A walk up on to Beinn Dhubh was the plan for my first full day on Harris, the start of a solo journey that would last just short of a week. The week would see me walk snow–covered hills, mooch along beautiful empty beaches, track dinosaurs over sea-battered stacks, stare back at seals and squint at many a standing stone. I was making like a Salmon, visiting the place of my making. A bit of an emotional journey in itself.
But back to Beinn Dhubh, which is ‘just’ a hill, as I saw it described a couple of times in my pre-trip research. At 506 metres, it doesn’t have the honour of being a Corbett – but does have the privilege of being the vantage point from which to enjoy fantastic views down to that rightful darling of travel guides – Luskentyre beach. I was planning to walk a Corbett the following day – An Cliseam – but I didn’t as it happened (awful weather stopped play). So Beinn Dhubh and a couple of its neighbours were the only heights I scaled in Harris.
‘Hill’ is a term with connotations that change with the weather: when you’re a stranger in a strange land and the only one out and about in a blizzard at the top of Beinn Dhubh, a hill is not so benign and feels like a significant small mountain.
I followed the circular route from the excellent 30 walks in Harris and Lewis (Cicerone: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Walking-Harris-Lewis-Hebrides-Mountains/dp/1852845678) book that I had. It was just shy of an 8 mile circular and took about 5 hours. It would have been quicker in better weather. Actually, it would probably have been slower, as I would have had views from the summit and its steep sided flanks down to the sea and would have seen other peaks in the distance. As it was, on the summit I had views of a trig point and shelter wall fast disappearing before me under a white-out.
I left the car in one of the larger passing places, those necessary bail-out zones that punctuate the peat and single track roads of both islands (I’ll refer to Harris and Lewis as islands although they are the same island in effect). When I pulled in to the passing place / micro car park I seem to cause some consternation in the overnighting caravan couple, who regarded me with slightly suspicious eyes. A sign it was still out of the holiday season I guess and they had gone feral already. Or maybe they thought I was mad, pulling on gaiters and waterproofs and heading away in low cloud, up over boggy ground and onto the rocky flanks of Sron Godamuil.
In brighter weather the views, even from this lower hill ,would have been great. The clouds did part at one point and I could see back towards Lickisto campsite where I was staying (see info later) and down towards Luskentryre beach. Alas the clear weather didn’t last and the drizzle then turned to sleet on the next hill summit, Beinn Losgaintir.
I was pretty wet by now and stopped for a quick coffee. Which I raised as a toast of sorts to a lovely man, Richard, whose funeral service I was missing that day, back in Marsden. I hunkered out of the wind and sleet and thought some thoughts about Richard. A musician, actor and playwright amongst other talented things. The silence of the sleety snow was fitting. Until I went to stand and my reverie was broken by the aggravated cry of a Grouse that had been just a couple of feet away.
From that point the visibility dropped rapidly and by the time I reached the trig point of Beinn Dhubh, I was checking my Viewranger app every coupe of minutes to try to say on course.. the trig and shelter wall itself weren’t visible until very close up. Another quick snack break was soon abandoned as the snow piled up around my boots and my removed rucksack, coming in from all directions. I thought it better to get off the summit before man-with-sandwich was discovered frozen, mid-chomp, at the top. The Cicerone book had promised arresting views in good weather. Maybe another time.
The descent from Beinn Dhubh was steep, not difficult but it was slow going: picking my way as I was across snow-covered rocky sections, mindful not to twist an ankle. There’s no mountain rescue on Harris and Lewis, just a thought if you plan any solo jaunts. Not that you should ever plan to not plan (as it were) and rely on the support of MR teams.. you get my drift.
I emerged from the low cloud and back into sleet after about 20 minutes, to see a sleet-obscured but still beautiful cove just around the headland from Luskentyre beach itself.
I had felt a tad anxious coming off the summit, with snow-covered rock accumulations providing boot-sized holes down which to stick a foot and crunch an ankle. But there was enough exposed rock to provide great grip for most of the descent. I think the rock on Beinn Dhubh is Lewisian Gneiss, which is the predominant rock of the islands. And the rock that most of the standing stones are made of. It has a lovely grippiness to it, which I enjoyed on this and a couple of other walks along with some scrambling I did on Suinebhal (see later post, once written). Lewisian Gneiss: giving great traction to exploring feet for 50,000 years* (*give or take some intervening ice ages. * Assuming the Mesolithic period wasn’t the first time that people had headed there). Not so catchy a slogan.
I flanked the cove and headed around some boggy ground, past belligerent sheep, to Luskentyre beach. Despite the drizzle it did indeed look lovely.
No beach side cafes for me (thankfully) but also nowhere to shelter for a final swig of drink and a snack before I followed the road back to parking spot. Unless you count the public toilet block at the head of the beach? I did: not quite a café but it got me out of the wind and ran for a few minutes for refreshments. Needs must etc.
It was a bout a 30 minute walk back to the car in constant drizzle, ho hum. But I was in good spirits having had my first ‘adventure’ on the islands.
Back at the car and the caravan couple were brewing up (I could hear the whistle of the kettle).. I looked hopefully across to them as the sun came out and I hung my sodden coat and over trousers over open car doors for a few minutes. They stoically ignored me as they came out to put something in the car. Ah well. A kettle and wood burner awaited me in the Black house that sits within Lickisto campsite. I headed back there to warm up and dry out.
Accommodation for this part of my trip:
When I arrived in Harris I stayed for two nights at the Lickisto Blackhouse campsite. I pretty much had the place to myself but it was great to sit and chat each evening by the wood burner with a nice Scottish couple ( a pair of those crazy fell/long distance runner types).
As I said on Tripadvisor: “the use of the Blackhouse and its wood burner was brilliant. As was the bread freshly baked by Adrian each day. And the friendliness of John each time we saw each other. And sitting down at the little cove on the edge of the campsite, morning coffee in hand, watching a seal relaxing on a rock opposite was just great.”