Summit seeker.... a nice alliterative phrase; used by an Irish friend of long ago acquaintance; it means the same as peak-bagger but doesn't it sound so much nicer? Read More...
Once again my quest to seek out the summits of smaller hills had led me to a new place. This place was Barra.
I had arrived via Lochmaddy with the intention of climbing Beinn Mhor on South Uist and then seeing how the next few days unfolded.
When Citylink promise ferry-connected services they mean it , one minute you are on the bus the next it seems you are on the ferry and already at sea – my stay in Uig was barely a minute long.
Howmore proved to be a lovely hostel and I watched the sun set on the beach before the following day's exertions. There are probably better ways up this fine hill but the route from the main road gave a narrowish ridge to finish and just a little scrambling .The summit itself was beautiful, an incredible watery view with the only sounds being the gentle chug of the occasional boat and the bleating of ewes and lambs. Unusually for me I stayed a while – lazing in the unusally warm April sun.
The hostel had displayed a description of the 'easy' route and I chose this for descent – it is not to be recommended – my route of ascent was far superior.
The sun continued to blaze down all weekend – my hair colour means that I blend in with the residents of the Western Isles , but such was the weather , I had to wear a cap all the time to shield my eyes and nobody noticed. (not that I am complaining). The following day I set off for Barra.
For those of you not used to public transport the route from Howmore may seem difficult , but for me the bus then ferry then bus was no harder than many journeys I have done. I guess the driver chatting to other passengers in Gaelic was different from my usual experience but then so was the absence of other cars and anyone parked in bus stops.
I arrived in Castlebay just before lunch , left my kit at the hostel and set off for a walk. The hostel owner had said that their dog might accompany me...... Her name was Kipper and she was generally well-behaved they said.
I decided to climb an outlying hill , no path, no signs , just set off up. I learnt something that day.
When a dog is determined to come with you , you need to take more care ; fences you usually climb over have to have space for a collie-sized wriggle underneath . Several times on that ascent I went searching for these.
Beinn Tangabhal isn't very high , barely 1000 ft to its trig point ; but you earn that height . Great rocky slabs bar your way , if the gradient is shallow you walk up them to avoid the bog; if not then it is time for a detour. Kipper ran ahead doing twice my mileage – she realised her mistake later . The descent was tricky – the other side of the hill was equally slabby and going down slabs is harder than going up them.
Kipper, however, added her own interpretation of the phrase 'guide- dog' and seemed to seek out the tops of the easiest descents and stand waiting for me ( are all collies this perceptive?)
Eventually we reached the bay on the west – and time for a sunbathe (human) or a roll in the sand (canine) on the pure white beach .
Now how do you say to a dog ' I am going up another hill , but the way home is just along that road if you are tired.....' Well I don't know, and the result was that Kipper followed me round to the houses at Borgh from where I was going to climb Sheabhal – the highest point on Barra.
Then I saw two lambs in a pen – I assumed by the absence of a ewe the were orphaned – I went over to admire them ; so did Kipper and another dog who had been following her. Two lambs with muzzles through the mesh of the pen , two collies with their noses against the lambs' muzzles - so cute and me without a camera.
Kipper and I headed up Sheabhal ; Kipper now walking to heel as she had realised the walk was serious – nobody gets just a little stroll with me - A tricky and steep summit from the west , the views made it worthwhile .
I really was 'queen of the castle' on that summit – I was on the highest point on a land mass and that's something you never can be in the Alps.
I was only about 1200 ft above sea level but that sea was straight down. I stood and looked over my 'kingdom' and then sprawled on the summit rock to sunbathe – and a certain dog lay next to me .
The descent back to Castlebay had a path of sorts but a very steep one – there is scrambling potential there on the granite.
This may be the 'tourist' route up Sheabhal , but I certainly wouldn't attempt it in sandal, nor ,given the roughness of the rock ,in shorts.
So two hills , two very tough little hills .with a lot of rock but great hills; some very untypical Hebridean weather and a companion who I could talk to all day and who wasn't going to criticise me.
Defintely great wee hills