Joined: Nov 15, 2010
Location: Fife

Re: Less is more on Magoo82's island odyssey

Postby Magoo82 » Sat Jul 21, 2018 6:26 pm

Sorry guys, I tried to edit a typo and it's posted the report all over again. I can't get rid of the other one so admins feel free to to delete the duplicate. Less is more also applies to the quantity of the same report :lol:
User avatar
Magoo82
Mountain Walker
 
Posts: 144
Munros:188   Corbetts:5
Grahams:1   Donalds:2
Sub 2000:9   Hewitts:1
Wainwrights:2   Islands:15
Joined: Apr 2, 2011
Location: Coldside, Dundee

Re: Less is more on Magoo82's island odyssey

Postby BlackPanther » Sun Jul 22, 2018 4:53 pm

Looks like a superb week of island adventures, despite the In Pin disappointment. Well, it always rains on WH meets so we shouldn't have been surprised :lol:

We have also recently "discovered" the subs, some of them are good easy hills for winter conditions, others are great viewpoints. The day before the meet, we climbed Ben Tianavaig above Portree and spent a lot of time lurking among the rocks and pinnacles. It was just like going back in time to Jurassic Park, I almost expected to see a pterodactyl hovering over our heads. Ben Shieldaig in Torridon is another gobsmacking little mountain, quite tough to climb and with views to kill for. On the other hand, some subs are boring and pointless. There is one near Inverness called Burgiehill, it has a big TV mast on top and you can drive your car almost to the summit :lol: I guess it's a matter of "pick and miss" - pick the good hills, miss the pointless ones.
User avatar
BlackPanther
Mountain Walker
 
Posts: 3407
Munros:260   Corbetts:164
Grahams:112   
Sub 2000:48   
Joined: Nov 2, 2010
Location: Beauly, Inverness-shire

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