Monday, 7 August 2006

Trip to Harris

<![CDATA[ On Sunday, I undertook a journey of about 95 miles return to the other part of the semi-detached that doubles as the Long Island. I live in Lewis; on the far side of the Clisham it is Harris. Not been there for a while, and I did notice a fair few changes.

Memorial Cairn for the Park RaidersWhat had not changed was the memorial for the Park Raiders, which commemorates the raid of the Eishken district in November 1887. It was a mass trespass, where 8 men had ventured into the derilict hills of Eishken and had helped themselves to some venison. The sheriff came down and read them the Riot Act. The raiders were arrested and committed for trial, but they were not convicted of any offense. The cairn stands just south of Balallan.

After proceeding further south, the Lewis / Harris border (as was) just outside Ath Linne [Aline] was the starting point for a renovated stretch of road, which stretches all the way to Scaladale. I was stunned to see this two-lane super highway passing Bogha Glas [Grey Cow], Vigadale and Scaladale. I mean, this has now become the M25 of the Western Isles, where a very nasty single-track road once held sway. Beware of the corners though; there were complaints about the new bridge by Bogha Glas, but I can foresee accidents on the corner between Vigadale and Scaladale. This is sharper than you might anticipate.

Toddun towering over MaraigThe ascent of the mountains towards the Maraig turnoff is always an exhilerating experience, although I felt sorry for the poor cyclists, heading north, who had to negotiate the 630 ft ascent and descent. The sheep were the usual blinking nuisance. The viewpoint above Maraig shows the crazy road to Reinigeadal in all its glory. You descend 400 ft to sealevel at Maraig, then you ascend 550 ft to the pass underneath Toddun, only to descend another 550 ft into Reinigeadal. Said village boasts a youth hostel and it's a favourite with cyclists. Until 1987, you could only reach Reinigeadal by boat from Loch Seaforth or on foot over the mountains from Tarbert, a gruelling 5 mile trip.

The frowning face of Iosal The passage from Maraig to Ard Asaig has been vastly improved, with another stretch of super highway taking the place of the single-track horror under the frowning precipices of Iosal. It's a miracle that the buses plying this route never ended up in the lochans. The descent into Ard Asaig is a very, very steep one. Beyond Tarbert, capital of Harris, you start to encounter single-track roads with a vengeance. I also started to encounter campervans and motorhomes by the dozen. Having negotiated the empire of stone that is South Harris, the gleaming yellow sands of Luskentyre beckoned, my destination for the afternoon.
View of Luskentyre Sands with Taransay on the horizon
Dozens of campervans had taken up temporary residence along the foreshore. More permanent residence had been taken by a pod from Taransay, where the participants of Castaway 2000 had once bickered, brawled and boozed their way to infamy six years ago. The edifice, which I last viewed 16 months ago, had deteriorated and was in danger of disappearing into the undergrowth. If anybody knows whether this thing is still in use, I'd appreciate a comment.
Castaway Pod - now castaway itself
Finally, after about 75 minutes' driving, we pulled into the carpark by the cemetery. In common with most graveyards in the Western Isles, Luskentyre's is situated on a sandy foreshore. The beach was busy - Blackpool of the North would be an appropriate subtitle, with no fewer than 30 people flitting about. Flying kites, building sand castles, walking dogs - but not venturing into the sea. The beach slopes steeply into the sea and you very quickly go out of your depth. Towering over the beach is the mountain of Beinn Losgaintir.

A day on the beach
Beinn Losgaintir
North Harris mountains

The views from Luskentyre are stunning. To the north, the mountains of Harris march right up to the Clisham. The steep-sided one is called Sron Scourst and is located in Glen Miavaig. The wee building you can see to the left of Glen Miavaig is Cliasmol School, which serves the communities between Huisinis and Bun Abhainn Eadar along the B887.
To the west rise the hills on Taransay, a mile or so across the sea. Two buildings and a wind generator can be discerned on the horizon. When you walk further down the beach, the double hump of Ceapabhal hoves into view and the hills and beaches of Seilebost, Horgabost and Scarista on the road to Leverburgh. Some islands in the Sound of Harris can also be made out on a clear day.

Harris is very different from Lewis, it's so much more rocky and austere. The communities stick tenaciously to the foreshore, both on the east and the western side of it. ]]>

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