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Take me back to the islands

Take me back to the islands


Postby malky_c » Mon Aug 12, 2019 9:57 pm

Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Beinn Mhor (North Uist), Beinn Sciathain (Eriskay), Easabhal (South Uist), Sgaoth Aird (Harris), Sheabhal (Barra)

Date walked: 03/08/2019

Time taken: 8.6 hours

Distance: 19 km

Ascent: 1685m

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After the Harris meet in June, we were keen to get at least one more visit to the Outer Hebrides in this summer. What we hadn't decided was how or where, but I had been keeping an eye on the weather forecasts while on leave. The first week had looked too changeable, but the second week was shaping up perfectly - perhaps we could nip over with the bikes for a couple of nights and head down to Beinn Mhor on South Uist?

We headed off late Tuesday morning to catch the afternoon ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy. Packing had been rather last minute, and having not put overnight stuff onto my bike for a couple of years, I wasn't entirely sure how it would fit together. Still, surely the best method was to throw everything onto the ferry and work it out at the other side? What could possibly go wrong with that??

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Final preparations...

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...and we’re off!

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Goodbye Skye

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Hello Lochmaddy

Day 1 - Tuesday 30th July. 33 miles on the bike

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Day 1 map

We had a late lunch on the ferry and enjoyed the scenery on the way over, before taking some time to sort our stuff at Lochmaddy. It all had to go in somehow, as we didn't have anywhere to leave things. I had agreed to take the bulk of the weight (food, tent, cooking stuff) otherwise the trip might not have been possible at all. Shortly after 4pm, we were on our way south.

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Heading south from Lochmaddy

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Eabhal

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Cuillin in the distance

The cycling was easy - winds were light and there was little ascent. Traffic was light too, so the going was very pleasant, especially with interesting looking hills in most directions. On our way, we discussed what to do. Jackie was planning to walk in trail shoes and had left her poles behind, and was now a bit nervous that the heathery lower reaches of Beinn Mhor might not be too good for her knee. In anticipation of changing our plans, I had bought maps for everything from North Harris to Barra with me, so we decided that continuing south the next day would be another option if Beinn Mhor didn't appeal.

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Over to Benbecula

In the meantime we kept heading south (with a stop in the Craigorry Co-op on Benbecula for ice cream), aiming to camp somewhere on South Uist.

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...and over to South Uist

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Hecla, Beinn Coradail and Beinn Mhor from Stoneybridge

Water was a bit of an issue - it is everywhere, but usually standing in murky pools, or in small burns next to sheep and cattle. I eventually topped up from the Abhainn Rog, but decided this stuff was probably best boiled. A short distance further on, we reached the new sea defences behind the beach at Stoneybridge - somewhere I had camped on my first visit to South Uist. As time was moving on, this seemed like a good bet this time too, so we put the tent up right behind the beach itself.

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North from Stoneybridge beach

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Our digs

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Last light

We had dinner and a stroll along the coast, before the odd midge started making life less pleasant. Then it was time to batten down the hatches and head inside. We were quite pleased with our first day 8) .
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Day 2 - Wednesday 31st July. 46 miles on the bike. Also including Beinn Sciathain: 1.5km, 130m ascent, 40 minutes, and Sheabhal: 2.5km, 340m ascent, 1, hour 20 minutes.

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Day 2 map

Midges were lurking outside the tent door when we woke, but they were at their worst under the flysheet, and less annoying outside. The hills looked great in the morning, but the forecast was for the day to become more overcast, and we had pretty much talked ourselves out of Beinn Mhor now anyway. Why not go down to Barra instead, I had suggested. Great idea. We had been planning a full end-to-end bike tour of the Outer Hebrides since last summer, but with Jackie's various injuries, it seemed a bit too committing this year (the logistics of getting from Ullapool back to Oban are complicated enough, never mind the actual cycling). This was a great alternative as we could turn back if it was turning out too difficult.

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Morning on South Uist

We completed the circuit of minor roads around Stoneybridge and were back on the main road south before too long. At West Kilbride (not that one!), we got our first glimpse of Barra, and stopped for a cup of tea at a café. Then onto Eriskay, where I thought we'd probably have time for a quick ascent of Beinn Sciathain before the lunchtime ferry over to Barra.

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First glimpse of Barra from West Kilbride

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Barra from Eriskay

Jackie thought short easy walks like this would be OK on her knee, so we nipped up from the high point on the Eriskay road. Despite its rockiness, there is quite a bit of bog to navigate, but we reached the summit dry-shod. Cloud was moving in over Barra, but this is an absolute corker of a viewpoint, and easily worth the 20 minutes or so we had taken to get up.


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Ascent of Beinnn Scithain

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Causeway back to South Uist

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Beinn Mhor from Eriskay

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Southern tip of South Uist

A lovely freewheel down to the ferry terminal had us there in plenty of time for the ferry. I've only been to Barra once before (and Jackie not at all), so we were both looking forward to our visit.

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Barra ferry

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Leaving Eriskay

There was a slight annoying breeze initially on Barra, but it soon disappeared as we picked up the ring road round the east coast. Barra is slightly hillier than South Uist for cycling, with the biggest hill just before Castlebay.

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Heading south on Barra

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Sheabhal

At the top of the hill above Castlebay, we decided that Sheabhal looked clear enough to make a quick dash for. I have some longer walks planned for this sometime, but a quick up and down from the closest point on the road is best suited to cycle touring, so that's what we did.


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Castlebay

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Ascending Sheabhal

We followed a path initially and the going was wet in places, but somehow we lost the route as I got impatient and started going straight up the hillside. The views down to Pabbay and Mingulay were opening up across Castlebay, something I hadn't really got a full view of last time on the island. They were much closer than I imagined, and if I hadn't known, it would be easy to mistake them for bits of Barra.

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Looking back to the islands south of Barra

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Muldonaich

After stopping to talk to a guy and his dog for some time, we made the last bit of ascent to find annoyingly that the cloud had rolled in :twisted: . It almost appeared to lift a couple of times, but after hanging around for 10 minutes, we gave in and headed down past the statue and back to the bikes.

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Sheabhal summit - bah humbug

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Back below the cloud

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East coast of Barra

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Statue on Sheabhal

Down in Castlebay we stopped for more ice cream and debated what to do next. Jackie was tiring, but still keen to include a diversion to Vatersay - the main problem with this was the steep hill separating Castlebay from the causeway that we'd have to come back over again. We decided to leave out the short walk up to the highest point on Vatersay - in retrospect we should have done this instead of Sheabhal as we would have had views.

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Kismul Castle

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Causeway to Vatersay

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Heading round the coast on Vatersay

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Traigh Vatersay

We stopped at the community centre on Vatersay, slightly hopeful that the café would still be open, but it wasn't. Instead I got the stove out and we had a brew outside. We would both have been quite keen to camp somewhere here but were mindful of the likely distance to be done the following day, which would be even longer if we stayed down here. More sensible to head back to the north of the island.

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Sheabhal from Vatersay

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Bugger of a hill above Nasg

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Castlebay and the Oban ferry

Around the west side of Barra is one of the few places with a phone signal in these parts (4G seems to have advanced into the Uists but barely down here), so I decided to phone my mum's cousin Rob, who lives with his family on North Uist. We planned to call in the following day if he was around, hence the likely long day. Bonus - he offered dinner and a bed for the night. All the more reason to get back up north!

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West coast of Barra

After completing the circuit of Barra, we headed for the airport beach. I thought we might find somewhere to camp near here. We did eventually -practically on the airport itself! We weren't too concerned - the tide was in, and would be again in the morning, so we would be up and away before any planes landed. The so-so day turned into a lovely evening, and we sat out for a spell before heading for bed.

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Airport beach

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Sneaky campsite - you can’t do this at Heathrow!
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Day 3 - Thursday 1st August. 53 miles on the bike. Also including Easabhal: 3.5km, 225m ascent, 55 minutes.

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Day 3 map

The next morning was even nicer. I hadn't been overly impressed by this beach before, but with the tide in it looked spectacular. We were on our way in time for the 9am ferry back to Eriskay, taking all of 10 minutes to get back to the ferry terminal. Coffee was available at the kiosk here, and we chatted to a couple of other groups who were doing the full tour.

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Morning view

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Time to head off

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Shame to be leaving Barra

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Barra ferry

Eriskay was even nicer than on the way down - the sun was fully out now. I decided I couldn't pass Easabhal without a quick bag, but Jackie wanted to conserve her energy for the day ahead. So I stopped off shortly after we had crossed the causeway and agreed to meet Jackie at the West Kilbride café in an hour.

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Eriskay beach

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Eriskay

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Barra ferry from Eriskay

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Eriskay village

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That's not how you do it...

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Back to South Uist again

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From the causeway

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Barra

It was a quick hoof over a fence and a smash through heather to get started on Easabhal's lower slopes. The the going was a mixture of heather and strolling across massive slabs of gneiss. The summit area was sprawling, with a number of cairns on it, the most northerly one looking highest. While the views from the southern cairns were great across Eriskay, Barra and the southern tip of South Uist, the northern one gave a spectacular vista of Lochboisdale and Beinn Mhor.


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East Kilbride and Barra

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Roineabhal

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Eriskay from Easabhal

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Barra from Easabhal

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Beinn Mhor from Easabhal

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Lochboisdale

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Daliburgh

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Eashabhal summit slabs

Back down by a vaguely similar route, I caught up with Jackie at the café a couple of miles down the road and we got moving north.

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Eriskay

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West coast of South Uist

Crap discovery of the day was that we would have a headwind (this seemed especially unfair given that there had been a slight one on the way down as well :roll: ). It wasn't strong, but it would make the long haul up South Uist a bit of a drag.

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Heading north

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South Uist hills

The wind was a bit tiresome, but eventually we arrived at Benbecula, stopping for some supplies at the Co-op again. I managed to persuade Jackie that the road around the west side of the island had less up and down in it, and when we passed through Balivanich, we nipped into the airport for a some tea and cake at the café.

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A break on Benbecula

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Beinn Mhor from a Benbecula beach

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Eabhal and North Uist

Despite being tired, Jackie had some island bagging planned for the afternoon - Flodaigh was a short diversion to the east from the main road over a causeway. We took a quick cycle out - it was as pleasant as every other area, but with nothing much to see. Then up to Carinish, which seemed to take forever, and finally left at the Baleshare turnoff. Again, we took a quick detour onto Baleshare, but my relatives live on the mainland just to the north of the causeway, so we had to retrace our tracks briefly into the wind.

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Thatched cottage near Flodaigh

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Eabhal and North Uist

Finally there, we were treated to a lovely evening of food, drink and chat with Rob and Marnie. I was glad I had called them - last time I was here (and the first time I met them) was about 3 years ago, and I wasn't sure if they would remember me :lol: .

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Hecla and Beinn Mhor from my relatives place
_______________________________________________

Day 4 - Friday 2nd August. 33 miles on the bike. Also including Beinn Mhor: 2.5km, 170m ascent, 1 hour.

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Day 4 map

We had a bit of a lie-in today. Although we had already been out a night longer than planned, somehow last night we had decided that rather than returning to Lochmaddy at lunchtime for the ferry back to Skye, we'd go over to Harris. Why not? We were going to spend the rest of the week on Skye anyway, so we decided to make the best of the weather on the remoter islands instead.

After a lovely late breakfast, we said goodbye to our hosts and headed north. With no time constraints, we could go around the west side of North Uist, but in the end we opted for cutting through the middle via the Committee Road. There was an easterly that could have become tedious on the way back from the western edge of the island, so we minimised it.

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Our stop for the night

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First Highland Coos seen this trip

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Vallay from the Committee Road descent

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Crogearraidh Mor and Maari

After turning off the Lochmaddy road, we decided that we should probably do a Beinn Mhor, even if not the one originally intended! This one I remember as being one of the best viewpoints in the islands, sandwiched as it is between the Sound of Harris and the Harris hills to the north and the watery wastes of North Uist to the south. The ascent only took 30 minutes or so, and was relatively dry and easy.


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Trumisgarry from Beinn Mhor

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Traigh Hornais

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Lees and Eabhal from Beinn Mhor

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Grenitote

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Lingeigh and Boreray

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Crogearraidh na Thobha

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Harris

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Berneray and Pabay

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Leverburgh and Berneray

We ended up taking a slightly different line down involving a wander of a minute or two down the road and back to the bikes.

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Final cycle to the Harris ferry

On Berneray, we stopped off at the bistro for lunch - tasty. Then we took a quick spin into the village to kill some time before the ferry. The sun was really warm on the ferry over the Sound of Harris - I could feel my head burning. How lucky we were with the weather! Jackie has a completely skewed view of the weather on Harris now - in her 3 visits this year, she has had about half a day of rain :lol: .

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Roineabhal from Berneray

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Approaching Harris

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North Uist

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Leverburgh

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We didn’t mean to go to Harris!

After a quick restock in Leverburgh (including more ice cream :D ), we hit the road for the last few miles of the day. We were planning to camp on the coast near Horgabost - a place we'd both camped before which offers maximum scenery and sunset potential for minimum effort. Before that though, there were numerous photo stops - it was great to be back on Harris again 8) .

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Cycling through Scarista

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Ceaphabhal

We had the tent pitched nice and early and looked forward to a good sunset and some dinner. Unfortunately the breeze was intermittent enough for the midges to make occasional gatherings - one minute they were ferocious and the next they had been blown away by a breath of wind. Didn't quite make for the relaxing evening we has hoped for, but the sunset was well worth it.

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Camp spot near Horgabost

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Nice light to the west

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Looking towards North Harris

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Taransay

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Evening light show...

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Sunset campsite

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Our Lady of the Isles

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Setting...

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Sun has gone

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Last light on Taransay
_____________________________________________________

Day 5 - Saturday 3rd August. 20 miles on the bike. Also including the Giolabhail Glas round: 9km, 820m ascent, 4 hours 40 minutes.

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Day 5 map

We had two options for Saturday - orderly awakening and lunchtime ferry back to Uig, or wait for the late evening ferry after 9pm. The weather was looking good again, and Jackie was feeling more confident about her walking abilities without proper gear now that we'd done most of the cycling, so we looked for a walk to fill the afternoon. I thought Sgaoth Aird would be good, seeing as it was very close to Tarbert, but I didn't think Jackie would go for it given that it was probably more of a mountainous walk than Beinn Mhor, which we'd canned earlier in the week. Then Jackie suggested....Sgaoth Aird. Excellent! Now it wouldn't be my fault if she twisted her knee :lol: . She had been pretty keen on the Giolabhail Glas Horseshoe since seeing it on her first visit in April, and so was I.

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Next day over Taransay

There was no rush, so we had a leisurely start followed by a beach stop at Seilbost, before dragging ourselves over the big hill of the day to Tarbert. Unfortunately Jackie got a puncture on the descent into Tarbert - just as we were congratulating ourselves on no bike repairs!

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Traigh Iar

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Cycling to Seilbost

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Tiorga Mor and Orebhail

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Seilbost and Beinn Dubh

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North Harris hills from Seilbost

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Descent to Tarbert

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Scalpay and Beinn Mor Coigach

Soon enough the puncture was sorted and we rolled into Tarbert to buy ferry tickets and discover that due to lateness the day before, the ferry was running at least 30 minutes behind schedule. No rush to get around our walk then :) . A short cycle later and we were at the Bun Abhainn Eadarra, and the start of the first hill.


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Tarbert

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Aird Asaig

We had no need to rush, but our 14:30 start was slack even by our standards! The climb up from the road is pretty steep, but the ground is mostly pretty reasonable, and you very quickly get above the initial heather bashing and onto easier ground. Almost immediately were great views of the high Harris hills.

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The road to Lewis

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Clisham

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Bun Abhainn Eadarra

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Uisgneabhal Mor

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Oireabhal

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Loch a Siar

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Beinn Dubh

We stopped on Gillaval Dubh for a break, then it was various ups and downs over Giolabhail Glas and other bumps. Before long, there were great views to the east as well. The feel was very similar to the best hills in Ardgour - all gneiss slabs and short vegetation.

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Jackie on Giolabhal Ghlas

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Skye

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North Harris hills

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Clisham

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Giolabhal Glas

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Uisgneabhal Mor

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On the horseshoe

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Scalpay

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Summit of Giolabhail Glas

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High hills just poking over

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East Loch Tarbert

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Jackie

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Todun

As we got further round, we could see down into Gleann Lacsdail and the loch there - another impressive side to these hills. But the best was still to come, and the going was more straightforward and grassy on the final pull to Sgaoth Aird.

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Down the east coast to Beinn Mhor

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Todun from Sgaoth Aird

Even more great views from the edge of the summit plateau - up to Lewis and across to Pairc. It was hard not to think of this as Tundraboy's hill - he died in a fall up here in March 2014, despite seeming indestructible. I had met him a few months earlier and we had had a great day out on some obscure hills behind Ullapool. Hils had suggested that this summit was one of the best in the Western Isles, something I thought was a rather tall order, but turns out she could be right. There's plenty of competition but it is easily up there.

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Loch Seaforth and Pairc

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Clisham

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Sgaoth Iosal

Time to head back to the northern edge - the actual summit cairn itself isn't overly exciting, being away from the best crags and views. But the edge overlooking the Clisham road was spectacular, all the way along to Sgaoth Iosal. From here we followed the easy ground out to the nose overlooking Bun Abhainn Eadarra, before skirting back into the glen to stay away from the roughest, steepest slopes.

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Giolabhal Glas

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Clisham and Mulla bho Dheas

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Harris/Lewis road and Sgaoth Aird northern face

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Sgaoth Aird

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Uisgnabhal Mor and Clisham

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Clisham

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Loch a’ Mhorgain

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Beinn Dubh and Taransay

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Descent to Sgaoth Iosal

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Mulla Bho Deas

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Uisgnabhal Mor

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Bun Abhainn Eadarra

Jackie had been worriee about this route down for most of the walk, but about halfway down into the glen, I found a traverse which took us out across the lower face and landed us on the road near the quarry. This had the advantage of being better ground, and saved a good 100m of off-path descent. In the end it was pretty easy to get down, and an easy few minute stroll back to the bikes.

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Gillaval Dubh

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Gillaval Dubh

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Steep descent

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Gillaval Dubh

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Ceann an Ora quarry

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We came down where?!

All that remained of our accidental 5 day adventure was to trundle the 3 miles back into Tarbert (via yet another ice cream stop in Aird Asaig :lol: ). We both agreed that the horseshoe we had just done was one of the highlights of the trip.

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Looking back from Aird Asaig

We had ages to kill waiting for the ferry, some of which we used up being cheapskates and cooking up the remainder of our food on the quayside (a pub meal was an option, but being outside was still really nice). The ferry finally loaded up about 40 minutes late, added to which an engine fault meant we weren't leaving until after10pm. There was a lovely last display of sunset before darkness descended, and we finally rolled into Uig shortly before midnight.

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Late onto the ferry

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Time to go

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Nice sunset

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Kyles Scalpay

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Leaving Loch Tarbert

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Last look at Harris

The trip had been even better than we could have hoped for. With the poor weather rolling in late on Sunday morning, we decided to cut our losses and head home to Inverness, arriving at about 3am. After all of that amazingness, it wasn't worth pitching up somewhere for a night of poor sleep and a disappointing day out the following morning.
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malky_c
 
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Re: Take me back to the islands

Postby Blokewithastroke » Sun Sep 01, 2019 10:35 am

Thank you for sharing these marvellous photographs with us! Almost all magnificent and they serve as a reminder of the time we were there a few short weeks ago - which was almost exactly the time you were there, travelling in the opposite direction to us! The highlight of our one-and-only visit (so far!) was climbing up to the top of Ceaphabhal and admiring the views from there. (You can imagine, I am sure, of the difficulties I had in climbing Ceaphabhal. If I hadn't the support of my wife - both physical and mental - I don't think I could have made it; but I am glad I did!) The sharp contrast between the different islands of the Outer Hebrides has to be seen to be believed - whether this be Lewis and/or Harris, North and South Uist, Eriskay and Barra, all remarkably different and unique!
Blokewithastroke
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Re: Take me back to the islands

Postby Mountainlove » Sun Sep 01, 2019 6:53 pm

Really enjoyed that report. Was always wondering how hard it is to cycle the islands and it seems ice cream is the answer :lol: :lol: :lol: great photos and you have been so lucky with the weather!
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Mountainlove
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