Lost on Beinn Sgiathain

Sub 2000s: Beinn Sciathain (Eriskay)

Date walked: 21/07/2018

Late on Friday night I made a sudden disappointing discovery - although the early bus was marked on the timetable as 'school holidays', which it definitely was, the next one said 'Saturdays and school holidays', implying that Saturdays were different. Which ruled out the Lees, which needed an early bus down and an afternoon bus back to be ready to get the last bus down to Lochboisdale, but did at least give me not quite such an early start to be packed and ready for the later morning bus - it seemed like I might as well head south and have a prowl around there. And then I woke up so achingly homesick for Tarbert that it didn't feel like I could stay away another day, but there was nothing to do about that except possess my soul in patience - it was useful in a way, because the day before I'd been wondering how I would tear myself away from Uist!

As far as Balavanich I'd travelled the route once before, including the north ford - the rest of Benbecula, and the south ford, were new to me, and then I was into South Uist, which was essentially a new island for me - I think I once convinced the ferry man to let me walk off and on again at Lochboisdale on a round trip from Oban, but no more.

The fords were almost empty, but not long afterwards we crossed a much fuller stretch of water - Loch Bi sprawls right across the island, and that and the way the main road runs mainly through emptiness sent me to the map to see if the sketchy bits of track which run up the west coast might once have been the main route - which they might, but the original causeway across Loch Bi apparently dates back more than 200 years.

By the time I reached Lochboisdale I seemed to have crossed a landscape boundary somewhere - North Uist is stunningly beautiful but completely foreign, while here the rocks and the plants and the montbresia by the roadsides were entirely familiar - if I was pining for Argyll, I was definitely heading in the right direction.

Lochboisdale had a run down, half-dead feel that surprised me in the bigger and more populated and more fertile island - there's not a lot in Lochmaddy, which is just a useful place for keeping things you might need from time to time, but everything that is there seems to be doing perfectly well. I don't know how much is that Lochboisdale's handful of shops - and Lochmaddy doesn't even have a handful - are hidden under arches in a very ugly modern building that keeps them away from the street, or even how much was the weather, because it was another day of grey and cloud when I wouldn't have got to the Lees anyway, but an empty tourist office also didn't look very welcoming - although the fact that the public toilets, with shower, were open 24 hours was a practical welcoming touch.

The cafe, which shares a building with the post office, is a bit hidden from the main road - from the outside it looked it might be not only closed but closed down, another ugly modern buillding, but inside it turned out to be a very comfortable place with good views and good food.

I had no very definite plans for the afternoon - the cloud was too low for any of the higher hills to be tempting - but having started at one end of the main bus route in the north of Berneray I thought I might as well complete it, going down to the south of Eriskay on what turned out to be a surprisingly adventurous journey down narrow sideroads.

Having pointing out the sights of Eriskay on the way down, the driver left me at the ferry terminal with instructions on the quickest way back 'into town', which was to walk along the beach - at least once I'd slipped into the waiting room to get into waterproofs, because the rain had come on properly by then.

Coilleag a' Phrionnsa

The beach here is historic, as the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie first set foot in Scotland, but also a good Atlantic shore, with a lot of shells washed up, and a surprisingly large crab.

Big crab

At the other end of the beach I made my way up through a little cluster of houses, and across the football pitch (described to me by the bus driver as formerly having five corners, until someone went out with a JCB), and through long wet grass to the road.

Football pitch and Beinn Sgiathan

As far as I could tell it didn't really matter where I started up the hill, which was all much the same - just picking a line through the lumps, and crossing a fence further up. The cloud came down much more thoroughly as I climbed, so that when I came to a kind of shallow rake up the side of a rocky lump I was quite glad to find a line of trodden steps.

Finding footprints

Beyond that a faint path led on reassuringly through the gloom.

Path up the slope

After a while the path seemed to be wandering off in the wrong direction and I left it, only to realise that of course it was right and I was wrong, and it was only swinging around a boggy dip between a smaller raise and the main summit, which came looming out of the mist.

Misty summit

Back on the path it led round to where a tiny ridge led up to the summit.

Approaching the trig point

For a tiny summit it has been well provided with a real trig point, but of course it must be a good link between the islands around.

Beinn Sgiathan summit

The trig point was helpfully provided with a view indicator, which was the only way I had any idea of what was in sight of the summit!

Useful viewfinder

I followed the path back down the little ridge and around the dip and down a rake, only to discover as the cloud faded that what was in front of me wasn't the road and the beach, but an empty coastline dropping into the sea.

The wrong side of the island

I knew perfectly well where I had to be, and skirted round keeping the rocky bulk of the summit on my right, picking up a faint path again - on an island the size of Eriskay there wasn't an awful lot of wrong I could go, but I was glad all the same that the cloud cleared enough to let me see the little loch over to my left again and know for sure I was heading the right way!

Back to the loch

Now that I'd found the path, it led right on towards where I'd started, going through the fence at a gate, and eventually coming out on the road only a few yards back from where I'd come up to it. I followed the road up past a little roadside shrine - an unusual thing to see by a Scottish road, but it apparently marks the site of the original Eriskay church.

Roadside shrine

The new church sits up on a mound above the little village, at the other end from the shop and hall. After my adventures I didn't really have time for a visit to the pub (named, of course, for the S.S. Politician), but I did want to see it - but although I followed a sign pointing to it I couldn't find it, and wandered back to the shop and to wait for the very late bus.

The town centre

When I had arrived in Lochboisdale in the morning, I'd asked the hotel about a camping spot, on the advice of the bus driver, although I'd have done it anyway - 'just go round the back until you see the washing line, and anywhere there is fine', they said, so that was exactly what I did.

Camped by the washing line

But arriving back soaking wet there was no point in getting into a dry tent and making it wet too, so instead I sat on a window seat in the hotel drinking tea until it was time to move to a table and dinner - my first pub dinner of the trip, and a nice final treat.

My attempts at a very early night - I had to be up at 5 to pack up for the 6.20 ferry - were not very successful - first I just had to get up again to watch the ferry coming in, and then there were two kids from a party in the hotel running around shouting, and even kicking the tent to see if I would come out (which I didn't!). So not a very restful night, and a very wet morning to take down the tent and carry everything through wet grass - I was glad the ferry was the old Lord of the Isles, with an observation lounge full of comfortable couches for having a nap on, which quite a few people were.

It was a new ferry route for me, but it wasn't worth sitting up for, as there wasn't a thing in sight from the moment Lochboisdale slid into the mist until Mallaig slid out of it. Then a long journey down the country on a train which became suddenly packed at Fort William, and a wait at Arrochar, in much better weather, for the bus down to Tarbert and a bit of a rest, although I did have a few more adventures still to come.

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User avatar
Location: Edinburgh
Activity: Wanderer
Mountain: Eildon North Hill
Place: Tarbert Loch Fyne

Munros: 6
Corbetts: 7
Grahams: 5
Donalds: 16
Wainwrights: 176
Hewitts: 105
Sub 2000: 27
Long Distance routes: West Highland Way    Borders Abbeys Way    Fife Coastal Path    St Cuthbert's Way    Berwickshire Coastal Path   

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Trips: 25
Sub2000s: 9
Hewitts: 4
Wainwrights 5


Trips: 35
Munros: 1
Corbetts: 2
Grahams: 2
Sub2000s: 5
Hewitts: 17
Wainwrights 24


Trips: 23
Munros: 1
Corbetts: 1
Donalds: 5
Hewitts: 16
Wainwrights 23


Trips: 25
Munros: 2
Corbetts: 2
Grahams: 2
Donalds: 8
Sub2000s: 1
Hewitts: 17
Wainwrights 38


Trips: 20
Munros: 2
Sub2000s: 3
Hewitts: 21
Wainwrights 40


Trips: 16
Corbetts: 1
Sub2000s: 1
Hewitts: 10
Wainwrights 11


Trips: 15
Distance: 90.5 km
Ascent: 395m
Grahams: 1
Donalds: 1
Sub2000s: 3
Hewitts: 8
Wainwrights 21


Trips: 2


Trips: 2

Joined: Jul 07, 2011
Last visited: Sep 22, 2018
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