Archive for December, 2012


When I talk to people about the Western Isles (or Outer Hebrides) most will identify Lewis and Harris as constituent Island and a smaller number will then go on to mention ‘the Uists’, Benbecula and Barra. There are however about 60 significant Islands that make up the Western Isles with about 15 of them inhabited year round. This weekend saw a visit to several of the smaller Islands as part of a trip across the Sound of Harris.


The trip left from the Harbour at Leverburgh following a night in am bothan bunkhouse.



The route weaved through the skerries between Leverburgh and the first Island of note- Killegray.


At this point we stopped for lunch and met up with two paddlers who had joined us from North Lewis.



By this point in the trip we had seen a fish eagle perched on a rock on Ensay as well as porpoises playing in the bay that Killegray overlooked. The crossing from Killegray to Berneray was made all the more enjoyable by a chance to play about on the surf.

This was the first time I had visited Berneray and arriving at the bunkhouse was incredible. It lies at the tail end of a beautiful sandy beach and looks just like you would imagine a Hebridean bunkhouse would…with thatched otter embellishment!



I think my love of the outdoors can be explained almost entirely by the shared interest in eating extremely well which appears to be a common characteristic of lovers of the outdoors. Even by the high standards I have come to expect after my time with the PMC and CCCC the meal we had in the bunkhouse at Berneray was really special with everyone contributing something delicious- baked ham and pickled oranges, chili-blackened salmon, trifle, sticky toffee pudding, sangria, dhal…yum! My own contribution? The butternut bulgar wheat salad…




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It is utterly enchanting up here, which partly explains my lack of posts recently. As my friends who know me well would testify I am a geek…and quite comfortable with that. But I find more and more that I use magical metaphors to try and understand and assimilate the sense of wonder and awe I feel everyday here. I have lived and looked all over the world and nothing comes close to the natural beauty of these Islands. It is firstly apparent in the obvious places; the beaches, hills, forests and lochs. However I am now struck by a beauty that is on the one hand basic and elementary but at the same time subtle and hidden; colours that have labels but are impossible to communicate, sounds that feel like they resonate perfectly with each sinew in my body and simple shapes that seem impossibly natural.

I am not adverse to the mystical narratives I use when trying to comprehend what I see but I realise that they reflect a lack of genuine knowledge and understanding and come a poor second to the science behind my experiences up here. This feeling that science simply enhances the aesthetic experience has been articulated a number of times, and my favourite example is from Richard Feynman.


I think what appeals to me most about the scientific method is that through my natural curiosity it leads me in so many different and unexpected directions, with each question elaborated on revealing a greater number of even more fascinating and awe inspiring questions.

I have also damaged my shoulder. This had lead to lots of introspection (as the preamble to this post demonstrates) and a reduction in engaging with the outdoors in many of the ways I would like. Another reason I have not posted recently.

There have been two very positive consequences of this minor injury.

The first is that I have spent more time socially with the folks up here instead of lying in a Bivvy Bag or Hammock waiting for the first rays of sun to signal that it’s time to turn on the stove. This has been with the Islanders ‘at large’ so to speak, dancing at ceilidhs or looking round the wares of the local artists in search of Christmas inspiration. But also I have been able to spend time getting to know some of the people that make these Islands so unique on a more personal level. For example this weekend I sat beside a fire in a cottage in a quiet bay of a sea loch with friends, ate well and then played guitar alongside a pianist, flautist and man of many instruments (none of which I could name!) to the local Strathspeys and Jigs. Nothing could have improved that night.

The second is that I am reminded of my first love which is to walk amongst quiet glens, alongside bubbling brooks and onto the peaks that dominate the landscape. Since arriving, the Horseshoe capped by Clisham has left me breathless every time I have gazed at it from the road between Harris and Lewis. With the Island having just experienced some of the first snows of the Winter, I made the drive to the valley that leads to the beginning of the Horseshoe at the weekend.


What made the walk up the valley so appealing (apart from the magnificent vistas of the white ridge I was aiming for) was the varying flow of the river.


Although there was no snow or ice on the first few miles of the walk I soon began to feel the satisfying crunch under foot which allowed me to make steady progress to the beginning of the horseshoe ridge- Mullach an Langa.


The journey to the base of Mullach an Langa was very gradual, generally following Abhainn Sgaladail. The accent however was steep and the going difficult due to the covering of wet snow. As I looked ahead trying to figure out the easiest accent I startled an Arctic Hare which shot off up the hill in front of me. They are beautiful creatures and although well camouflaged against the snowy hillside, I was able to watch its effortless progress to the top. As I made my way up the path I had chosen would often meet with the hare’s and for the last 20 meters I followed it directly to the summit cairn.


Staring out over the magnificent views from the summit of Mullach an Langa, it was difficult not to romanticise the journey up, and I found myself smiling that an Arctic Hare had been my guide to the top.






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