South Uist's Beinn Mhor: Eyed up by a Sea Eagle

Route: Beinn Mhor and Hecla, South Uist

Grahams: Beinn Mhor (Uist)

Date walked: 17/10/2018

Time taken: 5 hours

Distance: 10km

Ascent: 620m

I am in love with the Outer Hebrides, there's no other way to put it. They are so beautiful, so wild and even minor ascents up to the top of very small hills give incredible views.A car journey can seem like a wildlife safari, especially when it comes to eagle sightings; they seem to be everywhere, as are owls and hen harriers. Autumn also brought roaring stags near our cottage and literally hundreds of Whooper swans; I've never seen so many.

ImageP1080054.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

We spent a week in October 2018 based in North Uist , the island which is truly of my heart.As well as just enjoying being there and strolling the enormous white sand beaches, I had a wee target in my head of getting to the top of several nearby highest points - Eaval (375m), Beinn Mhor (620m) , Beinn Scrien on Eriskay (185m) , Beinn Shleibhe (93m) on Berneray and Rueval (127m) on Benbecula. Easy stuff I know in terms of height climbed - 1400m over one week - but each promising a superb viewpoint.

I'd climbed Beinn Mhor many years ago but felt very cheated as low cloud had stayed put the whole way. :( So I was really keen to pick a good day when we'd get some views at least, even briefly, as being the highest massif, the mountain is often the only one covered in cloud.But Wednesday dawned pretty good so Beinn Mhor it would be.Some pesky cloud was hanging around the summit as we drove south from Loch Portain and my heart sank a bit. :( The only saving grace was, as we got out of the car to get our boots on, I was nearly knocked over by the wind! Wow, it was going to be interesting on the top if it was this bad at sea level. :roll: But at least strong winds sometimes blow any clag away and keep low cloud moving.And as we set off , the summit was already starting to clear and blue skies are breaking through.In fact it was already one of those great autumn days of scudding cloud and sunshine. It was looking good. :)
The wide stony track is a great one for the first 10 minutes but after that, we were deposited onto - or I should say , into - The Bog.

ImageP1080229.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

My husband’s brother was up Beinn Mhor in the summer and told us how he had lain out on the moorland here, basking in the hot sun, the grasses dry as a bone and the ground solid. Now, we were hopping between tiny bits of vegetation to avoid plunging up to our knees - or worse - in the black stuff! What a difference a season makes.... :shock:

That section seemed to go on forever but in reality it was only 20 minutes (I am obsessed about keeping time for distance and height, what time we set off, when we get to x point, then the summit etc.Not sure why).Then a better path appeared that took us up the shoulder and onto drier ground altogether. Whatever the conditions, once I start walking, I always feel it's just so great to be out on the hill.The colours today were glorious too – tawny and gold and amber, the sea as blue as the Aegean. Magical.

ImageP1080072.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

We were still fairly low down when a huge bird swept into view and in seconds, was directly above us. Wings like planks and outspread fingers, it was unmistakable – an eagle!

ImageP1070978.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

As I fiddled with the camera to get a shot, it didn’t soar off into the distance but seemed really interested about these two creatures below and it hovered above us for 20 seconds or so.I snapped away with the zoom, hoping I’d get one reasonable shot in focus and at the same time, enjoyed the close up view through the lens. I could have sworn it’s eye met mine several times ; it seemed to cock its head to get a better look at us, as we stared up in wonder.I'll never forget it.What a sight. Then he or she took off across the moorland, dismissing us and going back on the hunt.We debated a bit about which kind of eagle it was - a young sea-eagle or a goldie and both reckoned it was a juvenile sea eagle. :?:

ImageP1070977.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Mind you, I’m not surprised we were seen as potential carrion given how much of a meal we were making of the climb so far. We were both knackered and we’d only been walking 45 mins! I don’t know whether it was the boggy start or our ageing pins (60 years +) , the wind or probably all three. It must have been a decade or more since we’d climbed the hill and I don’t remember it being too much of a slog – in fact, it had seemed quite a quick, easy pull up. Hillwalking seems to get harder every year, these days ☹
Onwards and upwards we headed, the wind buffeting us alarmingly at times but oh those views.... Hecla looked fantastic, very wild.

ImageP1070996.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It was a relief to finally reach the top of the shoulder itself and flatter ground - and what a ridge lay ahead. Spectacular and quite intimidating at first glance especially in high winds but on closer inspection it looked fine.But the wind made us choose the by-pass path which contoured nicely just below the rocky outcrops and also gave protection from the gale. Steep ground disappeared to our left into an abyss of wild empty moorland a thousand feet below, leading out to a bay I have always fancied visiting – Corradail.Patches of sunlight were turning the sea turquoise and emerald out there. What a fabulous looking spot for a camp.

ImageP1080044.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageP1070999.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageP1080151.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Suddenly , the summit reared ahead dead ahead – a steep narrow crag which, from where I was standing, looked impossible without an exposed scramble on slithery vegetated rock . Given my tendency towards vertigo I had a moment of panic before I realised that the path wound its way over to the west side of the mountain just before the crag, giving an easy ascent up wide steep slopes to the cairn itself. Relief.

ImageP1080148.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Now the view really opened up to the south as we headed across more open slopes.Below lay endless lochans, machair and the ocean with Uist's string of white beaches just visible. Beinn Kenneth at Lochboisdale , Eriskay and Barra were in shadow as heavy cloud swept over them.The sea in between was bright silver.I was mesmerised by it all.Often words fail me on a hill walk, the whole experience just seems to sear itself into your soul.

ImageP1080053.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageP1080054.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

ImageP1080130.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

In minutes we were on the surprisingly wide grassy plateau before it narrowed to the summit cairn atop the crag. The mountain’s cliffs looked imposing, falling sheer into Glen Corradail.

ImageP1080086.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Skye’s MacLeod’s Tables were just visible as was the lighthouse at Neist Point.A very hazy shot unfortunately...

ImageP1080111.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Beinn Corradail and Hecla looked impressive and rough going.

ImageP1080124.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

It was a spot difficult to leave, even in the bitter wind. That was the odd thing which I’ve noticed often happens on a really windy day– the summit itself seems far less windy, as if the contours of the mountain push the wind up and over it. :?: It's actually worse lower down(thankfully.)

ImageP1080143.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

Hills which come more or less straight up out of the ocean are some of my favourites to be on and here, the open ocean was on both sides, really unbeatable. From the summit , looking back along the ridge looked very impressive too.

ImageP1080079.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

No St Kilda on the horizon, presumably because there was too much moisture in the air from the big low pressure system trying to make an impact but somehow being held at bay further south. Even Eaval on North Uist seemed to be taking some hefty showers while Beinn Mhor remained cloud free.

But leave we had to, always difficult to do when the day is so good. Down we headed, after ages spent just enjoying the vistas and identifying what was what; Chris was brought up on South Uist so knows all the hills and knolls and inlets well and pointed them out, places he’d wandered over with his brothers when they were young.(Where did 60 + years go? :roll: :roll: ) We took a wee walk out to the far end of the plateau, a route his Dad always preferred when he had a moment to visit the hills, his busy job as the island's doctor not leaving that much free time.So many memories....

ImageP1080097.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

As we finally pulled away and descended the ridge itself, a lovely wee wheatear was flitting between the rocks,seeing us off its territory; a bird I thought would have been well on its way to warmer climes in October.We had a similar experience one October on the Skye Cuillin, when a wheatear was enjoying some Indian summer weather near the summit cairn, a very unexpected wildlife sighting so high and in autumn. Unless both were part of a second brood? I just hope they both eventually made it to Africa (or wherever they should have been.)

ImageP1080163.jpg by scotlandmac, on Flickr

The wind hit us full force again on the shoulder before we dropped down out of the worst of it. Just one lovely surprise was left - as we jumped between clumps of grasses to cross the dreaded boggy bit, a short - eared owl shot up suddenly just a few feet away then took off with a long slow silent glide to a safer hiding place. Palest cream, almost ghostly in colour. A beautiful sight. He must have been thinking we'd pass at a comfortable distance until we started going round in circles at a particularly nasty bit and decided enough was enough - time to go before these daft humans stood on him. :roll:

We were soon on the stony track again, walking past a couple of small lochans (one of which held an elegant and quite unafraid red throated diver on it, on our last outing here.) What a superb hill Beinn Mhor is. A real beauty. One to enjoy again and again.

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Anne C

User avatar
Activity: Walker
Pub: Any wild camping spot
Mountain: Quinag
Place: North Uist
Gear: Zamberlan Boots
Member: john Muir Trust;NTS;RSPB;Historic Scotland
Ideal day out: Mountain beside the coast or coastal walk with lots of wildlife spotting

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