BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

16 October 2014

Arnish Lighthouse

BBC Homepage
»Island Blogging
Western Isles

North Uist
South Uist

Argyll & Clyde Islands
Northern Isles

House Rules

From the BBC

Contact Us

Safety in the wilderness

Lewis is not well known as a walkers' paradise, although you can have some great walks off the beaten track. The best known one is the trail between Tolsta and Ness, which at one time was to become a road. It never came to be. Down in Harris, there are various trails through the mountains. The two best known ones are a stalkers' trail from Ath Linne on Loch Seaforth to Loch Langabhat - I've waxed lyrical about Loch Langabhat before. It is 4½ miles, but the trail is quite acceptable. It's a 90 minute walk either way. The other track leads from Bogha Glas, a mile or so south of Ath Linne, to Glen Langadale and Loch Bhoisimid. I've explained before that this is a great access point for hill walkers.

Shower moving across towards Eitsal (Achamor)
The Western Isles are not known for their steady weather. After all, we're on the edge of the Atlantic, latitude 58° north. Nonetheless, I do not believe in unpredictable weather. Even if the forecasters get it wrong for this part of the world more often than they care to admit, the sky itself should give you warning of any adverse weather to come.

View from the Barvas Hills, towards Stornoway and Point
Walking in the pathless wilderness that is much of Lewis and Harris, you always have to assess for yourself whether you're happy to go on if the weather or conditions underfoot deteriorate. Temperatures will fall as you reach higher altitudes in the mountains. Winds tend to be (a lot) stronger higher up as well. Similarly on the flat moors, if visibility worsens, you could be in serious trouble. Personally, I need to be able to see for several miles around me, if only to be able to take bearings on lochs, hills &c.

Mo Creag at ScaladaleThe ground underfoot will show you whether you can stand on it. It's a case of trial and error, and hope you don't sink up to your armpits into a mire. The advice is not to go out alone (which I usually flaunt). Clifftop walks are possible along much of the coast of Lewis, but please stay away from the cliff edges. The island is geologically speaking very ancient (rocks dating back 3,000 million years), and its coastline subject to erosion. The very edge of a cliff could crumble under your feet, and plunge you down 400 feet in some places.The picture of Mo Creag shows one of the more treacherous points in Harris. On the descent from Mullach an Langa, you may hug the higher reaches of Glen Scaladale, contouring at 300 m / 1000 ft. If you're unaware of Mo Creag, you'll find yourself at the top of it, admiring an unimpeded view down 500 feet. You need to veer down to the valley, the moment the grounds becomes rocky underfoot.

If things go wrong and help needs to be called there are several things that can be done. Relying on a mobile phone is not a good idea; I have written about the problems with mobile reception in Lewis. Should you have reception, dial 999 and ask for mountain rescue. Without reception, if you walk in a company, send one person ahead to raise the alarm. When you go on a long walk, miles from any habitation or roads, leave word with a responsible person where your walk will take you. Tell them when you expect to be back. If you go by car, leave a card behind the windscreen with details. This doesn't just apply to lone walkers.
Upon your return, report back to the responsible person. Visitors can leave a message in their accommodation (hostel, B&B, hotel); walkers in the Fort William area sometimes ring up the local policestation, who I believe are more than happy to act in this role. I have not checked with Stornoway police, but I wouldn't imagine there to be a problem.

- take a map (scale at least 1:50,000, preferred 1:25,000) and know how to read it
- take a compass, and know how to use it. Bear in mind that in some areas, magnetism in the rocks can cause a deviation in the compass
- be dressed for the conditions, using a multi-layered approach. In that way, you can shed layers or put on layers as the varying conditions require
- take adequate food and drink, with supplies to spare
- be prepared to turn back in the face of adversity
- do not take on more than your experience or equipment safely allows
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 12:38


Great. At least 1 other walker on the island. Is there a walking club? I hear the climbing is quite good on the sea cliffs too. I aim to go off on a few backpacks - there is some great looking coastline to explore on Harris. The Tolsta walk is very boggy if you keep to the posted trail.

Coley from Lancashire

There is a walking club in the island, I've got a contact if you're interested. Coastline in Harris? Tricky. Interior is much more interesting.

Arnish Lighthouse from Stornoway

This blog is now closed and we are no longer accepting new posts.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy