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Posts Tagged ‘Western Isles’

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While it is true the chain of Islands that make up the Outer Hebrides share some fairly obvious commons features, it is amazing the different character available on each. My latest trip took me out to Great Bernera which until 1953 was only accessible by boat.

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The paddle itself took in a calm sea loch and then some open but sheltered sea.

I couldn’t believe how clear the water was and how full of life the bottom was. Perhaps my favourite part of the trip was seeing the tiny orange star fish that lined the bank of the sea loch.

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During our time in the sea loch we also saw otters and a Slavonian Grebe.

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Mike managed to get a little bit of film footage of the trip…

Conditions changed slightly in the open water and as the sun came down the paddling was simply magical!

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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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