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Posts Tagged ‘Hike’

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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, but my favourite example is this clip of 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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November surf and turf

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I am now convinced that the tidings of horrendous weather that have become the standard reply to me raving about the Islands are designed to keep the picture perfect landscape here free from tourists. My last trip took me back to Tolsta beach where I have posted about on athomeinthehebrides previously. Once again I had the place to myself for most of the day.

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Tolsta is a great place to come as the car park is right on the beach and has facilities that makes sure the dunes and beach are kept pristine.

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When I arrived I bought a secondhand surfboard and I am still not convinced by it. That being said, as a beginner the majority of boards I have surfed on so far have been foam meaning that they are really easy to get up on and are less likely to hurt if you wipe out…which still happens a lot!

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I also brought my fins and snorkel so that I could have a look sub surface. During this time I managed to get a few of the waves and water…

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Despite the fact my wetsuit is only 3mm the water wasn’t unpleasantly cold and every time I go in up here I resolve to do it more often. Another source of inspiration to swim more in the open water comes from my friend Ella the Mermaid who is currently blogging about her preparation for her channel crossing which she is doing in aid of Cancer Research UK.…I’m not sure I could match her hours in the water but I’d sure like to swim in the sea up here a bit more regularly.

After drying off I headed out to the lighthouse at Arnish for a walk round the cliffs.

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The walk I go is fairly short (3 miles) but it usually takes me about 2 hours to do because I can’t help but stop to watch the waves crash on to the rocks or the different sea birds that inhabit the steep faces.

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I love sleeping in a hammock. It’s nice getting rocked to sleep by a gentle wind and being able to look at the night sky as you drift in and out of sleep. I also love sleeping in a hammock because you usually need to be near trees. This weekend I spent some hammock time in a pine forest that sits in between Harris and Lewis…

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For those who would prefer a video account of the trip please have a look at the video below…please don’t be put off by the still that YouTube has selected for the video, the content is suitable for all!

Last weekend I had probably the best Mexican food I have ever had at a dinner party. It left me wanting more and so in addition to the overnight trip I also wanted to put together some decent Mexican food, preferably cooked over an open fire.

The plan was quesadillas for the first night followed by huevos rancheros for brunch the next day. However first thing was to explore the forest to find a nice spot to watch the sun rise from my hammock in the morning…I let my head rule my heart and so passed this hammock island by…

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I settled for the spot below (this was taken the following morning):

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The quesadillas the previous night were delicious, particularly when washed down with some chilled Mexican beer…yes that is a tray of ice in the background!

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The night in the hammock was pretty special. I had initially been a bit disappointed about the cloud cover as I had been hoping for a repeat of the Uig star-gazing extravaganza but in a strange way the clouds actually enhanced the sky views. Every so often there would be a break in the clouds which would give you a passing glimpse at the constellations that were otherwise hidden. I find that when given an unrestricted view of the star I gravitate towards either familiar constellations, the brightest stars or satellites. Having a small moving window encouraged me to focus intently on parts of the night that I’m quite sure would have normally passed me by.

I was treated to a stunning morning which was calm but also still cloudy enough to allow the sun’s oranges, pinks and purples to complement the shades of the heather and rowan trees.

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Although I was happy to use my gas burner for dinner given that an open fire would have been a bit irresponsible in and around the campsite I selected, I was keen to prepare breakfast using a more traditional approach. From the campsite I made my way down towards
Loch Seaforth hoping I would come across a good supply of driftwood and a rocky area where I could prepare the huevos rancheros and ‘Navajo’ flatbread…I wasn’t disappointed!

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I like the pace of ‘camp days’, where you have the time to cook and eat properly rather than having to eat quickly so you can cover the distance between different legs of a longer journey. A case in point was the flatbread which not only enhanced the breakfast greatly but were enjoyable to prepare and let settle on the warm stones around the fire. As you can see from the pictures below I used Quail’s eggs. This is not as frivolous as it may sound and were used purposely instead of chicken eggs because of the speed at which they cook. Getting huevos rancheros right (I.e. not too dry, eggs poached just enough to ensure a cooked white yet running yolk) is hard to achieve on an open fire and so using Quail’s eggs you are more likely to avoid the difficulties associated with the unpredictability of hot coals.

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I have to say the end result was fantastic! The flatbreads had taken on a smoky quality from the driftwood while the depth of flavour from the huevos rancheros was exquisite. I served it up alongside homemade salsa, guacamole and soured cream…wonderful!
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For those readers who are in a hurry this video is a 4:30 version of the blog below…

The week started off with an excellent talk by Doug Scott as part of the Harris Mountain festival. It is amazing to hear of the climbing feats of Doug and others of his generation, particularly when I have been known to wobble up a VDiff laced with gear! Doug also spoke of the work he had done in Nepal around education and improving the standards for the guides. It is certainly worth having a look at his website. Having spent last weekend on the mainland I was keen to make the most of this one. Already inspired to get out on the hills after Doug’s talk I had my mind made up to Bivi somewhere by the star filled sky I had to stop and stare at as I drove back from Tarbert to Stornoway. It is a pity the my camera doesn’t really capture the night sky that well because it was simply breathtaking.

Fast forward to Friday and I am once again beside myself with excitement at the prospect of getting out. I had promised myself that during the week I would have packed and been ready to go as soon as I got home…a broken promise later and I am stuffing things into my pack trying to get on the road by 7:00!

I decided to combine a couple of walks described in Richard Barrett’s Walking in Harris and Lewis over in Uig. One of the reasons for this was that following a school visit to Sgoil Uig (Uig primary school) I was mesmerised by the turquoise ocean and stunning hills that surrounded the school. Here is the route and where it is in relation to me.

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Route from Stornoway to Uig

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The hike

Even through I wanted to get out on to the hills as soon as I could there were once again vistas that forced me to stop the car and explore…

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I had a number of other enforced stops on my way out to Uig including two rams that decided to have a battle on the single track and a heavily pregnant highland coo that wasn’t moving for anyone!

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The upshot of the delays was a hike started in the dark…

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I find hiking in the dark, especially alone, quiet surreal. The scenery changes completely and you get to appreciate the outdoors through another lens…

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I try as much as possible to walk without the aid of artificial light, not for any mystical or environmental reason, but simply because your approach to the walk changes. You walk more slowly and deliberately, particularly on the heathery hills that will trip you up if you move too carelessly. I also find that I discover ‘paths’ in the dark and I’m fascinated as to whether in fact they exist or are simply my mind playing tricks on me in the dark. I am inclined to think that it is the later given the other tricks it gets up to on night hikes! The combination of deer grunts, owl screeches and fleeting grouse had me imagining all sorts as I ambled up the hillside.

I made a Bivi beneath some rock cover but close enough to a steep edge that meant I would have a stunning view to wake up to in the morning…

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As I said in the video my favourite part of a Bivi is the anticipation of having your bones warmed by the rising sun in the morning…a feeling heightened by coffee and toasted Banana Soreen!

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The great thing about bivvying is that it takes no time at all before you are packed and ready to go.

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The first stop for me that morning was a hill loch that seemed from the map to be a promising trout loch…I wasn’t disappointed

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The walk itself took in a number of summits (Naideahal a-Muigh, Laibheal a Deas, Laibheal a Tuath and Cracabhal) which provided awe-inspiring views..

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Summit cairn of Naideahal a-Muigh

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Summit cairn of Laibheal a Deas

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Summit cairn of Cracabhal

I didn’t actually make the summit of Laibheal a Tuath as I was distracted by some visitors…

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The walk was sensational but quite long and by the end I was fantasising how great it would feel to be walking barefoot along a sandy beach…

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…luckily such a vision is readily made into reality in the Outer Hebrides…

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The breaking waves makes me think it won’t be too long until i’m back for a visit with my surfboard.

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I have found myself increasingly drawn to hobbies that not just get me out but also make me wonder if I will make it back safe and sound. This surprises me a little because I don’t feel particularly ‘extreme’ and I have plenty of plans that I would like to see come to fruition. That being said no matter what the ‘main event’ of the day is I still find myself brought to a standstill by the ‘walk in’. Since arriving here a month ago I have found myself wanting just to walk among the heather and the hills and have set aside Sunday as a walking day.

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Looking out over the harbour at Cromor

The walk described below is taken from the Cicerone Guide ‘Walking in Harris and Lewis

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It is quite short (2:30) and about 40 minutes from Stornoway.

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The only real complication is timing the start of your walk so you can get across the tidal path to Eilean Chalium Chille and also to the cairn at Crois Eilean (the orange arrows on the map below).

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I had such perfect weather for the walk and the clarity of the water at Cromor harbour where the walk starts made me wish I’d brought my snorkelling gear.

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Hopefully as you make your way from the harbour towards Eilean Chalium Chille you are met with the reassuring sight of the tidal path you will need to take.

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Once you are on the Island you are able to visit an old ruined church by turning left once off the path. I wanted to take some photos to give a sense of the hardship those living on the Island must have faced but photographing the faded tombstones felt quite wrong.

The views looking out to Loch Eireasort were absolutely stunning and with the wind carrying the scent of heather blossom it made for a wonderful afternoon.

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If you do choose to do this walk I would definitely recommend the scramble round the headland to Crois Eilean as the views from the cairn are some of the most beautiful I have seen so far on the island.

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Judging by the remains of crabs, sea urchins and numerous shellfish at the cairn I was not the only one who appreciated the view! It did make me wonder if Nicholas Steno’s contributions would have been so insightful had he grown up here.

Leaving the cairn there is a 10 minute period of tidal uncertainty before you can see whether your hike has turned into in impromptu bivvy or not…thankfully I made it back safe and sound…

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